26 August 2008

Jaguar Love – Take Me to the Sea



Described to this writer as 'Blood Brothers go emo', Jaguar Love's debut record is actually only 'emo' in as much as Blood Brothers were: this is to say not very. Former 'Brothers Johnny Whitney and Cody Votolato are joined by erstwhile Pretty Girls Make Graves member Jay Clark in a multi-instrumentalist melange.

Many old fans will be turned off by what may seem 'selling out', the celebratory chaos of 'Love Rhymes with Hideous Car Wreck' and 'Trash Flavored Trash' consigned to history in favour of largely normal (for them) rock songs. So, was the change warranted, or is this an attempt by the trio to grasp for that shiny brass ring?

Marmite-unmistakeable are the vocals of Whitney. While he still squeals and raves as only he seems able, this is occasionally tempered to suit the more traditional structures on Take Me To The Sea. At times he recalls last BB producer Guy Picciotto, fitting as Guy always seemed to present the more fiery side of the Fugazi vocal Yin and Yang.

The Jag Love approach to writing pays off well, actually a logical progression considering BB swansong Young Machetes was slightly further along the sobriety continuum than what immediately preceded. Opening track, and initial single, 'Highways of Gold' eases us in, establishing that this is less frenetic than, say, Crimes, but ensuring we know who is involved. The song rocks with an impressive solidity thanks to guitarist Votolato.

It is quite clear that hooks are the order of the day; repeat listening is rewarded (or cursed) by melodies that bounce around one's cranium long after the record has finished. This practice is taken to its fullest extent on the ballad 'Georgia', which is presumably not an anti-Abkhaz piece. Satisfyingly lengthy, there are melody and changes aplenty on what could be a number 1 single in an alternate universe (where Boards Of Canada is the Beach Boys).

While some tracks rather meander, closing brace 'The Man with the Plastic Suns' and 'My Organ Sounds Like...' are possibly the strongest songs, distilling the quicksilver neo-prog of Mars Volta into far more manageable chunks. its forty-two minutes are the perfect length for the music, promising big things for the future while satiating present hunger.

***

Haven't really listened to it since writing this review under duress. Good album though. I'd just like to mention my sadness at both the untimely end of Be Your Own PET and my inability to see them perform on their current, final, tour.

Speaking of final tours, I would like to mention the time I saw Blood Brothers. It was great, lots of energy for once. Both singers were pretty hot, too. Anyway, great show; felt like a party. Kind of had to end after that, as there weren't many things they could do to top that level of performance and quality. It was therefore sad to see them go, but I was content. Unlike the BYOP split. That was out of order. And sorry for all the fragmented sentences.

18 August 2008

Seriously, get it watched again. If you're in the UK.

Then watch Michael Johnson's reaction. Nearly as awesome.

I have now just about pulled my eyes away from Bolt for long enough to know who else medalled. I have also been looking at the history of the 100m record. I was just slightly young to have been gutted by Ben Johnson's cheating (though I remember the race happening), but how upset must athletics fans have been at that time: a decade after that most controversial of races, and the record was only 9.84, compared to Johnson's steroid-filled 9.79. The wait for Greene, then Powell, must have been agonising when millions had already watched a man run that fast.

How insane was it that, even though Johnson destroyed the field on that fateful day, once he was stripped, Carl Lewis's relatively meagre 9.92 silver medal performance was still the new world record. Fast race.

And even though Bolt essentially walked to the finishing line of his 200m heat today, I still don't see him breaking that magical 19.32. Mainly because he has said he would rather win than get a record. Increments, people.

16 August 2008

Lightning Bolt


While I haven’t been watching particularly much of the Olympic Games, I had to make sure I caught the business end of the 100m running. I have always loved this event and the year or so building up to these Games was more interesting than most. In the last twelve months we saw Tyson Gay, from the USA, run 9.77 seconds and Jamaican Asafa Powell, who had already run 9.77 in 2005, went the distance in just 9.74 seconds.

So the stage was set for the pair to duke it out at the Olympics. Until Usain Bolt – another Jamaican – found form and the last couple of years went out of the window. Originally considered too lanky, at six feet and five inches, for the 100m, he specialised in 200m and 400m. When it became apparent that he was a decent sprinter, he shifted down to 100m and 200m. He made his first massive splash when he ran 9.76 on May 3rd this year; suddenly there was a new challenger.

Bolt became the instant favourite for gold in Beijing when, later that month, he ran the 100 metres in 9.72 seconds, in New York. Just as suddenly, Powell and Gay faded into the background as observers reminded themselves that Powell has a history of failing to fulfil potential at the biggest races, and that Gay hadn’t actually raced in a very long time.

So I missed the first and second rounds. Apparently all British runners progressed from the former, but Simeon Williamson and White Bloke didn’t make it to the semis. Don’t get me started on the ludicrousness of the British lifetime ban for Dwain Chambers, and the fact that White Bloke should never have made it as far as Beijing. However, the semi final did feature Tyrone Edgar, who Wikipedia tells me was initially impressive, logging the overall fastest time of the opening round. Contrast that with Simeon Williamson, who actually ran slower in the Olympics (10.42 and 10.32) than he did when qualifying a few weeks back in England (10.03).

Anyway, Edgar got to the semi-final but came second from last and was therefore eliminated. I know Chambers wouldn’t have had a chance at winning in Beijing but, given the fact that he ran the hundred in ten seconds flat while beating Williamson, he would likely have got into the final at least.

Which was more than Gay achieved. My sentimental favourite since he became the second fastest 200m runner in history (19.62, to the unparalleled Michael Johnson’s 19.32), he came up short in the 100. Logging times of 10.22 and 10.09 in the first two rounds – compared to Powell’s 10.16 and 10.02 and Bolt’s 10.20 and 9.92 – he seemed ever so slightly off the pace. That lack of recent race experience was taking its toll.

The first semi final featured Bolt, who sent a striking (no pun intended) message to all who would challenge as he finished first in 9.85 seconds without visibly trying. Notable also from this heat was Walter Dix, who came second with a time of 9.95.

The second semi final was the long-awaited battle between Powell and Gay; it was to be the first major disappointment. Noticeably tense, Tyson Gay left the Olympic 100m competition with a whimper, coming fifth when he crossed the finishing line after 10.05 seconds. This morning I had read that Gay was 13/1 to win gold, and I actually fancied putting some money on it. Good thing I didn’t. Powell won it, as expected, in 9.91 seconds. Heat Two notables were Richard Thompson (9.93) and Churandy Martina (9.94).

With one of the big three favourites out of the way, and Bolt getting the best semi-final time by a solid margin, talk was less of whether Powell would be able to win, but whether Bolt would break the world record. God of the 200m Michael Johnson predicted not just a world record, but a time of 9.69 seconds, which was pretty far-fetched.

At the start, there was a level of excitement surrounding the race that I was genuinely surprised by in this age jaded by seemingly ubiquitous steroid users. The two Jamaicans were separated at the starting line by Thompson and Dix, so my mind was tuned to focus on as wide a portion of centre-track as possible. This is exactly what I did when the race started, relatively equally.

Quickly, though, all attention focused on one man: Bolt was gaining advantage with each of his massive strides. With each passing half-second, Bolt moved from equal with the pack, through clear lead into the realm of piss-take.

Unable to quite believe what I was seeing, I began screaming at the screen: this was insane. Never before had I seen a race of such short distance led by such a margin. Bolt carefully inched his glance either side of him, checking where the rivals were.

Nowhere to be seen. So he turned his head to the right, to check where Powell, Dix and Thompson were.

Miles away. So with at least a tenth of the race remaining and probably closer to a fifth, Bolt actually eased up. Jubilant, he extended his arms in celebration; he slowed down; he crossed the line making comically high-kneed strides.

And he once more broke the record. Initially 9.68 seconds, this was rounded up to Johnson’s prediction of 9.69 (I think it was technically 9.688) – after slowing down and showboating.

Commentators before the race had hoped every finalist would beat the seconds. While that was not to be, this was the fastest final ever; as well as Bolt shattering his own record, the two slowest finishers turned in times of 10.01 and 10.03 (Marc Burns and Darvis Patton respectively).

Funnily enough, this magnificent performance seemed to intimidate all of Bolt’s opponents. Having assumed the winning time would be 9.7x seconds, I hoped and figured the silver (and probably bronze) medal times would be in the low 9.8x. This was, after all, the most impressive field ever assembled for the 100 metres. This was the field for which Tyson Gay failed to qualify.

Instead, second place went to Thompson, with a personal best of 9.89; bronze to Dix at 9.91. Bolt had won by a margin of 0.2s; Powell finished fifth (9.95), explaining afterwards that his ‘legs just went’. The best performance in a 100m sprint seemed to scare the competition slow. I actually didn’t know who came second or third, such was the margin of victory.

Not that the losing efforts really mattered. With a not-trying-hardest time of 9.69, it’s not as though either Powell or Gay – still to be considered the main challengers – have a real shot of beating Bolt for anything major any time soon. This could easily have been 9.66 or 9.65.

Johnson remarked after the race that it was pretty much over for 100m sprinters right now. He made the point that, when Bolt does eventually make his best-possible time, it will not be beaten for many years. Why would it be? Here is a man of remarkable stride length, who gains momentum from the blocks very quickly, who has pretty much perfect technique. It is hard to see how a shorter sprinter could beat Bolt at his best in the current climate.

Suddenly, Gay’s best time of 9.77 (he actually ran 9.68 in Japan once, though essentially with a hurricane at his back) seems rather normal. It is a matter of time before Gay is bested in the 200m stakes too. Currently the second fastest man at the distance in history, his 19.62 isn’t far away from Bolt’s best of 19.67.

With Gay not competing in the 200m a far as I am aware, the distance is Bolt’s to lose. Again the question arises of records, though I doubt Johnson’s time will be bettered at this competition. Michael seemed slightly nervous today as he questioned Bolt’s endurance (Colin Jackson ribbed him by using Bolt’s lap of honour as evidence of endurance) to sprint that extra hundred metres.

For me, the 200 metres is not a question of Bolt’s endurance; he seems to have energy and focus in spades. Bolt is a seemingly unstoppable force, but the real point is the immovable object that is Johnson’s record.

Bolt came into Beijing already holding the 100m record. (By his own admission Usain didn’t care about breaking records in this final; he just wanted to win.) Before he held the record, his best time was just two hundredths of a second from the then best time ever. The 200 is a different matter entirely, with Bolt – and all mortals – a third of a second off the best time.

If anyone can break the record Michael Johnson and his amusingly straight back achieved twelve years ago, it is Bolt, though many of the fastest men at the distance are running in 2008, such as Gay and Dix. I would just expect incremental gains to be made before any human makes such a leap of pace.

13 August 2008

Zozobra – Bird of Prey

More FACT-age!

***

I don’t know what it is about Hydra Head and side projects, but they are currently better than members’ full time bands. Not sure whether Zozobra is strictly a side project though: half of them made their names in the sadly dormant Cave In, so this could be a full time job while Steve Brodsky thinks of more aliases. Meanwhile Aaron Harris joins boss of the label, and of Old Man Gloom, Aaron Turner on the list of Isis Members Moonlighting in Bands Better than Isis.

While Isis makes like Sigur Rós, and delivers recent albums of wallpaper, both OMG(!) and Zozobra (both bands named for an effigy ritually burned in Santa Fe) forsake the current trend of post-metal bullet belt-gazing and decide to actually rock. In fact, their combination of roaring vocals and a massive, fuzz-tinged guitar recalls the late, great Nottingham band earthtone9, albeit without their melodic asides. The riffs are flattening in a Greenmachine/Boris-at-their-most-aggressive fashion.

‘Heartless Enemy’ is where the mood changes. The band seems to realise at the right time that this bludgeon riffola will only go so far. A hulking riff plays second fiddle to cautiously rising melody in a combination that recalls The Hope Conspiracy’s excellent ‘Stolen Days’. The ominously shimmering/shuddering ‘Big Needles’ provides interval time before ‘Sharks That Circle’ brings the violence back. If this is Caleb Scofield on vocals, he is impressively pitched between Turner and Sean Ingram.

The best, as is so often the case in metal, concludes the album. With the three-minute detonations out of the way, emerging from the smoke is a semi-epic juggernaut, steamrolling anything High On Fire have done in years: ‘Laser Eyes’. Beginning suitably slowly, the controlled mayhem then erupts two minutes in and manages to both mesmerise and energise for the duration.

Were there more in the way of such changes within songs, this might challenge Until Your Heart Stops or Christmas. It lacks the inventiveness or personality of an Iron Monkey or His Hero Is Gone, but if those names mean anything to you, do listen to this refreshing album. If they don’t, remedy that omission.

05 August 2008

Lustmord - [other]

Apologies for the absence of late; new place has not been the most internetty in the world. I have an iPhone (the boring saga of which was a post idea at one point), but cannot bring myself to blog on that quite yet. The backlog is now a... very big backlog. Anyway, I wrote something new for FACT, so here it is, with something in the way of postscript.

***

Lustmord is a crafty veteran when it comes to atmospherics, having augmented the sounds of everyone from Tool to Jarboe. [other], his new album on Hydra Head, is a mood-defining music. But only if you allow it to be. At first it could be written off as more evil-sounding fare from the increasingly wealthy dark-metal clique. The bass pulses and glooming atmospheres are all present and correct, though it lacks the sudden explosions that characterised a Delerium Cordia or Chaos is My Name. Perhaps that’s its charm.

The record starts off so slowly you’d be forgiven for turning it off prematurely. If you’ve heard Enemy of the Sun, Black 1 or Human Animal, you’ve heard ‘Testament’. And ‘Element’. Both threaten you with world downfall, but go on for three weeks without delivering. And, as with any decent record of this ilk, each track bleeds into the next (as long as it’s not a Relapse reissue) so any signposts are lost in the eternal dusk.

This fits Lustmord’s delivery, as he develops the music in a more subtle way than Mike Patton might. Guitar arpeggios rise slowly above the murk like sleepy old men from their stools at closing time. This is eerie juxtaposition with the groaning electronic malevolence beneath, rather than the timeless windswept vistas painted by recent – brilliant – records by the stoical Earth. ‘Godeater’ feels like it lasts a year, but if you allow yourself to wallow in it, you become consumed.

This guitar work, by Adam Jones, adds much to the experience, though he soon becomes more notable by his absence. ‘Ash’, once heard, becomes a waiting game for the Silent Hill noises near the end. Lustmord is one of the finest exponents of Scary Noise-core, but there are only so many scary noises one can hear before tolerance builds and they bore. The problem is it’s not actually scary like Coil or the last Anti Group CD was. I want to love [other] but, outside the Jones tracks, will probably reach for Altar a few more times before giving this another spin. How much do you want to believe?

***

It should probably be mentioned that Lustmord seems to me to be awesome at instilling existing work with depth and aural grain - as seen in the Jarboe remixes or '10,000 Days (Wings, Pt. 2)' - but somewhat lacking as a starring role. I am not that familiar with his past solo work, so maybe I'm being naive. It's something I'm going to blast on the Death Deck once or twice more before I'm totally done, and I may even buy it proper. For the Adam Jones artwork, because I'm superficial like that. Put a donk on it.

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