31 January 2009

Shaw Bros. (Various Artists) – Kung Fu Super Sounds

De Wolfe Recordings (2008)

Personal preference for 1960s Mancini aside, it’s hard to go wrong with 70s soundtracks. Ennio Morricone, while always great, put out some brilliant stuff in that decade. And then you have Nino Rota’s Godfather soundtracks, Shire’s Taking of Pelham One Two Three. Oh, and Lalo Schifrin, of course. His Dirty Harry series stood out, as did Enter the Dragon.

Kung fu film soundtracks had to fulfil certain criteria to work, back in the 1970s. I love the modern films as much as the next man, from the grand Romeo and Juliet statement of Hero to the surreal superhero slapstick of Stephen Chow’s films. I even like the odd Yo-Yo Ma/Tan Dun tandem.

But the old-school kung fu films had to hit various spots: they had to be funky in the right places, ominous when the occasion demanded, and energising when there was a scrap going on. Which was a lot of the time. Shaw Bros. were synonymous with a certain kind of kung fu. The outlandish Flying Guillotine is a personal favourite, and the impact of the 36th Chamber of Shaolin in the music world goes without saying.

So fans of soundtracks, kung fu films, and great music should be intrigued by this collection of music from Shaw Bros. films between the years of 1976 and 1984.

Opening with the sonic Shaw Bros. signature that should be familiar to anyone who’s seen Kill Bill, Kung Fu Super Sounds is a sprawling selection of aural snapshots from the era. Tunes like ‘Waiting for the Man’ (from Shaolin Mantis, 1978), are truly awesome. As it’s the longest song in the collection, it has time to build mood; that sense of looming threat. Brass flares a warning while the whole orchestra crashes in to punctuate. It even has something of an instrumental chorus.

But no other song has such time in which to luxuriate. ‘Fast Moving Stranger (from Dirty Ho, which must be one of the most unintentionally wonderful film titles ever) is a pre-Fantômas blast of walking basslines rushed into an agitated run, chased down dark alleys by clipped guitar slashes and organ lurk.

‘Old Dark House’, from Heaven and Hell, delights with its howling ambient darkness, and makes its point in a tenth of the time it would take many modern doom bands to do the same. ‘Horror House’, from three years earlier, is equally malevolent. ‘Spin Out’, also from Heaven and Hell, is another memorable piece. It’s almost like a precursor to the more effective material on Ghost’s occasionally masterful 2004 Hypnotic Underworld.

Interestingly, rather than one person composing each soundtrack, the films represented have been composed by numerous individuals. I suppose it’s a farming-out process one might expect from such a large company.

As with any compilation as chronologically wide as this, there are songs that drop the ball. These pieces can loosely be categorised as ‘the 1980s’. While there are some bright moments from the decade, such as the epic ‘Manoeuvres’, there was an ill-advised period of electronic experimentation.

This in itself would not be such a bad thing, but the result here is a small collection of bleeps and squawks that sound dated next to what Perrey and Kingsley were doing fifteen years earlier. While the ‘Electro’ pieces are an interesting example of the variety that was on show during this era, the compilation could really have done without ‘Duck and Blacker’. That said, Ronald Marquisee’s ‘Electro Link 18’ is a lot of fun for those who dug on Plone or Broadcast.

Overall, Kung Fu Super Sounds offers soundtrack action of a sufficiently high quality to make it a worthy purchase. While not all the songs on here are gold, anyone who got Morricone’s Crime and Dissonance should make space on their shelf for another CD.

25 January 2009

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion

Or: ageing and the unavoidable art of comparison
2009, Domino Recording Co.

The subtitle’s a tad less catchy, though. I’ve been wondering, for the last few days, how to go about this. On Wednesday, I started thinking about how I should probably have made a small post about this album each day, to document the evolution of my relationship with MPP. That’s hindsight for you.

So I shall begin at the beginning. Back when I was an illicit downloader, one of the many albums I snagged in my virtual tuna net was Sung Tongs, the 2004 Animal Collective album. I remember very little about it, other than I hated it, and hated the name (unaware of any etymological resonance that may have inspired its choice).

I bore such a grudge that, not only did I not listen to an AC album for the next four years, or any related artists (Excepter… excepted), but I even put off hearing Bloody Panda, who had nothing to do with them. OK, so Bloody Panda turned out to be a fantastic doom band: lessons learned and all that.

When I saw FACT mention that AC had suddenly become awesome, inlet my guard down. Well, it was a combination of that and their likeable interview in the end-of-year Wire. Already ordering the Tricky album from Domino, I decided to MPP on the order and get the free postage.

As this was a pre-order, weeks past and I wasn’t that bothered. The album arrived on 13 January and, my turntable not connected, I still wasn’t bothered. There was something weird going on at Domino’s digital download site, so my WAV files didn’t come when I wanted them. whatever.

I eventually downloaded the WAVs, one by one, on the evening of 14 January, and figured I may as well stick them on my portable music player.

I think I ended up listening to it on 20 January. I’m not sure what I did in the meantime. There was the Campbell and Lanegan record, but otherwise I’m not sure. I think I may even have first listened to it using the abysmal default white iPhone ear buds. I do not recommend this behaviour. Despite this delay, and the aural handicap, brilliance shone through.

If you’re the kind of person who knows my wordy style and scans my posts, this is the bit where you should probably start reading. The preamble wasn’t too bad though.

The reason why I would like to have written daily posts is because of the way I got into this album. It was like being sixteen again. Example: when I got into Kerbdog, I heard one song and loved it. I couldn’t wait for the release date of the album. I taped over the first four minutes of a compilation tape I had made myself, just so I could hear that song on the go.

Then I got the album and I loved all of it. And that wasn’t the only one that caused such a reaction in me around then. Albums by Metallica, Faith No More, Mark Lanegan, Kyuss, Karma To Burn, Kilgore and Devin Townsend were all massive hits with me, often usurping each other in my all-time top 10. I would obsess over albums, listening to them every day for weeks. I’d be slightly upset when that eventual non-listen day arrived.

You get older, you hear more music. Scenes come and go. At some point you decide music, as a whole, isn’t quite as good as it was at some point in your youth and that’s it. The top 10 is virtually impregnable.

A friend of mine once mentioned a study he’d read about, that said we are more susceptible to the effects of music between the ages of 17 and 24. The more I thought about that, the more it made sense. I was born in 1980. My favourite albums of the 1990s are generally in the latter half of the decade. Most of my faves from this decade, I heard between 2000 and 2003.

This concerned me. As a teen I would look at men in their thirties and forties, the ones who didn’t have any true favourite albums after 1976. I’d pity them. What kind of existence is that, I reasoned, when you don’t expect to hear any new music that blows you away. That must be pretty depressing.

You can see where I’m going with this, right? Well I could see where I was going when, with each passing year, Through Silver in Blood remained my favourite album. I never expect it to be beaten, but I hope it might be. Other than that, the last album to trouble my top 10 came out in 2003. There was a thrilling album in 2006, but the passage of time has been unsympathetic to its charms. I’ll have to start listening to it more, actually.

So when ‘in the Flowers’ opened the album, my ears pricked up, interested. It was good, but there was something else there: depth. There was a sense of in-the-mix euphoria running through it, but not to the point that my mind began racing. It was more like the sound I’d imagine the Arcade Fire to make, if they were actually as good as the hype suggested.

Then ‘My Girls’ came on. I had actually forgotten that FACT had singled this one out as a highlight, and that the Guardian described it as ‘impossibly blissful’. All I knew was the moment, and it was good. I was nearing my bus stop on the morning slog through the traffic, but I couldn’t help grinning, broadly, at how great this song was.

The funny thing was I only really noticed it from the halfway point, when the ‘chorus’ comes in. I love when vocals are well arranged; it’s my musical soft spot. This is one of the reasons I love Lift To Experience so much: Josh Pearson knows how to lay out a tune for more than one line of vocals it’s one of the reasons I love the alternative rock of Kerbdog and Alice In Chains so much. It’s the reason that my heart races every time I hear ‘Otherside’, by an otherwise mediocre Red Hot Chili Peppers.

And this had it all. Vocals complementing other vocals in a round. Tight, layered harmonies that rose at the right points. ‘My Girls’ adheres to that basic rule of script-writing: ‘cut out everything but the good bits’. It is just ‘good bits’, and that is the best way I can find of describing the song.

I had to get off the bus, but I was like a kid again, telling people about the great song I had just heard. I walked home that evening, and listened to the majority of the album. It was a revelation. Whether the sleep-in of ‘Daily Routine’, the ‘techno Beach Boys’* of ‘Also Frightened’, or the tribal cute-Underworld drug-rush of ‘Lion in a Coma’, I was bowled over.

Yesterday I ‘only’ listened to Merriweather Post Pavilion once. Have played ‘My Girls’ to lapsed eighties rockers now into chilled out soul, to mature punk rockers, and to Orb fans who have taken loads of drugs: they all think it’s great. I decided it had to be released as a single, just so I could have my most certain single of the year since ‘Crazy’ in 2006 (I had decided on that one in December 2005). It’s coming out, but probably unrelated to my insistence.

I also decided that they have to play near me, and perform ‘My Girls’, so I can go absolutely loopy; I got the tickets for a within-walking-distance gig the other day.

I’m now past that initial shock of finding the album to be so good, I was telling Lea the other day. what’s really shocking is the fact that I am still bowled over by how good it is. Will it still be my love in December? In 2012? Who knows. I normally tend to go a bit off albums released early in the year, only to return to their embrace at a later date (the last Jaga and Shining albums, for example).

But who cares. Tonight, I don’t imagine anything bettering MPP this year. I told that to a friend, who described my statement as ‘optimistic’. I disagree; I’d be optimistic to think there could be another album this good in 2009. maybe Converge, maybe Ahab, maybe Coalesce, Propagandhi or Mastodon. Maybe not.

In the words of Jaga, all I know is tonight.

P.S. On re-reading this post, I am aware I haven't actually compared the album to anything. That will come in time.

* Not a serious description but, when a friend at work insisted I describe it to him before sticking the headphones on his lugs, I ended up saying ‘like Beach Boys… but techno’. Of course it’s not, but I now have a fondness for that phrase.

Flying Lotus packaging fetish

That's right! After approximately one million years, I finally got the Flying Lotus album. I have even played some of it. But, seeing as I played a few other records last night, and am obsessed with the current Animal Collective album, I only got through one side before I had to turn it off. I know, getting old.

The esteemed Mr. Reynolds said something interesting about this album, a refreshing splash of sobriety in the face of its seeming default status of dance-ish/hip-hop thing of the year:

Highly listenable, quite impressive, the best of it makes me think of Sa Ra sans the kosmigroovy sexiness and goofadelic humour. The least of it is a bit… Prefuse 73-y.

Not that I've heard it all, but I know what Simon means. The most engaging sequence reminded me rather a lot of Sa-Ra's 'Glorious', from a few years ago. People need to listen more to Sa-Ra. With Neptunes and Timbaland being rubbish for the last few years, I's have thought the New Yorkers would have surged in popularity.

However, due to a combination of slight aural weirdness, the mainstream media hibernating in a fuggy slump of cod-soul and cod-rock, and the producers' own ostensible unwillingness to chase fame, it hasn't happened. Their album is great though. And their work on Erykah Badu's album seems to have been noticed by certain crowds. This is heartening. I have a couple of the EPs they released on Jazzy Sport, but haven't listened to them because:

(i) I'm saving them for when I need a new influx of Sa-Ra goodness, and
(ii) My turntable's inconvenient for switching to 45rpm, so I tend not to. I know!

Anyway, Flying Lotus. I liked what I heard from side one, and look forward to listening to the rest of it. And listening to the LA EPx2 (frustratingly, I missed out on the first one. I do have this, though). (Shhh!)

I suppose I have to get the Gang Gang Dance album next. Human treadmill!

P.S. I noticed Reynolds mention a thread on Dissensus about Animal Collective. I'm not going there, because I'm still in honeymoon period with the album (blog post in the works!) and don't want any snidey people stealing my sunshine. Besides, it's the best album in years.

P.P.S. Did I just say that? So what, if it's true?

22 January 2009

Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan – Keep Me in Mind Sweetheart

V2 (2008)

Lanegan has settled into a career of collaboration, which may be what he needs after a life of strife and tribulation. Along with his musical marriage to Campbell, he collaborates with fellow Sub Pop survivor Greg Dulli in Gutter Twins. This, of course, was after his work with QOTSA shoved him, squinting, into the limelight.

The title track, with Lanegan tenderly requesting regard, reminds this listener of his fantastic cover of Eddie Floyd’s ‘Consider Me’, from 1999. Not quite as stunning as that one, this duet is a lovely appetiser nonetheless: a paragon of delicate brevity.

‘Fight Fire With Fire’ may not be a rendition of the Metallica classic, but its surprising jauntiness keeps you listening through a charmingly superficial look at relationships: ‘I say Dirty Deeds, you say Back in Black. Or maybe Hysteria too’. Not a ‘Mutt’ Lange fan then, Mark?

It all comes together on ‘Asleep on a Sixpence’, a sparse, black lullaby that veteran Lan fans will be at home with. It’s a shame there isn’t more of this, because its quality rather eclipses the rest of the songs. Yes, they’re uplifting, and lovely, but ultimately unsatisfying in comparison. Nowhere is this more evident than ‘Hang On’, an Isobel-only track that could be a Shivaree or Devics out-take.

I would not be so churlish as to suggest Lanegan’s suffering is my pleasure (I love him dearly), but there is a definite correlation between his years of substance use and the quality he turned out. Balanced on a razor edge between the psyche-ish rock of Screaming Trees and the alco-gothic output on his awesome solo albums, Lanegan didn’t put a musical foot wrong. This arguably peaked on the emotional captive bolt pistol headshot that was 1998’s Scraps at Midnight.

There is no ‘Sworn and Broken’ on here. Nor an ‘In the Fade’ or Mark ‘n’ Isobel’s own ‘Why Does My Head Hurt So?’ But that’s not to suggest this is duff; more that Lanegan is capable of true greatness. Yes, their take on Lee and Nancy is compelling, but less so than Lan being Lan. Perhaps I miss the point: maybe this is Lan now. Maybe he’s finally happy after all these years in the wilderness. Fair play to him, he deserves it. A solo album wouldn’t go amiss though.

Read this at FACT too!

19 January 2009

Heartwork vs. Necroticism

I was on a message board this evening. I started writing about the band Carcass. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote and, just before I got halfway through, it became more of a blog post than a message board post. I was always selfish like that. Anyway, it's about Carcass, as I wonder aloud which of their albums is best. And why it's not Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious. And maybe it should be. I also throw in a parallel with Metallica, because we'd been banging on about their similarities on that board. Fun times. Anyway:

In other news, I have been listening to quite a bit of Carcass today. Well, this is a day, and I am me. More on the Necroticism vs. Heartwork 'thing'. While Heartwork is still my favourite of the two albums, there is something to be said for Necroticism. Quite a lot, in fact. And it's another parallel with ...AJFA.

Both albums are heavier than the records that directly followed, sure. And they're more complex too. But their appeal goes beyond that, and beyond the 'they weren't as popliar' rationale. AJFA has a coldness to it, a malicious bleakness that is aided by the thin production. It's as if the lack of bass, the lack of aural warmth is intentional - not to haze the new kid - to make the whole record as inherently unsympathetic and unfeeling as possible.

Necroticism is similar, but in a different way, if that makes sense. It's nastier, has those 80s posh-voice intro samples, and is less well-produced than the relatively pristine Heartwork. But beyond that, there is a malevolence that is hard to articulate. The riffs and guitar melodies are just imbued with a sordidness that seemed to escape most death metal bands.

I like bands such as Mithras, Nile and At The Gates. But, while they are heavy and ostensibly nasty, the riffs were more about thrashing, grinding or sludging. The actual passage of notes and chords could have varied by some way without unduly hindering the effect of the music.

The melodies on Necroticism, on the other hand, have clearly been selected to unsettle. I don't just mean the weird syncopations that occasionally rear their (disembodied) heads, but the way the riffs rise over each other in circular fashion like a sea made of blood and vomit. The example that springs to mind is on the album's quasi-epic 'Forensic Clinicism, the Sanguine', about a minute in.

There is some guttural rhythm guitar, chugging along in mud and shit, when a lead guitar line sprouts out of it. But rather than evoking imagery of a sapling struggling through (as heavy metal melodies over chuggerama were often intended), it's more like the 'birth scene' in Alien. The melody is ostensibly more delicate than its host, but when it bursts out into the mix, it's infinitely more malevolent and changes the entire complexion of the scene.

Another example comes about five minutes into 'Corporal Jigsore Quandary'. There's a riff that starts out (and ends up) as typical discordant 'random notes' riffing, but the notes at the end of the riff - oddly high notes - just makes it intangibly seedy. And I suppose it's that very inability to put one's finger on why that is that makes it so affective (and effective, for that matter). There are similarly exaggerated high notes in an early riff on 'Symposium of Sickness'. In fact, the first few minutes of the song are spent in that disorientating quease.

'Pedigree Butchery' has that fantastic riff that seems like it's going out of tune, not unlike elements of Loveless, from the same year. But that kind of embellishment is just the icing on a rather gruesome cake, considering how ingrained the rest of the malice is. Ditto the woozy-yet-clean arpeggio that Slayer made famous and Pantera later used to great success.

The album begins as it means to go on, as I think about it. 'Inpropagation' (possibly my favourite of all the numerous Jeff Walker puns) has a number of these moments. There's a regular, albeit fantastic, DM solo from 4:13 to 4:35, at which point (punctuated by a death growl of 'I propagate!' that sounds as though it was recorded in a toilet bowl) a dizzying riff lurches into action - accompanied by another high swing. But while we thought the lead guitar was dead, it stirs back into harmonised action like zombie tag team, and widdles over the then-high tech riff with Maiden throwback melody. And a decade before it was en vogue to do so.*

As if that weren't fantastic enough, the opening couple of minutes is as sublime an example of guitar music as you'll find anywhere. After an introductory sequence of ominous crashing and booming, and an effects-laden sample of a woman talking about death in documentary format that makes her sound like a gigantic blonde fly, all hell breaks loose with grindcore guitars dancing a frenzied circle-jig over a steroidal machine-gun-drum-fill. A groove-thrash riff provides the foundation for Walker's vocal, but the transcendent moment is when it all slows down, and the lead guitar takes hold.

Again, it's completely abnormal. I have plenty of Napalm Death, Morbid Angel and Autopsy, but I have never heard any band articulate their grim themes so well in the instrumental domain. Away from imagery, lyric or title, the music makes you feel that something just isn't right. That passage of music could be played to a non-metaller, in terms of pure heaviness, but there is an un-nameable subtext, a sociopathic ulterior motive, that only early 1990s Swans has matched, in my experience.

Heartwork may be my favourite Carcass album (though, after all this, I'm not so sure), but despite its superior songwriting, production and arrangement**, it lacks the moments of true musical discomfort abundant above.

Mmmm, I'm in the mood for some more death metal now. Maybe a visit to Heartwork. Or Skullflower, which those good people at the Wire magazine naively believe to be 'true' death metal. That has to deserve some kind of response. It just has to...

* And that’s exactly 666 words. Not that I was counting toward it or anything.

** Yep it may not be as complex as Necroticism, but moments like the way the rhythm switches as the lead changes hands in 'Buried Dreams' is just pure evidence of a band effortlessly peaking.

18 January 2009

Without me you're only you

Yeah, it's something of a mid-blog crisis. My domain name has projected itself into limbo, rendering most links to this place dead. Or dormant. So while I'm in this limbo, I can post, but essentially in silence. So I decide I may as well tinker a bit with the layout. But I think I had it just right before. So now I've besmirched the simplicity that once was, and replaced it with a bloody sidebar and coloured boxes.

Help me out, dear reader: do you have any suggestions for positive tinkerage? (No, I won't accept 'delete it all', which kinda usurps what would otherwise have been the most popular response.) Do you like the new look? Does it make any difference either way? Answers on a postcard or on the back of a sealed envelope. Ta.

15 January 2009

Baroness packaging fetish

Wasn't there a character called Baroness in Action Force? Sorry, 'G.I.' 'Joe'. Kinda makes it sound like a show about a bloke trying out special diets. 'No bread for me!' I was always more of a Transformers fan in my youth. That was tops. Inhumanoids too, actually, but mainly Transformers. I had tons of the things. Best had to be Scorponok, though Trypticon was never available over here so who knows.

I did manage to get a knock-off Omega Supreme in the local Jolly Giant through. It was just called 'Omegatron', and was very grey, but turned into a massive robot and had a detachable space train and things, so that was pretty great. Scorponok, though. He was the bomb. Great colour scheme. Who was that triple changer that turned into a missile launcher and stuff? Double Dealer or someone? A Transformers anti-hero. The Stanley Kowalski of the under-tens set. Can't beat it.

In fact, I can still watch Transformers: The Movie now and love it. Not the piece of crap live action one. All that has going for it is Megan Fox. I won't deny that she is very nice, but the film's a bloated wreck. Only one thing even transforms in the first twenty minutes! Watched it for an hour and a quarter and that was it. Who makes a 135-minute Transformers film anyway? Ooh, the suspense. Maybe something will transform! Fat chance. And when they did, you couldn't make them out.

They'd have fights, and it'd just look like what it was - a bunch of computer graphics knocking about. Forget it. And I hate to be one of these anal dorks, but Prime doesn't have a moving mouth. And he doesn't say 'my bad'.

The original was fab though. It was so tightly-plotted. Fast-paced, every scene moved the story on. It was too fast paced for some friends of mine who first watched it as adults. But what are you doing watching it for the first time as adults? It's a solid sugar-rush that, if you weren't there at the time, you're not gonna get.

Transformers died in that thing. I'll never forget the feeling when that belch of orange smoke emerged from... Prowl's mouth? And the eyes going dead. Cartoon characters, actually dying. While that great Spectre General song played. The soundtrack of the 1986 film was better than the multi-million dollar live action one too. Under-rated. Lion doing the theme tune, Stan Bush's 'The Touch'. Love it. In terms of musical impact, let's not forget El-P sampled the film on his production of Cannibal Ox's sole, classic, album The Cold Vein.

Anyway, Baroness. From Savannah, GA I do believe. I ordered this record in December 2007 and received it in July 2008. I'd do a timeline of the unfortunate events if I could be arsed. Just know it took that long because Hyperrealist took payments before the thing physically existed, and then took an age to get it made. Oh, the artwork needs re-doing in 12". I have to get the music and etchings done in separate places.

I don't give a stuff about the etchings. It's a nice touch, but you're only gonna sped so long looking at them. And they're not worth the delay. Especially when you absent-mindedly drop the needle on them. They surround the grooves, see. My god.

And when the album did arrive, deep into the third season of waiting, the records had sliced, sorry 'etched', through the inner-sleeves. Yay! Luckily the music is pretty hot. It's the better 'Red Album' that came out in the last couple of years. It's no Ire Works, but it's a very solid Relapse release. But quite how solid will have to wait til I 'do' 2007.

I make myself laugh sometimes. Someone has to laugh, right?

14 January 2009

Susanna K. Wallumrød – Flower of Evil

(2009, Rune Grammafon)

Susanna has dropped her ‘magical orchestra’ for another solo jaunt. Flower of Evil is mostly cover versions: originally sad songs mix with ostensibly surprising choices for this Norwegian doyenne of the melancholy.

The record opens with Thin Lizzy’s ‘Jailbreak’. It is a song that could easily have been reduced to ‘look, a sad version of “Jailbreak”’ in the wrong hands. However, Susanna has a knack of getting inside the lyric and either finding the original truth behind it, or a completely new one that’s no less valid.

Stripped of the boys’ own bravado Phil Lynott revelled in, Wallumrød’s ‘Jailbreak’ is conspiratorial and struck by the gravity of impending events. ‘Tonight there’s gonna be trouble’, she gently intones. ‘Some of us won’t survive’. It’s chilling.

Because the tone is unwavering throughout the hour-plus of the record, though, some pieces can sound like pastiche. The poignant raw wound of Black Sabbath’s ‘Changes’ should be perfect source material for Susanna’s brand of sorrow. Instead, there is something missing.

Perhaps the purity of her voice is too at odds with the anguished howl Ozzy had in the early 1970s. This is the kind of song where Susanna strays worryingly close to the FM radio of Beverley Craven or Katie Melua.

For every lovely song, there is one too close to MOR. Do we need another version of ‘Without You’? While Wallumrød sings beautifully, her voice alone can only take you so far. Forty minutes would be sufficient to contain the better songs on here.

It all comes together on ABBA’s ‘Lay All Your Love on Me’, which ends the record. Susanna’s spare arrangement strips the original’s paranoid obsession of its synths and rhythm guitars, its delicate heart left bleeding right in front of you.

This leaves me in a quandary. While this is a lovely record, with moments of mournful beauty, the sheer amount of it dilutes its impact. Also frustrating is the quality of her own compositions. These are a pair of perfectly charming songs that give the listener an appetite for new material the album doesn’t satisfy.

Hopefully next time we’ll get all-new songs. Until then, this is an efficient set of what you’d expect from the Me First And The Gimme Gimmes of the sad music scene. For curious newcomers, Flower of Evil is a great place to start.

FACT version of the review is here, folks. Support the scene(sters)!

05 January 2009

Darkest Hour packaging fetish

Hey! Darkest hour is a metalcore band that I haven't listened to yet. They won't be as good as Carcass or At The Gates, but they share a member with the lovely Verse En Coma. And... what's this? Ooh, the mighty John Dyer Baizley painted the cover for them. I guess this means the latest, long-awaited instalment of [BAND X] packaging fetish! How disappointed am I gonna make those people who are Googling the words 'vinyl' and 'fetish' right about now. Aww...

While I’m here

I just did that rare thing and read a blog post from start to finish in one go. I know, whoopee-do. But it’s good for me. All too often, I will scan and/or read some, deciding ‘yep, I’ll read that later’. Sadly, ‘later’ all too often turns out to be the twelfth of never. What am I trying to say? That’s right, Impostume did his albums of the year!

As you’d expect if you’ve read his blog in the past, even Impostume’s idle thoughts are wrapped up in grand narrative and context. That’s not a bad thing, as I’m trying to get more of that in my writing, but I’m sure he summed up 2007 rather more tacitly (‘get the Oxbow’, as I recall). I know where he is coming from, anyway.

For a long while I have been dismayed at the way people (including me) listen to music this decade. I started downloading on peer-to-peer in late 2004. Very quickly I amassed quite the collection. If a connection was slow, I’d leave the computer running and be amazed at all the Fushitsusha/Swans/La Monte Young suddenly on my hard drive.

But there was a sense of ennui I could not escape. For the more music I heard, I was listening to less than ever. So I had a top 70 albums of 2007, a top 100 of 2005. But what did it mean? I attempted my top 50 albums of 2005 theme (of which I wrote enough to justify completing. Then I can move on to other, non-groundhog, years), but realised soon that I knew little about albums I had already ‘judged’.

Much like Rowdy Roddy Piper in They Live, I see the evil of instant judgement everywhere. It wasn’t like this back in the day, I’m sure of it. I lend people albums now and they don’t bother getting past track two. While this is disheartening, I at least know I can take most peoples opinions with more than a pinch of salt. Yeah, you listened to it once and decided it was number 38 of the year? Kiss my arse.

Which reminds me: Impostume also mentions the insanity of having a top 150 of a year. He questions how (and why) a person who considers himself* sane would justify positions at such an irrelevant end of a list. And, while I admit to my own top 50, I also wonder why anyone would give a rat’s behind about what a single person considers their 43rd favourite album of a year. I understand when The Wire does it – they pool many people. But the individual top 50? I’m now old and ugly enough to realise the folly (both Narcissistic and Promethean) of such a move. Top 20, max. I don’t care how many albums you’ve heard.

Let’s not forget that little correlation: the greater amount of albums you have heard means less time available to actually digest each one.

Impostume also throws this bone of intrigue:

Every now and then you need to go elsewhere for a while to feel excited by home again.

Just before I read that, I was thinking about how metal-focused my lists have been over the last few years (certainly since 2004, when I got back into the scene). I used to be a right little eclectic: at the turn of the century I was consuming all and sundry, having decided metal was getting too popular for me.

I got into metal, to a serious degree, in the mid 1990s, at the absolute nadir of its popularity. So, when the likes of Linkin Park and Slipknot were all over tellies and t-shirts, QOTSA playing venues larger than pubs, I decided the scene was no longer mine.

So, inspired by the fantastically-timed release of Radiohead’s Kid A, I set off listening to all of those genres I had once considered out of bounds. It helped that I was in a new city, so none of my existing friends could ask ‘why the hell are you listening to that?’ It was all about DJ Shadow, Warp Records and Ninja Tune, XL and reading The Face. Garage music, Neptunes and a still-good Timbaland. I’d shop on Oldham Street and club at Music Box. Not only was it new to me, but there was seriously cool stuff to listen to.

And that’s without getting into post-rock. What is now a shit vacuum where only a few bands are decent (pretty much none who aren’t Japanese) was buzzing: Godspeed, early Sigur Rós, Múm, Lift To Experience, Xinlisupreme, Lali Puna, Labradford, Laika, Broadcast, Add (n) to (x)… what is there now?

At risk of sounding like an old man, I’ll end it there. But it seemed there was a lot more going on in 2000-01 than there is now. In the oh-four I got back into metal. Not a moment too soon, I decided, as its qualitative fortunes were rising as everything else was dropping off.

Is it really all dropping off though? Perhaps, as the quotation says, I just needed that musical holiday before an inevitable return ‘home’. I’m not sure though. Mainstream ‘indie’ rock is pretty much as godawful as it was: The Strokes and JJ72 are now just Kings Of Leon and Snow Patrol. Chart house is the same as it ever was. And in the garage’s place, we had grime, dubstep, bassline, funky, donk… it seems to me that the ‘ardkore continuum is becoming self aware to the point of eating its own tail, Ourobouros-style. The forced evolution is certainly faster than rave…hardcore…jungle. But that’s for another post.

I’m gonna mention Reynolds’ EOY stuff when I’ve done more listening, because it’d be an interesting context in which to drop more thoughts in. Who said cross-posting was dead?

P.S. I wish I had entered a ballot for the Rocktimists thing, but alas it coincided with my holiday. And my list would have been more premature than it was on this blog. Hopefully there will be a 2009 ballot to enter.

P.P.S. I have that Tricky album ordered. Having less luck with the Bug: if I'd known he'd get Wire's album of the year accolade, I'd have bought it when it came out, like I was going to. Damnit.

* Let's face it: we're mainly male.

What blogs?

In my line of work, I often get asked (well, once. By Lea the other day): 'what blogs are good, throughsilver?' Of course I point them to mine, but who doesn't read it already? Exactly. Otherwise, I don't know. Woebot's has now been dead for over a year, but I am intrigued about his EPs. Obviously there's Blissblog, which I read whenever I can. And how funny, we have both negatived-up our blogs at the same time! We're in synch, see. I try to read Impostume, but it can sometimes get a bit tl;dr for my ADHD little head. Unless he's talking about music and namechecking me. Hey..! And if I'm feeling really smart (i.e. never), I'll visit K-Punk and those other dudes for a wake-up call.

You have the blogs down bottom of this one, some of which I click on and some I don't. Some are dead, some are dormant. Dave is interesting. Travis presumably gets out more than me. Dick Hyacinth reads and writes more than me; I wish I shared more within his frame of reference.

But I'm mainly writing this because I happened upon two blogs that are new. To me. I haven't even read a full post by either yet, but who cares; this is largely for my own edification - I don't like forgetting the addresses of blogs I like. So, if you're into grindcore at all (and if not, why not?), here is my associate Lord Davydd Grimm and his blog of awesome underground metal uploads. He gives good header, too. Maybe I should revise mine to match the wallpaper. We also have Grind and Punishment, with their albums of the year. I didn't even know there were ten grind albums released in 2008. Well of course there were, but you know what I mean. I'd better get buying.

I haven't read Dumpin in months, but used to make a habit of it. I don't agree with all their writers, but Mike is a solid dude. It's about rap!

If you have any recommendations, feel free to let me know. Ta. And may nothing but happiness come through your door in the oh-nine.

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