2014’s Top 10

One sentence reviews:

  1. White Suns – Totem
    – Viscerally violent, a most nihilistic destruction of the punk format.
  2. cipping. – CLPPNG
    – Wild noise hip-hop done with the utmost intensity and control.
  3. The Austerity Program – Beyond Calculation
    – Mathematical noise rock with its heart in Shellac-influenced punk
  4. Dark Times – Give
    – Driving Scandi-punk, a bit of nihilism, a bit of good fuck you.
  5. Full of Hell & Merzbow – s/t
    – Intensely precise grindcore with a load of crazy shit from Merzbow
  6. Wonk Unit – Nervous Racehorse
    – Pop punk with a poetic heart
  7. Merkabah – Moloch
    post-hardcore with jazz sax. Wot?
  8. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
    – A shouty tranny with a massive heart, a few problems & a f*cking great band
  9.  Cuz – Tamatebako
    – pop weirdoness goodness from some bloke from the Go! Team and Mike Watt from Minutemen/fIREHOSE/Stooges.
  10. Hard Girls – A Thousand Surfaces
    – Art pop punk, with an excellent line in doing not-what’s-expected at exactly the right moment.

I also wish to note I have listened to these albums, but haven’t taken them in sufficiently to acknowledge their brilliance in the list:

  • Busdriver – Perfect Hair
  • Milo – A Toothpaste Suburb

Best gigs I done gone to in 2014 –

  • 12-02 – Sons of Kemet at Rich Mix, London
  • 24-02 – Lizzo at Birthdays, London
  • 09-04 – Mike Watt & The Missingmen at the Green Door Store, Brighton
  • 04-07 – Black Sabbath at Hyde Park, London
  • 05-11 – Melt Yourself Down w/ James Chance at Village Underground, London
  • 18-11 – Colin Stetson at St John on Bethnal Green, London
  • 19-11- Against Me! at The Electric Ballroom, London
  • 08-12 – Zu at the Underworld, London

Sparks are playing the Barbican in a few days, and I expect that’ll be added.

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?

Reevaluating BIG BOI – Sir Lucious Left Foot … The Son of Chio Dusty (Def Jam, 2010)

I love a love/hate affair with HipHop, really. I love much of the music, but essentially want it to have the ethos frequently found in punk – and this is frequently not the case. Especially with mainstream hiphop, the lyrical content seems to be espousing a view of the world at total opposition to one that appeals to me. And, why I look towards mainstream hiphop to echo that DIY, all-in-it-together is beyond me.

People who say there’s no good rock music anymore are essentially just listening to the radio, expecting the twats running the labels to have any interest in pushing music that might have some artistic merit. Bollocks – there is loads of great music out there, just don’t look to the radio to provide it. SO, why on earth would I think mainstream hiphop would provide anything that mainstream guitar music doesn’t? I’m a fool.

And, so it was the fool that purchased this music. Rather than following the lines that led to more experimental, interesting things of the underground hiphop, I went ‘eh, I’ll give this a go.’ And, it leaves me cold.

The beats are all supersmooth, high-quality synthetics – like really high-grade false breasts. I mean, this stuff sounds like a rather fine cut but ridald-coloured suede, satin and silk suit. And lots of cheap gold jewellery, adorning everything. And some of the music is excellent – General Patton’s church chorus set to hyper highhats is rather grand; as is Turns Me On low-key smooth funk backing.

And there’s no getting around the fact that Big Boi has what those in the hiphop community call ‘flow’ – words just trip off his tongue like they were nothing. Smooth like butter, baby, like butter, as A Tribe Called Quest once said.

Musically, this is an aesthetically pleasing thing. The beats are smooth, the rhymes more so. But, what of the lyrical content of a music where lyrics are so central to the outcome? Well, apparently Tangerine ‘shakes it like a tambourine’, where he then says ‘I put her on a plate until she no longer awake / They just lay fast asleep when I hit ’em with the snake’. So, perhaps I’m reading this wrong, but Big Boi, you rape women when after they fall asleep at your place? Nice.

That lyric is enough to put me off Big Boi for life – that shit’s fucked up. Not to mention the other numerous shit outhere. Where am I on this record? Essentially, I feel let down by the press that, in 2010, didn’t give enough of a fuck on such issues to ever mention such things and in 2013 have been reluctantly pressed into struggling to admit the date-rape themes of such dickbag’s, but only when they’re pressed on such issue.

So, fuck labels, fuck mainstream hiphop, and fuck this record. As Scroobius Pip (although, I feel he sometimes treds onto being a bit sexist with his vids and images) remarked:

Thou shalt remember that guns, bitches and bling where never part of the four elements / and never will be

Or, as Saul Williams said:

Telegram to Hip Hop: Dear Hip Hop .(stop). This shit has gone too far. (stop). Please see that mixer and turntables are returned to Kool Herc. (stop). The ghettos are dancing off beat. (stop). The master of ceremonies have forgotten that they were once slaves and have neglected the occasion of this ceremony. (stop). Perhaps we should not have encouraged them to use cordless microphones, for they have walked too far from the source and are emitting a lesser frequency (stop). Please inform all interested parties that cash nor murder have been added to the list of elements. (stop). We are discontinuing our current line of braggadocio, in light of the current trend in “realness”. (stop). As an alternative, we will be confiscating weed supplies and replacing them with magic mushrooms, in hopes of helping n****s see beyond their reality. (stop). Give my regards to Brooklyn.

Or, as De La Soul put it back in 1994:

Rating: lyrics make a real difference, especially in a style set so much around lyrics. So basically, fuck Big Boi. It’s also, as ever, heartbreaking to see the likes of George Clinton and Janelle Monae involved in this pile of misogynistic bollocks. Lesson: don’t bother with crap you feel the ethics of are questionable .

PS. Sole did a song with a better backing track than General Patton, and the lyric content is a much improvement:

 

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.

Revaluating DUB COLOSSUS – in a Town Call Addis (2008, Real World)

Part I: There’s a line in the Smashing Pumpkins song Zero that equates cleanliness with emptiness. This isn’t the intention, perhaps, but this is a useful connotation for this review:

Emptiness is loneliness, loneliness is cleanliness
Cleanliness is Godliness, and God is Empty just like me.

Thus, cleanliness may be interpreted as emptiness.

The high-point in dub as an artistic music form was arguably the 1970s. I am so convined by this I have a wager with myself that anything released by Island during the mid-1970s is gold: it has not yet led me astray. Dub is understood (by me) as a rather echoy, extremely-bass heavy, sparse music based building on the rhythmes of reggae, but with much studio trickery involved. It was, perhaps, the first genre in which the producer was the main artist in the final product. Or, perhaps, studio-trickery is the star here.

One of the best features was the great big dirty bass – Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry intentionally recorded all the bass way in the red (if I remember this correctly), causing a throbbing overdrive, an excitement in an otherwise stoned out music that was about floating. And what a sound it is. Golly gee, what a sound.

Part II: I have an enduring fascination with what may be called ‘world music’. This awful, sickening, stomach-turning term is frequently placed in front of non-Western music that is sold to Westerners, and, in many ways, is sold as ‘authentic’ folk music from particular places. But one thing strings much of it together.

It’s sickening, saccharin, smooth sound. No boom, no overdrives, no in-the-reds, no personality of any sort whatsoever shall be left in the music in question.

So, how does Dub Colossus mix this traditionally dirty music of dub with the traditionally moisturised-beyond-belief sound of world music? Well. It essentially uses dub as a world music, and through this making it smooth.

The world music – folk sound – that is layered on top is Ethiopian music with a smattering of jazz. Some great sounding vocalist subdued by sounding bored and calling it in; some smooth sax and. See, dub, Ethiopian folk, jazz is a bloody exciting description. And there are very nice things about this music, but it’s so bloody smooth, so knowing, so composed that it’s incredibly dull.

This is music for middle class hippies, and only the middle class hippies that don’t smoke weed anymore.

Rating: cleanliness is emptiness. When will I bloody learn?

Track Review: Metallica ‘Lords of the Summer’

In anticipation of their Glastonbury headline, metal titans (that’s such a music-journalist phrase) Metallica have released another demo version of a song they released last year as a demo (‘garage’) version, which was previously leaked from their live shows.

Anyway, it’s probably the best song they’ve put out in a while. But, having this track in isolation and relatively low-key production (and no fucking stupid overdone mastering) allows us to listen and analyse to elements of the band quite closely. Things to take away from this song:

  • James Hetfield can still write a good riff, but he reverts back to hard rock too easily
  • The chorus is good, though? And some great riffing, generally. It’s a fun number. Hope remains. And their set at Glastonbury may be the first thing of Glastonbury I’ll ever watch.
  • The genius’ of song structure (see the entire of … And Justice For All) reached for, but not grasped.
  • They don’t know how to edit themselves (what’s the silly bit at 4.48 about? Just cut it out and go into the solo!). There’s far too much guff on it. It’s a 4-5, 6 minute song. Tops.
  • Kirk Hammet has forgot how to structure solos, but still makes nice sounds here and there.
  • These Lars Ulrich is a hard rock drummer trying to play heavy metal.
  • They’re trying to move back to thrash, then, but much of their heart seems to be in hard rock. Which is fine, if you want hard rock, but most Metallica fans want thrash, really.

Also, the chorus does make me want to listen to Lord of the Dance:

I DANCED ON THE FRIDAY WHEN THE SKY TURNED BLACK

IT’S HARD TO DANCE WITH THE DEVIL ON YOUR BACK

Write heavier lyrics than that, Hetfield!

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.

Whither Shipping Costs?

It’s hit me, being into bands from across the pond who don’t have large distribution deals, that there’s something rather strange implications about it. I remember not being able to find DIY records in the UK or Italy in the late 1990s, when I was a teenager. When my parents went off to the US, they’d go armed with a list in which, I’m told, would make the occasional record store type question whether they were responsible parents or not. It was frustrating, but it did make those records and the occasional visit more exciting. But, it also meant that the music scene’s were a mystery – where do you find things in a city you have metaphysical access to

Then, with the growth of the internet, that list disappeared. In the 00s – p&p from the US was frequently dirt cheap. You could access music from anywhere and buy it from anywhere and it was, I guess, cheap. But accessible.

Now, it’s back to being expensive. Just this morning, I was looking at buying the AUSTERITY PROGRAM’s new record Beyond Calculation (Controlled Burn Records) (I want to support the band in what ways I can), except that it costs more to ship a record than the record itself. I don’t want to give the postal people more money than the fucking band! I first noticed it with the Sargent House record label. To buy from them at the gig requires waiting for that gig (do Sargent House send out distro stuff with their bands? Have they thought about it?), and that’s not always the most convenient of gig, too.
If memory serves (and it occasionally doesn’t), this shipping cost saw a massive increase last year, making once quite happy purchases quite expensive. The bands hurt, the record labels hurt, the listeners hurt.
Listening to mp3s or streaming is not the same experience as the physical item. It just isn’t – materiality matters. I’m just wondering about the long term implications for the DIY scene(s), where music struggles to spread amongst (the) scene(s) that are still very much involved in physical objects to enjoy music. Will things become more insular, where foreign bands become more special? Will people look towards local scenes for something new? Will geography matter again?

White Suns – Totem (2014, The Flenser)

IT WAXES AND WANES

Jesus H Christ on a bike, what a fucking album. It’s not good practice just to say something is good – I get really fucking fed up with it whenever anybody else does it. And, it’s just not good practice. But, this album is mammoth. Totem makes a sound that conjures an image of someone trapped down a boarded-up, dried-up well: hollow and almost pitch-black but with the occasional ray of blaring, blinding white light casting through the cracks onto the poor bastard who has clawed their fingers to the knuckle trying to get out, who can now only screech and gnaw with his stumps.

Or, at least, that’s what it seems like to me. I could be wrong.

Noise guitars, vocals and drums is what’s on offer, but it’s not what you get, exactly. This is record is nihilistic at its very core.  It’s dark, dissonant, and doesn’t care, or maybe it just can’t care. The sound is one of atonalist feedback occasionally punctured by hectic, hateful, loud “songs”. Strangely sensitive relentless drums; occasionally howling yelling’s and occasionally alienated spoken word. Basically, the sound of intense screams piercing the sobbing of the person trapped down the well.

Some might call the noise soundscape-like, but I don’t think that, that is not it’s purpose. Its purpose seems more like to isolate the listener – you’re all alone on this trip, and this trip isn’t fun. Just you and the noise. What’s more, the monsters (songs?) that leap out of the darkness at you aren’t actually there – they’re figments of your imagination. But, perhaps that’s worse than them being real. These songs will scare the shit out of you and return to darkness before you know you’ve been bludgeoned. The ethereal noise they make is only the parts of your experience of the well when you’re awake.

But, there’s something absolutely compelling about it – you keep returning to it. The dark hole is a comfort, the monsters are your friends.

Really, the only apt response after listening to this record is to find yourself bleeding from your ears afterwards.

Rating: This is a nihilistic, noise rock based in despair. And I’ve probably over blown it, but this is nevertheless one hell of a record and easily one of the most stunning things this year. I’m saluting this one.

MY GOD’S FACE IS MADE OF MIRRORS

MY GOD’S FACE LOOKS LIKE MY FATHERS