27 February 2006


In the past couple of hours I have discovered, and listened to a million songs by, BE YOUR OWN PET. They fecking rule. Actually, I lied a little. Just a little white lie. I had heard their single at some point last week. But the point...

The point, it remains. They rule, and are some really punky cool rock band with short songs. Like how good Nashville Pussy thought they were but really weren't. Like some kind of really drunk mix of Minor Threat and The Donnas.

Like if Melt-Banana were Texan, or something. I think they played near me not so long ago, and I'm gutted to have missed them. Moreso than I eventually will be at having missed Wolfmother last night. I will see them, anyway, and it's gonna be great. I'm gonna go off like a hand grenade. And marry the singer. When I see what she looks like (ts: w00t! Found a pic).

Anyway, all that Arctic Monkeys nonsense can fall out of a plane without a parachute for all I care. This is so good, and I hope I never stop listening to these songs. I also hope this isn't their first album because I need more More MORE.


17 February 2006

Live Review: Melt-Banana, 18th November 2005

Joseph's Well, Leeds. Support: Khanate

Melt-Banana. What a band. They play some bizarre cartoon mix of very intense hardcore, grindcore and recently even electronic music. They are the perfect ‘extreme’ band for today’s MTV-conditioned, two-minute attention span society, with its desire for the instant fix. The fix doesn’t come much more instantly than Melt’s very Japanese take on the music.

It is so creative, in the restraints of what is ordinarily a very uniform genre. Melt find a way of surprising and confounding the listener at every turn, and have done over numerous albums since the mid-90s. The best thing is, they seem to be getting better as they go on.

So it was with delight and no small excitement that I greeted news that they were due to play in my town. That was a gig I just had to attend, especially when it came to my attention that Khanate were to be supporting.

Khanate are almost the polar opposite of Melt-Banana. While the Tokyo band specialise in very short, fast songs, Khanate are masters of the epic. And that’s ‘epic’ in the sense that their last album, Capture and Release, featured just two songs – ‘Capture’ and ‘Release’, and was well over forty minutes.

Featuring modern drone-king Stephen O'Malley from sunnO))) on guitar, Khanate are similar to that band in that they’re about the promise of riffs, rather than the actual delivery. They specialise in feeding back, low-frequency drones and occasionally-struck discords. They build and build without the song ever truly ‘kicking in’, in the traditional sense.

While this is very effective and the sounds they create (especially with their wailing vocalist) are intense and harrowing, this can sometimes lead to frustration. The aforementioned ‘release’ never actually comes.

Still, this promised to be a very dynamic evening. The day came, and I had other things to attend to, which were of equal value. However, at nine o’clock, I decided I had to leave my prior engagement, as I wanted to make sure I caught Khanate, and who knows when they’d be playing?

So I got to the venue and met my friends. Turns out that, not only had Khanate not played yet, but doors were yet to open. So I chilled, ruing the fact I had departed my other engagement as early as I did. Hindsight, eh? Anyway, after a decent though uninspiring opening band, Khanate finally emerged in a haze of distortion.

And it was good. Really good. The sound was immense as bass rumbled all around the sunken sweatbox they like to call ‘The Well’. There was an agonised screaming, which I thought was running on a DAT tape, but was actually emanating from the singer who I just couldn’t see. Shame, as I reckon his facial expressions while performing would have been something to behold for that sound to come out.

The frustration I mentioned reared its head during the set. In a live environment, the listener (me at least) wants to rock out, and the definition of what Khanate is prevents that. There is no rhythmic riff, no hook. While that’s all well and good when it comes to listening at home, or analysis of just how clever and post-everything they are, it just doesn’t translate live. They tease the kick in, I want to dance, but it frustratingly just never gets going.

With the knowledge that they would never kick-in in mind, I went about different methods of getting the most from the band. I closed my eyes and visualised. It turns out that Khanate are a great band for tripping out to, as I was experiencing quite vivid closed-eye hallucinations.

The hallucinations consisted mainly of reds and blacks (which prompted me to worry that perhaps I was a repressed Scum fan), and explosions. I saw grand mountainous thrones, belching smoke and fire. I saw flying things, some shades of white and obsidian tides. It was great, except for the idiot scenesters right in front of me who decided it was a good idea to hold a conversation during the set.

Khanate finished, with me slightly disappointed at the lack of a rock-out. More worrying was the feeling that, with Khanate being as intense as they are, I was feeling drained. They had played three songs and I, while having really enjoyed the primal power of their set, was feeling rather fatigued to be experiencing Melt-Banana. Perhaps they would energise me, I hoped.

So Melt-Banana came on, and they were a blur of noise and energy. Lead singer Yasuko O. is a fascinating front-person. The obvious juxtaposition of such a pleasant and attractive person singing for such a brutal band goes without saying. However, the main thing that struck me was quite how she performs.

I know this is playing into pop-cultural national stereotype, but I was put in mind of a very specific type of anime character. The female or child in charge of something really goddamn powerful, an archetype prevalent in the genre. You’ve seen them, Leona of Dominion Tank Police or whatever – the idea is that someone small of stature and perceived as ‘weak’ or ‘cute’ is in charge of a machine capable of great power and devastation.

And so it was with this. On the surface, Yasuko seemed totally innocent, but with the knowledge deep down that she was in control of the sounds. She was either conduit through which the energy could flow or, more malevolent, a Tetsuo-esque being who was directing the violence.

Whatever the case, her voice carried with it 1.21 gigawatts of utter madness, as guitars, bass and noise exploded in accompaniment of her hyperactive yelping. Not only did she control the mania onstage, but she was like a lightning conductor for the frenzy of the pit. She’d introduce a song, and her punctuation of the music sent the sweaty throng into hysteria.

While of course it was the band who was creating the storm of noise she, as signifier, was symbolically the operator. Much as I’m dwelling on it, there was a sense that, as with all great front-people, it was all coming from her. That’s actually a theme common to the other gigs from this time, as both Bob Dylan and Josh T. Pearson evoked the same feeling. Just for very different reasons.

On the onslaught went, the pit convulsing as though shocked by every sonic charge fired from the stage. As the set went on, energy levels never dipped. Despite the very uniform noise of the band, there was a definite dynamic to the set.

Midway through the performance, Yasuko announced that the following section would be devoted to their short songs, and it’s not as though the band is known for its 20-minute drone sequences anyway. Songs ranged from really short to really, really, really bloody short. Like, a few seconds.

Anyway, it meant the pit could go absolutely nutty with no fear of fatigue, and also that I was mightily amused at the staccato nature of everything that was happening. The normal set resumed, the band left the stage, the band returned to the stage.

Encore time, and I was revitalised. The general malaise engendered by the Khanate set, which had slowed my whole system down, threatening to ruin my night, had fully lifted by this point, and I was determined to show the pit a thing or two. And I did, accompanied by some great songs.

Chief among these was my favourite, an off-kilter, yet very melodic (for them) ditty, named ‘If It Is The Deep Sea, I Can See You There’. Brilliance, as the initial grind gives way to acoustic strumming and robotic vocal melodies. Fired up I was, wreaking havoc, and it was a great end to the night.

Leaving the building, I was very self-conscious in my vest (or ‘wife beater’, as those without taste are wont to dub it), especially as we were in the depths of winter. I didn’t care – I was standing there with steam rising from my body, for a solid quarter of an hour. A good gig indeed.

03 February 2006

Lost, Season One Thoughts

throughsilver: So, I’ve seen Lost
Olympic Tom: How much of it?
throughsilver: all of it.
Olympic Tom: Bloody madman…

* * *

So, after I caught up on Desperate Housewives, I decided I might as well delve into my DVD collection and see what all the fuss was about regarding JJ Abrams’s latest escapade. I had been putting it off for ages, not least because of the size of it. I mean, twenty-four episodes?

That, and I thought it had been over-hyped. I didn’t see anything beating Desperate Housewives – and especially not in such a short space of time. However, after a chat with some fans, I decided I might as well dive right in.

I don’t recall when I started watching disc 1. Think it was either Wednesday or Thursday. Thursday, most likely. Finished it on the Saturday. Did half the season in one day, and I don’t regret it. Literally, I was watching it all day, save for meals (which I generally ate while watching) and two exercise sessions, to compensate for the couch potato action.

The reason why I dorked out on it so much is because I was hooked. Good thing it was as long as it was, because I’d have been gutted if it were any shorter. I was gutted when it finished anyway, but more on that later. At the end of some of those episodes, I remember thinking ‘how can they end it like that?’, only to be soothed by the recollection that I have the DVDs. Having to wait a week between episodes would not have been good for my mental health.

In fact, it’s good that I did watch it so quickly. If I had watched it on TV, then my associates would have had to cope with months of my obsession, rather than days, which is how it stands now. A worse prospect, while I’m theorising, would be the idea of sitting through ad breaks, or losing interest over the months it took for the season to play out. Don’t see that happening somehow, though.

Anyway, the programme itself. I’m not sure where it stands in the pantheon that is modern day US drama. I know for a fact that I’m being swayed somewhat by the recency effect, as I much prefer it to Desperate Housewives, and I preferred that to either The Sopranos or Six Feet Under (the traditional champions). Maybe Lost just is the best and I am, like Hamlet, trying too hard to intellectualise the instinctual.

What I do know is that the character development on the show was insanely good. I like to think of myself as reasonably cynical when it comes to TV programmes, and I was manipulated from severely disliking two of the characters, to loving them by the season finale.

Primary among these was the character of Sawyer. Introduced as a violent redneck who’s suspicious of middle-eastern people, I naturally didn’t like him. He was also smarmy, a scavenger, and didn’t seem to like anyone. However, as the season wore on, we learned more about him, he started opening up, and when he stood on the raft, pistol aimed at the mysterious strangers, I realised that he was my favourite.

This excellent writing extends to the flashbacks of each character, which I recently learned had the same effect on my perception that it was intended to. I thought by about half-way through that these flashbacks were less mere character development devices than they were excuses to wander into different genres for up to an episode at a time.

There was the rock band drama, the single mother issue, curses, Iraq war romance – it covered everything, and given the context of the show, worked perfectly within its parameters.

* * *

The idea of peril, a basic component of any good drama, was everywhere here. The idea of the unknown was the main thing, as the setting was a desert island. This was ramped up by the idea that characters initially couldn’t be trusted (Sawyer), grew to be enigmatic (Locke, though he was a bit dodgy in the pilot as well), or were simply morally ambiguous (Kate).

This went through the roof with the introduction of Ethan. Here was a character who, during their first fight, was harder than protagonist Jack. Locke admitted Ethan was more of a hunter and tracker than he was. The simple fact that he had infiltrated the camp so easily lent an air of suspicion that anybody else could be one of them.

When Ethan attacked Charlie and Jin, that assault instigated a perpetual fear through the rest of the season that there was no safety in the woods. The attack of Claire, that you couldn’t be safe at base camp. Secure yourself from the jungle and you could be attacked from the sea. There were traps in the jungle, as well as boars, polar bears and… whatever it was that killed the pilot. As well as that terrifying ‘security system’.

The biggest antagonist, as with the massively under-rated Blair Witch Project was simply the unknown. What is the monster? What is the security system? We, as viewers, know very little. We don’t know where Ethan came from, nor those evildoers in the sea, as of the season finale.

And this is why it is so potent a programme. We all have a fear of the unknown to an extent. And when we move to a new job or city that fear is there. Therefore, we can identify with these people who have been thrown into a world of potentially immense danger, and massive mystery. A TV show where characters die for good (five, off the top of my head – swimmer, beach dude, pilot, air marshal, Arzt and Boone). Six, then – and anyone can die, at any time.

When the party leaves on the raft near the end of the season, I have a feeling of impending doom. I don’t see them reaching any other land, nor of getting rescued. However, seeing as such key characters as Sawyer and Michael are on there, stakes are high.

When the boat first appeared, my instinct was ‘pirates!’. When the strangers demanded Walt (luckily a flashback explained why a ten year old kid had such an old man name), I wasn’t surprised. Earlier in the episode, Rousseau abducts Aaron, due to the whispers telling her They were coming for ‘the boy’.

I knew ‘the boy’ was Walt instantly; he had to be. His stepfather didn’t want him, because weird things happened when he was around. ‘He is different’. Locke said the same thing when explaining why he was teaching the child to throw knives. He reads a comic book with a polar bear in it – and polar bears appear on a tropical island. The secret has to lie with him, whatever it is.

I’ll just post this now. More thoughts as they come. Maybe on Desperate Housewives.
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