26 September 2008

More-iss from Popbitch

>> Help Morris! <<
Turn terrorism comedy into movie

We told you that Chris Morris' terror cell
comedy had been rejected by a fearful Channel 4
and BBC. It seems they have a history of
this. Muslim comedian Omar Mazouk was to
present a mockumentary about misguided
suicide bombers for BBC but this was also
nixed. He took the idea to a TV network in
Denmark instead, where it's getting rave reviews.

And putting two fingers up to TV commissioners,
Morris is turning his Jihadi sitcom into a
film. He's got producers at Warpfilm and a
distributor. All he needs now is enough money
to make the film. Which is where we come in.
Popbitch readers donating between 25 and 100
quid to help get the film made will get the
chance to be in it. So get out your cheque book
and burkha and email:
fundingmentalism@warpfilms.com

Chris would not deny or confirm that recruits
who sign up will also get a free al-Qaeda
explosives handbook.

***

So there you go. I was actually wondering why this wasn't suggested earlier, given how controversial the project would be deemed by mainstream media and the rich history between Morris and Warp. Everybody watch his short film My Wrongs #8245-8249 & 117. I would very cheekily link to the film itself on You Tube, but (i) it may be down since last I saw it there, and (ii) I'm at work! I have the DVD anyway, and have done since day dot.

23 September 2008

Squarepusher – Just a Souvenir

(2008, Warp Records)

I got this and was shocked. FACT said it was SP gone rock, but I snorted at the thought. Turns out it's really, really good. I am so gonna get this on vinyl. And not just because of the gorgeous artwork...

***


A trend has been emerging in recent years over at that Sheffield stronghold, Warp. It has manifested as an increasing penchant for rock instrumentation. Successful in some instances, such as the mystifyingly under-appreciated Standards set by Tortoise, it has quite literally thrown up such chunks as Maximo Park. And middling bands like Battles. Meanwhile, Tom ‘Squarepusher’ Jenkinson has lurked in the shadows.

After spending the 1990s as a leading light of drill ‘n’ bass (producing scintillating records like Big Loada), lately he has meandered. Some tracks have heartened in their quality (‘My Red Hot Car’; ‘Planetarium’), but the albums seemed not quite to gel.

If reinvention were required to regain a seat at the table of electronica glitterati, Squarepusher has achieved that and more, appearing to have sent his IDM past(iche) packing. In a move sure to alienate old school Warp heads, Jenkinson has… gone prog?

Not actually ‘prog’ in the traditional sense, there is a definite theme of technically adventurous, 1970s-influenced writing on Just a Souvenir. Beginning as a Utopian dreamstate about an unreality rock band, the album eases fans, ‘Red Hot Car’ parking up to the piano ‘Where Love Lives’. The mysterious ‘Coathanger’ appears on the second track, where it all goes ‘Flawless’-ly strange.

This is rock way beyond the slightly annoying Battles, like liquid in flow and unpredictability. ‘A Real Woman’ sees ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ spliced with Hazlehurst’s ‘Sorry’ theme, working bizarrely well. ‘Delta-V’ is pure tech-rock, highlighting Jenkinson’s familiarity with the bass guitar. To compare this with Warp’s rockers does the record a disservice; its marriage of wizardry with inspiration finds closer kin with Lightning Bolt.

The elite rock peaks on the inferno surface of ‘Planet Gear’, balancing distorted, fractured bass lines with the soothing balm brought by calm Acid melodies. Squarepusher walks a tightrope throughout, teetering between utter insight and pure vocoder, 70s dinnertime game show cheese; it is at times like this when an artist works free of self consciousness, able to scale the heights.

While musically quite daring, the album is a lean 44 minutes: this is a relief as the pudding could have been over-egged had it neared the hour mark of its predecessor. There is even an apparent nod to prog-celebs in the linguistically contrary ‘Yes-Sequiteur’, and it’s a relief that as he has a laugh, Squarepusher is kicking out the jams with the very best of the rockers. Yet more pastiche? Perhaps, but more than welcome when it sounds this good.

Jay Reatard – Matador Singles ‘08

(2008, Matador)

It has apparently become necessary to mention in each review of Mr. Reatard’s work that he recently punched someone at a gig. I have punched people at gigs, though it is rather less newsworthy due to the fact that I have never composed a song as good as ‘See/Saw’. Or ‘Screaming Hand’. Or ‘Fluorescent Grey’. Or, or…

This is the small detail many appear to overlook. While Jay’s ostensibly ‘controversial’ behaviour is not actually that controversial in the grand scheme of things – witness Brutal Truth’s Kevin Sharp lamping a punter who stole the cowboy hat Mr. Sharp apparently considered his one possession, or Nick Oliveri taking out the whole of Terrorvision at Ozzfest ’99 – what should be of note is his ability to pen a tune.

Much has been made of his past musical life, of which Lost Sounds – synthy awesomeness – is this writer’s favourite. Even so, it is the present that most stirs excitement and that sets the pulse racing. As a solo performer Reatard has already released numerous fine singles (also recently compiled) as well as an album – Blood Visions – that served as the springboard into internet infamy and gold house bought by his Matador advance, rumoured to be in the Louis Bacon-troubling realm of $350m.

While such an investment may not yield the kind of revenue generated by relatively recent big contract stars such as R.E.M. and Mariah Carey, it is artistic success, that commodity seemingly least valued in this cut-throat world we naïve music fans find ourselves in, that is infinitely more assured.

Eschewing the speed metal influence prevalent in the last eighteen or so years of punk rock evolution, Reatard opts for a more Richard Hell/Wipers, sound, freer-flowing in its guitar techniques than the Epitaph massive (not to say I am not fond of that style; many an hour has been spent appreciating mid-period NOFX and early Millencolin). So, along with the three-chord bombast there are acoustic guitars and a wonderful trend of screaming guitar melody augmenting the rhythm. The lyrics and melodies are simple but effective, doing nothing to distract from the matter at hand. The matter in this case is rocking.

22 September 2008

I recently had to write something about Bob Dylan for a poll being held on a message board. It's rather a bum deal having to sum Bob up in a few words, so I went a bit weird. But not that weird. Anyway:

***


Bob Dylan, eh? What can be said about his Bobness that hasn't already been said?

Hmm.

He couldn't write lyrics and hasn't done many albums.

But seriously, Bob is awesome. I know many people don't like him. Hell, I was one of those people. I had a grudging respect for the fact that he had done so much in the scope of what we call rock and roll. He had influenced lots of folk (and sadly lots of folkies), and cool people like Jimi Hendrix and Axl Rose covered his songs. But I just wasn't feeling it. His voice was weird, the songs a bit sparse, and it all just felt a tad old.

Needless to say, when I began my studies in Manchester, I bought a Dylan album. Blonde on Blonde, obviously. Bit long. Sounded a touch thin, too, as do pretty much all CDs that were released before people knew how to properly master CDs. This was before the Great Dylan Remaster Odyssey of a few years ago.

With Dylan, it turned out, you need a hook. For me that hook came when I created a particular compilation during that first year of university: it was titled, somewhat vulgarly, Sunday Morning Chill.

Among hot new(ish) acts of the time like Goldfrapp and Groove Armada, and old faves Nick Drake and Jeff Buckley, I placed the promising 'Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again'. Not that I thought at this point that it was a particularly fantastic song, but its decent length and rolling – non-climactic – structure created a musical place in which I could comfortably reside for the minutes on those autumnal mornings in which I lacked the energy to rise.

While in that somnolent haze, certain phrases began to pester my consciousness. 'Did he just say "he smoked my eyeballs and punched my cigarette"?'

The song had clicked. I soon fell in lust with its lines; it is so hard to write surreal rock lyrics without looking like an idiot. But this song, balancing talk of 'Shakespeare in the alley', with the visible signs of Grandpa's descent ('I knew he'd lost control / When he built a fire on Main Street / And shot it full of holes') was that rarity that you could equally happily read or listen to. Next stop was 'Visions of Johanna', whose key lines are so mind-bendingly good that they have passed into rock quotation cliché.

What is astonishing is that, in the context of the song, 'the ghost of 'lectricity howls in the bones of her face' and 'Louise holds a handful of rain, temptin' you to defy it' are almost just lines in a song. Many have pointed out that Dylan is merely a poet in the world of rock and, beyond his lines, he offers little. Just listening to how he increasingly emphasises every other word in the former line dashes that perception immediately.

And it spread. But it spread beyond just his music into everything. Seeing him perform live, even now he is a desiccated relic, is a potentially amazing experience. Not only does he roar through classics like the aforementioned 'Stuck Inside of Mobile…' with the building momentum of a prime Jerome Bettis, but recent songs like 'Nettie Moore' are touching even when the listener is unfamiliar with the studio version.

Dylan was always a carny. What some observers mistake for illegitimacy, a lack of authenticity they believe is the petard on which Bob may be hoisted, is actually Bob's apparently endless yen for verbal smoke and mirrors. He delights in spinning a yarn and if it confuses those listening, all the better. This can be seen in those odd televised interviews he involved himself in when his career was still young. This is also the reason why his autobiography reads like a novel too well written for its time. Or like his songs writ large.

This fondness for a linguistic meander overflows into possibly the greatest of Dylan's works in the last couple of decades: Theme Time Radio Hour. During these wonderful broadcasts, Bob plays songs based on a certain topic, be it the telephone or birds. Not only is his record collection, and knowledge thereof, remarkable, but he imbues songs with extra depth. Whether they deserve it or no, he often intones lines from a song with reverence, forcing you to look at that song in a new light.

He also makes with the anecdotes. While it is true to say I could listen to his rasping yet oddly comforting tones for days, his tales, many of which could fairly be described as short rather than tall ones, are bait for the concentration equal to the songs. My favourite is the one in which he recounts meeting someone in Home Depot, while 'looking for wood'. With no more of a preface than that, he challenges the listener to guess who he met there.

With barely pause for breath, ever reinforcing Bob applauds 'that's right! Gina Gershon'. As if anyone on this Earth (or any other, for that matter) would have correctly guessed. This segues nicely into Gina introducing the particular song she had chosen for that broadcast ('La Bochinchera', by Graciela with Machito & His Orchestra).

I should imagine Bob found his wood that day.

17 September 2008

Metallica – Death Magnetic

(2008, Universal)


A new Metallica album is always a massive occasion, that one time when all metal fans, from the underground heads to the weekend warriors, unite in listening to one record. And despite the ironic/faux-earnest t-shirt protestations of the world fashionista party, this shit wouldn’t happen for AC/DC, Motörhead or Maiden.

The last few releases have seen the bands fans complain to varying degrees, but then the band has always been selling out in the eyes of certain sectors of the fanbase. Ride the Lightning had a ballad. …And Justice for All had a music video. The black album was produced by Bob Rock and they slowed everything down. The loudest complaints were saved for the Load/ReLoad section of their career, during which Metallica continued doing exactly what they wanted to do. Boo on them!

Then, in 2003, they really stumbled with St. Anger. Funnily enough that album was supposed to be a concession to the fans, in which they got angsty again, played fast again and wrote their most complicated songs since …Justice…. It sold a relative pittance, and the fans disowned it. Then the band did. Time to go back to the drawing board and find a new producer for the first time in well over a decade.

Enter Rick Rubin, the foremost talent in making has-beens, if not good per se, at least marketable. The band was determined to make it up to the fans, this time. They were gonna be angsty again, play fast again and write their most complicated songs since …Justice…. Wait a minute.

This is a more successful attempt at reclaiming old glories than the last effort, though not to the self-fulfilling extent that some circles are claiming. The production has largely been sorted out, with the drums more solid than on the last album, and guitars way more mouthy than in the past. In fact, given how lame the CD master of …And Justice for All was, they are mouthier than they have been in a long, long time.

Opener ‘That Was Just Your Life’ starts as the album means to go on, all snarly and quick changes. ‘The End of the Line’ is similar, but something seems to be missing. Could all this sound and fury be signifying less than Hetfield and co. are letting on? This unease is highlighted by the first truly fantastic song of the album, ‘Broken, Beat & Scarred’. The title would suggest a touch of the Roni Size post-Jungle sound, but instead we get a mean descending riff and it would appear the masters truly are back.

‘The Day That Never Comes’ is the brave new entry in the Metallica song #4 pantheon though, after the magnificent likes of ‘Fade to Black’, ‘Sanitarium’, ‘One’ and ‘The Unforgiven’, it rather disappoints. It’s more on a level with the unfairly maligned, but far from great, ‘Until it Sleeps’ then. What begins as homage to Iron Maiden’s ‘The Evil that Men Do’ ends up sounding even more like an Americanised Maiden than Mastodon do before finishing in a mess of sub-’One’ staccato and solo.

The song seems to be lacking the melancholy running through the veins of those great Metallica ballads. And this is where it all starts to make sense: while they (specifically Hetfield) are making the right noises, the emotional impact seems absent without leave. In fact, the Guardian recently ran a surprisingly good article mentioning that same thing.

And this is where, if I may be so bold, we step through the looking glass. The band has listened to the fans. The fans complained that Load lacked fast riffs, a harsh leading edge and wanky, wah-drenched blues-scale solos. Well they’re here in droves, to the point where lead axe-man Kirk Hammett passes through self parody into Kerry King, complete-lack-of-self-awareness, territory. Hetfield got too soft and ‘country’ in the past with his introspection and self help.

Not any more! No, these lyrics are by far the dumbest ever to feature on a Metallica record.* Even Kill ‘em All had its moments. Examples:

...You rise, you fall, you’re down then you rise again
What don’t kill you make you more strong

...'Cause we hunt you down without mercy
Hunt you down all nightmare long
Feel us breathe upon your face

...Suffer unto my apocalypse!
My apocalypse… Go!
Crushing metal, Ripping Skin
Tossing body mannequin

While the lyrics are nearly uniformly poor, the vocal performance is top-notch. While some have referred to this album as the return of Hetfield from some kind of vocal wilderness, he has been consistently very, very good for ages. His best work was during the mid-late 1990s, though this record shows no sign of slowing down.

Yes, while the band may dismiss with an embarrassed laugh what they term the ‘CNN days’ of their late 1980s political writing, I would love for them to imbue their current songs with the kind of lyrical intelligence that both set them apart from their rivals in the thrash scene and that forged the link between band and fan. Even the mildly embarrassing concepts, such as the doomed convict in ‘Ride the Lightning’ or fearful witness of Cthulhu in ‘The Thing That Should Not Be’, were written with a sense of character and place that made them work.

It is rather telling, then, that the finest piece of work on this current album is Metallica’s welcome return to the perilous world of the heavy metal instrumental. This is a world the band owned in the days of ‘Call of Ktulu’, ‘Orion’ and (the sorta-instrumental) ‘To Live is to Die’ and, while they lag in the tech stakes behind the deranged likes of Behold… the Arctopus, they really shred. Yes, the main riff may be a tad similar to that of the one they play during the verses of ‘Broken, Beat & Scarred’, but you can never have too many descending guitar motifs, and they do enough with the rest of the song to justify the similarity.

For the third time, a Metallica album comes with a version of ‘The Unforgiven’. The problem here is that the original was such an amazing piece of work, the idea of writing sequels is a tad loopy. They just about pulled it off with ‘The Unforgiven II’, a power ballad par excellence, which switched the dynamic of the original by beginning heavy and switching to mellow verses. It also had enough call-backs to the first song to qualify as pretty nifty intertextuality as opposed to running out of ideas. Just.

The third in (what one hopes is) the trilogy lacks the fade-in intro of the past two, and the dubbing ‘thee unforgiven’, as Hetfield offers the strongest lyric of the album, from the perspective of one requiring forgiveness, drifting aimlessly as absence of expectation results by default in avoiding disappointment. To tie in with the series, the song refers back to the first in backing the verses with a fantastic, heavy, groove riff, while the solo – admittedly not a patch on the first** – is one of the better ones on the record.

Sadly, this is followed by a weak entry into the canon. ‘The Judas Kiss’ is Death Magnetic by numbers: awkward riffs, bellowed threats and a lot of disorganised noise. Something tells me this is not an après ballad grower in the mould of the excellent – and awesomely disjointed – ‘Shortest Straw’.

Fortunately for all of us, the album goes out on a high note. After the aforementioned fantastic instrumental, Metallica channels their 1986, 1988 and (to a lesser extent) 1991 selves as they go out on a fast one. ‘My Apocalypse’ is a thrashfest of the kind they could write in their sleep, though it is imbued with such exciting freneticism that I don’t see anyone sleeping while it’s playing.

In all, then, this is a success. Clearly better than the last album, it also easily surpasses the stodge and b-sides that was ReLoad. While more consistent, aggressive and focused than Load, Death Magnetic shows signs of compromise, is still overlong and lacks a standout like ‘The Outlaw Torn’. It’s not a patch on albums 2-5, but then it doesn’t have to be. In 2008, a Metallica album has to sound good in a beered-up arena and effectively soundtrack an American military invasion. It fulfils those criteria with flying colours.



* Perhaps this is why the lyrics booklet provided with the CD has coffin-shaped holes cut out of every page. The strange death of James Hetfield’s lyric writing ability.
** Evil though I’m sure he is, Bob Rock infamously told Kirk not to just rip through scales for once, and to write an actually great solo. So he did.

13 September 2008

7 Songs

I am such a slack dude. As well as being a woefully infrequent blogger, I am guilty of not paying due attention to my fellow bloggers. One of these is my man Adrien Begrand, respected heavy metal critic and all round top bloke. It turns out he ‘tagged’ (or ‘tigged’, which was the terminology we used in the English game of chase) me for this seven songs deal:

"List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they’re listening to."

Adrien’s list is here and Simon Reynolds’s – another top bloke who has partaken in the game – list can be found here. I suppose this makes me ‘it’ (or ‘on’, as our version of the game had it). A quick preface: some of these songs are not very new. They are, however, songs I either am enjoying or have enjoyed very recently. And, a side effect of my indolence, it is clearly no longer spring. But then it wasn’t in June either, so I reckon I’m okay there.

Anyway, I have on and off collated songs that define certain periods, inspired by the semi-annual compilations made by writer Nick Hornby. As I have dropped off a tad in that respect lately, this project is greeted warmly by me.

Sisqó'Thong Song'

I used to consider this something of a joke when it was knocking about the charts. Sisqó, fresh out of unremarkable R&B group Dru Hill, had just released a song about very small pants. Ha ha ha, I thought, it’s a song about small pants performed by an unremarkable R&B singer. It also shares a title with a song by Kyuss and, what with Kyuss being awesome, this is automatically quite lame.

How wrong I was! ‘Thong Song’ began to grow on me while I was still in smarmy sarcast mode and as a result I guffawed at how worked up – in traditional R&B style – he got about the aforementioned smalls. But somewhere in the intervening near-decade something changed.

I remember making a list of singles-of-the-decade a while back. I also remember my peers being taken aback that I would dare to rank it in a similar region to Dizzee Rascal's 'I Luv U'; part of the reason I did so was in order to engender that very reaction. In 2003, indie-schmindie print magazine Magnet (is it still going? Apparently), celebrating its first decade in existence, asked various indie popsters about their decade. One individual, whose identity escapes me at present, mentioned they would like to have written 'Thong Song'. Whether ironic or not, that statement was becoming increasingly agreeable.

I now have the single on 12", and I love it. It's also on my iPhone, actually, in lossless format. Happy accident: I first tried playing it on 33rpm, as the sticker didn’t instruct me otherwise. This was too slow, but the intro was intriguing. So I put on the instrumental version and it is beautiful. The violin sample takes on a new hue of melancholy in this wrong speed; the quasi-Garage beat shudders into a half-step/Dubstep tempo; the orchestral chops in the chorus increase in magnitude and the key change near the end is an awesome moment.

On regular speed, though, the song is something to behold. While it is still amusing that Sisqó puts trad-R&B mechanics usually saved for love toward thongs, and that – after banging on for three minutes – he has the audacity to claim ‘I don’t think you heard me!’, the composition is dense and inspiring. As I touched on, the beat is 2-step with an American R&B sheen, and there s so much going on in the mix! The layers of violin and vocal add massively to the very strong skeleton. Someone on a message board recently mentioned that when his music theorist friend first heard the song, he declared it the best piece of music he’d heard.

That dude knows what he's on about.

Blackout Crew'Put a Donk on It'

This is another one that began ironically. Recently the subject of much online discussion, I first encountered the song prior to that, innocently enough on telly. The top of the video showed a delivery being made to an average-looking house and I was intrigued as to what would follow. Cut to a home studio in which a set of scallies are sitting, and we get to the song proper.

The song is about putting a 'donk' on various types of dance music, though I am still unsure as to what exactly a donk is. it does mean we get shards of techno and R&B, among other styles, which all get donked, between bouts of surprisingly impressive rapping.

Reynolds described it as 'a series of presets', but the personality of the Crew carries it along very nicely. The beat is energetic, to fit the chatter; the short generic interruptions only serve to add to the cavalcade of glee and suburban happy hardcore pompoms. Each shaven-headed youth (I love them on my telly, but not sure I'd particularly want to knock about with them) brings his own bit to the table, and it's over before it gets old.

I had joked with friends about it being single of the year, but it is very solid; the donk meme is now on the outs round our end, but served its purpose very nicely as everything from going out on a night, to being at work, to the washing up, all had a donk put on it. And now it’s over.

RTX – 'You Should Shut Up'

The more I hear of RTX, the more convinced I am of their status of Best Rock Band in the World Right Now. Their first album, Transmaniacon, was absolutely stunning in an album-of-the-year kind of way. Ostensibly a return to 80s glam rock, the songs were produced to sound heavy as hell with a druggy haze enveloping it in a mess of psychedelia and auto-tuners. The last song was even a modern equivalent of 'Rocket Queen', albeit with George Clinton samples.

The second album (Western Xterminator, renamed RaTX for some reason) was more of the similar, and I was less in love with it. I only decided that on first listen and totally didn’t give it enough of a chance. It is really good though. (I have a particular issue with awesome rock artists, whereby they have to release one album and split, ripping my heart in two and leaving me lying on the bed-ah, as I'm left wondering what could have been. It stems from the diminishing returns offered by Andrew W.K. following his classic debut I Get Wet. So I wanted RTX to leave it at that. Same with Be Your Own Pet, only their second album was wonderful, and they split up anyway.)

The new RTX record, J.J. Got Live RatX (not a live album, though the press release states some of the songs will be performed live in future…) is a return to a form that was never really lost, and the song I have chosen opens proceedings admirably.

It begins with orchestral synths whose duration is cloaked in nods and winks, as a drum riff steadily builds. Then, suddenly, a massive wodge of guitar peals off a descending riff as erstwhile Royal Trux partner, and doyenne of hotness, Jennifer Herrema suggests 'YOU SHOULD SHUT UP', on account of you really don't know what you’re talking about. And the album is off to the best possible start. The lyrics are about someone who’s done our Jen wrong, and are spat out in as spiteful a fashion as the riffs. Love it!

Secret Machines'Dreaming Of Dreaming'

I have to admit, not really listened to this one too many times. While at a party the other month, one of the hosts recommended to me a band called The Secret Machines. I recommended Neutral Milk Hotel to him. He came back to last week telling me that he now loves NMH. I, conversely, forgot all about these Secret Machines.

How fortunate, then, that same friend sorted me out with a link to download a new SM (oo-er) song. In an effort to be a decent person, I downloaded it and it’s nice. From what I can tell. The rhythm is suitably propulsive, the song builds nicely and the fact that its duration is a solid eight minutes-plus bodes very well. That’ about all I can tell you at the minute, other than it’s good, sounds swell (for an mp3) on my headphones and listen to it here. Bloody hell, it’s not even on the album or anything!

Rosco P. Coldchain'Hot'

Another song from a few years ago, but a very good one. In fact, I could quite comfortably say, without even fibbing a bit, that this is my favourite rap tune ever. Released on the Neptunes' Clones set back in 2003, a.k.a. the dying days of the Neps being good, this was the best song on it. In fact, it is the far superior precursor to Snoop Dogg's 'Drop It Like It's Hot'. And 'Sco is a superior rapper.

Minimal as it gets, this is odd rubbing sample-as-beat, while the sound of a pin dropping turns up in the mix later in the song. The hook is 'Sco, who does the second verse, sandwiched by guests Pusha-T (from the really rather good Clipse) and Boo-Bonic, about which I know very little, other than he has a voice so strange it's threatening. Like MC Ren.

Coldchain (who I initially confused with Tigerbeat6 artist Gold Chains) is so smooth, with such amazing flow, that he can barely be called a rapper in the traditional sense. He just speaks incredibly fast, with total clarity, in rhythm. Which pretty much totally defines him as a rapper, but you know what I mean. His lyrics are great (he can get away with gangster stuff on account of his believable language and being very scary), he has a menacing charisma and I love him (nobody else would be able to get away with dissing Prince in a song).

At the time I was so geared up for his album it was unreal. I listened non-stop to this song, his guest appearance on the albums 'Hot Damn' by Clipse, and his guest spot on Kelis's 'Digital Love'. Sorry, mustn't mention that second Kelis album. Brilliant cyber-prog R&B doesn’t exist if it didn't sell, so Wanderland appears to have been stricken from the record. Anyway, I listened and listened and listened… and the album still isn't out. Will it be out? It must come out! Half a decade later!

Snot'Stoopid'

Another old one! And yet another song I have been rocking lately. In short, Snot was a nu-metal band back in the late 1990s, when it appeared some nu-metal bands might be good, before Linkin Park, Static X and Disturbed started ruling the roost with an iron yawn. This was their single and, just as they were about to get big, vocalist Lynn Strait died. I was at the Fear Factory/Kilgore gig in December 1998 when the news broke, and it was very sad.

Tipping the stereotypes on their collective head in one short, sharp shock, Snot did away with the woe is me self-loathing and the 'surprise' kick ins of the chorus. And that annoying binary of either singing cleanly or screaming, displaying utter inability to manage anything more subtle. No, Strait could sing properly; he could scream while singing, in a dirty, California slacker take on the Tom Waits aesthetic with a nice line in ad libs.

Bass guitar was prominent in the mix, but not to the detriment of everything else. The drumming was more than just a case of hitting the skins as many times as possible. It was a song, in the sense that separated the likes of Metallica and Pantera from their peers. I love it and I always will. In fact I like it more as a twenty-eight year old than when I was seventeen, and I have only just bought their album, so there you go.

Lift To Experience – 'Into the Storm'

Oh wow, all these words written, and still this to get through. I'll keep it short, because I am actually planning something on the fascinating tale that is the career of Josh T. Pearson and his Lift To Experience. So, in short:

Best album of the decade. Released it, toured a bit, then disappeared. Vocalist went through years of personal demons before returning, somewhat triumphantly, with truly awesome solo shows. Why he is not ridiculously famous, given the fact that his story is as iconic as you can get this decade, and he totally fucking means everything he performs, is beyond me. And I think this is my favourite song ever. Seriously ever.

It's ten minutes long, and sums up in microcosm everything that is inspiring about Pearson. You'll just have to buy the album because (i) he needs the money, (ii) I told you, it's the best thing this decade, and (iii) the song is so long that my digital file is about thirty terabytes big so you wouldn't be able to download it anyway. Oh, and (iv) I don't trust your headphones.

It's got the melodies, insane guitar playing, remarkable arrangements that you swear are not the work of a trio but they are because I have seen this one performed live, mantras for days, crescendo that exposes todays post rock bands for the weak charlatans they are, lyrics, is the culmination of a concept that shouldn't work but does, and then you have all the little details. One of my favourite things about Lift To Experience songs is when there is an instrumental (or even vocal) section, and Josh suddenly starts narrating. Most of the time I can't even make out what he's saying, but I really love it. And he does loads of it here.

It's about the end of the world, and how Texas and Jerusalem are inextricably linked. In fact, there is one segment about how 'when America falls the world will fall with her' (it's hard to explain, but even though Pearson clearly loves his country, it's really not a blindly patriotic thing; it's endearing in its purity). The album was out in early summer 2001, and I saw them for the second time in October 2001.

This was obviously a very politically sensitive time for people – as we were reminded the other day – and that section of the song was ridiculously intense. It really did feel like the world was going to fall, and maybe that's what affected Josh so massively in the following years. Whatever the case, it was a performance to behold. So much for keeping it short…

God, I have to involve seven other bloggers? Damn. My two favourites have actually 'retired', so I'll see if I can even think of seven:

Iain!
Dick Hyacinth!
Lea!
Russ!
Dave Walsh!
goethe_re_scape!
Impostume!

Go! Go! Go!

Like seven people even read my blog.

From Popbitch

>> Brass neck <<
BBC say Airline Plot good, Morris bad?

Chris Morris. Role model for news and comedy
shows on TV. He has a brilliant new show idea.
The Brass Eye provocateur has written a comedy
about a Jihadi wannabe suicide bomber cell
in the North of England. It's funny and topical.
The perfect TV show? Well, maybe to you and me.
To the BBC and C4, the channels we hear he
offered it to, it's not. They've said no to it.
Possibly too scared at the subject content?

Did you see the recent "Airline Plot" terror trial?
The jury didn't convict but on the same day, the
BBC thought it was appropriate to use their news
programmes to attack that jury, and put out a
Panorama show called "The Airline Plot" -
when a jury had decided that no such plot existed.
And Morris can't get his show commissioned!

12 September 2008

The End of the Line


So I bought Metallica's latest album, Death Magnetic, today. I wasn't going to. Requested to write about it for FACT, I had been coincidentally passed a memory stick containing the album while at work yesterday. Sadly it was a bit-rate of 192kb/s and my headphones exposed the mp3 files for the sham the format is. Deciding that such poor quality audio was no position from which to evaluate an album, and suddenly possessed with that nostalgic fervour that dominated my album buying as a teen, I resolved to buy the thing on day of release. That was apparently today, though I have no idea why the band decided to transgress the usual release day of Monday.

I was faced with two dilemmas upon finding the joint lowest price of the CD was ~£10 (OK, so HMV was a penny cheaper than Zavvi, but who cares. My love of independents lacked sufficient hold for me to spend £2 more at Crash - that's a lunch to me - and Jumbo didn't seem to have it): I was far from comfortable spending a tenner on a CD in this day and age (especially when its destiny was to be ripped as lossless files and stuck in an airless vault*), and I was due to order the double vinyl edition from the USA on pay day.** I didn't want to buy it twice.

My journalistic integrity won through, and I bought the CD, though I was burdened by that sinking feeling of a pre-emptive buyers remorse. Before this, though, I had experienced the first three songs, on the way to work. First item noticed was the fact that, as ever, the songs are long. Not long in the sense of proper epics; your Godspeeds or Neuroses. No, just long enough that ten or twelve of them will fill a CD. Lord knows those CDs need filling.

Despite the length, those three songs didn't feel seven minutes and over. I wasn't paying massive amounts of attention, admittedly, but the songs generally seemed to happen for a while and then stop. Yes, the music is heavier than the Load/ReLoad era (written 1995; released 1996-7), and both better-produced and more thoughtfully composed than the messy, confused St. Anger (2003). This would appear to be enough to satiate the allegedly hardcore fans. One wonders how hardcore they are, though, if they greet change with derision and a return to business as usual as though it is the second coming.

I for one prefer favourites willing to fail spectacularly to the safe hands. This is why my allegiance in the late 1990s fell with Metallica rather than the NOSELLOUT Slayer. Sure, the 'Tallica boys ended up with massively hit-and-miss albums, balancing country ballads and blues rock boredom with some majestic pieces ('Bleeding Me' and 'The Outlaw Torn' are utter successes on every level), but I'd rather that than the meat and potatoes Slayer have seen fit to serve up for over a decade. The one time Slayer were truly exciting in 'recent' memory was their song on the Spawn soundtrack, for which they sent riffs and vocal lines to Alec Empire for reconstruction. The resulting jungle metal mess was and is fantastic. When asked around that time whether that was an avenue the band would like to follow, guitarist Kerry King replied in no uncertain terms that no, it was not.

With that in mind, it is quite sad that Metallica have made such a concession to demand (with no less than the God of Safe & Successful, Rick Rubin, at the helm), following such former-great bands as Pantera (Reinventing the Steel, 2000) and Neurosis (Given to the Rising, 2007). I hate it when bands insist on regressing to those impossibly tantalising 'good old days'; youthful hunger invariably long-satiated, such albums are exercises in uninspired somnambulism, satisfying only to the balding weight-gainers who would rather the last fifteen years would not have happened. It's sad, especially when the bands in question had actually been making efforts to evolve naturally.

That is not to say either Given to the Rising or Death Magnetic are bad albums - they aren't*** - but it's sad on a philosophical level, like they've given up without actually retiring. No more wondering how future albums will sound, no more hoping that next record might top your existing favourite (however slight the hope, it nevertheless existed). Just an efficient assembly line, whether the parts are pieced together by Rubin or Albini. God, how ruthless is it. Rubin and his flattening out of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, getting a wizened Johnny Cash to do shit covers of Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden songs, Albini making everybody's guitars and drums sound alike.

One of the new Metallica songs I heard put me in mind of 'Vicarious', by the suddenly under-rated Tool, in the way that both bounce on similarly propulsive rhythm. It reminded me so much, in fact, that I turned off Death Magnetic to play 10,000 Days, an album I am guilty of under-rating. Amusingly, Tool get a bad rap for not changing enough from album to album. I know they only do an album every half-decade, but each record really is different from the last. And 'Right in Two' is clearly one of the greatest rock songs of the decade.

But that will have to wait til I do the 2006 countdown... some time after the 2005 one is completed. Erk. To tide you over, I will have a proper few listens to this new Metallica record; will my opinion change, or is everyone other than me really wrong? Find out here. And in FACT.


* Not really.
** This was my preferred option because the only UK vinyl release appears to be the prohibitively expensive five disc box set. Are British Metallica fans really considered less intelligent than their American counterparts? Or does the band simply cherish the decent sterling pound to such an extent they want as many of them as possible...
*** Reinventing the Steel was and is a piece of shit. Pantera deserved to go out on far higher a note.

09 September 2008

R.I.P. Evan Tanner

I found out today from someone at work that Evan Tanner is dead. Not the most famous, nor the most accomplished, mixed martial artist, Tanner was nevertheless a fighter I held close to my heart. One of the middle guard (so after the period where anything went, and before the present day of 'MMA' gyms; in an age where skill and well-roundedness had emerged but were not yet trampled by the homogeneity that has come with history and experience), he was one of those fighters - along with Randy Couture, Matt Serra and Murilo Bustamante - who actually got me interested in watching men fight in cages for money.

Some may argue whether that in itself was a good thing, but it was and I loved Tanner not just for his tenacity, desire to compete and general ruggedness, but also for the simple fact that he was one of the few fighters who would wear long hair. He actually reminded me of Mark Lanegan in appearance, was initially self-taught and ended up having one of the most effective triangle chokes in the business. An old school warrior, he was all about testing himself, which is why he entered his first ever fighting tournament in the dark days of smoky halls and one-night tourneys. This attitude led to him getting trounced once or twice (Rich Franklin and Yushin Okami spring immediately to mind), but the victories were many and impressive.

Sadly it seemed to be his very desire to test himself that proved to be his undoing. His last few years were spent as a would-be ronin, wandering the land in search of inspiration (and a drink or two). He spent a long time in the wilderness, as MMA was peaking, and didn't fight for nearly two years. He often talked about it - and many other topics - on the MySpace blog he regularly updated. While he was rusty, and ageing, it was great to see him back in the heat of battle.

So I found out today he'd been lost travelling in the desert, and I can't even imagine how frightening it must have been for those close to him when those regular update texts petered out. Tanner was a true warrior in an age of rooster-chested big mouths. He was a character in a sport sorely lacking in such individuals. He was all about testing the boundary of his physical and mental structure; seeing quite what he was capable of, and where the perimeter of his endurance lay. Tragically, aged thirty-seven, he crossed that boundary.

08 September 2008

Verse En Coma - Rialto


Here's a full length version of my latest FACT review. I initially picked it up because I was ordering the Jesu/Battle Of Mice split from those fine people at Robotic Empire (surely that's good for a freebie) and the blurb for this caught my eye. I have to admit to major ignorance on City Of Caterpillar (one of the bands from whose loins VEC has sprung), outside one song I downloaded and thought was great. I must get their one and only album. Anyway, Lea asked me to review something and, given that I had listened to this loads and the Jesu no times - I decided to review this little blighter.

Just a quick note on shipping. Too often does a label just plonk the whole shebang in a mailer and send it off without thinking. This more often than not (increasingly so given the burgeoning market of heavyweight records 180g+) results in your disc shuddering about in transit damaging your inner sleeve, and sometimes the outer case. Remember? Robotic Empire is a label that ships your record in the inner sleeve, outside the case, but within the plastic outer-wrap. The result was a record and sleeve(s) in perfect condition: this is grand not only because the label saw fit to include a CD of the recording in with the vinyl copy, but because everything I have bought bearing the brand of R.E. has looked absolutely lovely. Anyway, the review:

Verse En ComaRialto (Robotic Empire, 2008)

There was once a band from Boston (technically Methuen I think) called Cave In. They released an album, Jupiter, in late 2000, which was brilliant. Before that, though, they were merely very promising. They released an E.P., name of Creative Eclipses, which had one staggering song, some good ones and some experimentation.

I was all set to write a state-of-the-scene address for 2000, as I misguidedly thought this Verse En Coma E.P. was an old lost recording that never saw the light of day. It transpires Rialto is actually the new release of a band formed from the various ashes of PG.99, City Of Caterpillar and Malady, though the songs were written in 2005, the recording made in 2006 and mixed at the start of 2007. This is all quite odd, as I was rather more enamoured of it when it was from 2000.

Rialto really does sound like mid period Cave In, during that window in which the latter had stopped being Noisecore, and before they signed to RCA. That is a good thing to recall when it means strong vocal melodies (with a striking vocal-timbral similarity to Steve Brodsky, to boot) and those rather year 2000 high pitched guitar screes. You know the ones: Godspeed were big fans of using them to draw sweeping chalk lines over their violin-and-drum dust storm backdrops.

This is less of the twenty minute epics, and more about draping that aesthetic onto more traditional five minute skeletons. At times this search for the dramatic reminds of The Arcade Fire, but an abstract Arcade Fire that doesn’t actually sound like a Stars in Their Eyes contestant attempting to ‘be’ the Waterboys. But it does sound like a hidden gem that lay under rather more years of dust than it actually did: it’s a bit dated in a Garrison-on-Kranky sense, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.

This review may appear to bear the sheen of negativity; it is with this in mind I clarify that the five songs on here are of high quality. Emotionally affecting in a way bands such as These Arms Are Snakes only occasionally are, Verse En Coma comes through repeat listens with flying colours. One only hopes a full length album is not as long in gestation; if so the quality here makes investigating related bands like Darkest Hour a tempting prospect.

***

They also took the time to answer a few questions, which was nice. Given the fact that there were references to Ryan, Brian, Kevin and Jonathan, I came to the conclusion it was guitarist Jeff Kane. So thanks Jeff! Whatever the identity, he answered questions about the genesis of the record, influences and taste. Sadly this info arrived too late for publication, so I reproduce some of it on this modest blog, hoping it is okay with the band.

'For the most part the songs were written around the same time, in the Spring/Summer of 2005. 3 of us were previously in the band Malady....much of the Rialto EP is later Malady material that was never finished.

I think we did the initial drum tracks for the record in May or June of 2005 with Ryan Parrish. Myself and Kevin were in the band City of Caterpillar with Ryan from 2000-2003. We'd always loved playing with him but his schedule with Darkest Hour made it difficult to get much done.

We had known Brian Markham from our time living in Richmond, VA. We loved his vocals in his previous band You are the Drum and knew we wanted him to sing on the recording. He was living in Seattle at the time so we sent him rough mixes of the record and he began working on vocals. I dont think we actually got together and recorded vocals until around May 2006.'

He went on to mention he had not yet seen a physical copy of the record, which must have been frustrating considering (a) the time spent making the bally thing and (b) some idiot in northern England has it in his grubby mitts already. He went on to describe the difficulties in operating as a band whose members reside so far apart, and work in bands of varying commercial success:

'We also knew that it would probably be impossible to be an active band with the people we chose to make the record with.

We still have hopes of someday touring and playing shows, but with everyones current life circumstances it is unlikely. In the past 3 Jonathan and I have had babies. Ryan is continuing to tour non stop with Darkest Hour. Brian is living in New York now playing in a band called Ancient Skies.'

Regarding my comparisons with turn of the century Cave In: 'To my knowledge none of us are that into Cave In.' Fair enough then.

I asked about a tour, because I reckon these songs would take on another dimension in the live arena, and they would fit perfectly in with the imminent These Arms Are Snakes/Russian Circles tour. 'We dont have any plans to do touring anywhere', I was told. 'We have gotten more interest in Europe for doing tours than in the states. Our previous bands City of Caterpillar, Malady, Haram, Pg. 99 etc. always seemed to have a much better follwing in Europe.....dont know why that is. We'd love to go....we'll try to make it happen.'

Fingers crossed! I'll see what an idiot picking his nose in Leeds can do with no knowledge of tour logistics. It'd be a fun experiment. So watch this space for developments, both of the tour and seeing if the band manages to release anything else. Many thanks to Verse En Coma for taking the time to correspond with little ol' me. Check 'em out!

03 September 2008

Smack Dab in the Middle of the Blue

It's a tad later than I had planned (wait til I post my Wimbledon thoughts, as the US Open is in its closing stages! Next week: my opinion on the Flight of the Navigator premier...), but I feel I have to say something about the second half of Usain Bolt's immaculate Olympics performance this summer. The experience was bitter-sweet; herein I shall tell you why.

Energised by Bolt's 100m performance, I was intensely excited to see what he could achieve in a sprint over twice the distance. While his performances in the rounds leading up to the final were great without being eye-popping (he was even caught in one race), there was always the knowledge that the Jamaican had far more in him than what he had shown; just as in the 100m rounds.

So I set the Sky+ to record the Olympic programming and told all relevant colleagues that if they happened to see any news sites (local government workers, surfing the net? Heaven forfend), not to tell me. The day wore on and excitement built. Then I received an email from what can now only tenuously be referred to as a 'friend', informing me that 'Usain has done it again'. I thanked her for this information, to which she retorted she was expecting me to watch it live on my iPhone*

Full disclosure for my dear reader: with nothing left to lose, I downloaded Flash 9 and got it watched. While I was immensely soured, no amount of spoilerage could fully eclipse the performance Bolt put on in this final. I don't want to get too deep into analysis, as Michael Johnson put it perfectly well, but the facts are Bolt had a great start - which he didn't in the 100, and he tried his hardest for the duration. I freely admit I underestimated his ability in that other post. Like Iain commented, Bolt winning gold was something of a foregone conclusion; the question of breaking the record was really something for which Usain currently lacked the answer.

Johnson theorised his recent focus on getting up to speed on the 100 would negatively affect his speed endurance. I wasn't sure about that, as he seemed to have a surfeit of energy and adrenaline after winning his first gold. My issue with Bolt breaking Johnson's record of 19.32 was the perception that it was a bridge too far. At risk of repeating myself, it is one thing to break ones own record; to improve on your personal best in a sprint by a third of a second is insanity. And that is just what he did.

I overlooked how much Bolt wanted to prove a point in the 200. I should have paid more attention to the pre-Olympic rumours that he was thinking about not entering the 100m competition purely so he could focus on the 200. (How ordinary would the 100 metre competition - and arguably the track and field programme - have been without the initial shock of that 9.69? Without looking: who would have been the current fastest man in the world? Exactly.) I freely admit to not being the biggest swimming fan in the world (childhood trauma), but I find the achievements of Bolt far more impressive than those of Phelps, awesome though the latter clearly were.

I'm still floored by those two performances (after those, the 4x100 really was a foregone conclusion). Michael Johnson - greatest pundit in the world - was admirable in his reaction to the loss of a record he surely thought would remain intact for a lifetime. Then again, as he said: 'It's not like I wake up every morning saying to myself "at least I have the 200m record"...'; when Jonathan Edwards challenged him on his own remarkable athletics record, the American wryly added 'I still have another one anyway'. Interestingly, Johnson has actively encouraged Bolt to go for the 400 metre crown. And why not? He has shown he is the greatest ever at 100m and 200m. He has shown he can sprint for days. He has already taken one of Johnson's records. I suppose the thinking is that if someone is to take that 400m record, Michael would rather it was a genuine phenomenon than some jabroni having a lucky day.

Part of me thinks it's also a case of one-upmanship. Johnson had expressed his boredom at the pre-athletics segment of the Olympic games this year; Bolt gaining the 400m record would be another piece of evidence to cite in the abstract battle between Bolt and Phelps. Frankly, the differences in diet are enough for me. While pants were exploding worldwide at - ooh - just how much Phelps eats for breakfast, we had Usain professing to eat some chicken nuggets, have a nap, then some more nuggets before shattering the 100m record with ease.

Now there is your freak of nature. I think that's all I have to say on this particular topic. Famous last words, I know.


* Side effect of having the iPhone: Able to check gmail at the touch of a button, it is also really impressive if you stick lossless music files on a 16gb model with, say, my new Audio-Technica headphones. However, while it is an immensely fun toy, spiteful non-owners get all sarcastic when it cannot do something. 'No live streaming of broadcast telly on iPlayer? How shit' etc.

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