Thursday, April 28, 2005

Don't Believe the Hype!

No matter the rung of the industry ladder, the most valuable skill in the music biz is hype. If the talk convinces the public to walk, then congratulations, you've won the lottery. Witness, the acme of hipster music websites. Their fawning review and saturation coverage of the Arcade Fire's Funeral earned the site almost as much ink as the band. Editor-in-chief Ryan Schrieber's modest surprise at Pitchfork's buzzworthiness may be orthodox underground etiquette, but what music critic doesn't have a Napoleonic desire to be a tastemaker with the Midas touch?

So a website's glowing words helped the Arcade Fire catch - so what?

Well, I wouldn't have a problem with it if the album were half as good as Pitchfork says. Ever since the internet became the world's largest musical library, people have been tripping over themselves to champion the Next Big Thing so they can claim cred over all y'all corny bandwagon-jumpers. Rather than raising standards, this has resulted in the exhaltation of the mediocre, as anything that might catch on is praised to the heavens by zealots more concerned with their scene points than progress. Are the Strokes really that impressive a band? No, it's plain that they're not - now. But remember when everyone tried to convince you they were?

And so today, I offer you a handful of current bands who are hot to name-drop but, frankly, ain't worth a muti-album contract.

Bloc Party - Like Eating Glass

You liked Franz Ferdinand, but found them a little heavy on design and light on delivery? Then Bloc Party's for you! Another Brit band mining the craggy Factory Records quarry, Bloc Party bolster their Gang Of Four clang with some Fugazi-class earnestness without rekindling the fire of either. Not to mention their drummer overplays like he's in Lightning Bolt - relax, son, it's post punk! You don't need fills!

Out Hud - One Life To Leave

Brooklyn dance-rock quintet Out Hud features several members of !!!, so no wonder they sound just like !!! without being as interesting. Whatever.

The Boredoms - 77

This one hurts. The Boredoms used to be the reigning kings of noise, ralphing up records that sounded like meth-spiked chimps abusing a recording studio. It was a glorious, transcendent, blissfully uninhibited explosion of musical convention.

And then, somewhere in the late '90s, the Boredoms learned how to play their instruments, got seriously into krautrock, shed a guitarist, and turned into a big Osaka-based drum circle. Their songs flattened from sonic smorgasbords into mind-numbingly repetitive 20-minute vamps that showcased more tape manipulation than compositional complexity. The song "77", mercifully, still features the guitar butchery of Seiichi Yamamoto to add some spice, but is dynamically flatter than Saskatchewan.

Vice Records just signed on to release the new Seadrum/House Of Sun album in the States, and Very Friendly Records' reissue of three early-'90s Boredoms albums have garnered great reviews across the board. It's very much en vogue to be hip to the B.O.R.E. right now, but fuck it... it ain't worth it. Seadrum/House Of Sun is a turgid, new-age snorefest. Do yourself a favour and buy Pop Tatari instead.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Billy Nayer Show - Everyone Got Laid

Last month, the mighty and hip Wenona showed me a film called "The American Astronaut". I was a little hesitant to watch a self-described "retro-futurist space-cowboy musical", but Wenona's got immaculate taste in film and a top-notch bullshit detector, so we gave it a shot.

As clunky a handle as "retro-futurist space-cowboy musical" may be, it's really the only one that comes close to the truth. But it does not do the film any justice in advertising just how friggin' cool it is. Desperate, dirty thugs con, barter, and double-cross their way through a world where the final frontier looks strikingly like the old western frontier - all while belting out some of the most gut-bustingly funny rock 'n' roll you've ever heard. It's a synthesis of song, genre parody, narrative whimsy, and dada humour that would make Frank Zappa twist his moustache with pride.

The musical motor of the film is writer/director Cory McAbee's band, the Billy Nayer Show. The BNS' core trio (McAbee, drummer Bobby Lurie, bassist Frank Swart) and a plethora of peripheral players have cranked out seven delirously raucous albums over the past decade, the most recent of which was 2004's Rabbit. Sure to delight anyone who dug the American Astronaut soundtrack, Rabbit is a concept album about bonin', and staggers from ranuchy barroom swagger to childish quirk. The cut I got the biggest kick from was the arena-sized anthem, "Everyone Got Laid". McAbee's brassy pipes breaking through the wall of monster distortion give the song a Neil Diamond-fronting-Black Sabbath kind of feel, but it's cocksure enough that, man, you can just taste the passion! Okay, so maybe with lyrics likening sex to "stirring macaroni", tasting the passion isn't such a good idea, but McAbee's combo of hedonism and sarcasm is a temptation worth giving into.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Gore Vidal on America's bullet-train to Hell!

Well, I got the fuck out of Dodge. If I don't see the rest of y'all in Canada, then I'll see you in Hell!

Les Trois Malheures - I Am the Greatest

There must be something in the Potomac water. Otherwise, I see no viable explanation for why every single band hailing Washington, DC specializes in guitar-driven slash-'n'-burn angularity. Perhaps everyone who saw Rites of Spring back in '85 never got over it, and those too young to have been present only want to recreate it for themselves.

Regardless, DC's place in rock history - as the Land of Furiously Energetic Skinny White Dudes Strangling Guitars - is secure. Not to say the quality of DC bands has been consistently high. For every band that becomes a musical milestone in undergound rock (e.g. Fugazi, Nation of Ulysses, Jawbox, and currently Q And Not U), there are plenty of others who don't realize that obtusely political lyrics, stutter-stop-shred rhythms, and wiry guitar riffs alone do not legends make (e.g. Circus Lupus, Faraquet, Decahedron, Gist).

But what makes DC relevant to this day (beyond waiting for "the next Fugazi") are the Galapagos-like mutations that produce certain bands more twisted than cookie-cutter postpunk agit-pop, yet are a unique product of America's capital. The Dismemberment Plan, for example, were an electro-damaged dance-punk outfit that was more Brainiac than Bluetip, but they sported an awareness typical only of beltway insiders. Like all great mold-breakers, the Dismemberment Plan were largely ignored during their career, and only posthumously were recognized for how singular a band they were.

Also witness Les Trois Malheures. A short-lived band from the late '90s, Les Trois Malheures ("The Three Bad Hours") are a great example of a DC band that harnessed the energy and barbed-wire guitars of harDCore while rending it unfamiliar. The clattering percussion is only semi-proficient, while Jonathan Krienik's cartoonish bark is loud enough that you might miss the humour in a beanpole white guy claiming, "I'm not Cassius Clay, I'm Muhammed Ali!" Because humour and irony are scarcely found in DC bands' librettos, whenever they are used, it breathes new life into the municipal sound and keeps the music from becoming self-parodying ("I'm honestly very upset with where this country's headed!" a lot of DC bands seem to cry, a Blue state analog to moral majority alarmists).

So it's a pity Krienik's current band, Pines of Nowhere, forgoes the sloppy fun of Les Trois Malheures, opting to sound like, well, any other DC band. But evolution is a slow process. We'll recognize the next step when it comes.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Oxes - Personal Jesus (Live in Atlanta)

I count myself very lucky in life. Not only am I blessed with some wonderful friends, but some of these wonderful friends happen to be incredibly talented, creative people capable of producing work that blows my fuckin' mind.

One such person is Marc Mirror of Baltimore's own three-man paradigm-wrecking-crew, Oxes. Having returned recently from a springtime jaunt around the States, the art-rockin' trio has seen it fit to post a sonic souvenir from their sojourn: an ad-hoc cover of Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus". And fuckin' why not? That song rocks! You got a problem with Depeche Mode just 'cause they dress funny and that one dude looks like a troll? Well, to HELL with you, pal! To HELL with you!

Monday, April 18, 2005

Bill Hicks - Your Children Aren't Special

Congratulations, Britney Spears! Consider this the most heartfelt expression of my personal regards that I, a guy with a blog, could possibly extend to you, Symbol of America's Hubris.

Speaking of America's hubris, there are reports that Ann Coulter is going to be on the cover of Time magazine. Hmm. How charming. Just think of the inspiration this will be to young goose-steppers the world over: "That's right, honey, you TOO can encourage ethnic cleansing, decry homosexuality as a crime against nature, blame Jesus' death on the Jews, hate black people, call for America to close its borders, claim absolution via your religious superiority, and they'll put you on one of the world's most famous weekly news digests!"

Not to say Japan is devoid of such ugly, troglodytic bigotry: Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara juggles racial slurs like Strom Thurmond in a circus. His xenophobic worldview is precisely what is sparking the tsunami of anti-Japanese protest in China.

I'll defer a long-winded examination of who's more wrong, Chinese nationalists or Japanese revisionists, because, in all honesty, I need to take a shower. So let's wrap things up quickly: what does all of this prove?

Well, on the hundred anniversary of his greatest achievement, let us remember the eternal wisdom of Albert Einstein:

"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Click here and laugh your ass off

The single greatest chronological black hole on the internet,, just launched a comedy radio page. All the greats are present and available to stream - Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Bill Hicks, Chris Rock, Eddie Murphey, David Cross, etc. It's a pity Patton Oswalt isn't there, and I don't know what Rodney Dangerfield & Mitch Hedberg did to get their own channels, other than die, but beyond these 2 minor objections, the page is brilliant. Check it out.

Touch & Go Records join the '90s, get a website!

At the dawn of the 1980s, Corey Rusk was a student at Wilson High School in the Northwest quadrant of Washington DC. A member of the local "hardcore" punk youth, Rusk had friends in bands like the Faith, Iron Cross, and Minor Threat. Watching his friends' upstart record label, Dischord Records, grow from a novel pastime to cottage industry, Rusk was inspired to follow suit. A few years later, after relocating to Chicago, Rusk founded Touch & Go Records.

For those of y'all that don't know, Touch & Go is probably the finest record label on the planet. Though Dischord still holds more D.I.Y. cachet, T&G treats its artists with the same trust, mutual respect, and dedication to *ahem* Art, eschewing any the corporate shackles of contracts and big-money marketing. But far more impressive is the label's catalogue: though it once dealt strictly with Stax-on-steroids rhythm & chainsawed guitars, T&G is home to some of the most forward-thinking, genuinely artful yet raucous bands on the planet. When humour stabs pretense in the knee with a pencil in a nightclub, you'll find bands like...

!!!, TV On the Radio, Brainiac, Don Caballero, the Jesus Lizard, Rapeman, Shellac, Slint, Uzeda, Girls Against Boys, the Mekons, Enon, Black Heart Procession, Big Black, Blonde Redhead, and oh so many more.

After years of waiting for the fad to implode, T&G finally confessed that, maybe, the internet IS here to stay, and so they finally got themselves a proper website. The best feature about it is the phenomenal quantity of songs they have available for download, from every one of the bands listed above (and, naturellement, more). If you're looking to put some serious cut in your strut and blood in your eye, then head on over and get downloadin'.

"If you can find a better record label than Touch & Go, then I'll suck your dick." - Steve Albini

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Fantomas - April 26

After last year's Delerium Cordia, a 74-minute slab of autopsic ambience, avant-metal supergroup Fantomas return to the schizoid, scream-a-second form of their earlier work. Suspended Animation, the band's fourth full-length, is a relentless barrage of blasting hardcore, demonic drones, breakneck dropouts, and Mike Patton's classic array of vocal spasms. What sets Suspended Animation apart from Fantomas' other work is the heap of cartoon sound effects, playground singalongs, and toy samples that pepper the songs. Consequently, the album sounds like an episode of "Loony Tunes" wherein Bugs Bunny got jacked up on crystal meth and is chasing Daffy Duck down Sunset Boulevard with a tommy gun.

The album certainly won't win Patton & Co. any new converts, but fuck 'em. For those already rapt by Fantomas' aural horrorshow, Suspended Animation is a delicious addition to the catalogue.

The artwork alone is worth the price of admission: packaged like a full-colour page-a-day calendar (for April 2005, natch), each day of the month is represented on CD by a song and on the calendar by an illustration by Yoshitomo Nara, Japan's Keith Haring of crayons.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Scientists isolate world's biggest wanker!

Leave it to the former stunt coordinator for "Star Trek: the Next Generation" to have come up with a perfect 3-minute video encapsulating only the most bile-churning qualities of the United States:

Nostalgia, jingoism, religious fundamentalism, mullets, a fascistic definition of national identity, melodrama, poor production value, militarism, children's symbolic representation of all that is "innocent" and "pure", ersatz guitar solos, the gratuitous use of orchestral instruments to inflate a song's bombast, and a perplexing & total estrangement from irony.

How thin is the line between satire and reality these days. Consider the wildly different reaction the video would generate if it had been directed by, say, Spike Jonze instead of Rob Bowman. Though perhaps this is one of the strategies employed by Neocons to capture the *ahem* hearts & minds of Middle America: by earnestly delivering their message via tripe such as this video, we cappuccino-sipping urban sophisticate liberals can fathom no reaction beyond laughing our asses off - meanwhile, our guard is down and the new omnibus bill gets passed with nary an objection.

The left have a monopoly on irony today, which leaves the humourless right with nothing but blind faith & ambition. The end result is that (Yeats still said it best) “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Friday, April 08, 2005

O.G. "freak" Frank Zappa gets Socratic on Crossfire!

A great many people are terrified by how Neocons have managed to turn American political discourse into a monologue by cramming their social agenda down their opponents' throats. Their appropriation of power didn't happen overnight: what we are currently witnessing are the fruits of a forty year strategy to undermine diversity, silence dissent, cast Christianity over the land, and make a lot of money in the process.

A key social victory in this crusade was the mid-'80s moral panic that led to "Parental Advisory" labels on "inappropriate" albums. Civil libertarians, left-wingers, artists, and constitutional conservatives cried out against government censorship, but in the end lost the battle when record labels agreed to apply the self-policing stickers on potentially offensive records.

Few fought harder against the labels (and censorship in any form) than the maestro from the Mothers of Invention, Frank Zappa -- one of my personal heroes. In 1986, when the issue of censorship was the hottest of hot-button issues, Zappa made an appearance on CNN's "Crossfire". Click below where it says "clickety-clack" to view the complete episode of the show.

And so maybe, JUST maybe, if today's liberals learn to stand their ground and talk shit to conservatives the way Frank verbally bitch-slaps John Laughton, then perhaps the US wouldn't be tailspinning into the draconian abyss it's headed for today. (Pay special attention to how Zappa described the damage wrought by the Reagan administration -- twenty years later, it's a different president, but the EXACT same bullshit.)

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The Fall - My New House

On this, the thirteenth day of my residency in Japan, I've constructed a Music Blog - a means of inflicting my musical taste on the meta-populace of the Internet. Like being on the radio, but without all that hassle of, you know, a degree in journalism, gaining experience, blah blah blah.

This marvelous little ditty comes from the Fall's indispensible 1985 album, "This Nation's Saving Grace". Typically, a new abode is something to celebrate by inviting some friends over for, say, meatloaf and cocktails, or what have you. Not when Marc E. Smith is the homeowner. Cloaked in a foreboding dirge, Smith's lyrics drip with his usual paranoia, cynicism, and askew wordsmithery as he describes the cold, crumbling money pit. "According to the postman," Smith smirks sarcastically, "it's like the bloody Bank of England."

Not that I chose this song because I feel the same way about MY new house. Quite the opposite, really. This place is marvelous! A glorious little urban commune of like-minded world citizens. I chose this song because I love the Fall and because of the song title. Duh.

Cornelius - Garigari Kun (Denki Groove)

Also in celebration of my new homeland, here we have a delightfully spastic electro-disco treat from Tokyo native Cornelius. Commonly cast as "the Japanese Beck", Cornelius bounds across styles with so much panache and (more importantly) skill that "Odelay" sounds a tad sleepy by comparison. Elsewhere in his catalogue, Cornelius has tackled lounge, bossa nova, dub, pop, and house with the utmost respect for each genre, as well as the uncontrollable urge to just fuck with 'em like a kid playing with Lego.

I'm honestly not sure what album this song is originally from, but using such a broad pallette throughout each album, it's hard to go wrong with any of Cornelius' work. The good people at Matador Records are in charge of Cornelius' North American distribution, so it's not much of a challenge to find his CDs in your hometown.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Buck 65 - Excerpt from "Blood Of a Young Wolf"

Don't let the gravel-pit monontone fool you: Buck 65 can be one exciteable boy. Hard at work in Chicago on his upcoming full-length, ol' Buck (nee Richard Terfry) is apparently so jazzed about his new major-label backing (not to mention working with the lads from post-rock mainstays Tortoise) that he couldn't wait until recording was done before posting his work online.

This unmixed, instrumental excerpt from "Blood of a Young Wolf" is a stylistic extension of 2003's "Talkin' Honky Blues", with its dusty acoustic guitar, weeping pedal-steel, and that sting of tears in your beer. Interesting, though, is the mid-song addition of shuffling glitch drums and analog synth, which harken back to Buck's earlier sci-fi-infused sound. For fans worried Buck was becoming little more musically than a beatnik backed up by hillbillies, this clip signals a more eclectic aural buffet on the as-yet-untitled album in progress. With a little luck, Buck 65's new work will keep him at the fore of Canuck hip-hop, though his back catalogue already proves he can outgun any retro-futurist cowboy persona that Beck adopts.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Braintrust Files For Bankruptcy!

Finding myself in Tokyo, Ground Zero For the Future, I decided to step into the '90s and get a website.

And here we are.

Not that this necessarily counts as any great achievement on my part, or even a step in the right direction for Humankind. Here I have my very own MetaPulpit on which to pontificate, and yet all I see from here are millions of other soapboxes, each crowned by some other fool shouting to no one in particular.

Pity, isn't it? The vault doors have been opened, all history, all art, all philosophy made available to anyone with a phone line, and what do we get? Porn, melodramatic diaries, shit music, identity theft, porn, the wholesale abandonment of grammar, bigots with a digital megaphone, porn - a boundless archive of bad ideas. Instead of creating a better-informed, more thoughtful populace, the Internet seems to amplify ignorance, self-righteousness, and obnoxiousness.

Ten years ago, there was excitement about how the Internet would get everyone a voice. That, it now seems, is precisely the problem. Sounds a tad fascist, I know, but allow me to make my point by way of metaphor.

Remember the stock crash of 1929 and the subsequent run on the banks? Good.

Imagine cash as a physical analogy for information. Cash is kept in your wallet, information is stored in your brain; for our purposes, your wallet is your brain. Whatever money/info you have, you carry around in your wallet/brain; sometimes you have a little more, sometimes a little less, sometimes you lose the damned thing... Get it?

One day you wake up to find everyone sprinting towards the local bank. Apparently, some guys in suits shook hands yesterday, erasing all borders and creating a true Global Market Economy. Consequently, your national currency no longer counts for shit. You've got to exchange all your dollars/rubles/pesos/yen for the handsome new Global Currency.

Of course, a globalized economy with currency to match means your LOCAL bank is out of business. Flipping the bird to fate, the bank has just opened its vault and told everyone to run in and grab what they can. It's a financial free-for-all as all the local residents dash to grab their cash. Fighting your way through the mob of money-crazed proles is not easy, and by the time you get your slice of the dough, all you walk away with is $58.23 in cash, some traveler's cheques, and a gold watch you ripped off a teller. Sucks to be you.

And so you wander the streets, a pauper in search of purpose. All around, you see a bustling and busy MetaMetropolis, with cartographers, record stores, thieves, bookstores, in-crowds, pawn shops, angry people, good, evil... but where do you fit in? What place is there for you here?

Well, you could become a legitimate participant. Pawn the gold watch so you can go to the department store and have "Good Consumer" embroidered on your wallet.

Or live by your wits. Take only what you need to survive, and leave no footprints. Become a Memetic Mugger: hit only the good marks, and leave the junk for some other fool to buy. Your time is too precious to waste wading through corporate news, hipster solipsism, marketing disguised as data, or second-hand sales of shit you don't need.

This isn't all hot air and bluster; the last thing I want to do is waste your time. Thus, I offer you this as a little oasis of intellectual efficiency, providing only essential information, food for thought, mental floss. Hit some of the links, and let a thousand dandelions bloom.

Or daffodils. Whatever.