Friday, October 05, 2012

Propagandhi: CLPPR gods

I'm a little late in reporting as much, but Propagandhi has just finished a two-night NYC run, which I previewed in TONY. The Winnipeg punk band was a key DFSBP presence back in ’09, when their then-new fifth LP, Supporting Caste, topped my year-end list. I saw them live that March, and since then, I've probably listened to Caste more than any other newly released record. To put it another way, it's often that I genuinely admire an album, and say as much in print, only to file it away and forget about it. That is to say, it never earns a real place in my musical pantheon, among the records that I choose to throw on when I'm not accountable to anyone but myself. But Supporting Caste did stick around.

I haven't stopped marveling at the improbability of a band from my past—specifically a political pop-punk band that meant a lot to me during a brief teenage moment in the early ’90s where, in addition to death-metal labels like Roadrunner and Earache, I blindly trusted imprints such as Epitaph and Fat Wreck Chords with my not-so-hard-earned cash—resurfacing to completely blow my adult mind. As I discuss in the TONY piece above, Propagandhi has renovated in a serious way since the first—and up till ’09, only—record of theirs I heard, 1993's How to Clean Everything. As I indicated on Twitter last night, having just attended my second Propagandhi show in two nights, the band has become a bastion of what I like to call CLPPR (contemporary lowercase-p progressive rock), i.e., a rock band that's genuinely pushing itself—technically, ideologically, emotionally—rather than merely aping an ethos and aesthetic that broke ground 40 or so years ago (I nod here to gods such as King Crimson, Yes and Rush). Is Propagandhi still a "punk" band? In the sense that their rhythmic home base still overlaps significantly with hardcore, sure. But they belong among an elite group of contemporary rock bands—I'm not even sure whom else I should name in that regard, aside from the mighty Tool—who are forging their own universes.

Propagandhi's music tickles my tech-rock funnybone, yes, but the reason they matter to me is because they employ extreme technicality in the service of extreme emotion: a vehemently liberal political engagement, combined with a sincere soul-search/self-inventory, i.e., "How is it that one can live well and live responsibly?" I don't agree with all the band's views—at Wednesday's show, frontman Chris Hannah asked the crowd, "Did anyone watch the [air-quotes] debate? Who [air-quotes] won the [air-quotes] debate?" indicating an allegiance to the Ralph Nader–esque perspective that there's no real difference between the two parties, a position I have a hard time relating to—but I agree with their depth of feeling. It comes through in the music, and that's because even more so than conveying their radical politics, they're engaged with writing memorable songs. They're so intent on expressing their views that they've been driven to devise ever more complex, ingenious vehicles for those beliefs. The latest result is another deep, fascinating, adult progressive-rock (in the literal sense) opus. If you care about rock that pushes itself and the listener, while at the same time delivering major amounts of oomph, passion and fist-pumping user-friendliness, you need to hear Failed States. (I'd strongly recommend giving it a good, uninterrupted listen while reading along with the lyrics.)


*Speaking of rock that defines progress purely in its own terms, I recently surveyed the Jesus Lizard discography for Stereogum, as part of a recurring "albums from worst to best" series on the site. I was happy to have the chance to stump for my personal favorite Lizard record, the vastly underrated Down, as well as to revisit the imperfect but still masterful Shot and to really get to know the strange gem that is Blue for the first time—not to mention to revisit the straightforward classics Head, Liar and Goat. For fun, here's a playlist of some of my favorite Jesus Lizard deep cuts:

*Lastly I need to note that one of my favorite living musicians, drummer Steve Shelton, is now blogging at The Poundry. It's been a very Shelton-centric year ’round these parts. You might recall my January rave re: the new album by Loincloth, one of Shelton's two main projects, or my May account of seeing his other band, Confessor, live for the first time at Maryland Deathfest X. I also had the opportunity to interview Steve at length in the spring for an as-yet-unpublished article—I'll link to that as soon as it's available—and I'm extremely pleased to report that on November 17, my band, STATS, will share a bill with Loincloth (playing their first-ever NYC show) at Public Assembly. Anyway, the real point here is that Steve's opinions are as distinctive as his drumming, and he's expressing them with eloquent, passionate regularity via his blog. I especially recommend his comparison of the Ozzy- and Dio-model Sabbaths, his paean to unorthodox cymbal techniques and his eclectic round-up (including both Slint and King Diamond) of the most moving live shows he's ever seen.

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