Archive for June, 2010

Weep for the Children

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 30, 2010 by Tanner

I got done with work at my job — no tips, minimum wage, feet aching — cracked open a Sierra Nevada Wet Hop Ale, and threw on the new one from Hooded Menace, “Never Cross the Dead,” on Profound Lore. I sometimes wonder what’s more to say about death metal that isn’t already pronounced in the name itself? Doesn’t every review or discussion liken whatever is under review to some other band, as though everything has to be put into some lineage from Possessed to Death to Autopsy to Suffocation to blah blah blah? All I know is that Hooded Menace falls into that fine line; although Lasse Pyykko’s (also from Claws) guitar playing recalls Electric Wizard at times. Still, it’s very much Death Metal, just slightly more rocking– dirty, gruesome death metal done incredibly right by a couple of Finns with a love of the requisite horror films; in fact, Hooded Menace cover the theme from the Spanish zombie Templar film, “Return of the Evil Dead” with typical but loving aplomb. Humor is a missing additive to so many albums and thankfully this one has it, which acknowledges the fact that this is still a vehicle for entertainment and that it all can’t be some polarizing attack on the foundations of morality and society. I think of my sister here, laughing at the kvlt picture of Katharsis in their album “World Without End”: it’s not scary to those who don’t buy the premise in the first place. None the less, it’s nice to hear something so obviously played with a love for the genre and the necessary limitations. No, it’s not drastically new, it’s not expanding its sound to incorporate Xenakis-like timbres and mathematical structures. Who wants that anyway? Of course, but what then sets it apart? I suppose the pure plodding rough and tumble of it’s playing, the dirt and grime under the fingernails as it claws it way up from the grave (hackneyed phrase, check!) — there’s grit there that doesn’t get lost in the glare of production sheen. The plodding, doomy riffs hang together in a cobwebbed perfection, never losing themselves in atonal reaches, but sticking to mid-tempo dirge and dark melodicism. It’s not a human-less tech-death machination so many of those pesky kids are listening to as they trample your rose bushes. And yes, as written before, you can connect it to the lineage of the greats before it: I hear a definite early Entombed sound, but at a much slower pace, what everyone calls that DOOM stuff (I wonder what UK band Doom thinks about that stuff). It’s postively retro in some areas… I wonder if being retro in death metal connotes a more human sound. Death Metal always struck me as intensely human and organic music, rotting perhaps, but still mortal, whereas I don’t get that feeling from so much overly produced, compressed technical filigree of Brutal Death METAL. If this is the return of the “old school” then it’s fine with me.

As a caveat (long winded): Let’s face it, music is rarely in itself worth writing about. I’m not a critic. I doubt I’m really a writer (probably why I’m working to be a scientist.) But there’s a fuel that’s met with writing about music. Metal is one of those areas I usually stay away from, as I feel that I don’t have the right credentials. It didn’t really inform my youth like hardcore punk and crust did. I wasn’t obsessed with Slayer (still not) when I was 15 or genuflect to early Entombed (even though now I might). I always thought the metal dudes were kind of stupid or scary or both. Punk was more monastic in it’s dealings, obsessed with a random rebellion, a rage and incoherence, but oddly shuttered within an (often hypocritical) ethos; while metal was far more nihilistic, brutal and atavistic, home to brave morons, scared geniuses, and third rate mustaches. Possibly Metal was more individualistic, different collection of outcasts than punk, which was usually held together by communal attitudes (if not always in action than in thought). How much can a situation dictate what you consider worthwhile? Obviously, so much of our lives we allow to be created for us through the situations we encounter. Instead of creating our own realities by altering our perceptions and exploring our reactions, we allow and hope our situations to be understood for us, by outside agency. Such a small thing like metal was certainly ordained by others for me, by meth heads and tattoo shop rats, by ugly and desperate people. The thing is, like punk, metal attracts as many morons as not, there’s more people into the flash, drag and kill of the Autopsy lyrics than the those of us who assume it’s part of the play, and try to understand the ritual, and create our own narrative. There is no ritual or personal narrative for most metal heads. There is no deeper meaning to Morbid Angel or the Possessed other than an understanding of EVIL RIFFS and imagery of the Other. Metal, I would assume for most kids, creates their meaning, cloaking it in a petulant mask of gore, thunder and cock/cunt. Where does that leave the rest of us? What does it mean for me? I hesitate to think that Napalm Death’s “Scum” lp is only enjoyed because of its youthful integrity. Or that “Left hand Path” is only worthwhile because of it’s lumpen brutality, it’s cavernous primordial ooze. Like a magickal understanding of the world, I think of it as an aspect of myself, of a tapping into a part that, lately, has been more evident, that shows itself in misanthropy, dread and anxiety and within these dark areas of myself… there’s a multitude of truths and illusions. But I don’t mean to sound like some healing-crystal salesman, some Shakti incense hawkers. One could go on about humanity’s endless search for darkness, it obsession with the death drive but it doesn’t completely add up. There’s no need to validate taste. But it can be fun to try. I guess that’s what this whole blog or what have you is about. And it seems rare it’s really only about music. Thank Satan. I’ll probably be back to writing about more (f)art music and leave the metal to experts in future writings…


Lost Daylight

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on June 22, 2010 by Tanner

There’s a heavy rain falling outside my window. The cars that are passing create a dull slush of sound, their tail lights blurring into the gray silt. John Tilbury’s (of AMM) interpretation of Terry Jenning’s pieces for piano is playing, from Lost Daylight on Another Timbre records. It’s not at odds with the natural drama outside, in fact it seems to coexist organically, as though either thing would be incomplete without it. I realize the quaintness of all of this– spare, delicate solo piano playing out to rain, while humdrum thoughts are played out like a rumination on the wheel of life. But I’m also a couple beers in, enjoying a day off, and probably been listening to far too much death metal (although isn’t Impetuous Ritual just fucking great?)

Like Satie or Feldman, Jenning’s pieces seem to bend the time, creating another space, a new continuum. I keep looking up and realizing five minutes have passed as though in one. Each note is placed to chart space, to investigate the room. It’s not necessarily natural music, but the slow, leaf falling in air notes seem to conjure images of the natural, of water and soil, creeping moss and hanging vine. I’m a sucker for the ruminative as much as the visceral kick and punch. I’m a solitary listener mostly. I find the themes and narratives I create for myself when listening to music to be more meaningful than with others usually. It’s not that I create the situations to listen alone, but that most people I know don’t dig Keith Rowe as much as the Animal Collective, or Morbid Angel as much as Wolf Parade. Kevin Drumm doesn’t lend itself to parties, AMM isn’t perfect for the collective smash grab, fuck and fight. Who cares anyway? All interpretation is insular. And as much as we would like to create art and life as having some nature that elevates into a grand universal state, it still falls down to the indvidual, stubborn, limited and fleeting. I’m glad for that. Permanence is overrated. As though if we erect enough lasting monuments that it will convince others that we are still here. Somewhere. And this music seems so impermanent. . . Tilbury spins notes that seem to burn in the air then flicker out, never to repeated again (that is until you play it again). Facilely, I’m reminded those of drunken moments at the piano, when the party is dying down or nearly out and you rest your cheek in one hand and play delicately with the other, lost and tired and sad because you can almost hear those birds singing. Of course on Lost Daylight it’s anything but drunken… infinitely more skilled. Of course. With infinitely more patience and experience and talent. But that goes without saying, doesn’t it?

Jenning’s pieces float and seem to react to one another in interesting ways. It’s five seperate pieces but each seems dependent on the other, as though part of a suite. Tilbury’s playing is humid, laden but not heavy. In fact, one could say his touch is so light and reflective the notes barely stir the air, but once heard they don’t easily leave your consciousness, percolating down to something deeper, more subliminal. I can’t think of anything more stunningly played, more gorgeously felt than the decaying string of notes on the fourth track that cascade and then slow to yet another minimal probing half-melody.

I must be getting sappy. Ah, the last track, by Cage, this time Tilbury is abetted by Sebastian Lexer on electronics (piano+). It’s a skirting, shifting mass compared to the earlier pieces. It coinicides perfectly as the rain has calmed. It’s not as beautiful or ruminative as the Jennings, but impecablely played. Volume masses then fades, radical shifts of tone and timbre sprout than shrink and die. Incredibly dense at moments, then hardly there at others, it reminds me there’s still life to the scrape and tinkle of avant garde piano. I’ve never been hugely into the John Cage, and if I am it’s almost always by Tudor or Tilbury. Lexer’s electronics are layered and thoughtful and really make this whole piece for me. If most of the noise genre would pay as much intimate attention to timbre and placement… well, then, I guess it wouldn’t be real enough or something, not harsh enough for the heads. At around 23:00 minutes in there’s a wonderful sustained tone that is eerily similar to the thunderstorm warning siren I heard earlier, Lexer elongating a tart chord I assume. Tilbury is stoic as always. This is a great disc. Buy it:

Putting the sex in sextet…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on June 11, 2010 by Tanner

There’s been a minor stir within the improv ranks, a small disturbance of the collective tempers in those old dudes in threadbare sweaters, sporting Whitman-esque beards. I’ve always considered myself an interloper in that scene. I studied in London when I was 21. I went out a lot alone to the Vortex, the Red Rose, and the Bohman Brother’s loft to watch free jazz or free improv or European Free improv what ever you want to call it. I was usually the youngest person there. I did have a beard though, scraggly, but it was a beard. I looked a lot like a bum actually, with a black IRA-style jacket, at least that’s what an Irishman told me. I was battling twin passions music-wise — crust punk and experimental noise — but one of the main reasons I decided to study in London was because Evan Parker and Derek Bailey played there (although at that point not together anymore). . . It sounds pretty ridiculous now when I think about it now. I think the only time I was ever among dudes slightly my age or my inclination of stink was at the Bohman Brother’s loft, which held noise and improv shows. It was fucking fantastic. One of the first shows I went to within this area of music was there and one of the Bohmans immediately asked me where I was from (I don’t think they got many young Americans stopping in for a show) and I mentioned Wisconsin. He immediately asked me if listened to Killdozer. I think I saw Mick Beck, John Edwards and Mark Sanders for the first time. I was in love with how John Edwards played the double-bass. He would kick the back of the beast when he was playing, as though he was trying to throttle and beat the sound out of the instrument. Sanders played with deft creativity, a ringing bell there, a wood block shot here. It was an odd disjointed sound, as though gamelan played by lizards and birds. And I learned later it was the quintessential european free improv sound — selfless, egalitarian, a mass of intricate sound where no voice overshadowed the other. I loved it. It wasn’t like anything I had ever really heard before. Certainly not live. It lacked, in my mind, the edifice and bullshit of popular rock and roll, the endless braying masturbation of the indie rock put-on. It was punk in a way, as it was completely visceral and massive, although it lacked the kind of monumental volume punk relied on.

So what’s the beef within the kvlt free improv horde? What are the people pissed about (which apparently includes Steve Beresford)? Well, apparently it's a review by David Keenan, right here:

“By Leaving the Body behind…”

I like a lot of what Another Timbre releases. The Annette Krebs/Rhodri Davies album I “reviewed” previously is on Another Timbre. So that said, I probably am inclined to dislike this review. Although, it’s pretty damn entertaining. Often I think that’s one thing that’s missing from music reviews, the entertainment, the soul, the axe to grind. A good critic can make that Orange 9mm or Winger record worth reading about (if not worth ever hearing). And Keenan certainly entertains. His main argument that the guitar is phallocentric and that free improv is some kind of sexual desert, an anemic cockless/cuntless spread of futile scrabbling in the dark is an interesting one. Anybody who’s ever investigated the area of music knows that this isn’t immediately true or at least isn’t close to provable. Although, I remember as I sat alone at those shows in London, even one where I saw John Russell play with Evan Parker, that sex isn’t what immediately sprung to mind. The thing is that it isn’t something I really expect music to be a medium for. Sensual and sexual are different things– not mutually exclusive, obviously, but different. Punk, metal and noise has never equated to much on the sexuality front for me, either (although put on Curtis Mayfield or the Tindersticks and things may change). Maybe because at punk or metal or noise shows I went to I was usually surrounded by a bunch of dudes who were more interested in making love to their records than to their girl friends. Certainly punk is ripe for lampooning, Limpwrist, Panzy Division and others have shown that there’s a certain amount of homoerotic thrust in hardcore. But I don’t necessarily hear it. I don’t hear it in DNA or the Blue Humans or Albert Ayler really either (unless you take the most infantile view of it and equate momentum and bludgeoning force with intercourse). The thing is, as William Burroughs has pointed out, if you’re looking for something intangible hard enough you’ll eventually find it in everywhere. There’s no argument that music can be sexual. But the lack of sex or sexiness isn’t a bad or a good thing within art. And contrary to Keenan’s theory, it doesn’t make a thing more human either. Add a cock to a guitar and all it is is a fucking penis with strings. It’s a non-issue, a straw man argument built upon a heap of conjecture about what a certain kind of music means or doesn’t mean. But what the hell do I have invested in this? Not much. It’s a good article, if, well, a little obsessed:

Ultimately it’s a lot harder to criticize a piece of music about it’s merits as music. And that’s probably where Keenan might have something to say in these reviews. Although it still rings of a hatchet job on an area of music he either doesn’t get or doesn’t like or both to begin with. To attach some pale, insipid polemic on the values of a musical genre onto the review of a bunch of albums that undoubtedly took a lot of time, effort and thought to create is pretty sad really. But shit, it got me writing (that and a couple of glasses of Eagle Rare bourbon) at 1:30 am. Anyway, I still ordered the Toshimaru Nakamura/Volden collaboration… looking forward to it. And if you want to hear more of the minor controversy, check out Ihatemusic for more tempest in a teacup rumblings.