Thursday, February 23, 2006

The In Sound From Way Out East

When I applied to Tiny Mix Tapes, I handed over a review of Friction's self-titled (in Japanese) debut, a hard-charging gem of an album I discovered at my local CD rental store. TMT didn't end up printing the review, but Atsureki is too great an album to go unadvertised, so here in full is my unpublished write-up:

"I Can Tell" - Friction (from Atsureki)
"Out" - Friction (Ibid)

If the New Wave revival hadn’t devolved into a fashion show, obsessive indie one-upsmen might have dug deep enough to unearth this jagged little gem. Bristling with barbed-wire guitars, tourniquet-tight drumming, and manic energy, Friction were one of Japan’s finest indie exports. Their post-punk pedigree earned in No-Wave heavyweights Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, James Chance and the Contortions, and Lydia Lunch, the band established itself with its 1980 debut, Atsureki.

Unfortunately, the album opens with its two weakest tracks. “A-Gas” sounds like a failed B-side by the Fall, and “Automatic Fru” is unremarkable punk paint-by-numbers. From there, the album’s teeth sink in. The moddish rave-up “I Can Tell” establishes the M.O. for the rest of the record, bashing through danceable fits of strum-and-clang. Bouyed by Reck’s John Lydonesque vocal lunacy, the trio manages to outdo many of its peers. Gang of Four never had this much fun, and Big Black never wrote riffs this memorable. Many songs even anticipate the shape of noise to come. Throw some more distortion on the gliding guitars of “Crazy Dream” and shoegaze is born. Later, “Cool Fool” beats the Jesus Lizard to its aggressive, angular punch by a decade, and the six-string abuse on “Cycle Dance” and “Big S” mustn’t have escaped Thurston Moore’s attention.

Shifting down tempo for the devastating closer, “Out”, the band claws at the walls for seven claustrophobic minutes. Abetted by a skronking saxophone, they sound on their way to meet the Stooges at the Funhouse. In spite of the lean production, it packs a harder punch than any of the brats currently gracing the cover of NME.

Given how necrophilic rock has become, it’s a wonder that Friction has never been name-checked by the “New New Wavers.” But for whatever reason that it remains so unnoticed, Astureki is a classic slab of raw power, at once a retro trip and utterly contemporary.

Saturday, February 18, 2006


Marco Mirror, road warrior and silver Ox

Where have I been? For crying out loud, I've got more important things to attend to than the internet. Yeesh.

Anyhoo, it's approaching the One-Year Anniversary of my amicable split from Baltimore, but I've already made one return journey to my domicile of almost a decade. Reverse culture shock rocked me, the food was like swallowing a butter stick soaked in sugar, and TV made me apopleptic, but as always, Baltimore amazed me with its music scene. 2005 was a particularly fertile year, as Charm City produced two of the finest full-lengths and the best EP I heard last year. Observe...

"Foxes" - The Celebration
(from their eponymous debut)

When Birdland rose phoenix-like from the embers of Love Life, the husband-and-wife duo wowed Baltimore crowds with their sweaty postpunk approach to Tin Pan Alley caberet. But there's only so much propulsion a band can accomplish without a full-time percussionist. Re-enter two Davids: former Love Lifer Bergander sat back down behind the kit, and Mr. Andrew-Sitek (of avant-popsters TV On the Radio) manned the boards to produce the debut of the newly-christened Celebration. Like all their previous incarnations, the band cannot escape comparison to that Dark Prince of Troubadours, Nick Cave, but Ford's melodramatic bellow remains a singularly hypnotic instrument. However, I wish you the best of luck in ignoring the wholly incohesive guest appearances by the individual members of TVOTR, as if those rocking Bono-specs and a Mars Volta-approved afro could be anything other than tactless attention hounds.

"Duty. Duty? Duty." - More Dogs
(from Never Let Them Catch You Crying)

More Dogs is almost too good to be true: three lanky dudes in sweaters, who looked cherry-picked from other ethnically-diverse indie acts, playing tense indie interpretations of Morriconean experimenal film noir scores on an oddball assortment of instruments. In other words, they're a walking manifestation of Hip - which, de facto, also means that they're a little less interesting than their components imply. But unlike almost every other contemporary indie act, More Dogs manage to exhibit restraint. There's no melodic melodrama, histrionics that border on sociopathy, or genre dress-up. More Dogs refuse to show their hand; their tells have to be spotted in sly peeks over the menacing hum of an organ. They throw their chips on the table with sudden drama, like the Varese-esque clatter the opens this song, while the the drummer's stomp puts the bark in this beast. Come closer, but watch your hands. This music does not seek your affection.

"Afri-Cola" - OXES
(from the Oxes EP)

In that mythical battle of infernal animals, I'd put my money on this six-limbed, tricranial taurine monster than a mangey mutt any day. Of course, the truth is that we may have to wait until the next world to see OXES again, now that Nattarino is shacked up somewhere in Italy whilst his bandmates remain in Baltimore. Good of the lads not to leave us with a whimper: the five searing tracks on the Oxes EP reaffirm the trio's legacy as the most unabashedly fun of the angular American instrumental rock bands. Most impressive is the final track, "Afri-Cola." While all the other tracks were recorded live to two-track in the band's practice space, this epic piece of death disco was pieced together in Reason. "We didn't really have a song," guitarist Marco Mirror told me, "we just had the riffs." The result is a Dance-Punk masterpiece in which the equation is truly balanced, instead of merely scruffy guitar-dudes with eyeliner playing house beats. Not that any self-respecting indie-kid would actually dance to this song: the signals are too blurred as they race by, with little obvious instruction betrayed in the chaos. Not the first (or, hopefully, last) time OXES have outsmarted the audience.

In Other News:: Camera 1, Camera 2. Is everything in New York City so bloody special that it needs to be documented so rigorously? Also: this is hysterical and heartening, while this is proof there is no god.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

At the Risk of Being Unpopular, I Blame You

"Shut Up!" - The Monks (from Black Monk Time, 1966)

This is an odd day in the history of media saturation, because of all the stories to get beaten into glue (oil consumption, nuclear threats, "what about the children?", etc.) I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but...

I'm bored of Deerhoof.

Honestly, it's not just because The Runners Four is inferior to Apple O'. I place the blame squarely on all of you fanboys for managing to overexpose one of the most idiosyncratic pop acts in the underground. I'm not even that excited that they're crossing the Pacific this month anymore. I already feel like I've had Satomi's helium-high voice ground into my grey matter enough for another year.

So I beg you (especially you, Nick): Okay. We get it. It's not that hard. Are you done now?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Keep It In Your Pants, Kids

If this doesn't invite hysterical evangelising and unobjective geek-out, I don't know what does.