Mastodon – metal for readers of The Guardian

Mastodon are one of the most successful metal bands of recent times in many ways. At least critically, they’re endorsed by most of the magazines that cater for the scene, plus they also seem to have the liberal-arts press on their side. And they play venues like Brixton Academy. Yes, they are approved by the types of “music journalists” who write for the Guardian.

As a fan of metal music, I have never enjoyed Mastodon. I have sampled their complex, detailed, progressive heavy ponderings several times and it always leaves me decidedly flaccid. Nope, nothing. If anything, it encourges my penis to shrink like when its really cold. Not that I’m a fan of music generally labelled “prog”, anyway. Mastodon are sort of the stoner-friendly equivalent to those insipid spermicidal music-twat-geeks Dream Theatre.

But now, Mastodon are back with another album. And here it goes again: metal for the middle classes – we don’t care if its enjoyable, as long as we can put it on our shelf amongst the fucking World Music collection and fucking Sting.

STING!
FUCKING STING!

This is metal where complex idea matters over flow; where elaborate time signatures destroy groove; where thoughts are thoughts, always played but never felt; where riffs are lost. Where Soundgarden’s intention to get on mainstream radio sounded good, but not complex enough. Remain in the middle of the road, but let’s just bring in some ideas from Pink Floyd, or some other overblown shit-specked flatulence. Nothing from King Crimson, mind – some of that shit was actually interesting. No, this is progressive where progressive means a genre and not an attitude towards the art in question.

This is conservative prog.

As I write this, I am listening to Mastodon, and FUCKING WHY? THIS IS BOLLOCKS, just bollocks. BOLLOCKS. This is metal as anti-Black Sabbath, metal for people who never understood the sheer joy in the lead riff of Black Sabbath; who think early Metallica is just juvenile; who think Motorhead are good, but could do with more time changes and more melody. This is metal for the anti-metal, made for people who paint their homes beige; who buy wholesale into post-modern academia; who don’t question Michele Foucault; who buys everything on BBC’s the Culture Show; who think Alan Yentob isn’t at all a bit of a pretentious knob; who read the Guardian and aren’t at all embarrassed and depressed by the fact it’s the only major faintly liberal-left voice in the mainstream in Britain, and who think their media journalists aren’t essentially failed wankers ‘cos they write about metal for the fucking Guardian.

Take your prog and shove it.

Weezer – Back to the Shack

The first two Weezer albums are two of the finest exponents of American pop/rock music ever produced thus far. They are impossible to turn off, and absolutely joy to listen to. I quite enjoy the green album, think Pork and Beans was a great song, but I haven’t really paid that much attention to their catalogue since the green album. Their music seemed to go off the boil for me a bit, and most of the songs didn’t quiet connect.

And, this seems to be a wider feeling – two perfect albums, and a few good songs since then but nothing really that mouth-wateirng. With the new single, Back to the Shack, Rivers Cuomo seems to acknowledge this.

Here, the focus is on big riffs, and bigger chorus – ones ordered off of a menu for a sing-a-long. And, really, there’s nothing bad about the song, but it does feel a bit as if they’re phoning it in. Perhaps this perception is not helped by the honest, if rather depressing lyrics.

No one comes off that well, here. Cuomo is saying that the audience were unwilling to go along with his escipades into other sorts of music, while he is criticising himself for not clinging to these unmoving bunch of luddities:

Sorry guys, I didn’t realise/that I needed you so much. I thought I’d get a new audience, I forgot that disco sucks.

The chorus features the line “rockin’ out like it’s ’94”. While the second verse is more personal and more reflective, saying he’s grown up as a person (and also features what I take to be a The Who reference in a semi-bass fuzz break), it’s a sad proclamation. ‘What’s the point in trying to change, to progress’ the song seems to ask; why bother experimenting; sorry guys, we were wrong, no hard feelings, hey? – even if the song does sneakily feature an interesting solo and the chorus stole a synth sound from Gary Numan.

This is not a reclamation of the glory of Weezer, but rather a defeated “fuck it, we tried, but what’s the point in fighting conservativism?” I may not have paid much attention to the last few years of the Weezer catalogue, but I never thought an attempt to reclaim their youth was a good idea – is this a musical midlife crisis? The sonic equivalent of buying a motorbike?

Whenever this sort of thing happens (and it happens quite often) I find referring to Gorilla Biscuits’ ‘New Direction’:

hats off to bands that change.
Good luck, go your own way.
Why play for us, if your heart’s not in it?

And, while I am intentionally misinterpreting the lyrics of the song as a whole, I always found these lines was pertinent to both bands and the audience: why bother playing that stuff if you’re heart’s not in it, you’re just cashing in and that’s not cool. But, also it is always a shame about the conservatism of crowds – whatever fuckwits say, the black album is a superb piece of music; the two Michele Graves albums of the Misfits are great; and there’s nothing wrong with a band experimenting and doing weird things. What’s the fucking point in the 7th album of the same thing, over and over again?

FIDLAR – FIDLAR (Witchita, 2013)

Those dumb punk kids will buy anything.

Well, perhaps.

There’s something a resurgence of punk and hardcore that doesn’t seem to come from ‘the scene’, and is usually triumphed by non-scene media – which is suspicious. This is not to say that the ‘scene’ should be the ‘approved’ way to be recognised as a punk band, just that I’m suspicious of ‘punk’ I hear through, say, Pitchfork, than I am through a mate, a Facebook post from a associate, or even PunkNews.org. Basically, media-first, rather than word-of-mouth, seems to be akin to hype.

And there are things that stink of hype in ‘the scene’ (don’t ask me to define it), as well. I mean, what the fuck is OFF! about? They suck. The Circle Jerks sort of sucked, too. And the only Black Flag album I’ve listened to that find remotely interest is Slip It In. Bad Brains? Bunch of homophobic wank – that first album is balls, too. Maybe you had to be there.

Anyway, enough with the bitching. Okay one more, but this is where I was leading – Cerebral Ballzy are an appalling, terrible, awful band. Hyped by the media as a return to hardcore’s roots. Bollocks is it – they may play hardcore music, but like thrash metal’s return in the mid ’00s, it’s devoid anything that made the original scene interesting. This time round, both thrash and hardcore, were shadows of their former self, devoid of reason, devoid of mission. Faux anger, faux nihilism, faux fun. They took the Beavis and Butthead laughter too seriously, and thought it was all a joke.

FIDLAR sum up the problem with these bands quite well. The opener features the chorus, ‘I drink cheap beer, so what? Fuck you.’ So what, indeed, so why should I fucking care?

But FIDLAR are a bit different. Unlike their market-buddies in Cerebal Ballzy, FIDLAR can write a good tune. The lyrics are embarrasing, but the noise is nice. This doesn’t mean I think much of their punk stance – that doesn’t work, that doesn’t sell for shit. But, as kids who like some loud guitars, they’re pretty good.

The sound is scratchy guitars playing mostly power chords with the occasional quite dumb lead, horesly shouted vocals, the bass does nothing interesting, and the drums are quiet in the mix, but are played loudly. No songs outstay their welcome – it’s all over pretty quick. And, as I said, they write some good pop tunes.

Rating: this ain’t punk. It’s basically some rock’n’roll-based indie with wannabe nihilistic lyricism. Again, this isn’t to say it’s bad – it just is what it is. But, I think enough time has passed to see past the marketting bollocks and actually find some enjoyment in it just as it is for itself.

Is Crowdfunding about the Free Market or Community?

Fuck. This writing this blog just made me realise that this is essentially commenting …

The internet is a place where hype is most definitely abound, particularly on the more political implications. To many, the internet was going to set everybody free  – knowledge is power, and the Internet is potentially the greatest source of knowledge mankind has ever known. These days, these people are generally known as Internet Utopinianists.

The implication was that the Internet allows a democratisation of the world – no longer do we need record labels, as there’s no need for the middleman between the band and its fans. And this, on the surface, seemed true to some extent with the rise of the Crowdsourcing phenomenon. This week has seen a story of the Foo Fighters agreeing to play a gig in a town in the US they haven’t played for 16 years after the gig was Crowdsourced. I saw a (bloody awful) gig at The Electric Ballroom by the Swedish world music-psychedelic-funksters Goat last year that was intiated by Songkick’s Detour.

All this comes to mind due to an article featured on the Guardian website casting doubt that all this (and more) is actually free-market capitalism:

inside beats the libertarian free-market clank of the Silicon Valley culture in which it was forged. It is part of the same impulse as Uber or Airbnb, where upstart companies use the language of communality to speak individualistic capitalism: when using one of these services you’re in a one-on-one transaction away from the rest of society. How uncomfortable you are about this probably depends on how traditionally leftwing you are, but the broader point is that crowdfunding prioritises isolationism over plurality, and that can affect the kind of art that reaches us.

Maybe, although I’m uncomfortable with the idea that because I buy direct from a band I am somehow directly conspiring and agreeing with free market capitalism, a system I generally abhore. Is there no other way to conceive this relationship?

Frank Turner, the one man Mumford & Son, got into a bit of a kafuffle last year with some of the liberal left Guardianista types for standing up as a Liberatarian who believed in economic liberty as well as social libertarianism. He said his values were the values of punk. But, free market values (economic libertarianism) are not the values of a punk that I understand as that is only understanding the value of something as a commodity. That the items of music have no value past what people are willing to pay for them.

I reject this. The economic relationship between band and fan, to me, is much more about supporting bands directly – there is the unfortunate necessity (well, if you have any sense of supporting the music you like) of an economic transaction. But conceived only as that, it hides away the real thing going on: a celebration of culture, despite it’s economic value.

Ben Beaumont-Thomas writes that

Some campaigns drift into exploitation, like Amanda Palmer’s recruiting of unpaid musicians, and abuse their funders by paying them back only in their own satisfaction and glee. Ultimately it depends on the funder whether they are content with the transaction

But, that’s due to Amanda Palmer’s shitiness, not the fans who want to celebrate what Amanda Palmer has done for them, as fans of her output. And – ‘paying funders back only in their own satisfaction and glee’ – what better for a fan than seeing/hearing the music that you want to see? Beaumont-Thomas seems to completely misunderstand why people like music : this is not a rational deal, darling. This is love.

Personally, I find the threat of the free market issue is different from the above mentioned suggestions.  What about new bands and musicians? What about experimentalism within music? Who’s going to pay for that to start out that when most of those fuckers just want to see the Foo Fighters, Amanda Palmer or some other act that made its name through major labels, major advertising, and major radio stations? Perhaps music is now in more of an mainstream/underground apartheid than its ever been – the rich get richer with the Crowdsourcing, recycling dead ideas until the shitty, flattened, beaten corpse can’t given anymore and yet people still turn out: while innovative, interesting, passionate, experimental bands reach a crowd of hundreds around the globe for 20 years until a cultural event hails them as legends and they play a sold-out Barbican. Until then, it’s all cold, tinned beans, shitty jobs, and an album every 3 years.