Here Are Some Old Voice Reviews
Nine Inch Nails
by Scott Seward
October 13 - 19, 1999
How's it going, dude? Long time no see. (Ha Ha Ha) But seriously, as much as I loved your excellent soundtrack work, I thought I'd never get my hands on the follow-up to the holiest of relics, The Downward Spiral. I worried that the pressure of performing those one of a kind hymns to the eternal sadness live so many times would drive you from the music business altogether. I'll bet those jerks in Orgy would have liked that. Those guys suck! Trent, we both know how sacred a song like "Blue Monday" by New Order is, and they treat it like yesterday's meatballs. It makes me sick! Peter Hook should hit them over the head with his bass. By the way, I always thought Hooky was the cutest member of New Order. I know, I know, everyone thinks Bernard hung the stars and the moon, but he has no passion. (Did you know he takes Prozac now? That's no way to write sad songs!) Anyway, did you know Orgy's guitarist used to be in '80s hair-metal band Rough Cutt? It's true! I have to admit their song "Kids Will Rock" was pretty hot, even if the subject matter was a tad cliche. Trent, as much as I'm aligned with the inner misery of your haunted lyrics, I love how loud and anthem-like your rockiest songs are. The other day MTV played Slaughter's "Up All Night," and even though Slaughter were pretty silly, they sounded awesome coming out of my Optimus brand Radio Shack speakers. Then they played some Smashing Pumpkin thing, and it sounded like ants. And not the good kind of ant, as in Ant Music for Ant People! (Adam rules!) But annoying, buzzing, tiny, ugly ants from Hell!
Oh my god, I haven't even told you how much I worship the new album. It totally rocks! The highest compliment I can give is that when I close my eyes it's as if I'm listening to the last album all over again. I think you were right on in duplicating the same groundbreaking sound you came out with five years ago. Now that everyone has caught up with your brilliance, you can show them how it's done! (Um, Filter? I don't think so. I know that guy was a friend of yours, but he will never fill your leather pants.) And I love how you haven't given up on the way your songs start off really slow and creepy, and then GET REALLY LOUDAND ANGRY, and then get soft and sad again. You must do that like 20 times on the new album. "The Mark Has Been Made" starts out all dreamy like a 4AD album cover and then kicks ass like Queen's "We Will Rock You"! Trent, I know it took you over two years and a whole lot of tears and black nail polish to record this epic of decadence, but it was worth the wait.
This may be in bad taste, but do you ever feel bad that you weren't mentioned as the reason behind all those school shootings? If it makes you feel better, Marilyn Manson was, and you made him what he is today! I know you guys aren't talking, and your totally rockin' "Starfuckers, Inc." is supposed to be about him and his band. Maybe you can bury the hatchet someday. You two were such good friends! Did you know the Rolling Stones (Gag!) had a song called "Star Star" that was about the same thing—I think it was about Warren Beatty (Double gag!!). Anyway, your CD has just come out (I thought CDs'n'Such at the mall would start selling them at midnight like they did with the Limp Bizkit album, but they're such retards there), and once again you are pioneering the marriage of heavy guitars, moody atmospherics, electronic drones and beats, and aggressive singing. Just like Killing Joke 20 years ago. Weren't they great! I just know that your albums will sound as fresh and exciting someday as their 1980 debut does now. (I know you'll think I'm queer, but Youth their bass player produced one of my fave Bananarama singles, "Long Train Runnin' "—a Doobie Bros. cover!) Just imagine what they could have come up with if they'd had a ton of money and two years in the studio. Back then, they made records in like two days.
Your album truly runs the gamut of styles. All the way from With Sympathy-era Ministry, to "Cold Life"-era Ministry, to Twitch-era Ministry, to The Land of Rape and Honey-era Ministry, to current-day Ministry. Wow! That's a lot to take in. Trent, I'm sending a gift with this letter. It's a creepy amulet that my total Goth friend Prince Ivor got on eBay. The guy who sold it says Charles Manson gave it to Terry Melcher, the record producer, in the hopes that Paul Revere would record a song he had written, called "Girl, You'll Be a Raider When You Die." But get this, Terry Melcher gave it to Sharon Tate as a housewarming gift when she moved into his old house. The legendary house where you created The Downward Spiral! Isn't that awesome!
Anyway, the new album is the best. It's right up there with the greats: Red Lorry Yellow Lorry and the Leather Nun. I love how the two CDs are entitled "Left" and "Right." It's like the left one represents aggression and sadness, and the right one represents anger and depression. And I love how "Please" is like Skinny Puppy without any of their icky bits about dead animals and boring politicians. It's about real life! Especially when you sing, "All the flesh—All the sin—There was a time when it used to mean just about everything." And "Where is Everybody?" is almost like your own wicked version of rap. When you bust a move and sing, "Pleading and needing and bleeding and breeding and feeding exceeding," I want to shout, "You go boy!" (Do you like rap?) Too bad most "normal" people couldn't begin to understand the depths of your tragic soul. You expose yourself to the world! Your songs sound like a hundred guitars are playing an elegy for the madness of humanity. Just don't wait another five years to put out another masterpiece, or you will have to compete with the new Guns N' Roses album. (Ha Ha Ha)
Yours in blood, One devoted fan
PS: My friend Baron Olaf says your new haircut makes you look like that Garth Brooks comedy character, Chris Gaines. But the Baron is so lame.
Thoughtful Florida Rapper Knows What the Alligators Know
Pitbull's Unleashed Vol.3
by Scott Seward
July 26th, 2004 7:00 PM
I never believed all those T-shirts that read, "Why do you think they call it Flori-duh!" For one thing, alligators live there, and alligators have been around for millions of years, so they must know something we don't. Hip-hop mixtapes concocted in swamps probably won't be around as long, but who knows? I've been wrong before. Florida's great hope for the future, besides the alligators, is Cuban American MC Pitbull (who also has a new regular non-mixtape album called Miami with a hit called "Culo" featuring Lil Jon out these days, but never mind). What's he got to say on his latest mixtape, Unleashed Vol. 3? Oh, you know, stuff like: "Welcome to Miami, motherfuckers." "Wherever you're from, represent. Your county. Your city." "Pineapple Life Savers." "Dreads and gold teeth." "It don't make dollars and it don't make cents." "M-I-A-M-I till I die." "The crack game ain't everything it's cracked up to be." "Your feelings are like pussy, so fuck what you feel." "It's like basic math, one cat's gotta get subtracted." The usual.
What I need more of that Pitbull provides us with on his tape: more rapping over the music from "Hey Ya!" More freestyling over the music from "Jump Around." More remixes of "Salt Shaker" where people start singing "Din Daa Daa." More Miami bass where we are dipped and you are dipped and they are dipped in crunky goodness.
What I maybe don't need more of: what-the-fuck bonus tracks featuring dead white misanthropes. Even if I do like the way that "Imagine"—John Lennon F/ Pitbull & Nas looks on paper.
John Lennon: "Imagine there's no heaven." (Ha ha! Heaven-hater!)
Nas: "Mothers stop cooking, take off your aprons. Fathers stop looking at every sports station. Take a second and think of every poor nation." (Aw, you a sweetie!)
Pitbull: "We're taught to believe in religion, but religion's the reason that the twin towers are missing."
Last but not least, I'm gonna say it if nobody else will: Playing messages that friends leave on your voicemail is not the same thing as a "skit." Summer anthem that will not be denied, though (at least at my house): the Diaz Bros.–produced track "Don't Stop the Rok" It's electro-pitbull F-L-A fun that you can sink your canines into.
Heard It on the X
There Is No Such Thing as Nü Metal, and It Has an X-Tremely Funny Face
by Scott Seward
August 22 - 28, 2001
In light of its 20th anniversary, it would be sheer overkill for me to criticize MTV for all the same reasons that everyone else does. You know the drill: that most of their programming is slapdash, hectic, edited by monkeys, and seemingly held together by Elmer's glue and advertising. That their half-hearted attempts at social responsibility are nullified by softcore kiddie porn and reality-based date-rape primers/how-tos. That their growing library of feature films is on pace to beat the all-time ineptitude records held by Lorne Michaels and National Lampoon. That instead of working with their strengths and building a better cable network, they're busy creating MTV-brand gun-metal mercury desk lamps. That their plan for invigorating youth culture has always been to mimic the colorful palette of Japanese pop commercialism without any of the wit, fashion sense, or anarchy. That their one, true talent of discovering one-hit wonders and novelty acts à la Dr. Demento is overshadowed by their penchant for beating stillborn horses with bad haircuts. I'm not gonna walk down those well-traversed alleyways.
Instead, I'd like to focus on one of the more positive aspects of a network often reviled by even its most faithful demographic (Butterfinger-eating white males aged between two and six in single-parent homes out there somewhere). That is, MTV's, and its sister channel MTV2's, and its hermana channel MTV Spanish's, and—more to the point of this article—its angry lil' brother channel MTV X's ability to unload hour after hour of brain-dead repetitive programming and yet occasionally, accidentally, show some stuff worth watching.
It is this very ability that has kept me tuning in throughout the April Wine years, the Mission U.K. years, the Ned's Atomic Dustbin years, and the Reel Big Fish years. For every 50 airings of Cheyenne's latest drippy canción de amor on MTV Spanish, I get a moment like the other night when they unleashed a Manu Chao rock-block that had me tripping over the divan in an effort to find a blank videotape. This, in fact, has always been MTV's genius: to make people feel like they're missing something if they don't keep their eyes glued to the tube.
I pay $437.50 every month for the right to watch digital cable, and—along with the channels I've mentioned—I get VH1, VH1 Classic, and VH1 Country. Not to mention 30 audio channels, including Musica Latina, Tropical, Mexicana, Tejano, Folklorica, Boleros, Brazilian Pop, and Brazilian Beat! (If you don't have access to any of these, well, what can I say—when has it not sucked being you?) But I find myself drawn to the hard-rock MTV X more than the others for three simple reasons: (1) I'm an idiot. (2) I like to point my finger at the screen and howl at bad rock bands (who I inevitably end up loving—see No. 1). (3) There are no commercials, and I'm a masochist.
MTV X is dominated by that nearly lame horse called, for reasons unknown to me, nü metal. Nü metal isn't really metal, and it's been around for years, so you can understand my confusion. It's just a convenient tag for hard rock that uses metal riffs and crunch, hardcore punk barking, occasional ersatz rapping (although this seems to be disappearing), and occasional new-wave crooning over synths and electronics. The song structures roughly follow the "grrrr/la la la/grrrr/la la la" model. Forefathers of the genre would include Faith No More, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nine Inch Nails, and Ministry. The convenient tag, however, may be a bit too convenient, as it tends to lump a lot of groups together, fairly or unfairly, into a category that is all too easy to dismiss and avoid if you happen to despise the two main gods of nü metal, Korn and Limp Bizkit. Just as heavy metal is a tag that many fine groups find stigmatizing, nü metal bands also find . . . no, wait, most of them are pretty lousy.
At this point, I feel I must divulge certain facts before proceeding. I am not 14 years old, and my interest in pro wrestling started to wane around the time that I saw Chief Jay Strongbow best the Iron Sheik in my high school gymnasium. (The chorus of boos that erupted when the Sheik lifted the Iranian flag over his head still reverberates in my ears.) Having said that, there is no one on earth who loves loud, obnoxious rock as much as I do. But having said that, what am I to make of a band like Spineshank and their video for the song "New Disease"? (Disease, sickness, malady, invasive surgical procedures, goo, muck, filth, and icky gunk all being prevalent nü metal themes.)
First of all, why "Spineshank"? Why not just "Spine," or plain old "Shank"? The music strives for such Reznorian anonymity that you begin to think the whole thing was cooked up by some aggro-rock Muzak company looking for video-game, action-flick, and X-game promo dollars. Not to mention that the memory of the video lasts only as long as the video itself. (Luckily, in between the crappy stuff, MTV X throws some BÖC, Joan Jett, or Judas Priest your way. Mostly for kitsch value, I suppose, but it does help to cleanse the palate after watching, say, an extra-long adventure in spine-tingling claymation by prog-plod dorks Tool.)
Or how about Finger Eleven, whose name must be a reference to some sort of creepy extra finger that only truly creepy people have. Their song "Drag You Down" has the NIN midtempo march of the slugs thingy down pat. The lyrics sound like stuff Trent Reznor writes down in the middle of the night to help him remember his dreams better: "Teething," "It's biting," "I'm bleeding." And the video itself, much like Spineshank's and a whole lot by other nü-by bands, takes place in one of those haunted machine shops that evoke NAFTA more than they evoke some blasted postapocalyptic vision of decay. Blame it on Einstürzende Neubauten, or maybe Janet Jackson. Or Helmet, whose prescient 1992 "Unsung" video introduced warehouse space, lockstepped dude-friendly Big Black riffs, skater shorts, and Dischordian X-estential vagueness to a generation of future Finger Elevens whose previous delvings into metal consisted of their big sister's Ratt collection. Anyway, Finger Eleven's bass player, like most bass players, has one of the lamest hairdos on earth. And the guitarist is still wearing X-tremely huge pants which everyone will agree are like
Godsmack's "Voodoo" video has more on the ball. Its voodoo beat is lame, and the song itself is very slow and un-metal; in a way, it's sort of a second-rate approximation of one of those dark doomsday folk bands banging drums over in Europe. But the video has everything you need: cool belt buckles, a promising Viking intro, naked guys running through the woods, a moss-covered drum kit, Medusa, top hats, bonfires, zombies on bicycles, and a wolf that jumps out of the singer's stomach. And the singer looks like Ed Grimly! Before I saw this one, I'd written Godsmack off as just another band with bad dye-jobs, bad tattoos, and throbbing neck veins. Kinda like Creed—only swarthier, and less in touch with their inner, upper, lower, and higher godhead.
And speaking of Godhead, their karaoke-level aggro-industrial version of "Eleanor Rigby" isn't even as good as Orgy's cover of "Blue Monday." Godhead's singer tries desperately for a Mephisto/Nosferatu look as he wanders the streets aimlessly. Disturbed do a much better job with their same-sounding techno-hard-rock version of Tears for Fears' "Shout," even if I can't stand their Mussolini monkey-man singer (though I do acknowledge that he's a worthy heir to Udo-of-Kraut-leatherboy-outfit Accept's homoerotic fascist throne).
In brief: Second Coming's "Soft" might not technically be nü metal, cuz they have excellent beards and rockabilly hair plus a beat that shuffles with a satisfying kerchunka-clunk that might even be danceable! (Nü-bys are usually too miserable and sluggish to dance.) I think they might be X-ian, but the way the singer screams, "Don't touch my friends!" in this performance vid had me screaming "Cool!" Mudvayne's "Pig" is Slipknot-inspired lunacy. The music is almost beside the point cuz the band has horns, which is all you need to know. (Check the spoken-word outro on their other vid, with the little kid burying her granny in the sand! Dude, it's beatnik goth genius!) Much to the dismay of my loved ones, I can't wait for Slipknot's new album, Iowa, which could very well prove to be their Nebraska. What can I say, three drummers and a singer who can do the tortured-boy croon as good as the punk-rock growl is cool by me. His growling is worthy of Ian MacKaye back in the day, or even Ray from Youth of Today. (Speaking of homoeroticism, Ray's current band, Shelter, has a new vid where he plays a butch cop, and it makes me wonder how straight-edge punk got written out of the queer-culture history books—abstinence, sobriety, and slamming could make for some awfully steamy all-ages shows.)
Speaking of homoeroticism yet again, you have to see the vid for "I'm a Cloud" by Boy Hits Car. It starts with a group hug between band members, features Frippertronic geetar breaks, Doorsian psychodrama, and a scary Treat Williams-as-Berger-in-Hair lead singer in a Nehru jacket who out of nowhere screams, "They tried to fuck me from behind!" Yowza! As nü metal begins its death march, things finally get interesting!
But then you get Grand Theft Audio's "Stoopid Ass,"a promo clip for the homoerotic flick Dude, Where's My Car?, and musically an incomprehensible hybrid of Fatboy Slim, the Stereo M.C.'s, and Sham 69. (Which sounds groovy, I'll admit, but just ends up being noisy and sad and something else for me to somehow blame Beck for.) Or Cold's "End of the World," where some guy who looks like Moby's older, unhealthier brother sings a lament about how fake and plastic everyone at the strip club he hangs out at is, in that fake, plastic SoCal-by-way-of-Bombay-or-Babylon Matchbox 20 "smooth" diction that's as wack as it is weird.
The saving grace for a lot of these pierced, pissed stylists is how they often let their inner Savage Garden shine through the mud. Making you wonder if they somehow ended up in the wrong band or something. Professional Murder Music and Stabbing Westward have serious Ultravox tendencies yearning to break free. Fuel's "Bad Day" vid, with its mundane litany of "spilled her coffee and broke a shoelace" moments, wouldn't be out of place on the country channel or on a Goo Goo Dolls album.
But do you wanna know what really sticks out like a sore fourth thumb on MTV X? Every new video that isn't nü metal. Whether it's new AC/DC, Stone Temple Pilots, At the Drive-In, the Living End, Snake River Conspiracy, or Sum 41's already classic nerf-punk clip for "Fat Lip/Pain for Pleasure." The coolest pop-punker and non-nü hard-rock vids have one thing in common that make them more memorable than just about any humpbacked, eyeless dwarf Marilyn tosses our way: real people. Other than the band. Kids. Fans. Friends. People dancing and goofing around and having a party cuz they can't believe they've been asked to show up and act dumb for a stupid video that's gonna be on fuckin' MTV.
The middle-of-the-road malaise that the nü-bys ponder alone in their caves is nowhere to be found in a Rancid or Green Day vid. Korn and—God help me—Limp Bizkit certainly have their moments, and just like their spiritual predecessors Mötley Crüe and Bon Jovi, it's not their fault if they've spawned monsters who made their sights and sounds commonplace. And the Reznor-Manson aesthetic will get most of those bands through album two. But that end-of-the-world shtick will begin to make those spooky empty sets look mighty empty indeed for groups who are primarily pop to begin with. In other words, the rotting flesh metaphors get harder to come by unless you're a true freak or a proud metal warrior resigned to your fate in the hell of underground fandom, like Eyehategod or King Diamond. Translation: Get plan B ready now, boys. Think techno. Or calypso.
I Want My B-E-T
Let Us Now Praise Famous Gangstas (and Their Videos)
by Scott Seward
September 29 - October 5, 1999
Puff Daddy is winking at me. He is slowly disrobing and his teeth glisten in the moonlight. My heart starts to beat a little faster as he points to his drawers and sez, "I call my pee-pee p-diddy, cuz it's so pwecious!" He sounds like Tweety Bird. That's when I hear a voice in my ear: "Don't believe the hype!" "Whozat?" I mutter, "Harry Allen?" But no, it's Stanley "The Grouch" Crouch, naked and unashamed. "The rap isn't any good for you," he bellows. "You gotta listen to what Wynton's been working on. It's a six-hour jazz opera based on the life of Zora Neale Hurston, comprised of 43 renditions of 'Satin Doll.' " Puffy is slowly putting his pants back on. Stanley can see my eyes glaze over, but he won't give up. "That devil rap will never last, my son." I turn to look at him. "Stanley, that Sermon on the Mount Menckenstylee might fly in the groves of academe, but there's something you got to recognize: ain't nothing like hip-hop music!" I can hear Puffy laughing as he and Stanley disappear in a cloud of smoke.
Then I wake up. Sean Combs is laughing on late-night Black Entertainment Television, which I keep running 24-7 in case there's an episode of Amen on that I haven't seen. I should have learned my lesson a month or two ago when I had a truly frightening dream featuring my mom, Big Pun, and Lil' Kim. I just can't stand to miss anything on a channel that rarely makes mistakes and always comes correct. Chuck D called rap the black CNN, but to me, BET is the black Weather, Sci-fi, and Independent Film channels all rolled up into one ball. One scrappy ball— I've been watching Rap City on BET for a decade, and they're still spending the same five-dollar bill on every episode.
Not that it matters. Rap City, just like my second favorite television show of all time, MTV's Headbanger's Ball (canceled because of the grunge explosion— just one more thing to blame those dirty hippy bastards for), is all about the videos. And what videos! Rap and metal vids share a few things other than young women in bikinis. They are all about wish- fulfillment and ego-trippin'. Some people, believe it or not, think the very things that make these videos so much fun (gangstas, gats, diamond-studded walking sticks) are somehow harmful to children. What some people forget is that most chidren are so stupid that as soon as they change the channel they forget what they just saw.
And to be fair, for every Westside Connection video (West Coast thug life nonsense starring Ice Cube of all people— his days of swarming on any motherfucker in a blue uniform long over— the video is him and his beefy pals looking ominous at a picnic), there's something like Gang Starr's "Discipline," a cautionary tale of playas getting played, and apparently blindfolded in toilet stalls by twin hootchie girls who steal wallets. Guru's hook is the line "Instead of preaching death in my songs, I breathe life." For every dumbass video like "Rap Life" by Tash and the Wu's pu-pu-platter-lovin' Raekwon— redeemed only by a trip to the racetrack where the jockeys are all, you guessed it, hootchie girls— there's "U-Way" by dirty south Outkast krew members, Youngbloodz. Just some old-fashioned rapping and a wholesome football game in this video. That is, until the whole thing stops dead for a full-length commercial featuring Bolt 45, the first 40-oz. sports drink for the serious drinker. The thing is so damn clever even Bill Bennett would have to chuckle.
Without the yin and the yang, any art is dead in the water. And rap, it should be noted, is the only art form to both acknowledge that the war on drugs is a form of genocide and hail the dancing prowess of the Smurf. You need the gangstas, thugs, and smugglers to offset the damage Q-Tip does by being such a cutie-pie. If the evils heaped upon the inner cities of America create an anger upsetting to some (check out Ja Rule's "4 Life," the in-your-face hyperkinetic camera angles of which are practically designed to scare the argyles off of Whitey), too bad. And when one of the most creative expressions of rage popular music has ever known gets dismissed as noise, that's just sad. Perhaps, like Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor, the freaks and wackos of hip-hop will someday be lionized, and rap will transform itself into toothless chamber music.
Rap music gives you a chance to see and hear something that is still growing and changing at this very moment. It may take one step forward and then two steps back depending on what week it is, but you will always hear something you've never heard before. So, to quote the Afrocentric Sprint long-distance ad, you don't want to sleep on this offer.
Which brings me to Juvenile. When I listen to this Louisiana ruffneck and stretch-Humvee habitué I am reminded of what 16th-century composer and Master of Music at the Vatican basilica, Giovanni Pierluigi Da Palestrina, wrote in a letter to the Duke of Mantua about music's divine purpose: that it should "give a living spirit to the words." This definition of a boombastic liturgical style fits the genius of Juvenile to a T. And if the only three gifts this screwed-up, bad, and beautiful country of ours ever gave to the world were Billie Jean King, Rita Moreno, and Juvenile, we would be conspicuous in our largesse. Having said all that, I should mention that Juvenile is one of the biggest mumblemouths in rap and I only understand about half of what he says. He also owns BET. On any given day, you can see him in the Hot Boys' "We on Fire" (will Juvenile and his Cash Money crew outfox the ATF?), or watch him in B.G.'s "Bling Bling" practicing the latest rap video cliché of throwing wads of cash on the ground (but not riding around in a speedboat), or catch him in his own smash, "Back That Thang Up," wherein all booty is homegrown like Juvenile himself and definitely not from central casting. Or you may catch one of his earlier ghetto tableaux where the pit bulls are picture perfect and the glass on the sidewalks shines like diamonds.
Along with his down-home N'awlins drawl, Juvenile makes good use of the early-'80s electro that's all the rage. Similar juxtaposition of techno-robots in the henhouse helps the sawdust-floor sound of a lot of dirty south recordings thrive. But going from nada to Prada, this month's champ in the Kraftwerk minimalist sweepstakes is Noreaga's "Oh No." It's an amazing song, and its Hype Williams video features arguably the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in boxing, Roy Jones Jr. Williams, the don of rap video, has been lambasted in the past for his odes to the good life. But his dreamy pace and many shades of blue would make he-man director Michael Mann envious.
There really is so much out there it's hard to keep up. Mariah Carey's video for "Heartbreaker" has animation, a ninja catfight, and Jay-Z in a tub. Mary J. Blige's equally mind-blowing "All That I Can Say" has Mary riding an escalator to heaven dressed in a pink cowboy hat and tutu only to find a nekkid Adonis hanging on a cloud. Busta's girl Rah Digga (who says she's "hotter than a region of Ghana") makes a right-fierce 21st-century splash in her "Tight" video. And hell, it ain't even winter yet! I have it on good authority there's going to be one or two more Charli Baltimore videos, and at least 40 more Juvenile videos, before Christmas.
Mental Machine Music
by Scott Seward
May 17 - 23, 2000
Whenever I listen to electronic classical music, or the avant of any garde for that matter, I always employ my own patented form of "deep listening," which combines the I Ching, game theory, 600 milligrams of yohimbé extract, and 40 well-positioned woofers. It kinda works. Inspiration, fear, and trembling inevitably ensue.
Thus did I sit myself down recently to sample Ohm: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music, a new three-CD box set put out by the ever elusive, enigmatic, and ineffable Ellipsis Arts label (which I'd never heard of before). Producers Thomas Ziegler and Jason Gross have created one swell-looking package: The 96-page companion book alone will surely test your smartypantsitude with its eyewitness accounts of pioneering German radio broadcasts and Area 51-like starry-eyed faith in the new math. This compilation is the perfect stocking stuffer for your pacifier-sucking offspring who think electro-frippery begins and ends with Aphex Twin. And lest you think school is for fools and that any chronological catalog of the grandpappies of synthesized sound must be some dry litany of bleeps and blips that time forgot, let me tell you that there isn't a snoozer or loser in the bunch.
Ohm begins pleasantly enough, and at the beginning (sort of), with Clara Rockmore's perfectly sublime rendition of Tchaikovsky's "Valse Sentimentale," played on that space-age hurdy-gurdy, the theremin. Mad Russian Leon Theremin, who invented this temperamental gizmo in the '20s, needed a diva to work her mojo on it, and Clara rocked his shit like Jimi would later rock an axe. (Not too many other of the fairer-gendered science-fair winners show up on the Ohm box, but the ones showcased are all [inter] stellar: Bebe Barron, Pauline Oliveros, Maryanne Amacher. No Wendy Carlos, but she's a cheater anyway.)
Things go smoother still with master blaster Olivier Messiaen's "Oraison" (1937), scored for the all-but-forgotten Ondes Martenot (early electronic keyboard—if you want a history lesson, go ask Stereolab). It's a lyrical wonder, but then I love everything this organ king ever did. Messiaen was the headmaster of the Avant/Electro School for Boys, his star pupils including Pierres Henry and Boulez, Luc Ferrari, Iannis Xenakis, and Karlheinz Stockhausen—thus, all high-tension wires lead to him. The Web's All Music Guide (indispensable to me 'cuz I steal from it so much) reveals that the divine, mystical Messiaen gained inspiration from the same sources that keep me going: Catholic religious themes and birdsong. The AMG also numbers among Olivier's followers Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki, Lalo Schifrin, and Björk—Wow, talk about your holy trifectas for hipsters on the go!—and makes special mention of his "Quartet for the End of Time," composed in a German prison camp. Essential listening, obviously, for anyone interested in life on earth.
One thing I dig about a lot of these (for the most part) classically trained composers is that their natural curiosity for all things modern won out over their highfalutin scholarship and spurred them on to search their nightmares for alien sounds and fiddle with tape recorders accordingly—thus setting the stage for those wild sounds you hear today in rock, funk, disco, hip-hop, soul, new age, techno, and Muzak. In other words, one might expect my nerves to be rattled by the groundbreaking slice 'n' dice tape experiments of Musique Concrete founder Pierre Schaeffer's 1948 "Etude aux Chemins de Fer" (lots of train whistles) and all-around-great-guy John Cage's subsequent 1952 "Williams Mix" (lots of of frog snippets, as if to say, "Vive le France!"), but I've been corrupted by too many groundbreaking Biz Markie records. Plus I have cable. So mostly, I just admire the determination involved in these guys taking months to do what any 12-year-old can now do in minutes on her computer.
Some of the folks included on Ohm are already firmly entrenched in the history books: Stockhausen, Cage, Xenakis (Buy all the Xenakis recordings you can find!), Edgard Varèse (whose 1958 "Poem Électronique" sounds like the reason headphones were invented), Steve Reich (whose 1968 "Pendulum Music" Sonic Youth sure did make swing on Goodbye 20th Century last year). And like T.O.N.T.O.'s headband, forever expanding, excerpted portions of their longer pieces no way detract from the flow created by a deft track selection that unravels and builds seamlessly. Which is to say the 6:20 edit of Stockhausen's "Kontakte" (1959-1960) still floats down as the sound resounds around the icy waters underground.
What really awakens me from my oscillator-generated stupor, though, is Tod Dockstader's "Apocalypse II" (1961)—a mere two-minute excerpt of doom-rock genius. Tod was punk as fuck and sexy to boot. Eno and Moby couldn't hold a candle to his chrome-domed electro-god looks. (Patti Smith was quoted somewhere as saying that she doesn't listen to music by anyone she wouldn't sleep with, so I'm guessing electronic classical music isn't her bag, what with most of the form's gurus looking like unpopular physics professors. I'm just glad that's not my criterion, or I never would have heard Radio Ethiopia!)
Anyway, I've gotta give a random chronological shout-out to a few other tracks especially worthy of immediate shortwave transmission:
# Raymond Scott "Cindy Electronium" (1959) Robert Moog (bless his heart) helped the silly symphony maestro build the clavivox, thus ensuring that a life-size statue will someday be built in Japan on behalf of Scott's tireless crusade for whimsy in music.
# Pauline Oliveros "Bye Bye Butterfly" (1965) Through tape manipulation and a peck of pinched Puccini, this piece invents postpunk nurses with wounds 13 years ahead of schedule.
# MEV (Musica Elettronica Viva) "Spacecraft" (1967) How my greasy loner friends who I trade Crispy Ambulance bootlegs with never turned me on to these acid-soaked freaks I'll never know. Looked them up on the Net, but all I found was a site for a radioactive ion-beam facility.
# Terry Riley "Poppy Nogood" (1968) The full title of this one is "Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band Purple Modal Strobe Ecstasy With the Daughters of Destruction." That's all you really need to know.
# David Tudor "Rainforest Version I" (1968) Pianist and muse to the stars, Tudor envisions an electro/worldbeat fusion full of gnashing teeth and tsetse flies: nothing at all soothing or N.P.R.-ready.
# Laurie Spiegel "Appalachian Grove I" (1974) Kudos must again go to Ohm's compilers, cuz Disc 3 (1972-1980) in no way wanes in quality (which I thought it might, since so many de rigueur synths and devices of that era have come to sound so Kitaro-y and Vangelis-y today). This computer-made track sounds as cool and alien as the day it was hatched. I played it on my computer, and my computer told me it loved me.
# Robert Ashley "Automatic Writing" (1979) The walls are melting, my brain is on fire, Throbbing Gristle are exposed as the frauds that they were. These physics professors are getting downright fucking spooky.
Which reminds me: Did I mention yet that all of these artists were completely insane? More than one of them based their compositional theories on ancient religion or metaphysical philosophy. Most had grandiose ideas of some perfect forum for their music to be heard, preferably with hundreds of loudspeakers involved. A 31-year-old Karlheinz Stockhausen, speaking in 1960, envisioned a time when every major city would have an auditorium specifically designed for the appreciation of "space music." If he had only known then what time and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer would bring!
And somehow, someway, every one of these egghead eccentrics managed to create (despite their often convoluted quantum mechanics fixations, crude yet mind-boggling inventions, and reliance on tin cans) a spontaneous-sounding and vibrant form of music, all but bypassing the always fashionable and almost always boring world of George Crumb wannabes and academic/atonal/serial/Schoenbergian federally funded "modern" classical music that exists to this very day. Perhaps when you're playing something called an "electronic sackbut" it's harder to get into a stylistic rut.
Or perhaps the answer lies in the warning that fad exploiter and '60s electronica icon Richard Hayman (who rearranged the hits of the day for sci-fi fans by adding synth burps and farts to "The Windmills of Your Mind" and "The Look of Love") includes in the liner notes to his Vietnam-era Genuine Electric Latin Love Machine LP: "Beware the Ides of Moog." Even in those dark samplerless, modemless days of yore, electronic gadgets and boxes provided the user with limitless possibilities to create unheard and unheard-of sound. Thus the greatest influences on today's music that no one has ever heard of—guys like La Monte Young in 1969, giving their masterpieces bizarre names like "31/69 c.12:17:33-12:25:33 pm NYC"—could screw with time and space via piercing sine waves that can still back up your sinuses for a week. So pin back your ears, mate. Piss off your dog!
Neurosis; the Gathering
by Scott Seward
August 4 - 10, 1999
On the eve of the new millennium, you will find me at the gates of Neverland Ranch, praying for the mortal souls of all humanity. I just read on the Web that the Antichrist is, in fact, the boy-child of Michael Jackson, one Prince Jackson (so named by Satan in cruel mockery of the Prince of Peace, and also of the living incarnation of Jesus Christ, Prince Rogers Nelson—a/k/a the Artist himself changing his name to a symbol decipherable only by the archangel Gabriel and his winged min ions). There will be a battle fought betwixt heaven and hell for the fate of earth and all of us on it. All we can do now is pray.
For those of you strong enough to search for further portents of the end-time to come, I suggest you delve into what is commonly referred to by biblical scholars as "heavy metal." Through all of metal's many twists and turns over the years there is one constant thread that unites the most disparate styles of this hallowed heathen music: man is evil and he must pay. Not even evangelical Christians have so much faith in the fact that we are doomed and that apocalypse is around the corner.
Take Neurosis. Starting life years ago as punk rock brutalists in the Bay Area, they have, through the fine art of metal plod, churned out album after album of music that is positively Kleboldian in its vision of doom and gloom. Their newest, Times of Grace, whittles the plod and violence down to the very essence of blue-eyed sludge. Aided and abetted by Steve "Crazy Legs" Albini (who's really paranoid that you're not going to hear the drums, so as usual he takes extra care to make sure that you do, even if it means everything else takes a shellacking in the clarity department), Neurosis sustain a strangely poetic mood of anguish (for what or for whom isn't really clear) that makes for pretty compelling listening.
The members of Neurosis also record as a more "experimental" group under the name "Tribes of Neurot." (You should be scared, but don't be.) The new Tribes disc, Grace, is a companion piece to the Neurosis album, designed to be played simultaneously for, and I quote, "a multi-dimensional sound experience." I'm guessing that just combining the two elements in the first place on one re cord might have been a bit heady for the bone-and-gristle set that is the heavy-touring Neurosis's bread and butter. (Since I couldn't find a copy of Grace, for the purposes of research I played the Neurosis disc simultaneously with The Best of Maggotron: Early Maggots, thinking the Miami bass legends would provide an added depth to the eternal sadness of Neurosis. It did, in fact, provide a "multi-dimensional sound experience.") I only hope that on their next album the two sides of this band do merge. Mono chromatic fury goes just so far, especially if you've been doing it for a decade. Aside from some strings and a killer bagpipe solo, Neurosis plod valiantly, but they plod all the same.
If you can't wait for the next Neurosis album, however, and you want both sides of the coin, and your local black-metal shop is out of the new Ulver (black-metal legends who have followed up their werewolf song cycle with an indescribable double-disc based on William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell), and you're tired of listening to the best rock al bum of '98, Katatonia's Discouraged Ones, and you don't care about the end of the world, and you just want to hear something heavy, beautiful, innovative, modern, and Dutch, then go buy the Gathering's How To Measure a Planet?
Once upon a time, even the Gathering were scary monsters and super creeps. But when they found their Lilith fair, singer Anneke van Giersbergen, their mood lightened, and all was good. Their last two albums, while pretty as a picture, were merely a training ground for this 3-2-1 blast-off rocket of a record. I'd give it a 10 if I gave 10s.
With a sound as big as the great outdoors, their version of metal bears absolutely no resemblance to a Dokken T-shirt or a Limp Bizkit sing-along. They're often lumped in with continental European Goth weirdos like Tiamat and Moonspell. (I tried to explain how Gothic-type metal sounds to someone I work with, and she said, "You mean like 'Stairway to Heaven'?" And I guess that sums it up pretty good!) But the Gathering don't traffic in the bugbears of Goth: to die is gain, the beauty of death, death becomes you. The Gathering just want to get a good night's sleep, and every one can relate to that. Traveling, dreaming, longing, swooning. The space-travel theme and romantic mood of the album only lend more gravity to the guitars when they decide to kick out the dikes. It all ends with a 20-minute blast that out-revs the Mercury Project, and there's no where left for the Gathering to go but up.
Lo-Fi Dead in O-hi-o?
Guided By Voices
by Scott Seward
September 1 - 7, 1999
Guided By Voices have the keys to the alt-rock kingdom. They are adored by thousands of critic types (and even some people who don't live in their mom's basement) for adhering to the Indie Music Purity Act signed in Geneva in 1986 by Bob Mould, Paul Westerberg, and various members of Killdozer— provisions of which entail being honest in an impoverished and obscure manner, showing a strong nondenominational midwestern work ethic, traveling in a van, being shafted by record labels, and recording albums with a Mr. Microphone and a Radio Shack boom box in your bass player's rec room.
In the past, the fact that the pride of Ohio, Robert Pollard (and whoever he could get to play with him), released albums simply as an excuse to come up with as many goofy song titles as possible only made him more endearing to cranky fanzine editors and art-garage aficionados the world over. And Guided By Voices were arty and of the garage— the best of their early stuff sounded like unreleased demo tapes some acid-rock casualty might have made in Dennis Wilson's guest house.
G.B.V. also spawned a DIY movement of sorts. It was composed of vinyl junkies of a certain age, who, although enamored with the rarefolkpsychmonster aspect of the '60s, had also learned a thing or two from postpunkers the Fall and Wire. (I'm thinking of Thinking Fellers Union, the Grifters, the Strapping Fieldhands, Sebadoh, Pavement.) And even though English majors need glorified bar bands as much as anyone else, most if not all these groups have since learned to embrace actual stereophonic recording studios, leaving room for a new generation of record-store clerks to dazzle us with the crudity of their art.
Robert Pollard, whose music hasn't sounded like an AM radio at the bottom of a well for years now, has gone further than any of his partners in production-value crime on Do the Collapse, his 400th album. Thanks to used Car Ric Ocasek's production job, this ex-schoolteacher's hobby band has a shiny new coat that would have been unimaginable five years ago. Ocasek makes rock so clean you can eat off it, and a lot of this album even has the punch and energy of the Cars' wondrous debut. (An energy not found on G.B.V.'s last two G.B.V. releases, although they both had their share of keepers, like for instance "Learning To Hunt" on Mag Earwig, an uncharacteristically poignant song about fatherhood that reminds me of "Kooks" on David Bowie's Hunky Dory. At least I think it's about fatherhood— it might be about hunting.) On
Collapse, "Teenage FBI" has those rinky-dink synths that Cars cover-band the Rentals revived not long ago, and the sweet guitar leads that waft in from nowhere on "Much Better Mr. Buckles" rank with powerpop's greatest gifts. Sturdy, dirt-simple riffs start off 95 percent of the album. (I never liked the Nirvana/grunge jangly-bumpkin intro approach; you just knew any second they were gonna stomp on their effects pedal, set for "long hair.")
I'm not going to get into band members here besides our hero Mr. Pollard. You can look up their tangled family tree on the G.B.V. Web site, and who knows, you might even be on it! I like the band shots that adorn the new album, though. What with the guys dressed up in custodial-crew gear, the pictures don't convey the long-standing indie chic of trucker hats, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and somebody else's work clothes so much as they resemble promo shots of cleaned-up Ohio pub-rockers the Rubber City Rebels, circa 1979.
And G.B.V.'s on TVT now— same label that
gave long-in-the-tooth Aussie punk Chris Bailey of the Saints a new lease on life, and the label that made Nine Inch Nail Trent Reznor so mad he spit out a million-selling record. I guess their former label, Matador, now a cutting-edge dance imprint, didn't hear enough drum 'n'/or bass in the new G.B.V. sound (but there's plenty of both!). Has this band sold out its underground cred by creating a slick pop-rock album on a label founded with sitcom theme-music money?
First of all, nobody cares. Second of all, Robert Pollard is old enough to be your father's older brother. More important, he lives in Dayton, Ohio. What's he gonna do, buy the swankiest house in Dayton with all that dough TVT throws around? Put a moat around his above-ground pool? People from Ohio are incapable of selling out. Just ask Devo, the Bizarros, Pere Ubu, and the Dead Boys— all major-label heavyweights in their day. The only way you can do it is if you move away to England like Chrissie Hynde and dis your smelly shores from afar. And so what if Do the Collapse has the best Collective Soul song ever recorded ("Hold on Hope") on it? You'll still never hear it on the radio. In a perfect world, the cliché goes, kids would flip their lids for whatever collegiate rock icon is being neglected this week. In the real world, somebody with a flair for language and a good hook should be able to earn a happy living without ever leaving home.
New Hampshire Rap Nerd Invents Whiter Shade of Radiation
Passage's The Forcefield Kids
by Scott Seward
June 7th, 2004 7:20 PM
Passage is all wrong for me. He's too young, more doofus than youfus, and from New Hampshire. Which means by law he must live free or die. Which scares me. However, his Beckian folktronic lo-fi histrionics intrigue 'cuz there is tension and pain (or squirreliness or Ritalin) lurking beneath the pathological logorrhea that comes with the territory of detritus-collecting rap-addict hipsters who paint extra-pale pictures of their fidgety nerdball lives as beat-driven outcasts in love with the def soundz of their youth and who make no apologies for their lack of accreditation from Hard Times High. Dude's catchiest chorus: "White boys ain't got no slave song/So we invented radiation." What the hell? Fucker don't give a damn if you get it. A man's gotta eat. Last line of a recent newspaper live-show write-up: "Most of the crowd was white." White. White. White. That echo just doesn't mean what it used to. Fifty years from now all the beige babies will be saying: "That Passage was wild, Poppy!" "Yes, Son, he was onto something with that shit."
Total Eclipse of Art
Noises on: Thurston and more
by Scott Seward
June 2 - 8, 1999
Does anyone remember laughter?" When human codpiece and supposed former infatuation junkie Robert Plant posed this rhetorical question to a roomful of drug-addled, glue-sniffing, Gremlin-driving, white-bread, chickenshit motherfuckers, what he really should have said was "You don't really take this stuff seriously, do you?" Which would have been more to the point, as most in attendance that night did little more than smoke tons of bad pot and laugh their asses off. But even given the fact that mid-'70s American youth knew how to party, they sure as heck did take Zep seriously.
Of course, rune-reading, lyric-deciphering, and generally taking rock'n'roll way too seriously didn't start with Zep. It started with the Beatles, drugs, social upheaval, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the plaster cast of Jimi Hendrix's penis. But as far as rock for art's sake goes, I'm just going to blame everything on the Velvet Underground. The Velvets were arty and weird, they hung out with exotic albinos, and their live shows featured one-note guitar-and-fiddle drones that lasted for fortnights.
This is where the trouble starts. Because in Germany at the end of the '60s, there was a seemingly endless number of engineering students looking to break into the music biz. Taking their cue from early VU and Pink Floyd, and serious as a heart attack when it came to psychedelic gnome worship, bands like Can, Faust, Amon Düül, and Ash Ra Tempel held rock'n'roll as alleged intellectual pursuit to its highest standard. Rolling jazz, classical, raga, electronic, folk, and sheer ear-splitting cosmic sloppery into one big Teutonic ball, the Krauts made music for really pissed-off hippies.
If you could still hear an echo of Wa-Watusi backbeat in Lou Reed's VU output, the Germans made sure any such links to rock's golden years were wiped off their boots. Germany as a country was all about forgetting the past and not asking Daddy what he did during the war, so why not make noises that beforehand had only been heard in space and in Karlheinz Stockhausen's fever dreams?
Which brings us to why so many eggheads nowadays can't get over this roughly seven-year period ('68'75) in Germany's musical history. Even though the post-music crowd is already, as I speak, mining other rich veins of lost treasure (Serge Gainsbourg, Lee Hazelwood, Italian vampire movie soundtracks, rare jug band 78s, King Diamond picture discs), Krautrock is still king for those who will not allow themselves to dance. To simplify matters further, I'm just going to blame Thurston Moore.
In the almost-30-year career of Sonic Youth, if Thurston only told two people a week to buy a Cluster or Achim Reichel LP, I figure that constitutes about half the U.S. sales of Krautrock to date. And if only half of those people formed bands, that would at least explain why Blur threw away their Ian Whitcomb albums and started experimenting with "sound."
But at least Blur have songs, which Thurston and his posse of E.S.P. and Actuel skronk fiends often neglect in their search for the ideal soundscape or whatever. Krautrock was more than just building walls of skree und sludge, and a lot of the people who feed off the Kraut korpus seem to be missing the joy of making stuff up that those original cosmic jokers had in spades. Instead, they ride their wave of feedback until we're all just a little bit seasick.
If you're into noise, atmosphere, and alien life-forms, though, I heartily recommend the new Faust CD, Ravvivando. Revived as an act like so many other indie totems over the last few years (Scott Walker, Tom Rapp, Silver Apples, Cher), Faust manage to sound current, if not as groundbreaking as they once were. Their records from the early '70s achieved some sort of apex of fucked-up guitar violence and off-the-cuff lunacy. On the new one, low-end fuzz, shortwave buzz, and psych-meltdown scuzz prove these oldheads ain't dead yet. The fact that they were making a racket like this when today's Syd Barrett grave robbers were in utero must say something about the restorative powers of LSD and sauerbraten.
On the other hand, if you're like me and view rock as serious fun and all of life as art, and also believe the greatest technical achievement in pop was the release of "Surfin' Bird," the British Empire (of all places) has just sent over two other new post-Kraut albums you
really gotta hear.
The first is from Scotland's Beta Band, who are by turns languid, goofy, dreamy, empty-headed, and a shambles. Their first full-length is a jungle of pomo Beckisms that include music-hall sing-alongs, human beatboxes, lo-fi geetar rave-ups, Casio abuse, hand clapping, bongos, steel drums, and a healthy irreverence for rap music. When you least expect it, though, the Spike Jones pennywhistles and Bonzo Dog Band sound effects give way to moments of true beauty and spacey as well as spacious harmonies. "The Hard One" even manages to be both a dramatic set piece and a loving tribute to Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart"!
Some groups have the ability to come up with the right combination of sounds that almost instantaneously hit the pleasure center of your brain. Beta Band do this more often than not. Beck can do it too when he's not playing the po'boy. I've heard people call the Betas funky, but really, Santana were a lot funkier. Pilfered beats don't make you funky unless you steal good ones and use them right, or unless your feet stink. But they've still got a rare rhythmic sense— that mad Scottish flow, yo. (Maybe they grew up listening to Rufus Harley's jazz bagpipes.) You could remix their shit to death, which explains why they're more aligned to rave culture than to jam-band culture, their ideal fan a shag-adelic lad in an anorak with a tech-step Mogwai 12-inch under his arm. Not that the spotty and bearded Phish-head with Ozric Tentacles bumper stickers on his tent at the outdoor Hawkwind show couldn't dig the Betas' nature scene either. (By the way, I plead ignorance, but are any of those newfangled jam bands funky? I don't think you could get any un-funkier than the Dead. Maybe those two drummers confused each other.)
It's remarkable to me how fully realized Beta Band's sound has always been, from their 1997 debut EP until now. (Their early '99 compilation The Three E.P.'s is even better than the new album, and the new one's groovy like in the movies.) It's also remarkable to me how more people haven't managed to make their droniness and repetition at least a little more fun and worth following as Beta Band does. (Not everyone can be a master at it like Giorgio Moroder or Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, but it's worth a try.) Organic and folky even when working with beats and a full-time turntable twiddler, the Betas have cracked the Kraut code: having hipster leanings work hand in hand with idiot hippie charm.
But where Beta Band's new record is a variation on their past (happily pointless) themes, Add N To (X)'s second album is a huge improvement over their last London-based blast of Moog madness. Their first album, On the Wires of Our Nerves, got on my last one. They did come up with some pretty innovative ways to annoy me with analog electronics, though. Avant Hard, I'm happy to say, rocks harder than it avants, and I'm going to wait all night for tickets when they play the Garden. Majestic, loping, driving shit, I don't know— it's really cool, and loud. Powerchords with not a guitar in sight (although live human drummers) and with humor! (Best song titles: "Ann's Eveready Equestrian," "Machine Is Bored With Love.") These guys have made a great rock'n'roll album that could conceivably come from some form of the future. (The new Future World disc by Chicago thrill jockeys Trans Am tries this too, but sounds a little more like Jeff Beck if he had been born underwater and elected president of the Jonzun Crew fan club.)
Add N To (X) have learned to use their past algebraic abrasiveness for the greater good, and have more chance of ruling the world than actual Kraut white-noise fit-throwers Atari Teenage Riot. Galloping hoofbeats, Valkyrie vocals, military snares, vocoders, all united into happy, upbeat melodies: what's not to like? Even the worrywarts and math majors might get up and shake a leg when "Metal Fingers in My Body" hits the airwaves. Soon to be a smash— on Neptune, at least.
Gossamer Wings of Poop
Monster Magnet, God Says No
by Scott Seward
April 5th, 2001 6:30 PM
And on the eighth day, God created Black Sabbath. And the Stooges, the MC5, Blue Cheer, Led Zeppelin, Keith Richard's teeth, and Leslie West's belly. And it was good. For the white devil had taken the black devil's devil music and made of it something twice and sometimes three times as devilish. Just ripped that stuff right out of the fertile Mississippi mud and defiled the shit out of it. The blues begat the blooze and it was ugly, bloated, and loud. And Petey Wheatstraw wept.
If the blues was a music of tension and release born from an anguished cry of joy and pain amid the toil and strife of an often embittered existence, and enjoyed during its prime by solid folks who used their backs and hands to carve out a spot for themselves in an unfair world, then heavy metal (in all its not so subtle variations) was a constant orgasm that would enthrall mostly orgasm-plagued teenagers in search of the eternal buzz. All of which begs the question: Will Moby and Tortoise destroy rock and roll?
I tend to think that they won't. Bad dance music and bad jazz-prog will never win out as long as millions of teens are still listening to bad rap and bad metal. The rock of iniquity just keeps on rolling down the proverbial hill of deviance in search of the lake of inebriation to slake its thirst in preparation for yet another round of Dionysian bacchanals. No, the golden age of rock and roll will never die as long as kids want to laugh and kids want to cry. (For further proof, in England they're no longer listening to bad techno and bad trance: The hottest thing is something called U.K. Garage! Yeeeah, baby—bust out those Seeds and Count Five records and have yerself a right corker!)
This is all just a roundabout way of saying that the new Monster Magnet album is kinda crappy, and they'd better check themselves before they quite irrevocably wreck themselves. We need these American doper-rock icons now more than ever, if only to combat some of the more tedious artyfartifications of rock-based forms. What we don't need are semi-so-so songs that are samey in a bad way as opposed to gamy in a good way.
In the past, Monster Magnet and their leader, "Diamond" Dave Wyndorf, were always game for good-to-go cartunes best played on the Jersey Turnpike at midnight in August with the top down during a holiday weekend with the thermometer at 90, a bad hangover, and half a case of Pabst to get through. You know, the good life. Crappy mescaline, dirtweed. Another rerun of Cops. Monster Magnet could whisk you away on gossamer wings made of poop. The collective unconsciousness of Iggy, Paul Stanley, and the Sab emanating from a brain raised on Wacky Packs, Creepy magazine, and the Silver Surfer. In a word: retro. Their sci-fi lyrics completely at odds with their earthbound creationist thud.
No lyricist has ever explored the many moods of his penis as eloquently as Dave Wyndorf. So God Says No, along with anything by Dave's spiritual and philosophical cousin Rob Zombie (the Rat Fink to Wyndorf's Boo Boo), is still a must-have for any self-respecting stripper. But for non-polesliders I'd say stick with any of Monster Magnet's earlier, funnier, stoopider offerings. Start with '98's Powertrip, where Dave's lyrics achieved some sort of idiot genius, and then work your way back if you're so inclined. The further back you go, the guitars just get louder and meaner. (Speaking of ax murder, if you find Monster Magnet a little posh for your taste, definitely pick up Magnet guitarist Ed Mundell's albums with boogie separatist outfit Atomic Bitchwax, and re-create a time when Toe Fat, Tucky Buzzard, and Status Quo ruled the land with a ham fist.)
Truth is, God Says No just ain't stoopid enuff. It falls flat where it should fall to its knees in a Benzedrine benediction. It's like the hawk without the wind. Like Uriah without the heap. It's got a serious lack of cheap thrills: about two memorable riffs, some nifty slide guitar, a song that melds the Strawberry Alarm Clock with Dick Dale and Filter, some fairly uninspired goat-god dick jokes, and processed beats (which I got no beef with, and if they're trying to duplicate the success of '98's "Space Lord" with some MTV-friendly fare, that's fine by me—somebody has to bring the rock to the kids, even if a reference to dead funny-book illustrator Jack Kirby will most likely have them scratching their pea-filled noggins).
I've always seen Monster Magnet as the essential middle ground for rock fans turned off by "real" heavy metal on the one hand, and lacking the patience or lung strength necessary to appreciate the heavier acid sounds to be found under bridges and behind methadone clinics on the other. And I'll definitely be looking for more bong-worthy material from them in the future.
They've had such an inspired take on what makes squalling guitars, blooze bastardization, and gung ho boosterism of drug abuse, nihilism, and debauchery such an integral piece of our national fabric. That knowledge, and the deft implementation of said knowledge, is a treasure that will be embraced by generations to come. For Satan's sake, someone has to ride the tractor on the drug farm! Plus, at this very moment, the Sea and Cake or Mogwai are in the studio recording yet another album. Wait, do you hear that? Is that an oud? Quick, to the fuzzbox!
What's up with DAT?
by Scott Seward
July 21 - 27, 1999
Billboard trumpets MP3 and streaming audio feeds, but I'm high on DAT. Specifically, "Who Dat" by JT Money and "I'll Bee Dat!" by Redman. Perfecting the DAT technology pioneered by proto-rap superheroes the Pipkins in their 1970 smash "Gimme Dat Ding" (they were a mysterious bunch: What if they never got dat ding? And what would they do with dat ding once they got it?), JT Money (no relation to Eddie), who by his own admission is the pimpingest pimp who ever pimped, takes a cue from his predecessors in rhyme, T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, by incorporating ancient traditions with the new to create a poetic voice for the future. "Who Dat"'s hypnotic use of tribal call-and-response is as old as Africa itself, and the "who dat" mantra has already been embraced by the fine dancehalls of Kingston. Even lyrically the song reinforces the idea of tribe, as JT tries to keep his crew free of triflers and knuckleheads. Rap has to be the only art form today that can call on voices so ancient and distant, yet remain the most modern sound on earth.
Redman's "I'll Bee Dat!" single, my second fave of the year after JT's, has the same undercurrent of dread as "Who Dat"...not to mention an undercurrent of dreads, thanks to a Beenie Man sample. (FYI to all you soccer moms: Beenie Man sells limited edition Beenie Man Beenie Babies at all his shows!) As with a lot of rappers, Redman's genius is his confusion—that classic identity crisis (who is he? Redman, Doc, Reggie, the fool, the player?) best illustrated in Invisible Man by rockin' Ralph Ellison (whose story "Cadillac Flambe" serves as the spiritual and psychic template for all hip-hop). Redman's all dat, he ain't shit, he's a cartoon, he's a man. In his own way, he asks the two questions that black people and artists in America have always asked themselves: "Who am I?" and "Where do I stand?"
Do Dew the Crabtown Clam
Baltimore Breakbeat House Trax Are the New Everything
by Scott Seward
April 9 - 15, 2003
"My neck, my back, lick my pussy and my crack," sped up Bagdasarian style over the omnipresent crabtown kick drums. She wants to bust a nut all over your face, and who's to argue? Ring, Ring! "Hello?" Shades of Michel'le, who was sped up and fed up from birth 2 Eazy Street. "Holla back baby!" Human disko train whistle wooo wooo's trump beatboxes. Here comes the scratching of the train down the trax. "East side!" "West side!" Are they all right? Are their hands in the air? I don't know east from west cuz the last time I was in Baltimore Brooks Robinson was skinning knees and flipping it to first with alacrity. "If you hate your boss say whoa!" "Where my e-pill niggaz at?" "Where my e-pill bitches at?" Perhaps on the east side, but then again . . . someone starts shouting "Right here!" So he was right there the whole time! Why is "Latin Grove" called Latin Grove when it sounds like an Afro-kinder choir singing in Swahili backed by Ms. Pac-Man and Disco Tex?
Then the whole thing bleeds elegantly into "Let the Beat Rock," which rips "The Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight" and then goes straight into DJ Technics' rollin' deconstruction of "Mr. Postman." That one's for all the bootleg-lovin' dudes who believe that appropriation must come at arm's length. But why? Subcultures are just neighborhoods you don't live in. Places too far away to go. But they're there all the same, and they're open for business. They take credit cards.
Remember D.C. go-go? Well, you remember "Da Butt" anyhow. Kinda sounded like some cats got together and said, "Let's be Bambaataa, but we'll let Uncle Leroy play the spoons." Or some shit like that. Oh hell, DJ Erik is mixing rump-worship histrionica into Sanford and Son cut-up harmonica. Wasn't that jazz champeen Toots Thielemans on that number? "You Big Dummy" kills me every time, till I join Elizabeth and Redd up in the clouds and then Tina Turner brings me back to life with the intro to "Proud Mary" sliced and diced into Nutbush stew. DJ Erik maneuvers the manipulated "andwe'regonnatakethebeginningofthissongandmakeiteasy" right into the Dixie Cups in the chapel gettin' married 'cept Rob Base's breakbeats are the wedding band. . . . But anyway, about go-go. They had the drums and then some. Baltimore house trax are almost all drums. The absence of bass can freak ya out a little.
Hold on, the staccato trumpet break of "Ride My Pony" is turning into the Eurythmics. To make a long story short: Louis Jordan + Motown + the Meters + Fatback + go-go + Miami bass + Detroit techno + Chicago house + I-wanna-go-back-how-far-ya-wanna-go-back-way-back-era rap + Hennessy = Baltimore breakbeat doo dew trax music. I could draw you a picture of a big fat juicy ass if that'd help you any.
"If you believe in having sex, say hell yeah!" Kick drums and moldy breaks moving at magnificent speeds around the universe. "When I say S, you say E, when I say X, you say sex!" You haven't lived till you've heard Diana Ross snipped and trimmed like Lee Perry's head at the barbershop alongside the Funk Brothers. A two-dollar click track, and a hi-hat set on kill.
When'd I get hooked? Musta been when I bought DJ Sixth Sense's contribution to the Unruly Tapemaster series in '99. Right after Frank Ski's "Whores in the House," scream queen (lotsa queens help make this scene) Ms. Tony had me beggin' with the good vibration exhortation "Martha Wash, pull ya gunz out! Whitney Houston, pull ya gunz out!" I was done! That disc hit my solid-gold wall of doo dew that is done so well. Right up there in the pantheon with my Warlock Warparty comp, my KMS Techno 1 comp, my Hot Mix 5 '88 Windy City jack track best-of, Miami Bass Wars II: Operation Overload (Maggozulu Too with "Zingen, Zangen, Gezungen"! Baltimore is still rockin' the Kurt Schwitters/George"Ramalamadingdong" Kranz dada beat along with that aforementioned dom-domine-dom-domine-dominatrix), and those two-for-a-dollar JDC mixer tapes I used to buy where the electro is a direct descendant of the Universal Robot Band and my dream lover Giorgio and made for disco dancing not breakin' or looking sad in a London Fog trenchcoat. These ain't random shoutouts. All this stuff is right there in the ballpark. Not Camden Yards, the other one. Whatever the hell it was called. Like I said, I wouldn't know Baltimore/D.C. from Minneapolis/St. Paul. But I love how there are so many streets I haven't walked down yet. It ain't like I'm Alan Lomax sprouting wood at the sight of any toothless, bearded hag sporting a cowbell, either. I just adore yokelism. And trax sounds are block-by-block constructions.
Hold up! Where's Erik B at? "Blow your whistle!" "Blow your whistle!" Shit kills me. That solitary disco whistle sample repeated over and over while Bernard Herrmann trombones of doom lie in wait beneath the water until the whole schmear explodes like 50 Cent at the end of a long line at Popeyes. Rep-rep-rep-repetition is the key to my kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Like I said in my seminal essay (go ahead, Google me baby, you know you want to) "Why Baltimore House Music Is the New Dylan": "Some people call dance music mindless, but that's just another word for transcendent." Oh yeah, I'm deep, kid. Erik B is spinning someone's remake/remodel of the Coasters' "Charlie Brown." The bitchslappery of '50s and '60s a.m. gold being a newish development. But if you're thinking tired-ass Moby shit, think again. Autechre or Aphex Twin would be filling out job applications at Verizon Wireless if they ever heard this stuff. Don't believe me? Good. Don't. See if I care. I hear Bores of Canada have a new album coming out. Start lining up, Poindexter. I'll be listening to DJ Technics' King of Club Tracks Vol. I and II. They have "Green Doo Dew," "Doo Dew Dance," "Supa Zing Zing," "Doo Dew Ding-a-Ling," and "Disco Dukey" featuring Dukeyman on them. How can I lose?
Elephant Men Exhumed
Not Imaginary Like a Snuffleupagus
by Scott Seward
April 16 - 22, 2003
As any food section in any paper will tell you: Everyday life in post-9-11 times is all about comfort. Things are so bad, restaurants have started taking the garlic out of already quite comforting garlicmashed potatoes so as not to disrupt our newly infantile constitutions. Which brings us to the Atlanta quartet Mastodon and Remission, their big-fat-bloody-porterhouse-steak-with-a-baked-spud-on-the-side-the-size-of-your-head-smothered-in-extra-fat-butter of an album. And why I feel no shame in mainlining its riffs, power chords, and tar-pit attack in the exact same way that I did Sabbath's as a 12-year-old in the hinterlands.
Come to think of it, seeing how I long ago came to grips with my spiritually unenlightened entropy, I really don't need war, destruction, terrorism, and a failing economy as excuses to burrow deep underground with childhood totems. I live for family, french fries, the Gilmore Girls, and loud, obnoxious music. Mastodon combine Necros shout and muscle, in-tune (and much better played) Sonic Youth instro beauty, late-period Entombed swing, and the Viking metal bite and execution of, oh, I don't know, Amon Amarth.
So the mathematical formula for a song like "March of the Fire Ants," while surprisingly simple, is sure to be duplicated. Crunch times fire ants divided by a disregard for the recording techniques of the century we now live in equals a bass that sounds like a rock with strings attached to it played through an X-ray machine. A heavy balm for your souls, brothers and sisters. Sometimes the same old same old can knock your ear on your ass.
Snowplow You Bad Elephant!
Godspeed You Black Emperor! "lift yr. skinny fists like antennas to heaven!"; Jackie-O Motherfucker fig. 5
by Scott Seward
December 27 - January 2, 2001
I quit smoking cigarettes recently and I've been making do with Gummi Bears, the patch, and tons of righteous weed. So between Kid A, Madonna, and that new Doves album, I've been enjoying a summer of love in my mind. The Doves' mantras of desolation are even trippier than the first couple Cranes records (though maybe not as lysergic as prime Swans or Ravens), Madonna's new one makes the 13th Floor Elevators sound like the Weavers, and Kid A doesn't have a thought in its head, always a plus with stoner rock. (Laddish punter Nick Hornby recently lambasted Radiohead for making an album only 16-year-olds could enjoy because apparently adults who have to work and buy food don't have time to be "challenged" by rock records. What seems to be lost on Hornby is that the biggest challenge most listeners would have with Kid A would be getting the plastic wrap off the CD. I hope somebody bought Mr. Hornby some Lucinda, Victoria, and/or Dar Williams records for Christmas.)
Never previously one to partake, I am loving the reefer. And I highly (get it?) recommend that everyone do the same when listening to the two bands currently on my cannabis hit parade: Godspeed You Black Emperor! and Jackie-O Motherfucker. As it happens, I first heard about Godspeed from my Swans e-mail discussion list (our watchwords: Power & Volume). The list has never steered me wrong, so I picked up the previous Godspeed releases (f#a#(infinity) and Slow Riot for New ZerØ Kanada), and the band became my dark Canadian masters.
I actually tried to write about GYBE!'s new "lift yr. skinny fists like antennas to heaven!" while I was high as a kite, but I lost the plot (there's a lesson for you 16-year-olds: Don't get stoned unless you do your homework first). Here are some notes I took after inhaling a spliff as big as the Ritz: Montreal/multi-member/ multi-membered?/multi-orgasmic/do people have skinny fists?/maybe babies/Savage Republic/Lebanese surf spaghetti doom guitar/ummagumma!/they are genius/Canadians are slow/I like slow/2112 takes a long time/bytor you black snow dog!/if the Dirty Three made out with Ennio Morricone at a Glenn Branca concert . . . /If Savage Garden made out with Glenn Branca at a Banana Republic . . . /Buy more ice cream.
Oy vey! What was I thinking? "Lift yr. skinny fists" is the best movie I've seen all year. The Morricone reference rings true in the way Godspeed scatters taped voices, sound effects, and a general dustbowl dynamic around the outskirts of their symphonies to godlessness. No singer! Maybe I am getting old. The anguish of the instrument is all I need to hear. On Godspeed's new one, there's a minute or two of Harry Smith-anthology-outtake rehash, but overall, they shut up real good. Vocals would just ruin the whole epic rising-tide wall o' bombast thing anyway.
Godspeed's records will either blow your head off or leave you shrugging, depending on where your personal quest for freedom is taking you. They are uplifting in the same way that "TV Eye," "Marquee Moon," and "Expressway to Yr. Skull" were when I first heard them. GYBE! sometimes get tagged as a sort of doomsday cult with a bleak worldview. Yeah, well, so's your mom.
A like-minded consortium of faceless anti-heroes can be found on fig. 5 by the allegedly-from-Portland Jackie-O Motherfucker. Like GYBE!, they sport a cast of thousands adept at creating a setting conducive to both contemplation and fireworks. Electro-acoustics give way to pretty postrock, which makes room for a faux-yet-effective a cappella choir reading of ancient death folk, which propels the group (who are they? Beats me! Apparently they put out two vinyl-only releases before this one, thus reducing their potential audience at the time by about 99.9 percent) into a rousing facsimile of skronk and free-love meandering that I don't hate despite my solemn vow never to listen to anything that smells like jazz but isn't. Sounds like J-O M recorded fig. 5 in a church. I hope their utopianism (or Unitarianism, maybe?) is never stunted.
Interpol's Turn on the Bright Lights
by Scott Seward
October 7th, 2002 3:00 PM
Are Interpol the Steve Forbert of postpunk revival acts? (See www.nerdmagazine.org/forbert.html.) Are they, as The New York Times would have it, the beginning of the end of the New York rock underground? Is Matador the Steve Forbert of indie rock labels? Will Interpol teach us to dance again? Are Interpol and the Strokes the Stray Cats of a new era? (Loved the Stray Cats, by the way. And the Polecats! In fact, Jack White could do a helluva cover of their "Make a Circuit With Me": "Diode, cathode, electrode, overload, generator, oscillator/make a circuit with me!") Do I prefer the postpunkatronicacore of the Doves over Interpol? Probably not. No. Maybe. Perhaps. I don't see why not. Yes.
But first of all, my choice for post-pre-punk cowpunk act of the year is the Dixie Chicks. "Long Time Gone" takes the pre-punk punk energy of bluegrass and infuses it with a postpunk lyrical delivery that is matchless, peerless, and so artful as to render the artless among us speechless. (Remember the old saw: If you put 100 undergrads who can't play a lick in a room with 100 instruments for 100 days, you get a postpunk electro underground revival every time.) Now if I could just get Natalie and the girls to sing "Sex Beat" by the Gun Club. "I, I know your reasons/and I, I know your goals/we can fuck forever/but you can never get my soul!" Yikes, I think I just wet myself. (And don't get me started on Shakira. She's so Lene, I Lovich! The post-Nina Hagen preprandial corn muffin we've been starved for.)
If the Strokes and Interpol remind me of anyone, though, it would have to be forgotten '80s sailor-core combo Roman Holiday. They, like the Strokes and Interpol, used retro tunes and snazzy duds to re-invigorate rudderless music scenes: in Roman Holiday's case, the wonders of doo-wop and Broadway show tunes; in the Strokes', five-year-old Britpop tunes and the wonders of the bygone Madchester scene of Inspiral Carpets and Ride. And Interpol? Why, they're just the cutest li'l things to come down the Hudson since the Dutch and their adorable shoes. And if they remind people of a band like Joy Division, a group that combined the spirit and energy of U.K. punk with the art-rock futurism of Bowie/Eno/Stooges, well, there's a reason for that. They're trying to.
If you listen to "Untitled," the first track on their debut, Turn On the Bright Lights, squint your eyes, stand on one leg, cover an ear, and pretend that the bass, vocals, and tune are better than they are, you'll even swear you're hearing Joy Division. But that song is really just a snippet—an unfinished idea, or perhaps just an extended intro.
The first proper song, "Obstacle 1," is more confusing but also more interesting. Confusing because it starts out sounding like that Chili Peppers song all over the radio that goes "standing in line at the movie show with a monkey, heavy load," or something, but then it switches to the famous guitar intro from "Marquee Moon" by Television. What makes this confusing is that I love the TV song but I hate the Peppers song, so I don't know what to feel. Plus, I keep thinking the singer dude is gonna break into that Pixies song that goes, "Is she weird, is she white, is she promised to the night?" . . . but he doesn't. Black Francis was a great goth lyricist, and this guy's good too—like, there's something about getting stabbed in the neck. All Interpol songs have some cool one-liner or meaningless non sequitur that's good for a laugh.
"NYC," their best song by far, has the great line "Subway she is a porno" that also sounds like Black Francis in his old fake-Mexican role. "NYC" is the reason I bought the album, because when I heard it I thought it was such a stunningly beautiful thing. It sounds exactly like a lost Kitchens of Distinction epic, and it's worthy of being in a CSI autopsy scene (although Sigur Rós's would be hard to beat). Or at the very least background music for a cool HBO perils-of-heroin documentary.
"PDA" opens like "This Charming Man," which is charming when you think about it. We need more Smiths enthusiasts, if only to take back the '80s from R.E.M. and U2. (One of the benefits of retro-rock is that it helps determine which sounds are worth keeping around and which ones need to be forgotten.) And it ends with a coda that sounds like the Chameleons song "Nostalgia"! Are Interpol cheeky, or what?
"Say Hello to the Angels" starts off like one of those other cowpoke Smiths songs, then proceeds to sound like every Smiths song all at once. Kind of a greatest-hits homage in one tune. It also sounds like the singer is saying "Move into my assface," which I don't think even Morrissey could get away with. (He also says "This is a concept." Which makes sense.)
"Hands Away" is pretty, like a Simple Minds B side from around the time of Sister Feelings Call. But again, it's just a snippet. Not really a song.
"Obstacle 2" sounds like what I like to call "post-Interpol" music. It's what the singer's album will sound like after Interpol breaks up and he starts a new band called Scotland Yard. All their retro tricks in one track!
"Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down" is more Chameleons, and really good Chameleons! (Though, well, it was all good, wasn't it? Jeez, you guys own all the Chame-leons records, don't you? No?? Well, whuddya waiting for? And buy those reissues of the first three records by the Sound while you're at it. And Section 25, too! Although they might be harder to find. I could tape you what I have.)
I think Interpol are my new favorite New York rock underground band. "Roland" is great—it actually deserves the Joy Division comparison. Or hell, even a Bauhaus comparison. How many bands in 2002 are even as good as Bauhaus were? How about: none! Well, there is my beloved Katatonia, whose last three (!) albums were better than any rainydaysandmondaysgetmedownadelica you could mention. (And in fact they're my favorite band, but technically they're metal and not on Thrill Jockey, so you probably haven't heard them because metal is a ghetto and we like it that way so stay the fuck out if you're just gonna gawk, stupid Spin magazine. I'll give you a metal issue—right in your smug snoot!)
Anyway, Interpol are tops! For this week, anyway. And no matter what happens to them in the future, they'll always have "NYC" to hang their skinny ties on. If I like them because they remind me of eating bad bathtub mescaline in the woods and listening to Cure singles, well, that'll do. You might like them for completely different reasons.
Psychedelic Seers of the Abominable Snowman Lay Waste
Ghost's Hypnotic Underworld
by Scott Seward
February 13th, 2004 5:30 PM
And lo, after five long years, they returned from the east bearing gifts of wisdom and nourishment for starved psychedelic souls. Their mother-temple brothers—with many tainted Japanese offerings of their own—endeavored to wear the sacred crown that rightfully belonged to these weary kings who traveled restlessly thru the spirit world and beyond searching for lost chords and majik unimagined. No carnivals in Babylon for these royal seers. Instead, like the Yeti, these ancient warriors ascended forbidden peaks in deathsome climes, forever growing stronger, biding their time for the day when they would lay waste to pretenders and fools with the one true tone. And destroy they did.
Yeesh, sorry 'bout that; must've been the fumes. Anyway, if Ghost's new Hypnotic Underworld is an ever expanding lotus blossom that grafts past prog desires and the will to propagate on its petals whilst consciously demanding collective pre-history antidotes and anecdotes in exchange for post-war/post-'68 letdowns and lessons learned that have forever addled the brains of impressionable seekers, then so be it. I'm in. History is written by the victors, but the beauty of desolation and dreams of rural idylls far from the bomb blasts are written by those who died for farce.
Werewolves of Norway
Los Lobos Tienen Mucho Frio
by Scott Seward
May 7 - 13, 2003
Ulver are not your grandfather's lycanthropic rock band. They are something much more complex and . . . well, let them explain it, as they do so eloquently in the notes to their Metamorphosis EP from 1999: "Ulver is obviously not a black metal band and does not wish to be stigmatized as such. We acknowledge the relation of part I & III of the Trilogie (Bergtatt & Nattens Madrigal) to this culture, but stress that these endeavours were written as stepping stones rather than conclusions. We are proud of our former instincts, but wish to liken our association with said genre to that of the snake with Eve. An incentive to further frolic only. If this discourages you in any way, please have the courtesy to refrain from voicing superficial remarks regarding our music and/or personae. We are as unknown to you as we always were."
1997's Nattens Madrigal (or The Madrigal of the Night: Eight Hymnes to the Wolf in Man) was a savage lo-fi/bedroom/demo-quality slab of Norwegian hell-metal so intense that even Anthony Jr. of the Sopranos had a poster of its cover on his wall. (In their notes, Ulver don't mention part two of their hallowed trilogy, Kveldsfanger, because it was obviously an all-acoustic set devoted to haunting choral-like vocal works and classical-style guitar and strings. Kind of like a Nonesuch ancient music sampler, but with Norwegian substituted for Latin and werewolves for Jesus.) So what was the devotee of the blasphemous blast-beat and worshiper in the house of the unholy that is black metal to think when he or she picked up Metamorphosis and played it in his or her tomb? The titles look promising. Even if the cover art is suspiciously futuristic. "Of Wolves and Vibrancy" and "Of Wolves and Withdrawal" sound about right. (Did I mention yet that "ulver" means "wolves"?) Until you put it on and find out it's a techno album. And not just techno, but arty techno that could come from, ick, Belgium or something. Maybe those shitty-sounding, demo-craving, by-the-time-you've-put-an-album-out-on-an-actual-label-you're-already-dead metal purists had been scared off by Ulver's previous release Themes From William Blake's the Marriage of Heaven and Hell and never even got as far as Metamorphosis. It's been a while, and I'm still trying to figure out what Themes is. You could file it under spoken word, electronica, metal, pop, or art songs, and be right every time. It's Ulverific!
A sporadic frozen stream of releases put out by head Wolfman Garm (a/k/a Kristoffer Garm Rygg, a/k/a Trickster G. Rex) on his Jester label has seen Ulver grow ever more minimal in their electro chill-out pursuits. Little and/or no vocals, repeating pulses, whispers, and washes of warm drone-tones reveal that at heart the wild canine is a shy and lonely beast. (Garm still gets his rock on from time to time, though. Check out his work with Norse prog-metal supergroup Arcturus on last year's
The Sham Mirrors. Boy, do those guys have fun! Are ya ready Steinar? Uh-huh. Hellhammer? Yeah. Knut? OK. All right fellas, let's gooooo!!! On second thought, if you do check them out, don't sue me. They are insanity par excellence. Out-there art-metal riffs played alongside what sounds like Ramsey Lewis banging away on "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." Futurama touches and power-metal flourishes just can't hide the circus-carousel keyboards doing an imitation of Rick Wakeman doing an imitation of the intro to Elton John's "Love Lies Bleeding." Nor can they hide Garm, credited with "voices of ghosts and monkeys," and his best capital-M-metal falsetto that may elicit an initial response of "Owww! Hey Lady!! Make the nice man stop with the singing and the screeching and the hurting . . . " And that's all before Ihsahn from Emperor adds his stately growl, and before the 10-minute closer that will have you tearing your hair out, clearing the room, and making your cat puke. It's not even heavy. Just relentless and madcap. You feel as if you are being chased by ghosts, monkeys, and wolves. The lyrics say it all: "Police, police, police/please stop the euro/from binar bin Laden/IO paramount pan/IO paradox pan." (God, I love that album.)
Ulver's latest, Lyckantropen Themes, a soundtrack for a short film about, well, I'll let you use your imagination, is truly a culmination and perfection of the techniques used on their previous album, Perdition City, and its companion EPs. (Be on the lookout for two new releases this year as well—including a remix album where Merzbow, Kid 606, and Third Eye Foundation make weird music even weirder.) An almost imperceptible forward motion and layering of sound reaches, if not heights, then a wholeness of intent where every element fits seamlessly into the next for the entire length of the disc. Instead of the white noise of their inception, Ulver now cover you with a white blanket of no-two-are-alike snowflakes and microchips. That is, if microchips were white. Some may cry "Wyndham Hill!" or "colonic irrigation waiting-room music!" upon hearing Lyckantropen Themes. And I say: whatever. Maybe my isoflavones need realigning. Plus, I know how long this wolf has run, and how much farther he has to go.
Super Furry Animals' Rings Around the World
by Scott Seward
April 3 - 9, 2002
The Welsh are 50 times more mysterious than even the Scottish in their use of ancient language and knowledge of elfin lore (just kidding—I actually don't know shit about the Welsh), and I can't step out my front door these days without being bombarded by Welsh supergroup and self-described "enigmatic panda team" Super Furry Animals. On TV and in the magazines, nothing but nonstop coverage of Gruff, Dafydd, Huw, Guto, and Cian and their various doings . . . wait, I'm thinking of U2. And uggh, I hate U2! Maybe SFA haven't donated a billion dollars to the UN like Bono has (or was that Tina Turner?) or pushed legislation that would ban the electric spanking of war babies, but still. Not only would I take SFA's premise that people are barmy, naff, and loony over U2's thesis that people are lost and need saving any day of the week, but SFA's latest, Rings Around the World, runs rings around any yahoomanist hoo-hah that U2 could poop out of their blarney-filled butts.
It also beats just about any recent pop or rock release that this great lame-ass country of ours has to offer. On my worst days, I think that if it weren't for Timbaland we'd be France. And Rings Around the World often suggests a possible collaboration between Timbaland and Brian Wilson. But hey, don't puke! What I mean is, SFA uses 21st-century tools to achieve pop timelessness. Here and abroad, it seems, bands strive to emulate Wilson's beach-baby tiny-toon brand of curdled naïveté and/or lush and dopey bombast via strings and banjos, but they never make the end result mean anywhere near as much as the source. (As much as I dug the last two Mercury Rev albums, I nonetheless realized that they—and the Flaming Lips and a gazillion others—were simply trying to idealize and perfect a long-gone genre of melancholy echo-chamber wooziness. They came up with the best Beau Brummels albums ever, but nothing that contributed to the here-and-nowness of life on earth. Which is fine, because, just as with baroque music recitals, bluegrass, and garage rock, I'm all for beauty and keeping flames lit.) The point: Brian Wilson (using the Crystals as a launching pad) tried to create something new and bigger than himself. And so do SFA.
For instance: Try and track down the version of '97's Radiator on Flydaddy that comes with an extra disc of early singles and Welsh rarebits sung in the mother tongue. You'll get the full effect of SFA's nascent Viagra folk, Red Bull punk, warped Brit-pop, and blissed-out space truckin' in one not-so-tidy package. The psychedelic parts are elastic and frazzled rainy-day-on-the-summer-shed-tour spasms of acid-drool. Yet peppy! As for the pop sounds' inverted buzzkills—all awkward arms and legs jostling for attention and balance—the Soup Dragons they ain't.
And do I even need to mention the conceptual madness of SFA? The elaborate packaging and '60s-era goofball anti-globochem shaggy-dog ethos? Maybe I do. On the vinyl release of Rings, side three starts at the end of the record and ends at the start, and the thing also comes with a bonus single with no music on it. Very Moby Grape. And the album has been simultaneously released with a DVD that includes videos for every song as well as remixes and other vid-geek tricks. The clips, for the most part, are hallucinogen-ready and quite lovely—lotsa purty colors and not-too-sledgehammery messages about nuclear destruction and the supremacy of druids. Coulda done without the one made by webheads that misuses the best song on the album by throwing out anti-Christian fun facts in a manner that makes black-bloc tactics look subtle; it's just kinda sophomoric, and not in a good way. The thing as a whole, though,
is engulfed in flames with groovy glowing crosses pulsing in the background. So all is not lost.
The two groups that SFA bring to mind most are Public Enemy and 10cc. Lyrically and harmony-wise, over and over again, whether consciously or not, these guys hit the same delirious notes that 10cc once hit: "I'm Not in Love," "Silly Love," and "Wall Street Shuffle" could be SFA B sides in a minute given some techno tinkering. The two bands share a good-natured pessimism, not to mention an oblique poetry that is both surreal and homely. And PE, like SFA, had an immediacy and sense of purpose that gave their best work an electric glow that grew brighter with every step they took toward a future-world that always seemed just beyond their grasp. All three groups likewise combine fear and loathing of big biz and gov't with sonic brilliance and tricky, shifting time signatures. Occasional incomprehensibility, too. And most importantly, an over-abundance of ideas and creativity that sometimes gets the better of them.
SFA's earlier records suffer a bit from this. They would try to cram as much noise, invention, chatter, and forward motion as they could into every song. Their hurry-up-Harry bumrush and Blur-ry beersoaked/x-tabbed music-hall tirades could be exhausting. Having said that, the best moments from their back catalog would make a helluva comp—one that would make you wonder why you subjected yourself to the last 15 Robyn Hitchcock albums when you could have been having fun instead.
On Rings Around the World, the urge to bulldoze is absent. Every moment seems to fit seamlessly into the next, whether transforming from a moody buzz or into a controlled chaos that never loses the plot. There is insane craft and skill on display here that I long ago forgot about and stopped expecting from bands with funny names and crazy album covers. (The Moldy Peaches have their charms, but 10 years from now, guess whose album will be festering in the box with Jose Jimenez and Karen Finley.)
There is nothing sexier than music so bold and confident in its silliness, so willing to leap off the moon. "Sidewalk Serfer Girl," "Juxtaposed With U," and "Run! Christian, Run!," especially, are future-rock not ahead of its time, but of it. This is new wave music happening right now in front of you that has nothing to do with Depeche Mode. It could be that bedhead nation continues to follow Radiohead's lead and set the snooze button for the heart of the womb; never mind that there are so many planets left to explore. (My own message to indie-mope miniaturists? Put your pants on! Do better drugs! Stop looking over your shoulder! Think big! Dare to dream!) SFA, for their part, know that the universe is vast. The only thing that can hold them down is gravity.
Hardcore for the Headstrong: The New Testament—Continuous Mix by Omar Santana; 667 Neighbor of the Beast—lenny Dee Presents Uneasy Listening
by Scott Seward
November 28 - December 4, 2001
"Delta Bravo Foxtrot Charlie Roger, Blackhawk! WWWWAAAAARRR!!" . . . OK, great, but it's not quite the proper soundtrack for our howling commandos and budding Nick and Nora Furies to get juiced up on, is it? They need something fierce and malevolent. Ya gotta fight evil with even eviler evil. Right? (I dunno. After the world—or my world or your world, anyway—had seemingly ended, I shot a fax to the prez with the idea of sending 100,000 Muslim, Jewish, and Christian clerics to kneel and pray on the streets of Kabul for the soul of every man, woman, and child on earth. Musta got lost in the hubbub.) Anyway, if you're gonna bomb rocks to make even smaller rocks and send them Talibastards a-runnin', you better be listening to some sick stuff. I'm thinking hardcore gabber death-techno oughta do the trick.
60 Minutes recently aired a glowing infomercial for the U.S. Army about special-ops soldiers. They interviewed all these old dudes drooling over their great adrenaline-filled days in Vietnam, where they hung from helicopters and got all sneaky and shit. I kept waiting for the disclaimer that would tell the viewer that the Vietnam War lasted like 30 years and that we lost, but it never happened. Then it hit me. Those ancient soldiers were listening to pantywaist stuff like Hendrix and Martha & the freakin' Vandellas over there. We can't—nay, we won't—let that happen again.
So I sent the prez copies of Hardcore for the Headstrong: The New Testament, a mix CD by Omar Santana, and Lenny Dee's 667 Neighbor of the Beast. Both are comps of 4000 bpm overkill techno that really only has one message: I'M GONNA FUCKIN' KILL YOU WITH MY JACKHAMMER! The musicians on these mixes are probably only known to a select group of ravers with bloody trainers. Da Predator? Dummy Plug Conspiracy? Siege & Menace? You got me. All I know is that this crunky crud rocks most unhealthily. If you make a habit of going to your step class on ketamine, then this is Walkman action you could groove to. For the rest of the world, it would be an endurance test best used to heighten an already really bad mood or headache.
There are plenty of precedents for the electro-aggro fugliness of hardcore techno. You got your empire that Alec built, your Japanoise, your power-tool pugilists from way back. Any Whitehouse or Brighter Death Now CD could probably clear a room faster. Same for the gore-grind metal cultists that hardcore gabber techno guys resemble, what with their horror movie doom and unceasing threats to life and limb. (Song titles like "Human Blood," "I Hate You," "Kill," and "Total Annihilation" wouldn't be out of place on a Relapse records sampler.) There's just something creepy about dance music gone bad.
The psychedelic repetition of disco or old-timey techno is groovy and often transcendent. It's when you speed that repetition up a million times and add what sounds like wasps trying to burrow their way into your skull and multiply until your eyeballs pop out that you've got trouble. If I were to single out one track with all the most salient characteristics of hardcore gabber—say "Robotz" by DJ Cybersnuff—I feel I would be doing a great disservice to everyone involved, seeing how everyone involved does such a good job of sounding like almost everyone else involved. Which is great! They're all on the same page. The same scary, grimy, violent page. (Actually, "Get the Fu#k Up" by Rob Gee is my fave—speed-metal samples, moldy hip-hop drums, and then, and only then, does the murder begin.)
The second CD of the 667 set is jaw-dropping in ways that jaws can't even really drop: berserker metal meets freak-show bass meets my bowels. Who are these people, and what have they done to their drum machines? Just in case I'm not making myself clear about what this stuff sounds like, it goes like this: thump thump thump thump thump thump thump thump thump thump thump thump thump thump—KILL! KILL! KILL! EVERYTHING YOU SEE!—thump thump thump thump thump thump thump thump. Etc.
At its best, this music reminds me why I loved Slayer and the Young Gods. At its worst, it reminds me why my Atari Teenage Riot albums gather dust in history's unmarked grave of discarded lies. That initial burst of aggression that makes me vacuum the rug really really fast grows tiresome in the long run. Everyone's inner ear is different, though. My capacity for hours of Baltimore house music, Bananarama mega-mixes, and the Viking war metal of Amon Amarth is limitless. One woman's extreme noise terror is another man's extremely terrible noise.
In the apartment directly below me is a neighbor who's a lawyer, but I'm guessing he's not a very good one, cuz I've played this crap at top volume a couple of times and it made ME want to call the cops. Just to have someone to talk to. To tell me everything was gonna be all right. Is there a type of human out there for whom tension itself is a form of release? Must be. Lenny Dee and Omar Santana (and the members of Goreguts and Cannibal Corpse for that matter) are feeding an unrelenting appetite for unrelentingness.
Which is why this stuff would be natch for army bases and boot camp (most of the vocal samples are gory battle-related glory). The techno deathheadz who are grossing each other out with schoolboy glee have designed an insidious bayonet rock for a new world order. Although, of course, it goes without saying that it was nicer when the killers inside them could be played strictly for laughs.
Are Friends Electro?
Space Raiders Don’t Be Daft ; DMX Krew We Are DMX22288
by Scott Seward
February 9 - 15, 2000
Do you have a bitchin' stereo system? If you don't, go get one. Then go out and buy Space Raiders' Don't Be Daft, and play their song "Monster Munch" at top volume. Yes, that is a sample of Sweet's 1974 "Teenage Rampage" (previously covered by Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods!) played in tandem with fat-boy glam beats and an electro-guitar army that simultaneously rawks and raves. Then play "Song for Dot," where changes in direction and tempo and a well-placed Fats Domino snippet (reminding one of Moby's appropriated field hollerers and two groovy trance trax via Alan Lomax that I heard while mistakenly watching John "Extra Bacon With That!" Travolta's The General's Daughter) foil the most stalwart of erstwhile dancing fools and give a reason for the words collageand pasticheto remain in a critic's vocabulary.
Then play "Glam Raid," where you are exhorted to "Dance to the rhythm of the rock'n'roll sound," and then play "Raiders Rock the Nation," where the stinky and slinky boogay of Marc Bolan's (R.I.P.) "Chrome Sitar" smacks its bitch up against the 21st Century Boy's idea of a groove thang writ large in latter-day technological graffiti. Then, last but not least, listen to "(I Need the) Disko Doktor," and revel in a machine-made re-creation, straight to CD-ROM, of that sacred American art form so revered by the Swiss: disco! Every quirk and cliché of this golden moment in time is touched upon (including the ever endearing use of robotic computers feeling human emotion and wanting nothing so much as a hug) in a truly clever display of virtual reality genre-worship.
And that's it, really. After you've listened to those songs, I don't know, go to work or water your plants or something. If I were cruel, which I am, I would call Space Raiders Daft Punk Lite or Fratboy Slimmer. But there is something about the way they take everything mindless and fun about '70s dance and/or electronic and/or Bazooka rock and twist it with such precision and authority that I can't help but be engaged by the result.
And while I'm at it, I might as well tell you about one of the greatest ignored albums of late 1999 that will take you well into the new millennium with a sound straight from 1982. It's DMX Krew's We Are DMX. (And come to think of it, aren't we all DMX? What with our shaved heads and love of oratory, and our paradoxical need for blood, pussy, benjamins, and the love of God? But no, this is a different DMX altogether.) And "Oh, no!" I hear you say at the mention of the '80s. "Didn't I just live through a decade where every year saw a return of the '70s?"
Yes, you did. But don't be scared of DMX Krew. Like Space Raiders, they are retro so good it's a little scary. The Krew's "Street Boys" is not just a great song (those synth lines, that drum machine, that dreamy deadpan boy voice singing about dreamy boys on the street!), but a pitch-perfect tribute to the cream of new romantic pioneers, and on the same high ground as "Fade to Grey," "Enola Gay," "This Wreckage," "Moskow Discow," and "Get the Balance Right" (by Visage, OMD, Gary Numan, Telex, and Depeche Mode, respectively). "Release My Dub," where the often forgotten marriage of new wave and Arthur Baker electro street beats is made readily apparent, is the eerily accurate instrumental B side to a Heaven 17 12-inch that never was, complete with semi-wordless fake soul divas in the background. "Konnichi Wa!" could go head-to-head with any of the Yellow Magic Orchestra's more danceable offerings, fascination with the Orient being yet another forgotten theme of early-'80s Brit-pop.
Do you need to listen to music that looks back on a time when Japanimation meant a new David Sylvian performance on Top of the Pops? Yes, you do. At least if DMX Krew are involved. Novelty records are not my bag. As much as I respect Weird Al, Ray Stevens, and Rolf Harris, I don't make a habit of spinning "Sheik of Araby" or "The Streak" more than thrice a year. (Although Rolf's "Sun Arise" is a stone-cold classic that bears repeated listening.) But there is something magical about the fun and enthusiasm of how DMX Krew songs like "The Glass Room" and "Hard Times" both look behind to an era when Anglo-beats and A.R.P. manipulations were an edgy commentary on man's uneasy relationship with machinery, and look ahead to a time when the sins of fabulousness and melodrama perpetuated by the likes of Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Sigue Sigue Sputnik are forgiven and understood as the grandstanding attention-seeking acts of high-pop self-invention/creation that they were.
DMX Krew, like a lot of nuevo-retro-electro acts nowadays, make warm and kitschy sounds out of once disposable music that was nevertheless filled with dread and anxiety. Gary Numan, at one time, was an agent, a vapour, had dreams about wires, and needed to be reminded to smile. DMX Krew on the song "We Are DMX" sing: "It's the sound of tomorrow/It's the look of the future/Too bad if it don't suit ya!/We are DMX/We never make mistakes."
The certainty and optimism with which DMX Krew ply their trade of trading on past trends and sounds to achieve modernity can only minimize and mock those past wavers' reliance on the fear and anger people felt in relation to the various machines and conveniences which have since been taken to heart and bonded with. (As quaint as it may seem now, in the not-so-distant past people were actually frightened of the computer age and changes it would bring.) There are no alien sounds anymore that can make us fear Big Brother's hand on our shoulder. Among an increasingly sophisticated populace, there is only entertainment, and entertainment masquerading as homework.
Dirging Down Under
If All Your Mammals Had Pouches You'd Be Depressed Too
by Scott Seward
September 24 - 30, 2003
The year isn't over yet, so I suppose it's a tad premature to call Virgin Black's newest album, Elegant . . . and Dying, the fabbest, most metallurgically shiny, and liturgically doom-encrusted goth opera to come from Australia
in 2003. But I'm throwing caution to the wind. Especially when the first lines on their album—which deftly mixes the faux-Roman hymnal-book vocals and church-lady bombast of countrymen Dead Can Dance with the sleek Bavarian musikal werkings and über-riffs of German epic and/or power metal—are these whoppers: "A thousand tears, a thousand eyes/My friends and I we cry/Religion has raped us." And then, like the man says, they really go down and under.
Seventy-five minutes of wavering shadows, muted children, savage priests, choirs, flutes, guitars, and enough eternal sorrow to fill the river Styx. No lugger-shepherd-boozer sing-alongs for these Aussies. Just endless grandiose dirges that stop, start, lurch, and flail gloriously, and with Byzantine construction and undead marching-band tempo that would give the jammiest jam band fits. If prog is the love that dare not speak its name when it comes to some of the most interesting metal bands these days, then count Virgin Black in with that lot whether they like it or not. By substituting sacrilege and stigmata wounds for dragons and Roger Dean dreamscapes, they end up creating dark, spacey suites where every day is like Sunday and the kangas weep in pain.
Heaven, Hell, and Jersey
Dälek's From Filthy Tongue of Gods and Griots
by Scott Seward
November 27 - December 3, 2002
Every once in a while some lazyass future NPR-fodder Bob Costas wannabe idgit nostalgic for a past he barely remembers comes up to me and says, "Yo, Scott, so like, um, uh, have I missed anything this year, cuz like it don't seem like anything's any good man, cuz like it's all been done and shit, and like do you think the new Jay-Z will be good, and did you hear that Wilco album?"
After I stop crying, I tell them to buy some Dälek, be it '98's debut, Negro, Necro, Nekros, or this year's already seemingly forgotten From Filthy Tongue of Gods and Griots. And then I run home and lock the door. I know it's a lost cause (these are the same people who complain about Clear Channel and major labels even though they never listen to the radio or buy CDs), but I keep trying anyway.
For you see, whereas most mod prod is one big fat dead monochrome wave of compressed hot air blasting out of my CD player, Newark trio Dälek (which is to say Dälek, Oktopus, and Still) use washes of sound over and under (and even sideways down) the rudiments of beat and rhyme. They play all sides sonically as if they've actually heard of the words "stereo" and "separation." (You laugh, but most recent rock and rap could be put out in mono and no one would be the wiser.)
Despite the four-year gap, their new one takes up where the last one left off. What first strikes you is the heightened drama of their sound. Every track seems to grow larger and reach for noises that weren't there a second before. Like for instance, brown gods and Bomb Squad-worthy skrees of sirenage and downtempo (de)tuning let "Spiritual Healing" roll down hills where it gathers momentum and speed until it lands in a pit with drowning rednecks who die in their attempts to turn black rock into gold, whereas "Speak Volumes" travels up into heaven, cuz feedback and distorted bursts of fuzz speak in a language the angels truly understand.
" . . . From Mole Hills" is where the evil axis of Flying Saucer Attack/Jack Dangers/New Kingdom meet to form blocs of commie beauty from bongs of fury. (Are Dälek singular? Unique? In select company at the very least. New Kingdom's '96 Paradise Don't Come Cheap could be their template, given its similar tonnage and heft capable of moving mountains and minds. If you check out Dälek's collab with Kid606, Kid606's collabs with Techno Animal, and Justin of Techno Animal's collab with New Kingdom on his Ice project, you'll learn a lot about people with a bass-heavy hunger for transcendence thru the reverberation of soul via ion-smashing decibel levels.)
The sitars 'n' tablas 'n' slow-mo preaching in "Trampled Brethren" equal cough-syrup retribution from the ghost of DJ Skrew on any cat willing to shake your hand whilst rummaging through your 401(k) behind star-spangled curtains. And "Forever Close My Eyes" and "Classical Homicide" say so much so loudly and brilliantly that it's hard to keep from shouting at the boobs and whiners who always say there's nothing going on: "You were waiting for what? A new My Bloody friggin' Valentine album? Dälek = New Jersey. Bruce Springsteen = Dubya! Get yur head out yur ass, fanboy! At least they're fucking trying! What the fuck have you done?" (Um, apologies to Minor Threat.) Dälek will smile when Dälek's dead. I'm smiling for miles knowing their beauty, bloodshed, and art are meant to be a lasting tribute to the futility of beauty, bloodshed, and art in the face of smiling indifference to beauty, bloodshed, and art in this here krispy kremey land of ours. Plus, they're great to listen to when you're stoned.
Checkin’ Out the Weather Chart
Go-Kart Mozart Instant Wigwam and Igloo Mixture
by Scott Seward
October 25 - 31, 2000
One of the most important folksingers (he's not really a folksinger) of the late-20th and earlyish-21st (and mayhap 22nd) centuroonie has never heard of For Carnation or Basement Jaxx. (Basement who? Yeah, same here. But let's try and keep up.) His name? Lawrence Heyward. His latest meme? Go-Kart Mozart. Last known whereabouts? Hell, or thereabouts. Kitchen-sink kult kitsch for dandyish layabouts (my specialty and raison duh'tre—visit Momus's Web site for further elucidation, but visit at your peril; my firewalls are strong, my encryption software a Korean family named Kim), or kultur-klashing kid-stuff for Warholian jackanapeses, Instant Wigwam and Igloo Mixture (Lawrence's latest, full to the brim but short on length), is simultaneously infuriating, annoying, confused, hilarious, and dumb. There is no reason for it to exist, and no one will ever buy it (ever!—and if you did you would feel like a big, fat idiot!). So let's just call it art.
Twaddlepuss and prince of peas Stuart Murdoch, of Donovan cover band Belle and Sebastian (everyone in B.S. is called Stuart, by the way), swears by the legacy left by Lawrence's band-as-art-installation Felt, and rightfully so. Felt, the greatest rock and roll band of all time (well, if you define rock and roll as I do they were the greatest: an expert collision of lounge jazz, flamenco guitar, '60s fetishism, and the drearier vocal characteristics of Bob Dylan and Lou Reed refracted thru a prism of self-loathing and egocentric myth-making that rivals the Sistine friggin' Chapel in pomposity), echoed one whole roomful of people's disdain for technopop in the '80s by naming their albums after unreadable Kerouac novellas and subscribing to an aesthetic (thanks in part to that whole Dutch East/Rough Trade/Cherry Red/Creation/Shanghai Packaging Co./Factory/Peter Saville weltschmerz going on at the time) that may have sometimes been too too, and sometimes very very, but was always precious and cerebral.
Many people (I don't know who, so for the sake of argument, let's say me) applauded the 360-degree turnaround and mind/body split that was Lawrence's next project, Denim. Abandoning the chamber/drawing-room rock he perfected, and bitter at the success of no-talent scum like the Jesus and Mary Chain, he decided to become Gary Glitter and give shout-outs to council housing, job centers, Ducks Deluxe, the Hair Bear Bunch, Le Corbusier, George Best, Bell Records, dental dams, and the Osmonds. How this subject matter, coupled with rousing glam rock stylings and Lawrence's deadpan delivery (that only rouses itself long enough to announce a synthesizer solo—much the same as Marc Bolan yelling "Rock!" right before he starts rocking), failed to win him the position of Ironist Laureate and lorries filled with fivers is anyone's guess. I'm not just anyone, though, so here's my guess. He was mos def on da chicory tip, and the BlurSuedePulp crowd couldn't hang with a loon who would have made Ivor Cutler and Viv Stanshall proud.
So, whither Lawrence? (For that matter, whither your mom? The bitch owes me 10 bucks!) All I know for sure is that the Go-Kart Mozart album is a complete piece of shit. All you can do is shake your head at the idea that it's actually playing and not just a bad dream sweated out after a night of sipping syrup and smoking Dutch Masters laced with bad boo. Wait—on second thought—it's brilliant! (Abfab, I.M.O.—I can't help but L.O.L. at Lol's larf riot.)
What you get with this CD is a soundtrack to a porn flick starring Lolliwinks, Smurfs, and Teletubbies. What you get is Mandrax for minx cats, four-track recordings of e-z listless piano, synthetic flutes, relationship ballads bitter as tainted Toffifay, creepy kids, alligators rockin' with Zulus, the queen mum's hip operation, an ode to Wendy James (former singer for Transvision Vamp who apparently is second in coolness only to the very, very great Joan Jett), thoughts of murder, fluff on the mallow, the greatest song title yet ("Wear Your Foghat With Pride," with the greatest lyric yet, "There's a turgid cacophony emanating from the music biz's backside"), synthetic banjos, synthetic string quartets, and maddening tempos that set sail with Jean Genet as he goes down on Lawrence amidst absinthe and crime. All in 30 minutes. Mad dog, Englishman, one-man band, Lawrence does everything he can with low-brow '70s kindergarten rock to make you forget that, in his baroque youth, he was the bard and dismantled king of a throne as regal, single-minded, and gorgeous as any U.K. indie music worth remembering or celebrating.
Ear, Nose, and Throat
Ho ho hee hee ha ha to the funny farm where life is beautiful
by Scott Seward
November 19 - 25, 2003
Are you now or have you ever been a Rush fan? Does the sound of Billy Corgan, arguably the most successful novelty singer since Tiny Tim, make you cringe? On a scale of one to 10, whose effluviant proboscisity most comforts you: Joe Walsh, Leon Redbone, Jad Fair, or Jimmy Dale Gilmore (known in Texas as "Ol' Lonesome Nostrils")? Needless to say, a full battery of clinical tests could easily determine your nose-to-ear compatibility quotient, as well as tolerance for various keens, yips, mewls, grunts, and whimpers.
Of course, there is a scale, and then there's beyond the pale: Ubu difficulty ratings rank in the 95th percentile or higher. As do the yo-yo snorts and warbles of Beefheart, borne from the unholy croakus behemoth Howlin' Wolf and "I've been trying to cough this bullfrog up for years now to no avail" glossolalia of Bobby "Blue" Bland. Ditto the burbling insanity-just-around-the-bend laughing-boy creepiness of Napoleon XIV. And the weirdo sounds of ex-Homosexual, Brit DIY legend, and eBay gold standard L. Voag, whose mysterious guitar tunings and high-pitched off-key yelps would unwittingly become the template—along with Ohio-bred dub house legends and everything-precursors Pere Ubu, turn-of-the-'80s Buckeye gods Ron House and Mike Rep, and come to think of it Ohio-lamenting Canuck-of-a-thousand whines Neil Young—for a large portion of modern indie stuff too geeky to be called punk. Rapider Than Horsepower, for instance: They iz freeky and through being cool, and probably sick of people who still wanna be Iggy's dog. (Ironic, since Iggy's the biggest geek of all.)
My quirk standard is easy to suss: I like people who used to know Zappa. And I like Geddy Lee, but not Primus. And Rapider's music, see, is as far from the curdled musings and Uncle Miltie-in-drag pursed-lip meanness of abstemious, titty-joke-obsessed longhairs as can be. The "everyone is icky, stupid, and foul" aesthetic is, unfortunately, an American tradition that goes back to Cotton Mather. But out-there kids aspire to the more open-ended Beefheart microverse.
The wank-prog shifts in tone and time in Rapider's songs connect to newer leaps in whimsy brought to you by Modest Mouse, Devendra Banhart, maybe even such ramshackle '90s no-fi twee sea-salt-seasoned Siltbreeze loons as the Shadow Ring or Alastair Galbraith: impeccably timed hoots and group hollers, even a cheerleader-style shout-out spelling the band's name and growing more desultory with each passing letter. Shaggy enthusiasm, twisty guitar lines, and a voice that shakes and breaks and cracks—my idea of idiot fun, but just maybe a deal breaker for those enamored with low-register attempts at sobriety. Or those who insist they were terrified of clowns as children.
Stage Fright, Stage Fright has moments where Rapider seem to bottle the poetic essence of ex-Zappa pal Wildman Fischer. He had an inimitable way of taking a line like "Jimmy Durante is coming to town" and giving the word is an extra push up the cliff until it gasped for breath at the summit of deranged inflection. I might be so bold as to say Rapider are the is from "Jimmy Durante." Others might say they're the babies from the line "screaming babies" in Eve Libertine's deathless reading of "Shaved Women" by Crass. Maybe they're both.
Rapider Than Horsepower should move to Ohio, if they don't live there already. Their song about caterpillars goes "POP! Tttttt POP! Tttttt POP!" Their song about babies is called "Rock Against Mapquest." Another song has a great line about C.L. Smooth & L.L. Cool J. Stage Fright is less than 25 minutes long, and is part one of a projected two-part series. The band ambles and stumbles and makes a racket. They aren't that funky, but they make real silly sounds with their mouths. They could do a killer cover of "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!" if they wanted.
Tigers in a Spotlight
EL-P's Fantastic Damage; Non-Phixion's The Future Is Now; Blackalicious's Blazing Arrow
by Scott Seward
July 10 - 16, 2002
Even when I was a child in short pants, Mumsie always impressed upon me the importance of practicing a cheerful and impersonal version of noblesse oblige whenever dealing with the common man. The workers who fixed our fences and who took care of our horses (my beloved Buttermilk among them), rough men all with large and sinewy hands, were touched by the mistress's offerings of fresh water or some extra ginger snaps from a batch that Cook had burnt earlier. It is her example that has stood me in such good stead to this very day. It is with her eye toward charity that I peruse Fantastic Damage, the latest offering from rapper/producer/Definitive Jux label-head and ex-Company Flow frontman El Producto.
Alas, even Mumsie's kind eye would have to admit the inevitable: El-P's rhymes are as wack as a lumberjack swinging an ax made of wax from the ears of Tears for Fears after they drank all the beers and found Britney Spears in arrears for illiciting too many middle-aged leers and hipster sneers. On the other hand, instrumentally, he's good. Toyota commercial good. He's devilishly adept at creating what my colleagues like to deathlessly call "soundscapes." All foreboding beats that clank like the chains from a run-down carnival fun house, or else emit all manner of buzzing noises as if his vision owed more to faulty wiring in his Crooklyn hideout than any sense that a dystopian view of a Blade Runner universe wouldn't be complete without rain invading Hades' own infernal boom-bap machine.
Nowadays, unfortunately, there is only one response to a one-man drizzle maker with RZA-sharp claws and muddy floors: Big deal. Anyone can do that. Even me. Give me a Sony Professional, an old ceiling fan, a tin can, and a recording of James Joyce reading Finnegans Wake, and I'll make ya quake. Scare ya so bad your ass will be Farrah and your drawers will be Cheryl Ladd. If I threw a rock, a clock, an A.I. Reebok, or a polyurethane cock out my door I'd be sure to hit four avant-rap beat scientist bores or maybe more. And there's another thing: I take my rap uncut and unpunctuated by the punk-ass sci-fi prognostications and illuminations heightened by El-P's brain salad surgery—his trepanning for old-school glory holes like a mole or a vole and dissing my Rolls cuz it's got fly rims, de-luxe trim, and a glove box filled with the British country-house novels of Barbara Pym. On top of that, I can't find one reference to cognac, brandy, or fine French bubbly anywhere on his new album. Does he even make rap records? It's more like rap-rock for rappers who don't like to rock. The whole mess stuttering and jittery—refusing to swing. Like Skinny Puppy made a record and let their plumber sing.
There are no doubt mass quantities of Finlandian djorks who will tell you quite politely that Company Flow, El Producto, and half the Def Jux roster mean more to them than their 200-dollar vintage Puma Clydes and autographed David Axelrod sides. So why would I rather listen to The Future Is Now by the nonsensical fictional gangstas Non-Phixion, who light up their neck of Brooklyn like Pee Wee Reese kicking some Yankee keister, meester? They—and their little brudda, the horror/sex/drug rap artiste Necro, whose "I Need Drugs" was the fookin' funniest shit you never heard—are about as popular as a duck selling farts at a pie-eating contest, but they deserve more attention cuz they've got MF Doom and Beatnuts backing them up and the clarinet sample on "Black Helicopters" is divine and "The C.I.A. Is Trying to Kill Me" rocks bells (and it's true, cuz the C.I.A.'s trying to kill you too!), and their beats are legion and steep and the record oughta come with a Jeep. (It's deep. Like an X-rated schizophrenic reading of the Pentagon papers mixed with Katzenjammer capers.) El-P's sound tries to come across like some William Burroughs cutup of the B-boy's Bhagavad Gita but turns out more like Nabokov's Lolita holding down a slab of Velveeta so it can get fucked by Chester Cheetah. Non-Phixion, on the other hand, flunked lyrical science and just wanna get high in the bathroom.
Yo, kid, what about El's label Definitive Jux and his roster of all-stars like Y@k Ballz and Aesop Rock? Lemmetellya, the latest label comp DJXP2 has one good DJ Shadow Jr. instro onit (RJD2's "I Really Like Your Def Jux Baby Tee"), plus the best album track from Fantastic Damage, "Stepfather Factory" (the one and only song that sounds like it started with an idea instead of a sample and the prerequisite vomitory voluminousness). You see, what the pencil-necked geeks who run the pages and zines, and who found nirvana when Company Flow released Funcrusher (a more appropriate title you'll never find), won't tell you about all their fave back to basics heavenly break dancing cyborg dome-expanding experimental indie non-mersh hip-hop is this: The shit's boring! A real yawner. Burn or steal the new Soundbombing III comp from Rawkus and see how fast your third eye falls asleep. And that goes for The Roots, Common, and Mos Def too. Talib Kweli will make you snooze like you're drowning in booze wearing concrete shoes. On the Rawkus comp, during their guest spots, Missy Elliot and Zap Mama sound like they're waiting to get off the phone and go catch a movie or something. Let me say this once: Anybody who can make Missy Elliot and Zap Mama sound like a waste of time oughta be thinking of a future with the United States Postal Service.
I call it grad-school rap, cuz you need a Ph.D in bullshitology to grasp the phrenological implications and orgone accumulating dissertations. (There are exceptions. The new Blackalicious album, Blazing Arrow, is not only good for you but good to go. I hate most "positive" rap cuz I'm a rotter and a realist. Plus, I don't like having to eat my Black Eyed Peas before I get dessert. I always thought that Arrested Development were feds with dreads sent to destroy hip-hop from within. If the gov't could make rap boring enough it would set the stage for safe, bland crap that wouldn't make people think too hard. Maybe even a swing revival! The left coasters have better pot though, so their indie approach not only rocks harder but is shot through with hippy psych elements that make their sounds truer to the astral-punk-power-to-the-people-fuck-you! lifestyle I've been living ever since I started doing Vicodin pills with Beverly Sills. From Dre to the Piklz to Styles of Beyond to Divine Styler to Blackalicious, Cali makes mucho grande head music that'll stomp yur buzz with bront-y-saur beats. Listen to the beat on "Passion" from Blazing Arrow and tell me it needs to be dunked in scuzz and covered in fuzz. That shit's as tight as Betty White getting a love bite on the tit from Katarina Witt. That beat just is! Naked and unashamed. Plus, how many people can get me to buy an album that actually sez, "Featuring Ben Harper," on the back? And not only buy it, but like the song with Ben Harper on it!)
All El-P et al. offer are dirty bombs, and I wanna go nuclear. If I'm riding around town, I don't want people scratching their heads and running home for their thesaurus. I want them to think I'm cooler than Mort Sahl and Thor Heyerdahl hanging out in Nepal with The Fall and Lucille Ball in the midst of a summer squall. Fuck the hardcore bookworms. They got mad syllables, and in El-P's case, some righteous sound-lab expertise—Company Flow's all instrumental. Little Jimmy From the Hospitul is probably the greatest slab he's released. All Shadow-esque fantasy film-score freakouts with chill and cool to burn. But if you're like me, you want a beat that'll move feet like an exhibition of Napoleon's pecker on the isle of Crete.
Panda Not Dubya
Indie Kids With New Chords Need Love Too
by Scott Seward
May 14 - 20, 2003
When I'm not dreaming of a Canadian-led invasion of the U.S. and a subsequent regime change that results in free nationwide health care and a Tim Hortons on every block, I ponder the enthusiasm I have for Killer Mike videos and whether or not it's appropriate for me to enjoy so much art and rock in a world that has been recently devastated by so much violence, hatred, and Aaron Brown.
It only takes me a few secs to scream from my fire escape, "Hell, yes!" Art and rock and art that rocks and rock that arts will always be more important than murder in my book. Ya gotta keep the torch of life lit even in the shadow of Dubya's mountain of bullshit. Even if it's the cutesy pocket hymns of ersatz Brill Building popsters the Aislers Set? Or the Hello Kitty skronk of Deerhoof? Sure! Why not? Indie kids need lovin' and big ups and an occasional pat on the back when they learn a new chord on their guitar, too.
The Aislers are led by Amy Linton, who used to be in a band called Henry's Dress, and their latest album, How I Learned to Write Backwards, was recorded in Amy's garage. If I had a garage I would want it to sound like Amy's! All echo and space and hush, like she took out the rakes and lawn mower before letting the tape roll. Any phony Tinkertoy girl group sounds with Spectorian drywall and wan straight A's-and-hair schoolgirl warblings are by this point in time not only homages to Leslie Gore or Wendy & Bonnie, but also haunted by the specters of '80s icons Marine Girls, Oh Ok, Shop Assistants, and even the Adult Net or Fuzzbox. Heck, even the spirit of Let's Active's Faye Hunter could be haunting Amy's garage—from the ghost of Mitch Easter's garage! It blows me away when someone can make nostalgia for the '60s or the '80s, or in this case both, sound relevant or recent or worth swooning over. I just can't decide whether my theme song is "Mission Bells" with its urgency, sunshine, doubt, and ability to make me feel like Rory Gilmore dreaming of Dean, Jess, and my future at Yale, or any of the songs that feature blocks of wood, fuzz guitar, and sleigh bells. It'd make the perfect soundtrack for director Owen Anderson's next foray into Franny & Zooey-land.
Deerhoof don't make me nostalgic for anything I can put a finger on, unless it's my Troubleman Mix Tape's melange of gangly good-natured noize boyz and girlz, but that's too new to pine over, right? I like how their song "My Diamond Star Car" on Apple O' reminds me of a punk-rock instrumental version of Dizzie Gillespie's "Salt Peanuts." And how sometimes I feel like I'm hearing the Japanese version of the Breeders' Pod. Only singer-bassist Satomi Matsuzaki is Japanese, though, and she's got the kitschy broken-English nonsense words to prove it (full lyrics for "Panda Panda Panda": "China panda/Bamboo panda/I like panda/Bye bye panda/Panda road"). This would make me nostalgic for Frank Chickens, Shonen Knife, the Plastics, and Ann Magnuson & Bongwater's version of "Dazed and Confused" if I had ever stopped listening to them. Deerhoof's discordant axes, crazed riffs, drumrolls, and stop-start chirping do make me think wistfully about the greatness of the all but forgotten Dogfaced Hermans, though. Sigh. But I'm being unfair, as usual. Deerhoof make Deerhoof music. And it makes me jump up and down to the delight of the ankle-biter in my house. Both the Aislers Set and Deerhoof make my spring with their new albums, and I'm gonna throw Apple O' in the Walkman and go buy all the old stuff that I missed from these bands the first time around. 'Cuz I'd rather buy art than a gas mask, or a load of crap from whoever's lying to me today.
Philly Pub-Rockers Present Daring Alternative to Difficult Art
Marah's 20,000 Streets Under the Sky
by Scott Seward
June 21st, 2004 7:10 PM
Nick Hornby is full of shit. Actually, this is unfair to shit. At least life grows from shit. In his recent half-page essay printed on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times, the lad-lit author stunned the music world with this revelation: They don't make 'em like they used to! At least, I think that was the message. The thing is near incomprehensible when it comes to writerly bugaboos like logic and thought. In Hornby's sad, blinkered, midlife-crisis-as-a-lifestyle-choice world, music is only worth listening to if it reminds him of all the classic rock that made him feel funny in the tum-tum when he was 10. The demons of his modern world: Britney and "difficult" art rock. Our hero cries: No way! I'll take Marah, the humble Philly bar band! Though Hornby's monthly column in The Believer is blissfully bereft of such bozo-isms, his Times piece manages to discount all the great crunk, grime, house, rap, metal, and dancehall that Kelefa Senneh has been writing so wonderfully about for the Times. Note to Op-Ed editors: Stick to Bush-bashing, ya friggin' nitwits!
But what about Hornby's great white hopes from the city that loves you back? Marah, and their founders, Dave and Serge Bielanko, have been making Springsteen-esque local-color roots rock for years, and they do it as well as anyone ever has. The rinky-dink piano, phlegmy semi-snarl, dirty streets, pizza boxes, and tattooed girls are all there on their new one, 20,000 Streets Under the Sky. Cars are "burning chariots," and the past is ever present. It's folk music for aging city boys with all the mythos and tedium of backstreet life writ purple. (I take issue with the line "The river smelled like a fishmonger's hands," though, since really it's the other way around.) "Goin' Through the Motions" sounds like an older, wiser Smashmouth. "Freedom Park" 's jungleland has a breezy going-down-the-shore vibe and nifty shimmy-shimmy-coco-pop chorus. I'd actually like to hear the Boss sing the one about the drug-addicted transvestite hooker whose dick between his legs makes him want to cry; it's pretty catchy!
One thing Hornby must love is that Marah are not only of the bar, but of the pub. Their plain slice of Philly doo-wop sounds like early Joe Jackson, and elsewhere it seems they're gonna bust out a Graham Parker or Boomtown Rats medley. They are one of those bands you'd probably love if you were drunk and they started playing sloppy Replacements-style covers (which they do). Sound-wise, they've split the difference between their early lo-fi playfulness and their previous album's studio sheen. Marah have always struck me as a band who just love to play, making no great claims for themselves. Which is why they don't need to be propped up as an example of all that is good and holy in the heart of rock and roll that is still beating in Cleveland.
Dada Salamanders in the Beer Hall, Pissing the Night Away
Alvarius B And Cerberus Shoal's The Vim & Vigour Of
by Scott Seward
September 3 - 9, 2003
If you've always felt that the only thing missing from Leonard Cohen was a little Charles Manson, then let me direct you to Alvarius B—a/k/a Sun City Girl Alan Bishop—and his reworking of down-easter creaky-barn-door-core combo Cerberus Shoal's track "Ding," off of the recent Cerberus and Al split Vim & Vigor Of EP. It's a mildewy stream of creepy unconsciousness and Dada as death-folk that will warp your floorboards. Trying to pick a favorite line is almost as hard as choosing your favorite member of Acid Mothers Temple. "We'll drink newt urine slingshotting candles into the firmament" is hard to beat, however.
Two solo Alvarius tracks are next. And then his simple, bare-to-the-chopped-up-baby-bone takes on rural dementia are subsequently fleshed out by the Shoalsters, twice. The first of these numbers, "Blood Baby," is given the old Weimar Republic/Weill treatment that's all the rage; the second, "Viking Christmas," is given a more modern beer-hall treatment—it sounds like it was recorded at a desolate T.G.I. Fridays at a particularly unhappy hour.
Finally, Cerberus retake "Ding," renaming it "The Real Ding," and give it their own inimitable stamp. Their version—with its female vocals, haunted youth-camp chorus, beautious harmonies, crowd noises, chitty chitty bang bang percussion, and clacking typewriter—just keeps blooming and writhing and snaking its way down a dark path. It's a pleasure to keep up with.
Feuding Mideastern factions agree on Israeli metal band
by Scott Seward
May 10th, 2004 1:45 PM
Some purists decry what they see as half-assed experimentalism in some modern metal as an aesthetic dead end and as a trend that prizes novelty over the perfection of form dictated by the unwritten laws and constraints of whatever sui generis subgenres a band aligns itself with. Unfortunately, I was cursed with a funny bone, a belief that exploration can often trump orthodoxy, and have never been much interested in the comfort and faith that purism provides and requires.
Plus, you never know what's gonna come of anything. If Chuck Berry had known that his innovations would someday give birth to the Boredoms, he probably would have videotaped them. And if Israel's Orphaned Land, beloved by Arab and Israeli alike, manage to service the long-overlooked segment of society that are fans of Fiddler on the Roof, Ofra Haza, and death metal with their album Mabool: The Story of the Three Sons of Seven, then all I can say is hurrah for the Holy Land!
I happen to enjoy their mixture of Jesus Christ Superstar choral work, death-barking, epic Semitic desert riffs, Mideastern folk warbling and plucking, triumphal hi-diddle-diddle-la-la-la-la choruses, temple-mount rock-god solos, and a cappella prettiness mixed with spoken-word portentousness. Heavy metal is folk music, so combining it with trad ethnic hootenanny action makes perfect sense. And there ain't nothing half-assed in the way that Orphaned Land go about it. Do I care that the three sons pictured on the album cover are a snake, an eagle, and a lion, and that these animals represent Judaism, Islam, and Christianity? No, I don't. The song is the thing. What Orphaned Land do make me think about is that metal—and music!—is a land you are free to roam, even though there will always be people who choose to stay close to home working the same plot of ancestral soil year in and year out.