Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Some of Its Parts

As much as I'd like to, I can't quite share such enthusiasm about One Day As a Lion, the new Zack De La Rocha/Jon Theodore collabo. Part of it is that Theodore sits on the same shelf in my mind as Danny Elfman, under the label of Betrayal & Heartbreak: Theodore's spitfire salsa rhythms were my favourite feature of the first Mars Volta record - until I found out that the most batshit beats (e.g. "Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of)") were, in fact, written by Theodore's predecessor and fomer Laddio Bolocko skinsman, Blake Felming.

Although I never enjoyed Rage Against the Machine enough to own any of their records... c'mon, how could you physiologically not enjoy 'em? They groove like a reducto ad absurdum James Brown rhythm section with an estrogen deficiency. Not liking Rage is like not liking "Smokestack Lightning" or "Bustin' Loose": you're either overthinking things by a light year or two, or you're missing both your adrenal and pituitary glands.

That being said, the humourless militancy of Rage's music robbed it of that quicksilver instability that made other "soundtrack[s] to revolution" seem like a credible threat. Even the Red Hot Chili Peppers (MkII) sounded more dynamic in all their libidinal silliness. (The two bands had something deeper in common than making funk march lockstep: I can't imagine the military imagery in the "Suck My Kiss" video was accidental.) And like Dominic, as a guitarist I resent Tom Morello for getting all the credit that his pedalboard deserved.

De La Rocha's sandpapered bark was the most intriguing, infectiously feral aspect of the band. But given such an ascetic musical frame to work within, De La Rocha could only paint in violent contrasts of black and white - rhythmically, timbrally, thematically. Which is why I loved At The Drive-In so much: stentorian dead-ringer Cedric Bixler recast De La Rocha's hyena howl amidst ambitiously mercurial music so powerful that, briefly, everyone believed that this band was going to save rock 'n' roll. (Aside to everyone: how'd that work out for ya?)

And here our story comes full circle: the afro'd constituents of ATDI famously went on to become an effects-addled obscurantist Sanata for the emo epoch, with Jon Theodore as their stickman for several years. And now he's in One Days As a Lion.

From an initial listen, I already like ODAAL more than RATM. Theodore's drumming boasts a sinewy finesse that Brad Wilk couldn't match, and De La Rocha's refined his flow, packing more surprising rhymes and sophisticated rhythms. (So that puts him where, say, Mos Def was ten years ago.) But it still feels a little stiff and stripped bare compared to what it could be...

...And was for one explosive single. De La Rocha struck the perfect balance between feral freak-out and sonic complexity with the lone released result of his collaboration with Trent Reznor, "We Want It All". While not especially mathy by any measure, the song wove a thick tapestry of clashing metallic timbres and suitably tribal battery. As is Reznor's specialty, the technical meticulousness of the tones only served to underscore the muscle-car motorik of the song - and what thunder firing from all cylinders. Think Fugazi covering Sly & the Family Stone, or (indeed) Cedric Bixler & Tricky reimagining My Life In the Bush of Ghosts.

Fuckin' awesome.

Of course, if that song's maximalist mayhem is a single aberration within a fifteen-year-plus catalogue of minimalist hard funk, perhaps De La Rocha is not the man I should rely to point me towards my desired musical horizon.

Tangential Postscript: Carl's suspicion "that people are only pretending NOT to like stuff like Faith No More and RATM" seems dead-on to me, if only because I can't fathom from whence comes the vitriol directed at such bands by the hipoisie. Rage often get bagged out not because of the band, but because of that constant Fight Club-wannabe meathead jock contingent of their audience. Unfortunate but understandable. But FNM frontman Mike Patton seems to be a favourite target for the most spiteful comment-thread shit-talking. Why? What the hell has he done wrong? I'm no blindly devoted fanboy; I sold back my copy of the Maldoror album lickety-spit, and Peeping Tom was unrepentently corny. But why do they all hate him so?

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