Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Amplifier Worship

A bit late on the update from this one, but last Saturday had me driving down to Columbus to catch SunnO))) and Boris. I had been pretty excited for this show ever since I read about it a couple months ago. I was hoping for an unholy droning east-meets-west sludgefest and was not let down in the slightest. Boris brought the thunder from the east, alternating between Blue Cheer-y, wooly-mammoth-stuck-in-the-tar-pit heaviness and more spastic prog-with-a-fork-stuck-in-a-220-volt socket numbers. They had the younger kids moshing during the latter and the fat, long-haired & bearded dudes in black t-shirts with the sleeves cut off banging their heads slowly in approval during the former tunes. After a short break, the house lights went down and the stage began to fill with fog. Along with the blue stage lights and the numerous tiny red light bulbs hung around, it started to make the transition from concert hall to ceremonial drone cave where the evening's cochlea sacrifice would proceed. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Oren Ambarchi came out (shrouded in the de rigeur black hooded cloak) and began filling the air with piercing tones from his heavily processed guitar. After a few minutes of that O'Malley and Anderson, the High Priests of the Unholy Drone, came out, plugged in, and unleashed the power of the sunn amps. This was the first time I had seen them perform live and had heard how the sound manifests itself physically, but was completely unprepared for it. Up until that point, the loudest band I had seen was Mogwai, but that pain could be alleviated with earplugs. Not so with Sunn. The low end rumbles through your innards and vibrates your teeth. Like some sort of tribal shamans, they had their flock all resonating at the same frequency. If Shiva had an audio accompaniment to his work of destroying planets, it would definitely be SunnO))). (Curiously enough, someone told me that the word "sunno" in Hindi means "listen", but I've been too lazy to look into that. I prefer just believing blindly what he told me) Added to the steel string reverberations were Atsuo's (Boris' drummer) vocal chords and gong hits. Perched at the edge of the stage, and even jumping into the sea of outstretched arms at one point, his blasphemous shrieking-in-tongues whipped the crowd into a frenzy.

This was one of the best performances I've seen in awhile. Added to the fact that it's great music, the atmosphere they create just takes it up to another level. It's a lot more interesting that way than just a bunch of dudes who haven't showered in awhile in the same jeans and t-shirts they've had on for 3 days. With their stage theatrics, Sunn walks the line between over the top, Spinal Tap-esque heavy metal shlock and true reverence. Maybe I'm just some hack writer who completely missed the point, but the boundaries between taking the piss and exalting the dark forces were obscured by the fog machines. As always, the merch tables at shows like this get me into trouble but I was able to sufficiently restrain myself to keep a few bucks in my pocket for a post-show Waffle House stop. Nothing better to fill a post-drone rumbled belly with than a pecan waffle. If I was an enterprising opportunist I would've picked up a couple of the tour-only Sunn discs to flog on eBay (one went for over $140 bucks) but I was content to just pick up the one for myself, along with the picture disc LP of Black One and the high concept 2 disc Dronevil set by Boris. It's somewhat along the lines of the Flaming Lips' "Zaireeka", you sync up the 2 discs to play at the same time. They're impressive enough on their own, but when you actually do sync them up on 2 players, the result is stupefying.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

R.I.P. Desmond Dekker

Just a quick shout out to the memory of the man who turned me on to a whole genre of music I would've otherwise missed out on. I went to high school with a bunch of kids who were into ska, but they were all nerds with shaved heads and two-tone suspenders who listened to The Toasters and stuff like that. Not my cup of tea. Then the only experience I had with reggae was the Bob Marley discs that always played at my uncle's house while they all smoked pot. Bob Marley bored me to tears. Let's face it, he's basically the (half) black Jimmy Buffett. I know college freshmen everywhere will disagree with that statement (just look for any dorm room with a poster of Bob smoking a huge spleef), but it's pretty much the truth. My indifference to reggae all changed once I heard a little tune called "The Israelites" in a little movie called "Drugstore Cowboy". That snakey guitar line, repetitive rhythm, and soulful voice was cooler than Matt Dillon's outfits, and that's saying a lot because he looked pretty awesome in that movie. So I credit Desmond Dekker and Trojan Records (for all their amazing re-issues and box sets) for turning me onto a powerful, vibrant form of music that I otherwise would've just dismissed as the soundtrack to overpriveleged white college kids with dreadlocks preaching about the evils of "Babylon".
Here's an awesome video from a TV show show in the vein of "Top Of The Pops" of Desmond Dekker & The Aces performing "The Israelites" to a bunch of Dutch dudes with weird haircuts.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Black Ships Ate The Sky

David Tibet, the primary creative force behind Current 93 describes his newest album “Black Ships Ate The Sky” as “the closest I have come to picturing what I hope, and feel, and love, and fear.” It takes a certain amount of guts to do something like that, to tear down every shred of a protective barrier around your core and expose it to the elements and see what the end result is. What if no one cares? Or even worse, what if when you train that deep of an eye into the deepest recesses of yourself, the end result bores you? Luckily for us what resides inside of David Tibet is something so awe-inspiring, frightening, and magnificient that it’s resulted in the best album these ears have heard in the past 5 or so years. “Black Ships Ate The Sky” is the latest of Tibet’s prolific work with Current 93, released on his own Durtro-Jnana record label. The songs on this album are distinctly divided into two categories. The central theme is a rendition of Idumea (a hymn written in 1793 by the brother of the founder of the Methodist church), interpreted by the likes of Marc Almond, “Bonnie” Prince Billy, and Shirley Collins. Idumea is an interesting choice of a song to cover. It’s lyrical content is similar Tibet’s own lyrics (death, the afterlife/spirit world, eternity) but even more so when you consider the history of the song and who he chooses to interpret it. Idumea made a transatlantic journey and became a staple in Appalachian folk hymns (versions of it appeared on the Cold Mountain soundtrack) and by choosing both American and English artists to cover it, Tibet creates a musical bridge spanning oceans and centuries and left his own mark on an ever evolving art form. Even though this song appears 9 times on the album it never feels repetitive because each artists’ interpretation of it is quite different, the highlight being the almost a capella version sung by Antony. His voice is too beautiful to be human, it sounds like it’s coming from from an impossibly perfect blank eyed marble statue with angelic vocal chords. A modern day Pygmalion. The other half of the album is a song cycle concerning the mysterious black ships. At the peak of his song writing powers, Tibet is on par with the poetry of William Blake. The lyrics paint strange and wonderful and disturbing images of copper kings, umbrella ladies, and black ships devouring the clouds in your head, set to delicately picked folky acoustic guitars and the deep mournful tone of a cello. To the ever changing roster of musicians in Current 93, Tibet has added Ben Chasny. His style meshes so well with Tibet's that it's a wonder it has taken this long for it to happen. The album climaxes towards the end lyrically, musically, and emotionally with the title track, with corrosive, distorted guitars pounding the same chord repeatedly while the cello squeals and wails like John Cale's viola on "Heroin", with an impassioned David Tibet intoning “Who will deliver me from myself? “ over and over. At this point you're so far caught up in the web Tibet has gently spun, lulling you with soothing tones, that the industrial overtones of this song are rather jarring. After Tibet destroys the entire world he had created in the span of those 4 minutes, he uses a reprise of Why Caesar Is Burning as its requiem, and to ease your re-entry back into the "real world". I'm not exactly sure what the black ships are supposed to signify. The one theory I keep returning to is that it's symbolic of humanity's propensity towards self destruction. Of a fate we're almost certainly doomed for if we stay the present course. It's almost as if Tibet is hoping that there is in fact a deus ex machina to deliver us from ourselves.

Finally, the hippies have good record collections

Maybe it has to do with the fact that Phish broke up and the hippies with nowhere else to go have finally started listening to non-jamband fare. Maybe the hippies just decided that the String Cheese Incident wasn't doing it for them and started delving into authentic psychedelic weirdness. Dungen is championing Trad Gras Och Stenar, Devendra Banhart has Vashti Bunyan, Ben Chasny has uncovered Gary Higgins from whatever rock he's been hiding under. For the record I'm not calling Ben a hippie, just using that as a point of reference. And for the record, I think the term "freak-folk" is a really lame buzzword cooked up by lazy journalists who have to categorize everything. For good or ill, as of late there seems to be an overabundance of bands practicing a sort of hippie-ish/back-to-the-land ethos.  The problem with a glut of bands in any one “scene”, other than the inevitable backlash, is separating the wheat from the chaff.  Feathers, a collective from the white mountains of Vermont, fall into the former category. They were the backing musicians on the aforementioned Banhart’s most recent studio album “Cripple Crow”, but their self-titled debut released on Banhart’s gnomonsong label is far superior. This record has me almost ready to put all my metal records in a pile and light it on fire and dance around it barefoot drinking mushroom tea under a full moon. (almost).  Their songs have a psychedelic-folky vibe that makes them sound like they were recorded in a sunlit meadow amongst wildflowers swaying in a gentle breeze or in a circle of gypsy wagons around a campfire. The one track that has especially captured my heart as of late is the closing "Come Around". The harmonies are achingly sweet and the multi-layered instrumental arrangement is just perfect.  More importantly, they have an authentic quality to them that leaves you wondering if the songs were recorded now or in 1973.  They don’t come off as a fly-by-night bandwagon jumping act who all of the sudden started waving their freak-folk flag for an already built in niche audience.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Mogwai and a really shitty band and a ray of hope to not end on a bummer

Sometimes the peripheral things happening at a show are just as entertaining as the main event. The bathroom lines at the Mogwai show last Thursday night at St. Andrew's were one of those moments. A few of the choice overhead comments:

"What the fuck is with this line? I walked past the ladies room and there isn't a line at all"
"That's because there's only like four chicks here"

a guy to another guy washing his hands after peeing:
"What are you doing? Is there something that wrong with your dick that you have to wash your hands every time you touch it?"

then one of the times I went down (I think I put down about 5 tall boys at the show, so there were frequent trips after a certain point) and there were 2 guys bitching about the wait, which was only about 3 minutes or so but that can seem like an eternity with a full bladder. Anyway, these guys were already INSIDE the bathroom waiting for the next available stall/urinal, but one guy egged the other guy on into pissing in the trash can. Then someone else started pissing in the sink. Pretty fuckin' punk rock. Needless to say it's the hardest I've probably ever laughed inside a bathroom other than the time at the House of Blues in Chicago when there were two guys arguing over who was doing more of their stash of blow in a stall next to me. As much fun as the bathroom was, the Mogwai set was even better. Easily one of the more powerful live acts still going today. If you subscribe to the theory that matter is neither created nor destroyed in a chemical reaction, Mogwai will completely remind you that every particle of your body (and everywhere else for that matter) has been around since the Big Bang. They're so fierce live, and the sheer volume of it is like the sixth member of Mogwai. It was simultaneously beautiful and violent. Of the brilliant new album all I recognized was my personal favorite Friend of the Night and a monstrous version of Glasgow Mega-Snake that closed the show, complete with an extended noisy ending. Other than the opening Yes! I Am A Long Way From Home, the rest was just a blur of their brilliant brand of tension and release. Paik and Film School were playing at the Stick that night as well, but after Mogwai I was just too shattered. Plus seeing anyone else that night (even Paik) would've just been anti-climactic.

After the brilliance of Mogwai on Thursday, I witnessed one of the WORST live acts I've ever come across. I had gone to Small's for the purpose of seeing Light play, and one of the openers just ruined my night. They were called Canada, which is a slight on our neighbors to the north. Knowing that Canada is basically a nation of pacifists that don't shoot each other over sneakers and wouldn't howl for blood over the fact that their name was attached to such a horrible band. If a group of tuneless Canadian pseudo-hippie pot smokers who thought that their THC addled "jamming" in the basement was worthy of putting a group together to torment people who drink at bars formed a band and called themselves U.S.A., I wouldn't doubt a full-on minutemen type assault to put an end to it. As an act of good faith I think their heads should be mounted on pikes in Hart Plaza, facing Canada, with a big banner that says SORE-REE (the phonetic Canadian pronunciation of "sorry") over top of it as an act of good faith. Maybe spare the two lady cello players, but the guys must go. They all switched instruments, which included a fucking xylophone and one of those melodicas that only sound good in dub reggae tunes or if used by Brian Eno. Maybe if they would've all stuck to focusing their effort on one instrument it might've been easier to listen to, but probably not.

As promised I'm not ending on a bummer (well, not exactly). Jason Molina, this generation's Springsteen, has another solo album coming out in August, similar to the Pyramid Electric Co. album from a couple years ago. Molina talks about it here.

thanks for reading, if anyone out there is

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Never underestimate the insanity of an obsessive Morrissey fan(atic). Remember all the crazy shit that supposedly linked Lincoln and Kennedy? Well, some crazy Smiths/Moz fan with a bit too much time on their hands has established a link between Morrissey's lyrics and the death of Princess Di. Here are just a few examples:

Morrissey started THE QUEEN IS DEAD with audio from the film THE L-SHAPED ROOM
about a woman - played by actress Lesley Caron - who moved from France to England.
Diana's body was moved from France to England.
Lesley Caron was born on July 1st.
Diana was born on July 1st.

Morrissey's lyrics to THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT from THE QUEEN IS DEAD concern:
two people
on a date
at night
in the city
driving in a car
fantasizing about getting killed in a car crash
gripped by fear in an underpass

Over a decade later we have Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed:
two people
on a date
at night
in the city
driving in a car
getting killed in a car crash
in an underpass

In 1987, this very same song - THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT from THE QUEEN IS DEAD -
became the 'A'-side of the only Smiths single ('B'-side: HALF A PERSON) in the lifetime of the band to be
released exclusively in France.
Princess Diana died in France.

Oh boy. I wouldn't poke fun if I wasn't completely obsessed with The Smiths myself. It really just makes me feel a whole lot better about it. If ever I think I've gone too far, I can always fall back on the "at least I didn't make a whole website about Moz predicting Princess Diana's death" defense. If you want to read the rest of the material, by all means visit THE DIANA-MORRISSEY PHENOMENOM website.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Acid Mother's Day

What is it with some of my countrymen? I think it comes as an honest-to-god SHOCK to some of them that there are people who don't speak English out there. Before the Acid Mothers Temple show Sunday night (dubbed Acid Mother's Day, clever huh?), I was at the merch table checking out what they had for me to buy when some duder was having a really hard time trying to find out why there was no Acid Mother's vinyl for sale. He kept talking very sloooowly as you would to a child who is mentally retarded and was visibly flustered and kept saying "Well you know, it's a rather common practice for bands to press their albums on to vinyl." I could just see Higashi and Kawabata sitting there thinking, "Fuck you guy, we're going home where we can play pachinko and buy school girl's worn underwear in a couple weeks." The opening act were some band called The Antarcticans who weren't bad but they kinda need to get over the whole Godspeed thing.
The Acid Mothers took the stage to Atsushi-san greeting us in perfect Engrish by saying "Herro Detroit Rock City, happy Acid Mother's Day, how many of you are mother fuckers?" It was already shaping up to be an interesting show. Half the fun is just watching them play. They're not the types of dudes you see every day. I was thinking about what it must be like on tour for them in the middle of nowhere when they stop for gas at 3 in the morning and the guy working at the gas station sees a tall Japanese guy with long silver hair and long pointy beard in pyjama pants walking around the store. Some people just aren't ready for that. I find Japanese hippies to be infinitely cooler than the American brand. I guess when you have a culture that's already a little weird to begin with and then you add LSD into the equation you're just bound to come up with something more fun than kicking around a hacky sack in your birks and twirling devil sticks with a Bob Marley disc playing. But I digress. I was hoping to hear more of the heavy, sludgy, Black Sabbath-meets-Flower Travellin Band type of stuff (which there was some of) but the majority of the show was more along the lines of jazzy free form psych space rock with a lot of feedback freak-out breakdowns and just pure Eddie Hazel-style cosmic slop rock-n-roll. Another thing that's great about Acid Mothers is how their brand of psych isn't blues based like so many of the 60's American and British bands, but is based more on droning eastern ragas, and fed through Marshall stacks and loads of effects pedals it turns into whole different creature. I like to think of it as some form of electric Zen buddhism, because it has that effect on the mind. It occupies the front part of your brain with its mantra (the part that worries about your bills, putting gas in the car, paying rent, etc. etc.) and lets the rest of the mind wander. It's a little reminder that there is a lot more to being human than slaving away to buy a false sense of happiness. That there's more of "us" than there are of "them" and if everybody one day decided to burn their passports and their flags and their credit card bill, that there's nothing "they" will be able to do about it. They got the guns but we got the numbers. I know it all sounds really naive and utopian but it's not a bad fantasy to have, and besides, everyone loves an underdog. That's why I'm glad there are bands like this. I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. You just have to throw those seeds to the wind and hope they find purchase somewhere. You'll have to forgive me for all the hippie drivel, my mind is still reeling from the dose of Acid Mothers. Oh and by the way that's all I was on Sunday night, just the feedback, no drugs of any sort so this isn't some sort of post-lysergic revelation or anything. I'll be back to my jaded, cynical self in a couple days I'm sure. It's just nice to know you can slip into that every now and then when you need a reminder that it's not all that bad. That if you free your mind, your ass will follow, no matter what sort of limitations the material world has placed on you. After the show I stopped by the merch table to try and pick out one of the 2 dozen or so CDs for sale. I settled on the Acid Mothers Temple Soul Collective Tour 2003 disc, mainly because there was a pic of Cotton Casino on the cover and I sorta have a thing for her. There are 3 long pieces on it from various Acid Mothers side projects. The first is a gorgeous electric guitar space symphony done solo by Kawabata Makoto that starts off with what sounds like an improv for about 15 minutes before breaking into the familiar melody of Pink Lady Lemonade. The second piece is a side project of Cotton Casino and Higashi Hiroshi called Duo. It's a moog/synth/keyboard soundtrack for spacewalks, ethereal blips and bloops for floating weightlessly through the starlit black void. And finally, as almost an antithesis to the previous 2 pieces is Tsurubami, a 3 piece with Kawabata and Higashi and Emi Nobuko. This is an all improvised, recorded live, corrosive metallic noisy sonic punishment. After a couple minutes it mellows out and settles into an uneasy truce with your ears in an electric drone before going back into the cacophonous squalling and ending on a note of screeching feedback.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Nothing is worse than being outside in the rain. Unless of course you're walking a stupid fucking dog who walks into the biggest puddle in the field and lays down and will not come when you call so you have to wade in there to collar him again and get soaked up to your fucking ankles. I would've been in way more of a foul mood had it not been for the new Stills to keep me musical company. I'll admit, I rolled my eyes when I opened the envelope that this came in. I had seen these dudes open for Echo & the Bunnymen a couple years ago and was thoroughly unimpressed, and really could've cared less for their last album. So I listened to it thoroughly preparing to hate it, but what I heard when I pressed play was quite a pleasant surprise. It didn't even sound like the same band. Where their debut seemed overly somber, calculated, and derivative, their follow up disc Without Feathers has a completely updated sound. It actually reminds me a bit of The Jesus & Mary Chain's "Stoned & Dethroned" album. The opening cut "In The Beginning" starts off with a chugging rhythm, then adds a marching cadence of a drumbeat, and swirling organ chords and guitar licks that turns it into a triumphant psychedelic pop rock tune, complete with a false ending to assuage your disappointment when you think it ends too early and say "Awww, man, that's IT?". While not a perfect album by any means (some of the slower songs seem a bit tedious and "The House We Live In" is sort of a weak tune to end on) the good far outweighs the bad. "Oh Shoplifter" and "Baby Blues" especially stand out.

The new Whirlwind Heat record "Types Of Wood" has also been in heavy rotation over here lately. I don't think these guys get enough credit. At it's best moments "Types Of Wood" will make you feel like you're seeing Erase Errata after they fired their guitar player and got Mark Mothersbaugh to play with them at a crowded house party with a lot of shitty beer in kegs in the basement and everyone's good looking and horny and going nuts and swinging from the rafters and sweaty bodies flailing everywhere. Take a listen to "My Electric Underwear" if you don't believe me. It's that kind of party. Porno funk basslines, brain frying Moogs, and stupid lyrics. That's not a bad thing either by the way, just listen to "Gene Pool Style" to see what I mean. They also have an awesome, hilarious, self-directed video for the spastic "Air Miami" that has more edits than that movie "Spun" but it's a lot more fun and you don't have to see Brittany Murphy.

Friday, May 05, 2006

We Dream In Sound

If I was a lot smarter and knew more about politics I would be blogging about the resignation of Porter Goss, but since my time in college was spent on other pursuits I'm blogging about seeing Elf Power last night. So I ended up going to see them even though it was a last minute decision on my part. And a better decision couldn't have been made on a whim on a Thursday night. I have quite a weakness for Elephant 6 bands. Everyone remembers their first time listening to "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea". That was basically my Fisher-Price My Very First Indie Band Album. And through that I devoured anything from that collective (and their like) that I could get my hands on. Olivia Tremor Control, Of Montreal, Apples In Stereo, Dressy Bessy, and of course, Elf Power. The show last night was just FUN. It brought me back to being in my early 20s (not that they're that far behind me or anything). It sounded like going to sleep and waking up to the sound of babbling bongs, of having a job that afforded me the luxury of setting my own schedule and striking out to whatever destinations caught my fancy. It sounded like smoking cigarettes on a warm sunlit porch with nothing at all to do but maybe scrape together some change and go get a 40. It sounded like optimism and infinite possibilities, which everyone needs a dose of every now and then, no matter how hippie it sounds. There wasn't as much of the really heavy, grimy psych sound from the organs that I liked so much from their earlier albums. They had a lady playing cello which put a different twist on stuff like "We Dream In Sound". I haven't heard much of the stuff from the new album, but the couple songs they played sounded not too different from the stuff on "Creatures" (really nice clean tone from the electric 12 string and a much fuzzier sound from the lead) which was my favorite album of theirs. They did play "Everlasting Scream" and closed with "Let The Serpent Sleep" from that album. I unfortunately didn't have any money left to pick up the new LP (daddy likes his whiskey) but I will definitely keep an eye out for it when my next check comes in.