30 October 2008

Interview with Jennifer Herrema, Part 1


I recently conductd my first ever interview last week. I had the privilege of chatting to Jennifer Herrema of RTX, and formerly of Royal Trux. A chopped up version of this will go in FACT Magazine, while a larger version will be on the website. Here, though, is pretty much the whole thing. It gets very strange in places, and I am a total mark for RTX, but it's all good. Here it is!

***

So, you mentioned a tour. Is this the one I heard about with Primal Scream, perhaps?

Yeah, we’re going over right now. I just approved the tour, and then the booking agent wrote me. She’s like ‘on big tours over here, oftentimes you have to rent your own monitors and your own P.A.’ and stuff and I was like ‘fuck no, dude!’ that’s a deal breaker, you gotta be kidding me! We just approved the tour, we got al the funds together and then she laid that on me and I was like ‘well if they can’t provide the monitors and stuff then they just don’t want us bad enough. I’ve never heard of that, but I guess it goes on over there. It doesn’t go on over here.

Well it’s certainly a weird surprise to spring on someone.

Yeah, right after I approved it too! I was like: wait a minute. If we have to, like, rent our own monitors and our own P.A. to take into these huge theatres, you gotta be kidding me. That’s just not gonna happen (laughs). So she said no, she’ll make it happen, and I was like OK, make it happen and then the tour’s on! (laughs)

Cool. Well I reckon Primal Scream could afford your kit anyway.

I figure they probably could.

Well the tour is definitely good news, because I’ve been waiting for RTX to come over. Have you played here in the past actually?

RTX did once. Early 2005? But we just played two London dates and then Europe and that’s it. We played a party for iD, and then we played some old, big-ass rave warehouse… but they were both only London shows.

I’m looking forward to this because obviously there are now three albums of material to get into.

Yeah, yeah, definitely. We just did a U.S. tour, like two months ago. On the new album there are so many songs that are, like, so much fun to play, so we’re definitely doing the majority of the new stuff. We’ve toured a lot over here (America) actually… we’ll see what the set list will be.

When I first heard about the new album (J.J. Got Live RaTX), and I saw the title, I did assume ‘oh right, live album’, but it’s not. And it was just recorded live.

Yes, it is confusing, it’s just not confusing to me, because I know what it means! (laughs) So forgot about that. And also the pronunciation of 'RaTX'. It’s just like when you say ‘xylophone’, it’s [pronounced as] a ‘z’, and it starts with an ‘x’. So I just assumed that everybody would figure out that it’s supposed to say ‘Ratz’. But, you know, using the ‘x’ in there because it provided an ‘r’, a ‘t’ and an ‘x’. yeah, it’ kinda goofy, but it all made sense to me, so I was quite certain it would make sense to everybody else, but I just forgot that I would probably need to explain it.

Well maybe I’m a bit slow on the uptake.

No, no, no! you’re not the only one.

Well I’ll explain it when I write [this interview] up, so then it’s clear for everybody.

Yeah. It’s just, it was recorded live in the studio. It wasn’t done, you know, track by track. It wasn’t done separated, like the past two records.

I do like the energy as well.

Yeah, and that’s a product of, you know, us playing simultaneously, you know, as opposed to just tracking in headphones. It provides a lot more energy when you’re all in the same room…

…you feed off each other…

Yeah.

So going back to the RaTX name for a moment. Was that a direct response to the whole Western Xterminator thing?

It’s not any one thing in particular. With RaTX, we had the imagery of the Pied Piper and we had the different rats and stuff on the Western Xterminator album. And then, having to re-title that album, I titled it RaTX, because of the imagery and because it also had to do with extermination. And then, on this one… we got the live… it’s basically, all the rats that were depicted in the illustration on Western Xterminator, and they were going, you know, towards the ocean? We didn’t lead them out into the ocean to drown. We have them, they’re live. (laughs) No, it’s totally twisted in my head, I just have this picture, like, they didn’t get drowned in the ocean, all the rats. And then we’re also the rats, so we’re all like in a cage together, and we have to, like, I don’t know. It’s just a big painting in my head, it all makes sense… to me.

I like it. In fact, I like all the artwork for the RTX albums. I noticed the little Ultimate Warrior plush doll on the new one.

Oh yeah, that’s my baby, yeah! (laughs) I actually got another one. I got a Sting wrestling buddy on the last tour. I’m getting quite a collection over here.

Excellent, excellent. I was chatting with someone just before phoning you up, who’s also heavily into the Royal Trux and the RTX and stuff. And he mentioned that he’s kinda reminded of the band RATT, by your music. now, is that an intentional thing?

The band RATT? No. I mean, we all love RATT. You gotta love RATT. I don’t know if… but there’s nothing intentional with the RaTX. The actual RaTX thing is twofold. I get to have the word ‘rats’ spelled totally weirdly, like r-a-t-x, but if you pronounce the ‘x’ as a ‘z’ it’s ‘ratz’. But we still get to have the r-t-x in it? Because I was gonna change the fucking name of the band to RaTX and everybody at Drag City (RTX’s label), they were all, like ‘no, no, you can’t do that! You can’t do that!’ But I get so sick of saying ‘RTX’, I just want it to be called RaTX. Not RATT, but RaTX. And then all the imagery, the Pied Piper imagery and stuff, I just kinda go on a tangent and a path and I don’t know if anybody else in the band even knows what the fuck I’m doing. But RATT the band, we love RATT. RATT is in our subconscious, you know, from early teenage years, somewhere in there. So there’s gonna be an influence, but it’s definitely by no means the only thing up in the noggin, you know.

I do actually think of a lot of stuff when I listen to your music, especially the new album. At times, and I’m always kind of a bit nervous when I mention certain eighties bands, because I don’t know how people are gonna react, but sometimes in some of the chords, I’m slightly reminded of WASP.

WASP! Oh, Blackie Lawless. Well when you look at the picture of the Ultimate Warrior you think of, like, Blackie Lawless, totally. I don’t know. I love WASP, but it’s not a band I listened to a whole lot. I know the bas player listened to WASP a lot. Yeah, that’s what I know. The bass player for sure. And I’ve listened to them, and I like ‘em, so they’re probably in there somewhere! (laughs)

It’s only a small detall, because it was just one of the riffs in ‘Hash’ that kinda reminded me of WASP.

Oh, yeah, well I'm not up on all my WASP. Maybe Brian fuckin’ nicked that from WASP, I don’t know.

I do go off on these strange flights of fancy…

I like that! I like that.

Cool, because I was listening to ‘Cheap Wine Time’ on the bus on the way into work this morning. And I don’t know, again, I don’t know if this is crossing a line or something, but I was thinking of ‘Home Sweet Home’ by Mötley Crüe. You know when it kicks in?

Yeah, yeah. Definitely songs like ‘Home Sweet Home’, all the ballads, like the fuckin’ power ballads? My first try at a power ballad in my own way was on Western Xterminator, and it was that song ‘Knightmare and Mane’. And then, on ‘Cheap Wine Time’, it was that but then the guitar has more of a Mick Taylor style to me. So it was kind of like a combination of the Crüe and the Stones. This is all in retrospect. When we were doing it, we were just doing stuff, and it would sound good, and we were like ‘yeah, that’s it’. But in retrospect you can listen and say yeah, this does have certain sensibilities that completely mesh with things that I love. So yeah, totally into the Crüe.

I grew up listening to the eighties rock as well, and I’ve got it all on vinyl

Rad, dude…

And I just think of all of these really random details! Because you mentioned the bluesy guitar at the start of ‘Cheap Wine Time’ and I was thinking – and maybe it’s because of my age – but I was thinking about… you know Richie Kotzen, who replaced C.C. Deville in Poison at the start of the nineties?

Yeah. I love fuckin’ C.C. Deville. C.C.’s the man. I couldn’t get behind the other dude too much…

It was tough. Especially as he sang too much!

And he wasn’t C.C.!

And you just think ‘let Bret Michaels sing!’

Bret Michaels is a freak, dude. I love Poison, and they got so many great songs, but I’m, like, so not into Bret Michaels right now. Like, his Rock of Love and shit. That’s all good for him and whatever, but I saw too much of him. I would have preferred just to think of him only as Poison and it would have been okay, but he’s a total dork, dude. He’s so not rock. So not rock! (laughs)

That’s the thing, because Flesh & Blood was literally the first rock album I ever got.

(laughs)

I was ten years old, and I got it on tape. And I’ve still got the tape! Except I took it to Iran, and they wanted to have a look at it, and they magnetised it, so it’s all backwards now.

It’s backwards?

Yeah, the tape itself is fine, but it plays like it's underwater. It’s very strange.

That’s pretty cool. I want a copy of that. I would love to hear what that sounds like.

I’ll see what I can do, because I’ve got it somewhere.

I would love that!

But I know what you mean about the Bret Michaels thing, because I didn’t watch that programme at all. I avoided it, because I just thought ‘it’ll ruin it’. Because I’ve got this image in my head of Bret Michaels being awesome…

Yeah, yeah, yeah, totally wrecked it! It wrecked it, dude.

I saw the Flavor Flav stuff and I thought I don’t want to see Bret doing that stuff.

See the Flavor Flav stuff didn’t freak me out. The Flavor Flav stuff actually… I found him more endearing, having watched the Flavor Flav shit. But Bret Michaels, nah dude. He’s so not a rocker. I couldn’t stop watching it, though, because it was just so over the top.

Yeah, it’s like a car crash.

Oh, a total car crash. And now they have one with all the girls in charm school with Sharon Osborne as their headmistress. It’s another car crash. It’s gonna be good. It just started, this one.

She’s another one who my perception totally changed of. I remember in the late nineties, she set up Ozzfest, and her favourite band was Neurosis. And they’re awesome and intense, and really nasty.

Wait, Neurosis was her favourite band? Oh wow, rad.

Apparently, and that’s how they got onto Ozzfest in the first place, because they were on the first two Ozzfests.

Rad, I didn’t know she was behind that.

Well it’s crazy now, because you see her, and she’s totally not about that at all.

She’s still a wild card in my mind. She’s somebody that is pretty close to having it both ways, if you know what I mean. You know what I mean? I love Ozzy. And watching The Osbornes, Ozzy's such a badass. Like, I love him even more.

Yeah, he’s the best…

He’s the best! And she obviously loves him, so there’s obviously something super-rad about her. And you just don’t know about it necessarily. Because, like, Ozzy’s the man.

I know what you mean. Like, she’s really good at putting on this public persona, but she’s still an Osborne deep down. She’s an Osborne anyway.

Yeah, cool.

29 October 2008

Part 2!

So, getting back to the music for a second. ‘Resurrect’, off the first album (Transmaniacon, 2004). I do love that song, and it hit me as the RTX version of ‘Rocket Queen’, because it finishes this great album, and it’s an epic!

I don’t know what to say. That’s a good thing to take away from it.

In fact, I think the reason why I thought of talking about it is because the solo in that song reminds me of C.C. Deville. A lot. Which is great, because he’s one of my favourite solo dudes.

Yeah, actually Brian met C.C. Deville not too long ago, at the Rainbow Room. He was there with his girlfriend. I don’t know, for some reason, and he met C.C. Deville. He was stoked.

That is brilliant. Because I do have this romantic image of L.A. in the eighties. Because I was only born in 1980, so I can distance myself from what must have had good and bad points at the time. But the whole Rainbow Room thing, that whole era, I just think is brilliant.

I wasn’t there either. It’s before my time, out here, but I felt as a teenager growing up… there’s just so much imagery, and the songs are so huge, and they were just all over the radio. It was it; that was rock. Big radio, and all the pictures… magazines. I used to tear out pictures, you know, put them all over the wall. It felt – what you’re saying – it felt cool as shit.

And it was so emotional as well. A lot of the current emo stuff is totally biting that sound, it’s just a bit less sexy.

Yeah, it’s not sexy at all. It’s kinda timid in a way, it’s a little too tame. Those dudes, no matter what kind of voice they have… whether it be like Axl Rose, or Bret Michaels, Ronnie James Dio… all those dudes just had voices that could just push, push, like push you up above the fuckin’ stars, sky high. It was just so insane. But emo, it’s like nobody even tries. It’s not about how well you execute, it’s the emotion behind it, and just try. If that’s what you’re feeling, you need to push. And I don’t care if you sound as good as Ronnie James Dio or Axl Rose, just let me hear you give something.

So what do you reckon to people like Andrew W.K.? Because I like the dude, and he doesn’t have a great voice, but he’s going for it.

I love Andrew. Andrew’s an old friend of mine.

Oh wow.

Yeah, before I moved out here, I was out here with him when he was recording his very first record. Andrew’s a special dude, he’s a freak. Freak, freak, freak. Stone cold freak. In a good way. That’s what he is, he’s great. He does what he does, and he doesn’t care. He doesn’t give a shit.

And that’s why he’s so cool. Because I remember when I first got I Get Wet (his full-length debut, 2001). I first read about it in The Face. And I was, like, ‘why am I first hearing about this metal dude in The Face, there must be something wrong’.

Something’s gone wrong, yeah!

And it rocked so much! And I just thought ‘this is fantastic!’

Yep, it rocks. Totally. And he’s such a great… just a great composer.

And he’s insanely enthusiastic as well…

Yeah, well that occasionally… I swear to God, it’s like ‘down, boy’. Occasionally I’m like ‘God damn it’. But it’s great. It’s him. It’s who he is.

Cool. Because I heard this song, it was him doing a song about Wolf Eyes. I think it was called ‘What Kind of Band’, and I started of with him shouting ‘WOLF EYES RULE’, and then it started. And I thought ‘that sums him up’, really. Because it’s innocent, and it’s brilliant at the same time.

Yeah, yeah. He’s… he’s… yeah. Yes. I agree with all of that. I don’t know what to say, I totally agree with you. I’m a huge fan. He’s a good guy.

I kind of got the same feeling when I heard Transmaniacon as well. And it took me a while to realise the Blue Öyster Cult reference.

Well it was definitely a reference, but it was also just… when the record first came out, I did interviews and people were all ‘Trans.. maniac. Trans… maniac-on’, and they were like ‘is that the devil’s skulls? Are you a maniac?’ and these types of things, and I was all like ‘it’s not what the word means, it’s how you say it’. And it really got jammed up at first. And just saying the word ‘transmaniacon’ (pronounced trans-man-I-acon), and it’s just such a badass word, transmaniacon. But ‘trans-mania-con’ is such a gay word. So I was, like, oh god, now I’ve fucked that one up too! So I got ‘Rat-X’ instead of ‘Ratz’, I got ‘trans-mania-con’… I don’t know. But it all comes out in the wash. There’s just so much going on in the world anyway, you don’t have enough time to figure out how to say a word. It’s okay.

That is one thing I did pronounce straight away, so I’m quite pleased with myself about that. Anyway, I’ve been on this big run of getting seventies and eighties records in, and I only got a record player about a year ago, so I thought I’d get some Blue Öyster Cult, and that’s when it clicked. Because I just thought you came up with the word.

No, it was also a book. It was a science fiction book. I forget who wrote it.* I have it somewhere. It’s not a great book, but…

…But it’s got a good name.

Yeah. Its got a great name.

Is there anything you particularly want to say to the people in England?

Just don’t be afraid of guitars, you know? I don’t know, it’s been a while since I’ve been over there, but rock ’n’ roll has gotta have guitars, dude.

English people are very apologetic. When they talk about British rock bands, and they say Oasis was the best, I think ‘Oasis?!’ Every American band rocks more than them!

You know what? I gotta tell you a funny thing. Oasis opened up for Royal Trux on their first American tour. They opened up for us in Virginia Beach (laughs). I remember I was like ‘this band is gonna be fucking huge’, I just remember thinking that. And it just kind of encapsulated a real pop sensibility. You know, what people love about British rock ‘n’ roll. It’s pop. It’s different. I don’t know, I love pop music, but I love rock music. And we play rock music. but I would like the rock music to become popular!

Definitely. Because there are loads of cool American band out there. I don’t know if you’ve heard Captain Ahab. They’re a duo, and they did an album a couple of years ago, that I think they call ‘ravesploitation’, so it’s like their take on rave. But you can tell it; a couple of metal dudes, because the energy’s there from metal, and the dynamics. I think they got famous in America because they had a song on Snakes on a Plane. They did the song for that.

I like that movie. I’m gonna check that out, definitely.

And they were on The Office. I don’t know if you watch that…

Yeah, I love The Office.

Well Michael Scott was having a party on his own, and he played this song called ‘Girls Gone Wild’. It’s a bit of a small reference, but that was Captain Ahab.

Okay, I wanna find that. I wanna check it out. Captain Ahab, I’m gonna look that up, it sounds good.

There are bands that really excite me at this moment in time, for different reasons, but totally. Because you’ve got you, Andrew W.K., Wolf Eyes, Captain Ahab, and it’s all different stuff, but it’s all brilliant. And it doesn’t sound like anything else that’s out there right now.

That’s great, I love that. I’m glad we could do that, like, give you something like that. It’s never a conscious decision, like, ‘we can’t sound like anything else’. We love so much different music, and we use all of it when we’re playing. I guess it’s just the chemistry that makes it so it doesn’t sound like anything else. And it means we’re doing a good job of being a band. Not just as songwriters, we have the chemistry of a band on record, which is really important. It; not just good songs, it’s special chemistry.

And it’s your own sound, which is great. Because I have this problem with bands that are just retro, whereas you get this sound from the past, but you make it so modern at the same time. And that’s why it works, for me anyway.

I would hope it does. A lot of people maybe just dismiss it because they hear one sound, or something that reminds them of something from the past and all of a sudden it becomes retro to them. But there’s nothing retro about RTX. The only thing that’s retro about RTX is just the fact that our influences are far and wide and many and diverse and these types of things. And the influences are most definitely things that have come before us. They certainly couldn’t have come from the future.

I don’t know what goes on. I have been really, really indulging this stuff that I grew up with and jut loving, and just like ‘fuck yeah!’ I remember being on the bus, on the way to school with my Walkman on, and just fucking listening to Mötley Crüe and being like ‘FUCK!’ And then on the weekday you’d go see a Bad Brains show, ‘cause they’re fucking great too. Just going back and listening to a lot of the stuff that gave me a lot of fucking energy, growing up. There’s tons of other stuff, but that was just the real mainstream stuff that was going on at the time, that you couldn’t avoid. It was just everywhere, and it just was great.

I think there’s a bit of a gap nowadays, because you’ve got bands who are really heavy, like Converge, and then you’ve got bands who want to be popular, who sound very MTV. So you don’t really get anybody between those poles, who rock, but don’t sound like grindcore or death metal.

Yeah, yeah.

There are some. Because there are you lot, and there’s High On Fire, and there’s Mammatus, and they’re all cool and stuff, but you lot are definitely my favourite.

It’s something that goes on with RTX that’s kinda gone on my whole musical life, where we definitely have some things in common with that, but we’re not like them, and we always have a hard time pairing up with bands on tours. Because of the fact that we stand alone, but we’re also part of all the best gangs too. We’re part of all the best gangs, but we haven’t drawn blood for any one particular gang, you know what I mean?

I think that sums it up really, because I remember when I first read about Royal Trux, and this will have been quite late on. It’ll have been about ’96, ’97, when I started buying Kerrang! and things like that. And I just thought ‘that is the coolest-looking band’. And now,I get your albums and I think ‘this is still the coolest-looking band’. And even though there’s only one person from Royal Trux in RTX, and it’s just a lot of new people, I still think ‘goddamn! Very cool’.

Yeah. We are. We’re pretty fucking cool. (laughs) I love it, that’s all I can say.

Thank you very much for your time.

No, thanks for all the great questions and the great references, it was great.

* It was apparently John Shirley.

28 October 2008


Not my day, is it?
I hate Blogger sometimes. Give us actual titles on Older Post!

Bring it on: in it to win it


Back in the early days of this century, before the George W. Bush reign of terror, we lived in a more innocent age. Where now we cower in fear of 'terrrsts' and credit crunches, the biggest controversy of the prior presidency had been Clinton getting his game on. During this halcyon age, there was a fantastic film called Bring it on.

Bring it on concerned the trials and tribulations of the Rancho Carne Toros. The Toros were ostensibly the goodies of the piece, but the film went morally deeper than that. It was sarcastic, well characterised, nimbly paced and intelligent. And had lots of buff gyal in cheerleader outfits. It was fantastic, but we’ll save my real gushing for the planned high school films countdown. You think I’m making these lists up, don’t you.

It was such a good film that, much like the Blair Witch Project of the previous year, I determined never to watch the sequel. And then another sequel appeared. I figured such avoision (it’s a word. Look it up) would be easy as the films lacked star power or other selling points.*

But this weekend, while idly surfing the channels just after waking, I saw a Bring it on film was on telly. I had no idea which number it was til I checked on Wikipedia. Figuring there was no harm in watching for a few minutes, I broke my own rule. And I really enjoyed it. With no recurring characters or themes (other than cheerleaders and cheerleading), this was just a cheerleading film on its own in the wild.

Bring it on: in it to win it (BIO:IITWI – what does it all mean?!) lacks the sharp dialogue of the original, as well as the tight plotting. Instead, there is a lot of street slang, cliché one-liners and sneaking into warehouses to retrieve stolen things. And they have taken the spirit stick curse just a step too far. I suppose they have to do something to develop the sort-of-series.

It’s surprisingly good though. Despite the heel team actually being babyfaces in disguise – thankfully with bigger sources of evil lurking nearby – the narrative worked. Writers Alyson Fouse and Elena Song pitched the peril at the right level. The hurdles are of sufficient concern to provide drama, without making the audience think success was impossible. After the original film, the seeds of doubt are ever-present as to whether our team will actually win, which is a pleasant Damoclean sword.

The characters are as bitchy as a film like this requires, with surprising depth lurking beneath the veneer of peroxide and lip gloss. Sadly there are no adult characters as brilliant as Sparky Polastri from the original, but he was a one-off anyway. The actual cheer choreography is impressive, and the pop-punk soundtrack fits the film without ever threatening to overpower it.**

Interestingly enough, there is a Bring It On Cinco on its way. It will be more of the same for sure, but I will be in all likelihood checking it out. That nomenclature does remind me that this fourth instalment is definitely more Hispanic than the original – which was White City – with African Americans maintaining token status in the series.

Perhaps this is a reaction to the demographic buying the DVDs. Maybe the producers are trying to expand viewership from the white suburbs. You know, to Latina (you’d imagine most viewers to be female) suburbs. With the Tisdale sisters featuring prominently in the film, the white core audience is certainly being catered for.

In the grand scheme of high school/teen flicks (and without risking list spoilage), BIO:IITWI is no Clueless, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Get Over it or even Mean Girls. It is, however, a disturbingly good fourth instalment*** that I think I will eventually buy. Which will probably only be when the series has ended and is available in its entirety for about a tenner. But that will be a lot of fun.


* I suppose I should mention the third film featured one Hayden Panettiere, who would later star in Heroes as… a cheerleader. It's no Eliza Dushku/Kirsten Dunst though.
** Not that I have seen it, but Nutty Professor 2 apparently has a remix of the mighty 'Thong Song' on its soundtrack. I don’t see the film living up to that.
*** Well it's better than Scary movie 4. And Star Trek 4. Not the greatest company, admittedly.
P.S.Image teefed from Collider.
P.P.S. It's been more than a year since my last film post? Damn.

27 October 2008

Hey, why did nobody tell me Travis was blogging again? This, folks, is good news.

20 October 2008

Dungen – 4

(2008, Subliminal Sounds) - Director's Cut!

The interesting thing about retro bands is that they often remain fixed, like a bee in amber, in one temporal point. This may come as little surprise you, dear readers, but it defies logic somewhat. While often the retro band will mimic a combo from the past, theory would dictate that they evolve as the former did. But take a band like Black Sabbath. They – often in one album – produced more varied music than their copyists ever would.

This is actually logical in a sense. After all, the act of reviving a certain sound is an exercise in wish fulfilment, an experiment in what if that band from the past stayed like that forever. Or what if they perfected that sound instead of changing. Or what if Ozzy was never sacked. The fact remains, though, that retro bands fail to evolve, in something of a reverse Dorian Gray.

This is a long-winded method of introducing the new album by Dungen, simply called 4. (I think it’s actually their fifth album.)

It is not evident which band – if indeed there is one – to whom Dungen are paying tribute. Rather it is an entire era, one of psychedelic rock performed with a feeling that teeters on abandon. What differentiates the band from your Wolfmothers, Black Mountains and Spiritual Beggars (there’s an old reference) is that Dungen escapes the pure retro trap and manages far more.

It’s almost as though they create a parallel history. This is one in which psyche-rock and the Canterbury scene simply assimilated punk’s bite rather than being killed off by it. Ta Det Lugnt was one of those albums so good, you got the feeling the band will never top it.

It took late 1960s psychedelia and energised it with the now, as a rock band existing after punk might well do. Songs like ‘Panda’ were definitely influenced by the music of decades ago, but they were doing something new with it, bringing them more in line with such bands as Cave In, Radiohead and Sigur Rós (when they were good). There was energy beyond mere imitation, married to a lush modern mix and always-fun key changes.

The off kilter piano jazz chords opening single ‘Satt Att Se’ recall more a slow-mo ‘Steppin’ Out’ than the Swedish ‘Pyramid Song’ Dungen may have been aiming for. The Jackson song is better than Yorke’s anyway, so no big loss. The anthemic energy of a ‘Panda’ (from Ta Det Lugnt, 2004) is extinct, replaced by a slower, more solemn mood. This is the sound of a worldly-wise Dungen.

While the piano is to feature heavily in the grooves of 4, this first song is defined by the measured, plaintive lead guitar work. More indicative of what is to come is ‘Mälerås Finest’. The temptation is to compare it to the many lush key-led pieces on the Secret of Mana soundtrack, but A Reminiscent Drive is so much more of a FACT reference point. The main difference here is the emphasis on the organic – the ostensibly ‘genuine’ – rather than the synthesiser pride of Jay Alansky’s 1990s work.

Your writer is struggling to make a connection of the two instalments of ‘Samtidigt’ here so, drawing a blank, will retreat toward the fact that both are instrumental pieces. The first boasts guitar lines that recall Fugazi’s End Hits, while the second is more traditionally retro. ‘Samtidigt 2’ has spacious arrangement in which Iommi-esque lead lines flicker like snakes’ tongues. Sadly they lack the venom of a Comets On Fire or Mammatus.

Here lies the issue with 4. While it is an incredibly sophisticated rock record, with pianos and flutes filling out the texture, that is precisely its undoing. Part of what made Ta Det Lugnt one of the decade’s best was that ramshackle inspiration permeating its every pore.

Without that energy, this record meanders. The songs are very strong, and it really is one of the shining lights of the year, but that vital spark is absent. And while shorter albums are preferable, the 37 minutes here feel abridged. It’s like the Cliffs notes without the core text: only rousing the appetite without bedding her back down.

‘Det Tar Tid’ brings the familiar melodies and nasally endearing vocals of Gustav Ejstes to the fore. ‘Fredag’, too, returns a level of urgency to the album, but it merely highlights the relative torpidity of its context.

Album closer ‘Bandhagen’ is another instrumental piece – a shame given the strength of Ejstes’ pipes – and focuses on the piano and flute partnership in true retro fashion.4 would have made a splendid companion to the summer we didn’t have, but Dungen have set the bar high for themselves. This is a slightly missed opportunity, then; perhaps listening to last years overlooked Tio Bitar might fill in a gap or two.

Hooch

There was a competition to win a Melvins album on vinyl recently. I entered. You had to tell the people which was your fave Melvins song and why. It was so Smash Hits, I couldn't resist! So here it is. It's pretty crap, but it's earnest enough:

My favourite Melvins song is one called 'Hooch', which might be a popular choice on account of it was their big single. If that's not an oxymoron. I first heard it on an episode of Beavis and Butthead, back when I was younger and slimmer than I am now. It was horrible, and that was precisely why I loved it. I seem to recall the video was a man's head with crazy hair bellowing out words I couldn't make out at all. But he was aggressive, and the music was jerky, with almost nothing in the way of a discernable flow; perfect for a self-awarely angsty teen.

It would be a couple of years before I actually got round to buying the album it's on, Houdini. I got that one partly because its non-Cobain co-producer, Billy Anderson, produced my favourite album ever: Through Silver in Blood, by Neurosis. And partly because I needed to hear 'Hooch' again. That was the one song whose lyrics were printed on the booklet, and I finally learned why I had not been able to understand them: there were none! At least none that one would find in the Oxford English Dictionary. The mighty Buzz Osborne must have thought 'hey, you know when it sometimes doesn't sound like a singer is actually singing words, and you just have to make up noises that sound like words? Let's do that!'. And so he did.

Years before Sigur Ros and their Hopelandic language, here was a man who - on the opening track and single from his major label debut - opted to make up noises that merely sounded like words, so no radio listeners would confidently be able to sing along with it. It turns out there is a fantastic flow to the rhythm, specifically because it is so jerky: the whole song is a slow-mo drum fill! The riffs are incredibly solid, and I love it more every time I hear it. Especially when I heard the Fantômas-Melvins Big Band play it at double speed recently. It's so awkward that it's essentially an anti-anthem. And *that* was their big single on Atlantic Records. Pure genius.


Needless to say, I didn't win.

Bonus 'thing', if you can call it a bonus: Sum 41 playing 'Hooch'. Sadly not the real 'Hooch'.

13 October 2008

The Howling Hex – Earth Junk


(2008, Drag City)

There is no foundation, and that is what is so discomfiting about Earth Junk. Opener 'Big Chief Big Wheel' lacks that solid bass line, the catchy riff, the vocal hook. The melodies whose constituent notes seem to bear little relation to each other seem to spiral in and out like bees emerging from a half-full Carlsberg can on a balmy summer day.

After brief spoken introduction, 'Sundays are Ruined Again' resides in the instrumental domain, a ragged tomcat duet between two wily guitar lines over moon-walking synthesiser backing.

'Annie Get Redzy', far from being just a fantastic title, continues this theme of restless guitars that interplay like piss lines etched in snow by drunken Wisconsin frat boys. This isn't Fugazi, but works just as well, much like Tom Waits's hobo-orchestral pieces match Leonard Cohen’s stately grandeur.

Guitar lines wind round yer synapses like the freakiest worms in town; the golden femme backing vocal should be surplus to requirements but downs that tequila in one. Those honey tones take the lead in 'Faithful Sister'. Technically sounder, though less charismatic, than Jennifer: perhaps that anodyne smoothness is the point. It fits the late 60s way-out aesthetic for sure.

But this is no hackneyed yearning for flowers in hair and Love albums. It's the attitude of Perrey and Kingsley married to that confident flow of early Beefheart. These ostensibly disparate sounds work to a degree that would make Gestalt blanch.

Thick key tones provide the base, electric piano adding detail (hey, it's like Bohren on crystal meth!), with antsy, irked, guitar lines weaving like those worms we mentioned earlier. It's a cycle. And that golden-voiced girl ties it all together, like the rug in a Michael Gira acid flashback.

The sound really changes on penultimate song 'Coffin Up Cash', a 'Hex take on pastoralectronica, bass pulse reminiscent of overlooked 2003 Manta Ray single 'Take a Look'. Neither quite Nick Drake nor Four Tet, it rolls along with an irresistible charm all its own.

Lacking the muscle and aggro of RTX, the Howling Hex is an altogether more sinewy customer, the spindly limbs of a crafty veteran of disorder flying off at all angles, with wisdom belying drunken mastery. One thing is for sure – 2008 is a great year to be a Royal Trux fan.

02 October 2008

Bohren und der Club of Gore – Dolores


(2008, P.I.A.S.)

Today was the first time I noticed the browned, fallen leaves on the floor. They have probably been around for a while, but it was only today, as the increasingly encroaching dusk kissed a sweet goodbye to a day defined almost solely by its maudlin glaze of drizzle, that I became aware of them. At around the same time, Dolores – new album from German veterans Bohren und der Club of Gore – osculated my ears equally softly.

Once a heavy metal group, Bohren are such no longer. That recent FACT description confused this writer initially, wondering if the inordinately mellow early tracks already heard were mere preparation/false security for some form of metal meltdown a la Hyatari or John Zorn’s I.A.O. They weren’t. In fact, like a far sweeter version of Lustmord’s recently brooding [OTHER] set, the relative stillness of the music herein is likely to unsettle listeners waiting for dramatic events to unfold.

Making a fantastic soundtrack for moody walks, during which the listener may fancy himself in a TV film from the 1970s in which they sell his laugh to a humourless millionaire, plangent electric piano notes chime sonorously, solemnly, while sustained organ tones lull the unwary meanderer into near somnambulism. In fact, those listening to the album lying on a field (unlikely in this dank autumn) are likely to drowse, due to the way the albums reverie evokes such delights as Manual’s ethereally still ‘Wake’.

At an hour in length, the uniform tone of the album could frustrate, as one song ends and the next begins in similar style and tempo. Dolores is mellow music with a minimalist percussive bite that adds spice. While some grand narrative-style progression would have elevated it to the next level, this is nevertheless a lovely mood piece for those who might find themselves longing for L’Altra or Low circa 2000.

***

I know it's a bit soppy and sentimental, but I like to vary my style from time to time - even if it doesn't work. I like to think this one did in places, and the album is very nice. Rather reminiscent of 'Treefingers', or () without the bombast. And not at all heavy metal. I like to reflect what the music makes me feel in the writing, rather than merely describing how it sounds. Hopefully this piece put that over to an extent, but it's clearly just the first step in what's ideally gonna be a decent bit of development.

P.S. Hi to those people who turned up here from that Chris Morris Facebook group and decided to click around. I'm clearly no Charlie Brooker, but who is?

P.P.S. Hey Warp - sort me out with some promos please. FACT sent me a copy of their Squarepusher one, which was great stuff.

***

Post #200! Not that I'm counting...

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