Friday, June 26, 2009
Check out this latter-day "Billie Jean," a stunning piece of conceptual theater. The exaltation-of-the-Glove bit at the beginning is like some sort of bizarre occult ritual. (Note the insane sensitivity of the mikes--the unlocking of the case is deafening!) Now that I think about it, I had no real sense that MJ was still bringing it this hard onstage in '01. The only time I saw him live was when I was five, and as I recount in the Volume's collective tribute, I was absolutely terrified by the loudness. He's obviously lip-synching in the clip above--as he is in almost every live vid I've checked out last night and today--but it doesn't really matter. What's amazing about this is how clearly it illustrates what he was in the minds of fans: They literally appear to be beholding a deity. Every audience member's expression indicates a sublime mixture of disbelief and sheer joy that you'd never get to see in an everyday context. It makes you realize that no one but a pop megastar can elicit this sort of adoration. Kind of a weird thought, maybe even a disheartening one--if MJ's music weren't so staggeringly awesome. All proper respects to him, and farewell.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
[Bone Awl frontman He Who Gnashes Teeth; photo by Laal Shams.]
As you can read over at the Volume, I was mightily impressed by Bone Awl's set at Fontana's tonight. Grim, driving and exceedingly creepy, without even a hint of tedious theatrics. Having only heard a few of the records (and having generally been way more impressed by the song titles--"Meaningless Leaning Mess," "Tollund Man," "Pentagram Clitoris," etc.--and lyrics than by the actual music), I was previously at a loss re: this band's gargantuan cachet within the metal blogosphere. It made sense tonight: This stuff may be rudimentary as hell, but these guys really, really mean it. I got a very passionate and sincere vibe from them.
One thing Bone Awl drives home is that black metal at its essence isn't really metal: It's punk. Obviously Darkthrone has made that notion very explicit on several of its recent albums. But seeing Bone Awl live really made me realize what a huge gulf there is between this sort of primitive black metal and other styles of extreme metal, namely death metal. In the popular imagination, the two styles are linked via satanic imagery and the like, and they did both come into their own right around the same time (late '80s/early '90s), but black metal is ALL mood while death metal is about half mood and half chops (or in Morbid Angel's case, ALL mood and ALL chops, simultaneously).
Chopswise, these Bone Awl guys would barely be able to hold their own in a middle-school hardcore band let alone a big-league death-metal outfit. In particular, I was struck by how unpolished the drummer was. He utterly lacked the economy of motion that even the most minimally trained player would exhibit. Just pure, awkward energy, muscling through these caveman oompah punk beats. No blasting, just midtempo chug. And yet, virtuosity is a dumb measuring stick in the face of something as evil and vibe-heavy as Bone Awl.
Can't wait to re-spin my "Undying Glare" 7", or the "All Has Red" cassette I picked up at the show, the latter of which features tonight's awesome closing number, entitled--wait for it--"I Feel Tension."
P.S. Didn't have much room to mention the other bands on the bill at the Volume, so I thought I'd at least name-check them here. Ashdautas sported some very garish corpsepaint and tapped into a respectably raw and evocative atmospheric-black-metal vibe--at times it reminded me of a more primitive-sounding Krallice. (Check out the oft-aforementioned Volume review for a pic of Naeth, the amiable Ashdautas frontman, showing off his spiked armband.) While Canada's Akitsa just kind of sounded like a cross between Ashdautas and Bone Awl, but less convincing than either. Re: the latter band, I'm afraid I was more interested in the members' uniformly short and angular haircuts than by their music. I'd like to hear more on record, though, because I know many folks dig 'em.
Friday, June 12, 2009
As you can see above, Marshall Allen is a blast live. Via the Volume, here is my review of his performance at Vision Festival XIV on Wednesday, augmented by a collage of pics by Laal Shams.
Monday, June 08, 2009
There's been a fair amount of eulogizing/stock-taking/tying-up-of-loose-ends going on re: Khanate and if this were a lesser band, I might be a little fatigued by the hubbub over the demise of a project that only really existed for five years. But the devotion evident in both Phil Freeman's killer Voice homage and this remarkable interview with bassist/sound-manipulator James Plotkin are wholly justified. This was a special entity.
Strolling after work today, I took in the entirety of "Every God Damn Thing," the sprawling 33-plus-minute concluding track off Clean Hands Go Foul, a new posthumous Khanate album on Hydra Head that seems to officially close the book on the band. I struggle with words here. I want to say things like "horrifying" or "scary" or "fucked up" or what have you, but those seem like placeholders for what I really think and feel about this music.
There is a very heavy element of abstraction to what Khanate did, zeroed in on and unpacked excellently in the Plotkin interview above. He discusses how the band's utter abandonment of tempo made it unique in the metal universe, and indeed, it's a herculean thing these musicians did, to just toss meter out the window. Again I struggle, though: What is the unique achievement? What is it that makes this stuff feel so bone-deep? Because it's not simply the freeformness. You could call "Every God Damn Thing" a "soundscape," I guess, peg it as some sort of ambient-metal drift piece. But that's just a bummer as well.
Let's call it cave music, then. A feeling of humidity, of sad, sad delirium in Stephen O'Malley's absent-minded wisps of melody. And these creaking, dragging sounds in the background. Like a mind limping. There's that line in Apocalypse Now, when Martin Sheen's character recalls entering Kurtz's chamber: "It smelled like slow death in there." That's what "Every God Damn Thing" sounds like. (Another movie that springs to mind is Blair Witch Project. A line from the Clean Hands track "In That Corner"--"I made that corner for you to stand in!"--makes me think of that film's unforgettable last shot. O'Malley's humid guitar again sets the mood: a grisly, epic sadness.)
I also think of the phrase "horror vacui," for some reason. Not really a fear of open space, but rather a fearful open space, this awful sparseness, a drift of crazed thoughts, shouting. Nothing to respond. You imagine vocalist Alan Dubin, brilliantly one-dimensional on "Every God Damn Thing" as always, locked in a basement, just clanking toward madness. Raving. Shrieking things about people, roaches, hell. Some sort of ubiquitous blackness. The instruments creak and moan terribly.
Considering how visceral and haunting Khanate's music is, they make me think a whole hell of a lot. First, I ponder the notion that Khanate is widely considered a metal band. "Every God Damn Thing" bears even less relationship to metal than most Khanate, which is really saying something. There's nothing remotely resembling a riff here. Just that murmuring guitar, stray drum thumps, zapping feedback and ugly string scrapes. It's like this canvas of lulling mania. The sounds drift, and they'd really mean very little if it weren't for the vocals and the words (Dubin's screaming being really the only element signifying "metal," or any genre whatsoever). Amazing, considering that the instrumental track was, apparently, entirely improvised, with Dubin layering on his part afterward. The shrieking and the cruel, horrified monologue--"It's all bad! It's all bad again!"--somehow renders the weird stasis of the music profound, makes you hang on every little gesture. If you saw an improv group perform this background track, you'd think "eh." The reason this is so great is because even in a freeform setting like this, Khanate is a band--the music animates and responds to (or at least seems to respond to) the vocals. And also they are a metal band, which means they care deeply about atmospherics and mood-setting. Improv musicians could learn a lot from an outfit like this, specifically about how to make abstract, gestural playing feel enormously weighty.
If Dubin wasn't so hugely evocative, he could ruin the music. Instead he makes it. The music becomes a manifestation of the diseased consciousness of this man-monster-poet that he portrays in pretty much every Khanate song. And the players give voice to the feelings. It's music about a sick mind, totally adrift, music that doesn't let you do anything other than be mesmerized by it. You can't put Clean Hands, or any of the other Khanate records, on and just do something else. You're either listening to it fully or you're not. There's a lot of avant-garde metal floating around these days, but very little of it deserves and commands your undivided attention the way this does. It's a sickening kind of hovering suspense with no payoff and for those of us with masochistic listening tendencies, it's something like heaven.
Things Viral ('03) was the first Khanate disc that grabbed me, and it grabbed me hard. I never spent much time w/ the first, self-titled disc, or '05's Capture and Release, but I always retained these very strong memories of sitting alone in the dark in my former apartment, an East Village studio, just tripping out to Things Viral. I saw them around the same time at Tonic. I remember a lot of splintering drumsticks and tense anticipation. In a way, though, Khanate is more something you deal with alone. It's music about solitude and it's best experienced in that state.
I've read that there are military torture methods where the perpetrators isolate the feeling of panic or terror and simply extend it ad infinitum in the victim. "Every God Damn Thing" is sort of the same thing, but with pure dread. "Even flowers disgust!" Dubin yowls. There's nothing to make of this but what it is: a revolution in scaring the living shit out of you via sound. Pick up Clean Hands Go Foul and go somewhere where you won't be disturbed and just live with "Every God Damn Thing" in its entirety. It's a chore to stumble back to reality afterward, but it's worth the trauma. There's a very delicious kind of madness on display here. In other words, hail to these guys: Don't take for granted the magnitude of what they did.
Monday, June 01, 2009
I've announced through various channels--i.e., channels other than this blog, that is--that my band STATS (above) has completed its latest recording, an EP (like all of our other releases) entitled Marooned. The three-song set is now available as a by-request, free/pay-what-you-feel-like download via statsbrooklyn @ gmail.com. In other words, if you want to hear the music, just write to that address and we'll hook you up.
Of course, there's a basic news angle to this post: Yes, the aim is to get the word out about this chunk of music that I'm very proud to have had a hand in producing. But there's also an aspect of meditation on making and releasing music in the digital age.
Dear God, am I ever not the first one to muse on such topics, but this is the first time I've ever really lived through an episode that caused me to do so. The last time this band made a record--under the name Stay Fucked--it was way back in 2007, when manufacturing and duplicating CDs seemed like a prudent thing to do. We sent out CD-R demos to a whole bunch of labels, and fortunately one of them, Unfun (not to be confused with Not Not Fun and/or No Fun), decided to take a chance on us. We pressed up a modest amount of discs (that was the Windpipe EP, still available from various online channels, including Amazon) and sold them on tour in November/December of '07. Since then, we've sold a few at shows, but honestly, most of them are still piled up in my closet. If anyone wants one, please do write to statsbrooklyn @ gmail.com, and we'll cut you a deal.
Anyway, flash forward to now. My bandmates and I recorded three songs last September at the studio/crashpad of our friend John Delzoppo (Clan of the Cave Bear) in Cleveland. Various logistical hang-ups intervened and it wasn't until early '09 that we were able to get the thing mixed. We went through several passes of that with the patient and generous Ben Greenberg (Pygmy Shrews, Zs, etc.), and then we finally got it mastered by James Plotkin (Khanate, OLD, etc.) in April.
In a sense, we had the same big plans for this EP that we did for the last one. We figured we'd give the whole label thing another shot and so we gathered up a list of the target imprints, plus a good amount of press contacts and anyone else we thought might want to hear the music. Logistics continued to intervene and it was only in the past several weeks that we started disseminating the disc.
I sent out a few packages, but mostly I began Sendspacing the tracks to various reviewers, labels, friends, colleagues, etc. In most cases, I referred to the set of music as a "demo." But people started asking me for the name of the EP, for track order and song titles, for cover art, for recording credits, etc. Reviews started to trickle in. I quickly realized that Marooned was no longer a demo--it was officially RELEASED into the world, whether I or my bandmates liked it or not. So we scrambled a bit and decided to deem it a proper something or other, albeit for now a digital-only one, distributed to pretty much anyone who asks on a by-donation basis.
A weird feeling. A feeling of anticlimax, I guess. I remember how proud and psyched I was to post the official release date of Windpipe, and how thrilled I was when the box came in the mail with the first batch of CDs. I really enjoyed the object-ness of it. That EP was the first THING I'd ever been involved with that someone had deemed worthy of mass production.
I would humbly say that I think Marooned is a whole lot better than Windpipe, mainly just because we've had more time to play and write together. And so I'm a little unnerved that we've just thrown this thing out there so wantonly. I think it's worth $5 or $10 or however much someone might pay for something like this these days. But I guess the bottom line is that it doesn't do us much good to sit on this music. In the grand scheme of things, we're an utterly unknown band. What we need right now--far more than money (or, for that matter, fancy packaging)--is exposure. I believe in this music and I just want people to hear it. Ergo, it's actually a very healthy and smart thing for us to be flinging it far and wide, to let go a little in the name of spreading the STATS gospel.
That's not to say that I don't in some sense still consider this a demo. I'd love it if a label decided they wanted to pick it up and release it "for real" with perhaps some extra tracks and nice artwork and the whole bit. But for now, it is what it is. It's not an incomplete thing, really, or at least if it is, it's only really that as far as the band is considered. For anyone who's downloaded the tracks and spun them on their PC or iPod or whatever, it's simply the new batch of recordings by STATS. If they'd bought it on CD, they'd have just imported the tracks anyway and consumed it in digital form. And if they'd bought it on LP (which I hope they someday have the chance to do), they'd have just looked at it a while, maybe spun it once or twice, filed it away on their shelf and then redeemed the inevitable digital-download code. MP3s sitting on someone's hard drive are as actual and tangible as you're going to get these days. Honestly, we should be honored that people are even taking the time to ask after the thing.
Is all this an irresponsible position to be taking? i.e., should I feel weird about coming to terms with giving this thing away in a compromised medium? Perhaps, but as I said before, that is what's most expedient and useful for THIS band at THIS juncture. That could easily change in the future and maybe the next time we do a recording, I'll sit the tracks until the day they are issued in some tangible, purchasable form. But for now, I'm just happy Marooned exists and that a few people want to hear it and that a few of those people have enjoyed it enough to respond to it, either verbally or in print. As I said, I'm extremely proud of it, even if it's not something you can hold just yet. It's starting to feel more real to me, day by day. If you'd like to take a listen yourself, please get in touch via statsbrooklyn @ gmail.com. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Below are some reviews/writeups:
@Built on a Weak Spot
"...sprawling, knock-you-down math rock." And dig this comment someone left: "It's like some fantasy land where Killdozer is playing King Crimson covers."
"...a solid balance between nerdy tech-core and the unrepentantly vicious."
"...tangled, precise guitar-rock instrumentals somewhere around the fulcrum of math rock and metal."
"...bloody-nose-inducing. Groovy math."
And here are all the pertinent credits:
1) Yo King [streaming here]
3) Crowds Press
Written and performed by STATS.
Tony Gedrich - bass
Joe Petrucelli - guitar
Hank Shteamer - drums
Recorded September '08 by John Delzoppo: Cleveland, OH; mixed over the first few months of '09 by Ben Greenberg: Brooklyn, NYC; mastered in April '09 by James Plotkin: Hoboken, NJ.
Thank you for indulging this somewhat self-serving blab sesh. Make sure to check the Twitter feed (upper right-hand corner of this site), which is quite likely to be updated more frequently than DFSBP itself.