22 February 2009

UFC 95

I have started a lot of these UFC write-ups without finishing them. So I will try to keep this relatively brief in the hope that it will actually get finished and stuck on the blog. This was a British show, in whose suitably unimpressive main event lightweight debutant Diego Sanchez bested perennial plucky loser Joe Stevenson. But before I talk about that, there were some other fights!

Oddly enough – maybe I’ve been sleeping on the UK scene – British fighters won more fights than I’m used to. High on the bill was Nottingham punk Dan Hardy, who beat Rory Markham quite comfortably in a kickboxing match.

This was quite satisfying, actually. They were playing up the whole ‘UK vs. America’ combative fiction and, while I generally loathe jingoism dressed up as patriotism, I hate Markham’s face even more. He looked like a constipated cross between Matt Hughes and Sid Justice, and wore some god-awful Tapout-branded stars-and-stripes t-shirt.

I’m sure that he’ll have been fighting for Gawd and the troops, too, so I’m happy Hardy’s win spared me that speech, if nothing else. For his part, though Hardy was guilty of banging on about how Britain is always in his heart, he was also charismatic, and seemed handy enough. Good for him, that’s what I say.

Another, less charismatic, Brit was Terry Etim. He was on the prelims, but I can see him featuring on the upper reaches of future UK cards after he made quick work of Brian Cobb, replacing the staphed-up Justin Buchholz. I’m not going to lie to you, a lot of the fights last night blended into one in my memory, with their brevity and knock-outs.

This one was right at the start of the second round, though, as Etim pegged Cobb right in the jaw with a roundhouse toe, before sticking a couple of punches in on the floor. Etim’s lanky build is made for that kind of win and, as long as he doesn’t come up against any particularly strong wrestlers, he should be fine. The ground and pound was perfunctory, but at least avoided the cries of ‘early stoppage’.

Such cries were all over the first televised match, in which welterweight hottie (you were all thinking it) Josh Koscheck was knocked out by otherwise unheralded Paulo Thiago. Pre-fight, Koscheck emphasised that if he is to convince as a title challenger, he certainly has to beat ‘this guy’.

For most of the fight’s three minute life, he was doing that. Thiago, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist, had no way of getting the superior wrestler to the ground, and Koscheck was happy out-striking him. Commentator Joe Rogan mentioned that the Brazilian was going to have to tighten his game when Koscheck, committed to a lunging punch, missed. Thiago capitalised with a short uppercut that floored the American.

Thiago rushed in to finish the fight with strikes on the floor, but the referee waved him off. Koscheck complained. Well he would, wouldn’t he. Josh argued that he was perfectly compos mentis, which he may well have been at that point. When the ref stopped the fight, though, he had been dropped and was limply flailing like a lobster left upside down on the surface of the moon.

More than that, Koscheck has only won three of his last six matches. The loss to GSP was fair enough: everyone loses to GSP nowadays. I hadn’t seen the Thiago Alves fight (or UFC 90 at all), but Kos lost a decision there. Again, that’s sorta understandable, and nothing to necessarily keep a fighter out of the top five.

Getting floored by a skinny BJJ specialist, though, is exactly the kind of loss Koscheck doesn’t need right now. If he was in line for a title shot, he has now been shunted to the back. On a personal level, Koscheck is one of the few American wrestlers that I particularly like, so I hope this loss doesn’t send him flying off the roster.

Another BJJ expert brought the pain on the next match, though in more traditional – and impressive – fashion. Demian Maia faced off against veteran Team Quest member Chael Sonnen for middleweight bragging rights. I don’t like Sonnen. I should, but I love Paolo Filho, and I can’t like anyone who feuds with Filho. Especially when he took Filho’s undefeated status away. Especially when I got told about it without even getting to see the show.

So I was concerned about this one, as Sonnen is a very good fighter from one of the historically great MMA camps (whose alumni/heads have included Randy Couture, Dan Henderson, Matt Lindland and Evan Tanner). A good wrestler with strong striking, he’s a tough combination for anyone at the weight.

Maia, though, is no fool. He also has a history of beating Team Quest members. He has bested Ed Herman and Nate Quarry, as well as erstwhile TQ-killer Jason MacDonald. He choked them all out, too, earning submission-of-the-night honours for all bar the Quarry.

The fight was tense through its brief duration, each competitor respecting the skills of the other. Only halfway through the opening round, Maia under-hooked Sonnen’s arms, falling backward before flipping on top of Sonnen. As he landed in mount, Maia already trapped an arm: a triangle in reverse.

From here, Maia allowed Sonnen to roll on top, as the Brazilian closed up a perfect triangle choke. Sonnen had nowhere to go, Maia pulled the head down, and the tap was forthcoming. It was not just a win for the good guys, but an island of beautiful grappling in the UFC mire of messy striking.

Nate Marquardt is another really good fighter I don’t like. I’m not even sure why. Perhaps it’s because of the beating he gave Dean Lister, one of my favourites, two years ago. Old grudges die hard. A painfully effective wrestler with good strikes and sub defence, he is perfect for hammering out ground and pound stoppages. (Apart from when he’s on the receiving end, natch.)

His opponent, Wilson Gouveia, decided that Nate was good at lots of things, but ‘great at nothing’. That did Gouveia little good. After a tight first round, Marquardt began to tire out the Brazilian. He was out-striking, defending any submission attempts that came, and scoring gradual, sapping, damage.

Late in the final round, with Gouveia sucking in air, Marquardt went for the kill in a fashion I haven’t seen from him since the destruction of Lister. While many of his strikes missed, the combination of punches, spinning backfists and knees brought the fight to a dramatic end.

Judging by the Maia and Marquardt performances, their styles of fighting, and the opponents they vanquished on this card, the two seem destined to meet in the summer. The winner will take on seemingly unstoppable Anderson Silva, if he gets past… Thales Leites? While I would want Maia to tap Marquardt out in their theoretical match, I sadly foresee the American holding Maia down and pounding him out.

Diego Sanchez is an intriguing character. Winner at middleweight of the first Ultimate Fighter contest, he was debuting in London at 155lbs. He came out to ‘We Will Rock You’, while shouting ‘YES!’ every few seconds. It was hilarious and slightly scary. He has a history of swarming his opponents and battering them, though was getting increasingly found out at welterweight.

His opponent, Joe ‘Daddy’ Stevenson, apart from bearing one of the stupidest ring-names on the planet, was also a little terror. Good at wrestling, he would pound away until a chance for a guillotine choke reared its head. Har.

He challenged the mighty BJ Penn for the belt in January 2008. Penn, as he does to other lightweights, demolished Stevenson. While Joe seemed to wither instantly under a storm of punches, he actually ended up lasting four minutes before Penn choked him from behind.

This past November, Stevenson again lost in dramatic fashion. I must have seen his fight against lightweight terror Kenny Florian, but I don’t particularly remember it. Stevenson does, though, as it apparently led to a re-evaluation of his life and work ethic. Heavy stuff.

I have repressed the events of this alleged (by the UFC) ‘fight of the night’. They do like their FOTNs to go to decision, don’t they. Quite why this was better than, well, anything else on the card is beyond me. Joe Rogan, while commentating, perfectly articulated what it was about.

Stevenson was boxing Sanchez and, I might add, in mediocre fashion. Sanchez, meanwhile, was doing just enough to win. Peppering Stevenson with slightly more varied strikes, and sufficiently reputed a wrestler as to discourage takedown attempts, the fight was Sanchez’ to lose. Seems he learned something from his decision loss to Josh Koscheck at UFC 69.

This continued for fifteen minutes. The judges decided that Sanchez won. They were correct. I woke up. Sanchez congratulated Stevenson on his ‘improved stand-up’, which must be carny for ‘you were crap, but as winner, I have the luxury of tossing an empty compliment your way’. This was boring, mediocre stuff, and I cannot wait for them both to lose in their next matches.

I would imagine Sanchez will have a rematch with Florian, which should result in swift, bloody vengeance for K-Flo, who lost that inaugural TUF finale. Stevenson, if still employed, can face – and lose to – any of the impressive lightweight division. I was going to suggest Sean Sherk, but I wouldn’t want to put myself through the ordeal of watching that fifteen-minute dry-hump.

18 February 2009

Touch and Go is having a shake-up

I know. I was supposed to write about the Asobi Seksu gig tonight, but new shit has come to light. Sorry. Touch and Go is having a shake-up, and I'm not a fan. For those who don't know, here's what T&G have to say:

It is with great sadness that we are reporting some major changes here at Touch and Go Records. Many of you may not be aware, but for nearly 2 decades, Touch and Go has provided manufacturing and distribution services for a select yet diverse group of other important independent record labels. Titles from these other labels populate the shelves of our warehouse alongside the titles on our own two labels, Touch and Go Records, and Quarterstick Records.

Unfortunately, as much as we love all of these labels, the current state of the economy has reached the point where we can no longer afford to continue this lesser known, yet important part of Touch and Go’s operations. Over the years, these labels have become part of our family, and it pains us to see them go. We wish them all the very best and we will be doing everything we can to help make the transition as easy as possible.

Touch and Go will be returning to its roots and focusing solely on being an independent record label. We’ll be busy for a few months working closely with the departing labels and scaling our company to an appropriate smaller size after their departure. It is the end of a grand chapter in Touch and Go’s history, but we also know that good things can come from new beginnings.

So they're not stopping the rock or owt, but are very much scaling it down. When I first heard the news I selfishly thought 'bloody hell, they were supposed to be re-releasing the Jesus Lizard albums this spring!'

I was somewhat relieved to learn they'd still be pushing back catalogue material, and re-releasing more old stuff. But that doesn't reflect well on me. I was always the person telling the canon to stuff itself, and forget the alleged classics. And here I am, unmoved by the inexorable changing of one of the key music labels of the last two decades because at least I can still get the old stuff in. It's pathetic, and I was wrong.

This is totally a bad thing to happen, because of the principle of it. It's not about how many T&G albums I liked in the last five years. It's the idea of such an independent stronghold being forced into compromise. It's that dread 'look back in anger' concert mis-idea transferred into real life. It's not one night only: it's forever.

Maybe I'm over-reacting. We are all experiencing a financial lull at the minute, and the fact that T&G is scaling its operation down means it can still exist when next we enter a boom period. Whenever that is. It's rather a shame, though, as the old musical adage hold that the most urgent music is created in those times of strife and society-wide ill health. We need an outlet.

And the saddest fact of all, for me, is that T&G is primarily scaling back its pressing and distribution arm. Again, selfishly, I don't much care for Merge (signers of the excellent Neutral Milk Hotel and utterly bogus Arcade Fire). But what of Kill Rock Stars? OK, they're apparently in the midst of affiliating with Secretly Canadian. T&G sorted out Drag City, which is my personal bummer.

Not only was DC the home of the legendary Royal Trux (more on them later), but they have since then housed Jim O'Rourke, Papa M, RTX, Weird War, Ghost, Joanna Newsom and tons more. Drag City, if I think about it, is probably my favourite label of the last five years. And in this Inspector Calls world in which we're living, that's what Touch and Go has done for me lately.

A scaled down T&G may well be lurking about, licking its wounds with the cockroaches in the post-credit crunch world, but will the labels affiliated with it? Will Atavist, Merge and DC survive? If not, who will be releasing the vital rock music of 2010? Of 2011? Who can be releasing it if relative powerhouses such as them are in danger of going under.

So I may indeed be getting my Jesus Lizard reissues this April. But at what cost?

17 February 2009

The Bug packaging fetish

Apologies for the clear laziness of this post, but I have to get something pon de blog tonight, as I missed out last night. I have a good reason: I was at a gig. And I plan on getting it written up tomorrow night. Exciting, right? Anyway, I saw Asobi Seksu. They were good, though two universal throughsilver gig truths held:

(i) Nobody dances; and
(ii) Encores suck.

But explanations can wait til tomorrow. For now, we have the latest instalment in my never-ending throughsilver vinyl fetish series.

I finally, finally got hold of the Bug album from last year, after everyone was banging on about it. It sold out at source very quickly, which led to yours truly searching, in a panic, for other copies. None in shops or the usual internet places. Wait, sounds familiar...

That's right. The same thing happened with the Earth album. Except The Bug was The Wire's album of the year. That made it even harder, and I didn't want to pay forty quid for it on Amazon. I thought I had it when I ordered it from Fa' Ci'y. Sadly they pulled a Rough Trade, and didn't actually have it, so on the wish list it went.

I figured that was the end of that chapter, until the aforementioned Ci'y sent me an e-mither about this item being back in stock. For 16 quid. But, I figured, if they have it then so must Ninja Tune, as it'll have been re-pressed. And they did! Nice one. And, in the interest of fairness, even though they refused to combine my orders last week, I will also mention those fine people at Norman Records. Hey, they give me sweets.

It's even been reduced in price at Amazon (but check the extortionate second hand price. £70? Who owned it previously?!) to an only slightly mad 22 quid.

Let this be a lesson to you: buy these records when the come out. Otherwise you may end up stuffed. I'm surprised I didn't get this one on release. Rather than being a Wire stan, I was waiting for this quite eagerly. Lea and I, a couple of years ago, were mad on this bloke. Everything we heard of his was gold (you could say he had the 'Midas' touch. Har), and we bought up the 12" singles with great excitement. But then the album came out and I wasn't excited any more. I blame Lea.

And, as per usual, I've not listened to it yet. It's on three discs, all right?! But I think this represents the last of the 2008 records that I needed to get. Especially as the Akimbo and Rye Wolves ones don't seem to have even been pressed yet. Neurot! Aurora Borealis! Get it sorted! Both AuroraB and the Wolves themselves have assured me that their wax is on the way but, when I asked Southern about the Akimbo, they quite literally told me not to hold my breath.

That doesn't bode well.

15 February 2009


Dir: Todd Solondz, 2001

I watched this last night.

I had been putting it off for years. I saw Happiness back in about 2003: it was really engaging, but there were one or two moments that were a bit tough to get through. Aronofsky has a reputation for making intense films, but Happiness was almost too much even for me. The scene with the father and son on the sofa, you know?

I bought Storytelling at the same time, but it remained unwatched for a long time. Eventually I figured ‘why not’ and here we are.

Storytelling is certainly lighter fare than the soul-sapping Happiness, but not by much. I knew when it came out that it was composed of ‘Fiction’ and ‘Non-fiction’ segments, and that a rather masochistic writing teacher was involved. That’ll be the ‘Fiction’ bit.

Before seeing the film, I had imagined it as being split into two equal halves. While both felt like they lasted an eternity, the ‘Fiction’ bit seemed to pass more quickly. The film could really have done without this segment, which Todd Solondz seems to have included both to fill time (even in two parts, it’s barely 90 minutes in the physical world) and to make you die inside a little more.

‘Fiction’ amused me, but I was in a funny mood while watching it. The writing teacher’s sadism in coldly pulling apart the feel-good short story that the student with cerebral palsy had penned was pretty funny. So was that student then dumping his girlfriend, who then started bitching about him in a bar to the aforementioned callous teacher.

The teacher then took sexual advantage of the girl. But Solondz plays it in a way that nobody is a good guy. Not the bitchy, self-loathing girl. Not the student with cerebral palsy who took his writing-shitness at out on the girl. Certainly not the sexually predatory writing teacher. And none of the ghouls who bit-featured in the class scenes. They were a combination of idiotic prudes, clueless hacks and a particularly attractive super-bitch. Nice vignette.

‘Non-fiction’ was about a pathetic shoe salesman, Toby Oxman (Paul Giamatti), masquerading as a documentary maker. We are introduced to him (and his neuroses) when he makes a phone call to a woman he knew from high school. She is something, and he isn’t. Despite that, we feel no sympathy. We even feel bad for her when she reveals he didn’t want to go to the school dance with her. In hindsight, he was doing her a favour.

Toby bumps into school student Scooby Livingston in the toilets, who is unfortunate enough to get involved in Oxman’s project. It’s ostensibly about the college admission process, and the stress it puts students through. It ends up being a protracted, malicious, smirk at Scooby’s life and family.

And what a family. He has two brothers: the middle one, Brady, is a jock who isn’t bothered that Scooby might be gay, but wants him to pretend he’s not so Brady’s cache doesn’t plummet. The youngest is Mikey, who is very intelligent but seemingly devoid of empathy. I guess he’s supposed to be autistic, though nothing is officially explained.

Throughout the film, Mikey is desperate to let his dad, Marty, allow him to try his hypnosis. Ever-busy with family and business affairs, Marty rebuffs Mikey. Nevertheless, Mikey continues. On and on, ‘can I try to hypnotise you, dad?’

I recall there being one adult character in Happiness that you could possibly sympathise with. Among a cast of kiddie-fiddlers and chubby stalkers was the young woman who seemed to be a massive victim. I forget the details – I repressed my memory of that film as you would any disturbing experience – but that seems to be how it went.

We only have Scooby to root for in Storytelling, even if he is utterly doomed from the start. Completing the main cast are the overweight, homophobic, conservative/Conservative Marty (played by the ever-fantastic John Goodman), the long-suffering wife/mother, and their aged immigrant cleaner Consuelo.

Scooby is perpetually lost, confused (sexually, psychologically) and stoned. He wants to be famous and successful, but has no idea how to go about it; he certainly doesn’t want to work for it. In him, Toby sees a microcosm of post-Columbine disaffected suburban youth. He also sees a photogenic idiot he can ride to the Sundance festival.

So Toby talks to Scooby, meets the family, and they decide to make a film. Solondz, being the misanthrope he clearly wants us to think he is, doesn’t even make Scooby sympathetic. Scooby is a cretin, who does want everything without putting any effort in. and he isn’t going to achieve anything, clearly. But, by default as the one actual human in an exhibition of grotesquery, we root for him.

I saw an Icelandic film in 2001. It was called Angels of the Universe (Englar alheimsins), and its soundtrack featured the first sign that Sigur Rós were getting boring. It chronicled one young man’s descent into insanity. Not only was his mind against him, but so too was the world. Catharsis came in suicide.

While Solondz must have wrapped on Storytelling by the time Angels… came out, it’s almost as if he had a subconscious urge to one-up the Icelandic wrist-slash-athon.

Led on by Toby during the making of the documentary (as with the short story in ‘Fiction’, it is irredeemably shit: not only are humans worthless in Solondz’ world, but so too is their art), Scooby eventually finds out there is to be a screening.

His car gets stolen, so he gets the subway to his destination. Once there, he sees Toby has set him up as the idiot he is. As with ‘Fiction’, there is a faceless audience of ghouls. Instead of pouring moral indignation on our protagonist, as they did in the first half, they laugh maniacally at this innocent fool.

Meanwhile, Mikey’s borderline-sociopathic conversational style has offended Consuela. Not only does she have to work her fingers to the bone (not literally – though I envisage that for the next Solondz film I see) for the family, but her grandson has been executed for rape and murder. Mikey is unsympathetic and tells Consuelo her grandson deserved to die. Well maybe he did.

Eventually, after Brady has been rendered comatose by an unnecessarily rough (American) football tackle, Mikey is allowed to try hypnotising Marty. When he’s under, Mikey instructs that he will now be the most important thing in his dad’s life, and that Consuelo – who snapped at him for the execution routine – should be fired because she’s lazy.

Incredibly, the hypnosis worked. Marty beamed whenever he saw Mikey, and he fired Consuelo. True to her family’s style, she reacts by gassing the Livingston family while they sleep, and while Scooby is returning from his big adventure in New York.

Scooby returns to find his family dead and Toby present, with cameraman in tow. Toby is anguished at what’s gone down, but Scooby’s had enough. With blank stare, he merely tells Toby his film was a hit, and the credits roll.

This is not a bad film. Well, not in as much as it was proficiently constructed. It’s a bad piece of drama, though. Solondz presents nothing to hope for: humanity, generally and specifically, is horrible. I suppose one moral conclusion offered here is that bad things happen to bad people. But, as with Happiness, the worst things happen to the one decent person.

I recommend this film in the spirit it was made in: sadistically. Solondz doesn’t care about you, or your enjoyment. And, like a sociopathic chain letter, I’m passing it on to you. There is nothing to hope for, and we’re all doomed. What a message. There is no depth to the film, but the worst kind of hollowness. I dissed Garden State for its empty, cod-intellectual smugness, but this is empty, cod-intellectual misanthropy. I’ll let you decide which is worse.

Finally, I know I have committed a cardinal sin of reviewing in this post, but it was intentional given the inherent unworthiness of the film. What intentional mistake did I make? Storytelling. Ho, ho, ho.

14 February 2009

Winter pics

I know, the iPhone camera isn't great. It can be coaxed into making some rather nice pictures if the context is just right. And if it's not, it can throw up some interesting effects. Consider it a visual accompaniment to the Susumu review.

13 February 2009

Susumu Yokota – Mother

Lo Recordings (2009)

Another writer's cut of a FACT review!

In the last month I have lazed on a beach under equatorial heat and braved the disappointingly feeble, yet perilously icy, British winter. With me in both scenarios (and a number betwixt) has been Yokota’s lovely Mother.

I don’t know how many memos, or albums, I have missed since Susumu was banging out hit after hit on the Leaf label, but I’m sure he used to be more ambient than this. You know the score: plaintive notes stretched over bone-white backgrounds that you listened to while your shaggy post-metal beard was in its philosophical goatee stage. You looked up from the current issue of Jalouse that you were idly thumbing in the Waterstone's coffee shop as a certain sonic detail caught your attention. And then back to your consideration of minimalist orange chairs.

But things change, and so does Yokota. It probably wasn't his intention to release a 1980s goth-pop album, but that's what he has done. More precisely, it sounds like a collection of late 1990s goth-metal ballads. Like if Paradise Lost circa One Second had dropped the guitars entirely and hired the singer from The Gathering. (I hate those multi-band comparisons too, but this is so goth-metal ballads.)

If you're not a fan of goth-metal – if not, why not? – don't let this description turn you off. Mother just as quickly recalls a less crystalline, but equally stillness-of-winter Vespertine. It has the forlorn beauty of a crisp January morning; the kind where it seems the cold has become so pronounced as to freeze the moment entirely. The thinnest twigs on trees live-pause with semi-frozen droplets just begging to plunge to the damp floor below as the closest thing to a sound is your breath escaping you in condensation. That kind of winter stillness.

There is even a hint of Herbert's relaxed jazztronica here. 'Love Tendrilises', in addition to an awkwardly poetic title, boasts keys and synth-string swells, as vocals sigh declarations of love in the daze of a thousand Sunday morning yawns. It's the Independent, under the covers, in a city-centre flat. Keep the Eggs Benedict runny, darling.

Though I try to avoid such a damning statement, even don't intend it as a slight, this is rather dinner party stuff. But you could level that accusation at Herbert, Frou Frou and Red Snapper, and they've put out some quality over the years.

Yokota avoids this with the Depeche-goes-doom of 'A Flower White' or 'Suture' with their respectively bizarre vocal melodies, percussion of distant approaching armies and the kind of general ambient menace that wouldn’t surprise you if it turned up on the next sunnO))) album. This kind of thing is certainly at odds with the pristine aesthetic the cover and Björkisms suggest. They certainly add depth and an element of surprise.

Occasionally the vocals grate, such as the too-high notes on 'A Flower White', but they are generally of such timbre to complement the synthesised naturalism, the warm romanticism, of the tones while never threatening to steal the show. They are a microcosm of Mother: a lovely – if emotionally confusing – way to spend an hour that edifies without changing your life.

12 February 2009

Carcass – ‘No Love Lost’

I don’t tend to like YouTube embeds: they mess with your scrolling, links are a bit neater, and they seem ever so slightly messy. But, I figure, I’m writing about this song and you may as well get a chance to hear what it is I’m banging on about. It's also a nice treat for Valentine's day, no?

‘No Love Lost’ was the first Carcass song I heard. It was on MTV and everything. Granted, it was Into the Pit, the post-Headbanger’s Ball black metal/death metal ghetto. But MTV nonetheless. It was a mid-paced metal song whose only real concession to death metal (let alone the grindcore the band was recording only half a decade earlier) was the vocal and lyric.

At first I even considered it rather tame. Then the brilliance of the songwriting really came through. As with the other classic Colin Richardson-produced ‘singles’ of the time – like ‘Replica’, ‘Davidian’ and ‘Old’ – this was a pit-friendly combination of great riffs, under-rated arrangement and a steady tempo that lent itself perfectly to unwinding on the dance floor.

But I’ll stop referring to it in past tense, because it still exists. It took me a long time, after hearing this song, to buy its host album Heartwork (January 1998 was when I finally succumbed to curiosity). It took longer still for my appreciation of the album to peak (to date, that’ll be late 2008).*

I’ll be banging on about the album in due course. For now, we focus on the single. For a long time, this was pretty much the only tune I spent any time with on Heartwork. Nowadays, I prefer various other songs off the record, but ‘No Love Lost’ always has that special effect. And surprisingly for me, the effect it has seems to be the effect it is supposed to have.

It begins with the intention of making some kind of statement. There’s a beat. A single, solitary beat. The snare shot punctuates the sound of the twin guitars jerking into action, like the speeding car in Hollywood films screeching away from a dead start. It’s simple but effective.

It works as a perfect shift in gears from either ‘Carnal Forge’ (on the album) or ‘Incarnate Solvent Abuse’ (when I saw them last year). I love it when album sequencing can emulate that rush of a new song that you usually only tend to get during a great live set. You’re thrilling to the modernised thrash-death hybrid of 1993 Carcass, and you get thrown by the juddering intro of ‘No Love Lost’. And you never really get used to it, which is what’s so engaging.

Enough about the first split-second of the song, though. The rest of it’s not bad. It took me this long to realise it’s actually in ¾ time. I’m not a musical theory dude, see. In fact it might not even be ¾, but I hear it in threes. I know, I sound like a proper idiot at this point, but I’ve started so I’ll finish.

While sticksman Ken Owen isn’t blasting his kit on this one like he had been doing in the past, he is still full of great little tricks. On the verses he switches, from line to line, from hitting the snare on the one-beat to the three-beat, with a fill to punctuate each time. I’ve recently started just listening to the drumming on the song, because I’m baffled by how simple and complex it simultaneously is.

(Clue for those who think I might eventually, finally, switch to the dark side, to Necroticism, in the great Carcass debate: simultaneous simplicity and complexity is the key to why Heartwork is such a stunning album. I compare it to Metallica’s ‘black’ album, and I do consider Ulrich’s drum skills rather overlooked, but the Liverpudlians’ album is nowhere near the simplification its streamlined sound suggests.)

Carcass solos were always something a bit special, too. I mentioned in the Necroticism post that Steer and Amott had this great way of switching the rhythm guitar lines as they switched the leads, and this is no exception. In fact, they seem to take a leaf out of Pantera’s book by using a sped-up version of backing guitars ‘Dimebag’ Darrell used on ‘Cowboys From Hell’. But just listen to it, and you’ll see what I mean. It’s funny how I’m now fixated on what’s going on behind the solo, but love solos more than ever. Maybe that’s why I do.

I should also mention the video, seeing as it’s at the top of this post. Not only am I not a musical theory bloke, but I’m also not a video director. Correct me if I’m wrong, but they seem to be using the same ‘colouring in back and white film’ technique that everyone went nuts for in that Nirvana video. And this was the same year!

While ‘Heart Shaped Box’ was effective in the way it summarised the hyper-unreality of Cobain’s life and stature at that point, ‘no Love Lost’ makes its own point, though offering less opportunity to refer to Baudrillard. I have become vaguely fixated with early 1990s heavy metal culture in the north of England. Specifically Yorkshire.

Maybe it comes from a youth (mis-)spent at Bradford Rio’s, or from the fact that the scene must be the least glamorised in all of metal. Or maybe the music from that era is just growing on me.** But I’m fixated either way. Not fixated enough to like my fellow metal fan at the recent Damnation festival, but that was a bit too real. I mean I wondered where good old fashioned, pale, lank haired, skinny socially maladjusted characters sans post-metal beards got to. Transpires they’re still knocking about.

But that eerie Technicolor in this video imbues north-western vocalist Jeff Walker with a moribund paleness that sums up a scene in one frame. Especially set against the video’s too-lush greenery that figures in a Dales/Lakes/Pennines-metal nostalgia trip.

While the lyrics are the antithesis of romantic (‘without emotion, your heartstrings played / Strummed and severed to the tune of a tragic serenade’, Walker growls), the visual is nothing less than Romantic. 1990s English heavy metal’s tongue in cheek horror show was a modern equivalent of Gothic literature tearing away from Romanticism in a drawn out hysteria of self-spooking shrieks and giggles.

Not to say it’s comedy music, or even particularly ironic. This area of metal was as serious as any before or since. But there is that deadpan humour pervading the whole thing, a black storm cloud with the smiley face; looming, glooming, over proceedings. ‘No Love Lost’, a combination of visual beauty, sonic malice and grizzly humour, embodies an era in less than four minutes.

* Is it too late to finish writing that ‘fave albums in 2008 that weren’t from 2008’? I think not.
** Think I’m kidding? Just wait til I bang on about My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost and Anathema.

11 February 2009

Beirut – March of the Zapotec

Pompeii Recordings (2009)

As per usual, I gots lots on the go, blogwise, but nothing's getting through the door. Three Stooges syndrome, innit. So here's a thing I did for FACT. It'a bloke who calls himself Beirut, and here's the full story. Note absence of synth-pop dissage in the FACT edit... And I'll not suggest they have any kind of agenda there.


Zach Condon returns with his third album, which should please fans of his idiosyncratic take on maudlin indie. The prolific youth (hey, he’s younger than Back to the Future) opened his account with Gulag Orkestar. It was something different in a world of sound-alikes and bores like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Danielson and the Decemberists.

One would listen to a song like ‘Postcards from Italy’ and rejoice at the effective pseudo-individualisation on offer. Sure, it wasn’t something actually new, but here was someone making an effort to distance his sound from those around him. And for that he was rightly applauded. The album was vaguely reminiscent of Neutral Milk Hotel’s ‘the end of indie’ classic In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, though it was hard to put a finger on why.

Lacking the overt pop melodies of Jeff Mangum’s band of musical wonders, or the naïve optimism in the face of insurmountable adversity of its themes, the comparison must largely have been due to a combination of the relatively novel instruments used and the fact that, hey, here was someone doing things differently to everyone else.

We fast-forward three years, and Condon is no longer a teenager. Away from the comfort of 4AD, he is now releasing music on his own Pompeii imprint. And, technically, this isn’t a new album at all.

March of the Zapotec refers only to the first half of this release. After around 18 minutes, the artist changes. We are presented with Holland, by Realpeople: Zach doing electronics in his bedroom. Give us a snare rush!

The meat, for most listeners, will be March of the Zapotec. The fleeting, introductory, ‘El Zocalo’ eases us into the record, before festivities proper begin with ‘La Llorona’. I say ‘festivities’ but this funereal piece, lovely though it is, is far from festive.

Condon headed south of the border, to the Mexican village of Teotitlan del Valle, where he hooked up with The Jimenez Band. The EP’s ‘Zapotec’ is the dialect the Oaxacan band speaks.

It is a tribute to Condon’s musical fingerprint that he has managed to make this Mexican band sound eerily adherent to the ‘loneliest shepherd in the Balkans’ aesthetic he has established for himself.

Beirut rewards close listening, though, as the depth of the arrangement quickly becomes apparent. The Jimenez Band provides more than ample backing for what is the real draw of a Beirut album: Condon’s affectingly honest vocal timbre.

There are, of course, reminders that this is a Mexican band, such as the occasional machine gun trumpet lines, and the insistent strumming of what is presumably a vihuela. While the instruments vary from Beirut releases past, the mood remains. For all the up-tempo diversions and rhythmically powerful percussion (one for the headphones, this), the pervading mood is one of gloom.

It is a different kind of melancholy to the one we’re used to. Allow yourself to picture the band and man, playing together in Southern Mexico, and the music filters through it. It’s almost an extended eulogy from a relatively untouched area of the country for the countless drug war victims currently being slain at the American border.

Admittedly, the lyrics fail to evince this, so I’m content with it being mere flight of fancy. It is heartening that the music is so illustrative that it provides such a backdrop to one’s own thoughts. It’s a shame, then, that we are brought back down to terra firma with a bump for the second half of the CD.

Holland is a bit of a disco diversion. It’s tacked on because it probably wouldn’t sell as a fully-fledged EP on its own. ‘My Wife, Lost in the World’ has its moments, largely in the vocal harmonies Condon employs effectively. Otherwise, we’re left with the quasi-Boards Of Canada of ‘Venice’. It ends up sounding like a lazy Beirut remix anyway, as the brass makes a return to the mix.

By the time we get to ‘No Dice’, you want to applaud Condon for the effort, but you can’t really. If you’ve heard múm, Plaid or Dykehouse, then keep listening to them. I’m a strong believer that the synth-pop renaissance should largely have been confined to turn-of-decade electroclash, and this is strong evidence in favour of that position.

Holland isn’t bad. It’s just not very good. I’m not really sure who it’s geared toward. One would imagine it’s for people who lap up anything Condon does, because those specifically attracted to the melancholy organic flow of Beirut will find little solace here.

And its inclusion on this CD, while a fair way to pass the time, besmirches the good work done on March of the Zapotec. It pains even me to say this, but here we have an album of two halves. The album has two names, two identities. It might have been easier to tea-leaf a Manics title and just call it From Despair to Where?

02 February 2009

Earth packaging fetish: widescreen edition!

So I finally, finally got hold of the Earth album from last year, after everyone was banging on about it. It sold out at source very quickly, which led to yours truly searching, in a panic, for other copies. None in shops or the usual internet places. Someone recommended Rough Trade, and they had it in stock. Four quid more than at distro, but that's still better than the average eBay price of £30.

Then nothing happened. Turns out Rough Trade didn't actually have it in stock, but their idiotic website failed to register that little detail. So then I found a French shop that had it. Or were they Dutch? Anyway, they were very pleasant, but the postage was nuts. See, this 'bible' edition is a record of some heft.Figured I'd just leave it. A friend of mine got the CD over Christmas, so why not just rip it to lossless files?

But Southern distro opened back up after the festive season, and I was browsing their myriad wares. 'Why not see what Earth they have?', I asked myself. So I did. And what should I find there, bizarrely back in stock? If you saw the top of the page, you won't be surprised to learn the answer is 'the new Earth album'. Well how about that. I emailed those fine people to enquire about how this miraculously reappeared in stock, but they've not got back to me. Fair enough.

As usual with these records, I haven't had a chance to listen to the whole thing yet (story of my life), but what I heard was just lovely. And better than lossless files. Not quite as monumental as HEX, but little is. Can't wait to see them. Oh, and some of the riffs on here are very early 1990s Seattle. Like, amazingly so, just cleaned up a lot as suggested by the current Earth aesthetic. But really, I think it's track three? Proper fucking grunge.

Love it!

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