Technicality / Musical Traits

Although a lot of 'technical' music these days are technical for the sake of showing off, a lot of music shows off for the sake of showing off. This in no way justifies their showiness, but it seems as if technical bands are flamed for the very fact that they are technical. Technical bands can be compromising for their lack of songwriting ability, but their technicality isn't what should be flamed- they should still be given credit for the fact that they have a high level of musicianship.

What comes to mind immediately is the band 'Hella'. Years ago, I remember listening to them and not being able to comprehend any of it. All I could hear was cacophony and Zach Hill (drummer) playing at max speed- like always. I first wondered how it could have any musical merit at all, considering the fact that it sounded completely random and could be put together by anyone playing as fast as humanly possible. Only later did I realize that each phrase in every song was carefully written out. 'Why does this even matter? What's the point?'. The point is that Hella spends a fuck load of time working on both their skills and their songs- probably more than 90% of professional bands these days.

How is their time and effort relevant to their creative output? 'Just because they put time and effort in doesn't mean it's necessarily good', you may be wondering.

Well, in my opinion, music has a few prime aspects that constitute what is good:

Real Traits:

Diversity- Diversity in music covers the range of human emotion, rhythm, and technicalities.
Technical- The Technical shows pure prowess in the art of playing their instrument(s).
Lyrical- The Lyrical displays the power to convey through word; related to the Emotional.
Emotional- The Emotional allows for the music to have meaning.
Structural- The Structural shows the musician(s) prowess in creating the song (songwriting).
Stylistic- The Stylistic is the musician/band's capability to create a new, unique 'sound'.
Melody- The Melody is the sensibility the musician(s) have developed much like the lyrical and tech.

False Traits:

Aural Appeasement- Aural Appeasement determines whether or not you 'like' the sound, and does not contribute to the merit of the song or band.
Messiness- The sloppiness of the music played can be a genuine trait for disliking music, but often times it is done purposefully for emotion on style. Of course, you'd have to be able to distinguish whether the messiness is warranted or not.

Hella devote their lives to the music not for the sake of grinding their technical abilities but also for the sake of expanding their musical horizons. If this comes with technicality then so be it. To disregard what almost everybody thinks as much as possible and work on their music for the sake of the music is passion. If it manifests in the form of noise, so be it. Often times, people seem to think that the music was made for them. It usually isn't. If you don't like listening to it, just don't!


The Architecture of Force: Part 2-Wild Pack of Family Dogs

Today I'm going to be doing something a little different, in that I'm going to be highlighting a piece of music I don't really consider to be "good", but still has a certain edge, a certain strength, that other songs like it lack. And once again, it's not because the music itself is good. No; what sets this apart entirely has to do with the context of who is preforming it.

Say what you will about the quality of his music post-Black Sabbath(bad) or his quality of character(low)-Ozzy Osbourne is the single most recognized, important individual in the history of heavy metal, and there will probably never be another one person as vital to the genre as he is/was. He's one of the very few metal musicians who's done the nearly impossible task of breaking into mainstream recognition-even people who don't recognize his significance as a musician know that he screams at his wife and kills animals for fun.

Ozzy has also gained a reputation for being something of a wraith, finding the best and brightest musicians to play in his troupe when they're young and casting them aside as quickly as he can find another talent to harvest(including the current lineup, in his almost 30 year solo career, Ozzy has had 10 guitarists, 10 bassists, 6 drummers and 7 keyboardists). Of those musicians, 2 have died-one from ulcers(Randy Castillo) and the other from being a coked-out retard who flew a plane into a house(Randy Rhoads), both of whom, now that I mention it, were named Randy. Coincidence?



Why do I bring all of this up? The man's career has been extensive, to say the least. He helped create the genre of heavy metal and has made a solo career that is successful to this day(even if it can be argued that the music itself ranges from "not very good" to "screamingly horrid"). He probably has at least a few hundred million fans, who know him from either his music, his debauchery, his television career, or all three. Ozzy Osbourne is 60 years old. His fans and his collaborators are legion.

The song "I Don't Wanna Stop" is, in a lot of ways, not very good, or at the very least there's nothing that really stands out about it, on first listen. But, as stated in the beginning, it's the context that makes this song kind of special.

The message is clear: "My enemies can eat shit and die. My fans can go get me a beer, and by Christ it had better be cold. My God, I am excellent." This alone, from a 60 year old man who could give half a fuck about what you think and has more money then the Franklin Mint, holds a certain charm, a way of making you wish that throne was yours. The presentation of this message, however, is something worth noting entirely by itself.

When Ozzy first left Black Sabbath, it seemed like he was trying to distance himself from their sound as much as possible-his haunted wail turned into more of a furious squeak, and the ultra low, heavy riffs that everyone was used to hearing back him up at the time turned zippy and upbeat at the hands of Randy Rhoads(possibly the most overrated metal musician who ever lived). In other words, he turned his sound into pop metal, and it sucked, especially in comparison to his earlier work with Sabbath.

With this song-and the whole album of "Black Rain", really-it sounds almost as though he's trying to return to his roots. Zakk Wylde(currently kickboxing with Nikki Sixx for Dumbest Stage Name) slams down riffs with a heaviness reminiscent of early Sabbath classics like "Into The Void" and Ozzy, once more, stretches his voicebox and becomes the ominous phantom he once was. It's as though the Ozzy Osbourne from 1972 wandered into the present just to say "Fuck you, I was great then and I'm great now and I'm going to live forever."

Because make no mistake, it's not just his present day band playing with him on this song. There's Randy Rhoads and Geezer Butler and Jake E.Lee and Carmine Appice and Tommy Alridge and Mike Moran and, if you listen closely, a little bit of Tony Iommi mixed in there too-not in the sound of the music, but in the spirit. Ozzy Osbourne has been the ringleader of a circus of some of the most talented musicians to ever walk the earth, and some mediocre ones as well, and even a few that were just flat-out not very good. Most of the music wasn't good then and in the future it's probably not going to get better.

But with power like his? With a seat waiting for him in the Pantheon? With that grin, and that howl?

It doesn't even fucking matter. Because in the song's own words, "You're either in or in the way."

It's Ozzy's world. Try not to fuck it up.


How Fucking Romantic

This is not a review of The Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs. I am  going to do a review of 69 Love Songs but I don't know when. It takes, I think, an average of two weeks for me to really grasp an album. For me to completely absorb the music and fully understand the impact of the record. It sometimes can take a shorter or longer amount of time (the low is probably two listens for The Shins' Oh Inverted World, the high being two years for Odelay by Beck) but two weeks is where the needle generally rests. 69 Love Songs is actually 69 songs long. Over three discs. Less than eight minutes under three hours in total. So I'm guessing its going to take me at least a month and a half before I have the damn thing down enough to tell you all about it here. Normally this would be ok. No one is holding there breath for me to write it, another month or two would be totally fine, especially since the album came out ten years ago. But I don't want to wait until then to tell you about the nifty little site that got me interested in the big album to begin with. 

howfuckingromantic.wordpress.com was probably conceived of in a cafe. Some people sitting around, talking about how much they love The Magnetic Fields and sipping expertly roasted, probably quite expensive, espresso. Thinking about how someone should really make a comic book based off 69 Love Songs, how it would be the perfect way to get across the half-serious deepness of that album. And, hell, Belle & Sebastian already did something along the same lines. And then they sat up and remembered that they and lots of people they new were artists and how they didn't have to wait for someone else to pull off this scheme.

Starting on April 8 howfuckingromatic.wordpress.com has set out to create a come for all 69 songs. They've been putting up a couple new ones every week and so far they've pretty consistently portrayed the true emotions of each song incredibly. 

let's pretend we're bunny rabbits


Vincent Moon and The Take-Away Shows

I think somewhere down there we said we would not only focus on the music but also the culture and art around it. To that end I'm going to do a profile on filmmaker Vincent Moon. Someday I hope to get all sorts of profiles on this site, articles on labels and record producers and promotional photographers and album cover artists and live music venues. We will start work on these as soon as we, you know, find out more about all those fields.

One shot. Personal camera work. Very fast film processing. Emphasis on blacks and yellows. An intense love of the bands he films. I doubt he would agree to film a band he didn't love. Takes bands out of normal performance space. Dirty Projectors in a McDonald's The Shins on the streets in Paris Arcade Fire in an elevator The Wombats on a boat the list continues. Bloc Party they really had to talk into it right outside a gig. These are the Take-Away Shows. They don't feel like a music video and they don't feel like a concert movie. They feel like. I guess. They feel like music. They feel like yes this is what should have been coupled with the music all along. Over a hundred have been made starting in 2006 and they keep coming. Every name in indie music. Probably some of your favorite bands.

Outside of that Vincent Moon never fails to amaze and charm. Hes funny. And he really fucking loves the music. He is good friends with The National and some of his best videos are with them here here here and here. He even directed a film for them, came out last year, called A Skin, A Night. Was commissioned to direct a music video by R.E.M. Has a brilliant collection of variably hilarious and intense you tube videos. In one clip he doesn't have a good view of Architecture In Helsinki so he just shoots his head headbanging through the song. Another shows Thurston Moore in one of his drones to end a show but the sound cuts out when it reaches the explosive conclusion.

This man is amazing.

my minds not right


Los Campesinos! - We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed

Los Campesinos! - We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed
2008; Arts & Crafts; Cardiff, Wales

The standard album review consists of three parts. The first section where you give an opening and discuss what ever the hell you want before getting to the music, the middle gives the sound of the record, its influences, lyrical quotes, song by song break down etc. and the last part is the conclusion and the "where this album fits in" in regards to the rest of the artists work. In my head over the last three days I amassed so much writing for part one of this review there threatened to be no second or third part at all.

I was going to talk about the difference between music of the intellect and music of intoxication (Apollonian and Dionysian for those of you who read too much) and how my main stay is intellect music but how intoxication music will always have a greater effect on me. i.e. I will always love Bob Dylan more then anything else but I will always love The Beatles more than Bob Dylan.

I was going to talk about the different kinds of angst, the Nirvana variety, the Elliott Smith variety, the Britpop variety, and the Modest Mouse variety, and their interplay within Los Campesinos.

I was going to talk about how ridiculous and amazing it is to find an album that was both pop music and punk as fuck without being remotely close pop-punk.

I was going to talk about the perception our generation seems to have about how the times of great movement-starting music is over and how Los Campesinos single handedly proves us all wrong.

I was going to talk about the sophomore slump and the view in rock music that a second album too soon is just songs not good enough for the first and an attempt to cash in on the success. And ask who releases their first two albums in the same year any more and where do they get off making them both good? And I was going to say how "prolific" and "constant touring" have become my two favorite phrases.

I was going to talk about how any use of violins in rock music before 2005 all tried to sound like Eleanor Rigby and all use after 2005 tried to sound like the Arcade Fire. I'd say how much this one felt like a medium between classical violin, fiddle, and electric guitar, and how much in place it felt in the music.

I was going to talk about the amazing lyrics that resonate with me and even work out of context. "Shout At The World Because The World Doesn't Love You" "I restored your mom's faith in men wile boring you to death" and the one that every review will quote "OH WE KID OURSELVES THERES FUTURE IN THE FUCKING BUT THERE IS NO FUCKING FUTURE"

I was going to devote an entire paragraph to the lines:
"As if I walked into the room to see my ex-girlfriend
(who by the way I'm still in love with)
sucking the face of some pretty boy
with my favorite band's most popular song in the background.
Is it wrong that I can't decide which bothers me most?"

I was going to say how through all this they never ever sound mopey or self pitying but retain so much fucking energy. Enough to set the room on fire.

I was going to talk about a seven piece band creating disjointed and chaotic music. And two guitarists that didn't seem to know the other one existed and just played they're own lead part. And how somehow this chaos is the most appealing thing in the world.

I was going to talk about how stupid I felt when I first herd the title track of this album. All this time I had been thinking of 2008 as a pretty good year for music but not as good as 2007. I should have been thinking of it as the year of Los Campesinos.

1. Ways To Make It Through The Wall
2. Miserabilia
3. We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed
4. Between An Erupting Earth And An Exploding Sky
5. You’ll Need Those Fingers For Crossing
6. It’s Never That Easy Though, Is It? (Song For The Other Kurt)
7. The End Of The Asterisk
8. Documented Minor Emotional Breakdown # 1
9. Heart Swells/Pacific Daylight Time
10. All Your Kayfabe Friends

i whisper in your ear "this is my downfall"


The Architecture of Force: Part 1-A Real Live One!

Motorhead has always been a little bit of an anomaly in terms of heavy metal, in that they have the utmost, undying respect from metalheads, and also some normal people like them, too. Normal people liked them so much, in fact, that their debut live album, No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith, was a #1 record in Britain for about a week. Considering that it was preceded by an album by a Dutch novelty disco act called Stars On 45 and followed by some stupid crap called Disco Daze and Disco Nites, there’s only one conclusion to draw: British people like Motorhead almost as much as they like retarded bullshit. Their popularity, with this in mind, cannot be overstated.

I believe that part of the reason people enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, Motorhead(even that Robert Christgau asshole likes them) is because they’re good at writing very sincere, very piercing music, and I believe that the reason No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith was such a success was because we finally got to see all of that insane fury completely cut loose.

A little bit of history: At the time No Sleep was released, Motorhead was quickly becoming one of the world’s foremost heavy metal bands, just coming off a string of classic albums: Overkill, Bomber and Ace of Spades. The three people making up the band at the time, Lemmy, “Fast” Eddy Clarke and Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor, were all tough fucking guys with tough fucking backgrounds who made tough fucking music, fucking toughly. Naturally, following their awesome studio albums and keeping in mind their tough asshole reputations, expectations for their first live album were probably pretty high.

Oftentimes, a song from a live album is going to sound a little bit more raw and wild than the studio version. Well motherfucker, you have not heard anything until you’ve heard the difference between “Overkill” in a studio and “Overkill” live at Hammersmith. All of their songs got a little bit crazier, sometimes even a LOT crazier, when they preformed them live, but this one…whoo boy.

Now, I’m not sure what it was that caused the effect with this song, specifically-maybe the guy who produced their albums was being a dick and wouldn’t let them record the song the way they wanted to. Maybe, being the middle of the show, they needed to do something to get their blood moving. Maybe it was something as simple as taking a short break between songs to snort a whole lot of cocaine. I don’t know, I’m not Lemmy(Go d knows I wish I was, though).

What I do know is this.

Studio version: Standard, danceable 70's metal.

Live version: An exercise in musical savagery.

As you can notice, the difference is fucking night and day. The live version is about twice as fast, Lemmy is free to growl like a motherfucker, the intensity has been ramped up about a hundred fold and those drums...my God, those DRUMS.

There's something very primal in this rendition of the song. It taps into the soul and brings out the beast within. If you don't want to move as FAST AS YOU CAN when you're listening to this, whether you want to run or punch somebody in the face or just bang your head as hard as you fucking can, you're not a human being. The studio version is a simple metal song; when it's done live, it's nothing short of a force of nature.

So when you can bring that to the table-when you can get that sort of sincere brutality out in the open, in front of a roaring crowd, and just go fucking ballistic-that's one of the architects of force, which shall heretofore be called: The Live Factor.

ou're Welcome.


The Architecture of Force-Prologue

So if you go back to the very first post on “Styrofoam Boots”, you’d see where Stuart introduced this site as being about posting “good reviews and essays”. Most of these reviews have been quite good, but, looking around, I’m not seeing any real essays except for that one where Stuart was all like “I like music a lot” and that was more of an essay/review hybrid, so I’m going to bring it upon myself to write the first essays that’ll be featured on this site. I’m going to call it the “Architecture of Force” series.

Now given my track record, you’ll probably assume that this is all going to be about prog and metal, and while those both play a part in it, no, that’s not really what this is about at all. It’s more of a meditation on what makes a moving, powerful piece of music moving and powerful-be it metal, punk, folk, jazz or whatever I feel like shining a light on.

There are a shit-ton of definitions for the word “force”. The one I’m going to be concentrating on is this one: “intensity or strength of effect”. This means that I’m going to be looking at what the song is trying to achieve, and how it achieves this(I’m only going to be looking at ones I deem successful-no losers in my sounds club).

One of the points of this exercise is to see if there’s a kind of universal appeal in a powerful piece of music. One would think that somebody who listens to mostly jazz is going to be looking for a different effect or feeling then somebody who listens to largely punk or somebody who listens to largely rap-but as stated above, this is just an assumption. Most people take it for granted that this is the case, so, as somebody who has a rather expansive taste in music, I’m going to try to see if this is the case once and for all. It’s more of a side-goal, but I think it’s interesting enough to mention.

So, to recap: What makes a song powerful, and how does it achieve said power, and how can I claim something like that accurately without knowing a bunch of music school garbage? I can’t. But it’s science fact that I’m writing for a music blog because I know more about music than you do, so shut your pie hole.

Part 1 starts sometime this week.



Hang You From the Heavens

Jack White believes in three. Three main parts in the Stripes, Guitar, Bass, and Vocals, three colors he reps, three chords in the classic punk and delta blues that he based his style off of, three lines per stanza in the 12 bar blues, the list goes on and on. He went as far as to name his record label Third Man Records and he sometimes takes to calling himself Jack White III. 

So should it be any surprise that two bands was not enough?

The Dead Weather released their first single, Hang You From the Heavens, on seven inch vinyl and digital download today. The band is made up of Allison Mosshart of The Kills on vocals, Little Jack Lawrence from The Raconteurs on bass, Dean Fertita from Queens of the Stone Age on fuzzed out guitar, and Jack White on, get this, drums. So that leaves the man with one band on vocals and guitar, one band on bass, and the lucky number three on drums. 

Now I know you can't judge Mr. Whites endeavors based on the first single. Steady As She Goes was intriguing until it fell flat behind a dud of a record. Icky Thump as well kicked total ass but the album with the same name came off as hit or miss. Still, I have high hopes for Horehound, cumming out this June. Because, well, the single absolutely owns. And even though Jack White is the big name around it was actually Mosshart and Fertita who composed the song, which could suggest a much more collective nature to the whole thing. 

I'll be keeping an eye out for it but in the mean time I'll have this to hold me over: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dlCFZCmbORg

and sell you off to the devel


Zazen Boys- Zazen Boys II

Zazen Boys - Zazen Boys II
2004; No American Distributer; Tokyo, Japan

(Disclaimer) Although I understand nearly none of the lyrics in Zazen Boys II (or any other Zazen Boys for that matter), I'd bet that they were ingenious.

Zazen Boys are a four piece from Tokyo, Japan that consisted (line-up is different now) of Mukai Shutoku (former member of Number Girl), Inazawa Ahito (former drummer of Number Girl), Hinata Hidekazu (formerly from Art-School), and Yoshikane Sou (formerly from Kicking the Lion). In Number Girl, Shutoku he led the band to become one of the biggest indie bands in Japan. In Zazen Boys, he continued his musical endeavors but with a more developed sound. In other words, sheer awesomeness.

Where do I begin. First of all, the album starts off as easily accessible, and I'd consider it an alternative album over an indie or math rock album any day. However this doesn't take away from any sense of dynamic that the album has. It's gets more and more difficult, but progressively so (no pun intended), easing into more and more intensity and experimentalism. It will leave you baffled by the fact that you actually were actually able to internalize it.

The band sound is unlike your typical alternative, math rock, indie rock, post-punk, spoken word, j-rock or rap. Although elements are presented throughout, Zazen Boys combine these elements into a cohesive sound without sounding corny or recycled. On track 2 Crazy Days, Crazy Feeling, you get a funk-inspired guitar riff played through a JC-120, r&b seemingly pitch-modulated female vocals, expressive drumming reminiscent of Number Girl, and the spoken-word and rapping of Shutoku 49 seconds in. How does any of this go together? It may sound confusing, but it makes perfect sense once listened to.

Overall, Zazen Boys sounds refreshing and the only thing they recycle are some of their Number Girl tendencies. By this I mean similar melodies, phrasing and chord progressions are reused. After listening to most of their other stuff, one downfall is the fact that entire songs seem to be redone with slightly different rhythms and vocal approaches on different releases. However, on Zazen Boys II, ideas and progressions aren't repeated as far as I can tell .

If this isn't enough to get you to listen to the album, realize that Mukai doesn't only sing. He does spoken word, raps, snarls, screams, and chants. His vocal range itself isn't very dynamic, but the way he uses his voice is ultimately expressive and in my opinion, his vocal delivery means more than some of the best singing in the world.

4. Anminbo
6. You make me feel so bad
7. Kuroi Shitagi
10. Saizensen
13. CHIE chan's Landscape
14. Rokuhon no Kurutta Hagane no Shindo


Pere Ubu - Dub Housing

Pere Ubu - Dub Housing
1978, Chrysalis Records, Cleveland OH

I like post-punk. That's actually bull shit, I absolutely love post-punk. Sometimes it means brooding distorted guitars, sometimes it means lots and lots of synths, sometimes it means so much feedback that your ears start bleeding and it almost always means un restrained experimentalism. And I love every bit of it. Even the ones that make your ears bleed (especially the ones that make your ears bleed).

I have a fairly respectable collection of post-punk, new and old. From Young Marble Giants all the way down through Liars. So when I sat down to give Dub Housing my premier listen I was pretty sure I knew what to expect. A 1978 Cleavland band, named after a character from an absurdest play. Going to be something pretty dark and, well, cabaret, right? So you can imagine my surprise when I hear the initial wail of "I'VE GOT THESE ARMS AND LEGS, THEY FLIP FLOP! FLIP FLOP!"

What the fuck is going on here?

Does David Thomas realize he sounds like a really paranoid crack up David Byrne on too much caffeine? Does he realize that David Byrne is already paranoid and on too much caffeine to begin with? Does he realize the implications of adding more paranoia and coffee on top of that? Do they realize that synthesizer sounds like velcro? Does he realize... I mean what the fuck is going on here?

And I generally don't like to analyze lyrics, but seriously, what the fuck does Navvy mean? I mean, those words had to come from somewhere, right?

Once I recovered from shock, well, its brilliant. If your in to that kind of intellectual bullshit, that is. And I certainly am. All the lyrics come off as wildly intelligent when you take the time to look closely at them, and as deeply stoned rants if you don't. Both might be true. Some come off as genuinely creepy, particularly Dub Housing and Caligari's Mirror. Others, wile still remaining the weird far off center feel, are just amazingly fun. Not to mention the most innovative synthesizer use I have ever herd.

In all its an amazingly experimental off kilter album that I guaranty sounds nothing like everything you've ever herd before. But then again I don't know your music taste. You might be truly annoyed by it and want to turn it off after two songs.

1. Navvy
2. On The Surface
3. Dub Housing
4. Caligari's Mirror
5. Thriller!
6. I Will Wait
7. Drinking Wine Spodyody
8. Ubu Dance Party
9. Blow Daddyo
10. Codex

I think about you all the time...


Mastodon-Crack the Skye

Mastodon-Crack the Skye
2009; Reprise; Atlanta, Georgia
If you listen to Mastodon's drummer, Brann Dailor, he will tell you that this is what their new album, Crack the Skye, is about:

"It's about a crippled young man who experiments with astral travel. He goes up into outer space, goes too close to the sun, gets his golden umbilical cord burned off, flies into a wormhole, is thrust into the spirit real, has conversations with spirits about the fact that he's not really dead, and they decide to help him. They put him into a divination that's being performed by an early-20th-century Russian Orthodox sect called the Klisti, which Rasputin is part of.

"Knowing Rasputin is about to be murdered, they put the young boy's spirit inside of Rasputin. Rasputin goes to usurp the throne of the czar and is murdered by the Yusupovs, and the boy and Rasputin fly out of Rasputin's body up through the crack in the sky and head back. Rasputin gets him safely back into his body."

You know what? I went into this album not even knowing there WAS a story, so you can feel free to safely ignore this crackpot's ideas about his music, as long as his music is still good. And it is.

Progressive metal has been known for some time as the worst possible outcome of the genres it combines. It's snooty while being base, technically advanced without the slightest hint of dynamism, and always contains high-concept ideas with lyrics that wouldn't know depth or profundity if it slapped them right in the dick. If anything was going to pull this sad, sorry genre out of the mud, it wasn't going to be Dream Theater, it wasn't going to be Symphony-X and it sure as hell was not going to be the fucking Goddamn Flower Kings.

And I guess Mastodon felt that, as long as they were the only listenable band in modern American metal already, they might as well scoop up the pieces of prog metal and build it into something that a normal person could conceivably get into. I think they might have succeeded.

To be fair, this trend of making progressive metal not completely embarrassing didn't start with Mastodon-Tool has been doing their damndest for over a decade, and Cynic recently released the sublime Traced in Air, which I would say was far and away the best album of 2008. Like the aforementioned album, what Crack the Skye does is strip away all the masturbatory guitar solos and all the strained lyrics and replace them with warped, psychadelic imagery and pure, thundering musicianship.

Is this really an album about a cripple possessing Rasputin or whatever? Maybe-I don't know and I don't care. I know that the lyrics come off as being completely open to interpretation. I know that the riffs are electric, the drums are heavy and the vocals are piercing. I know that the subtle moments make the dashes of fury all the more powerful and I know that "The Last Baron" is one of my favorite new songs in some time.

I also know that it doesn't feel pretentious or snobby, and I know it feels like it doesn't belong to an exclusive club that only music school graduates are allowed to enter. It feels like it has something to say, even if what it's saying isn't entirely straightforward, and it wants as many people as possible to hear it. That kind of sincerity comes along rarely in modern music and almost never in prog.

And yes, this album does have problems. A few of the songs get to sounding awfully similar after a while and on "Ghost of Karelia" they actually re-use a guitar riff from an earlier album, which is a level of laziness that I'm not positive I'm comfortable with. Yeah, the idea behind the whole thing, though easily ignorable, is irredeemably goofy and that cover art looks like something you'd see painted on the side of a van.

But I think if you like metal already-or if you're just looking for something new-you really don't have anything to lose with Crack the Skye. It manages to combine classic rock fundamentals, progressive musicianship, good old fashioned heavy metal and kaleidoscopic ideas and sounds in a way I've never quite seen before. It's definitely different, and it's definitely something metal bands are going to be trying to imitate for years to come. There's a thoughtful, intelligent musical revolution coming down the road, and it's being birthed out of the corpse of progressive heavy metal. Who knew?


Pulp - This Is Hardcore

Pulp - This Is Hardcore
1998; Island Records; Sheffield, England

This is.

Jarvis Cocker is not Jesus. But he does have the same initials. And, hell, if they started a religion around him it would probably turn out it might turn out a bit better. Doing so would really piss him off though.

Pulp has been around a long time. Started when Mr. C was just sixteen in 1978, they kind of waddled around in the muck for a decade with Jarvis dissolving the rest of the band ever other year before settling on a line up in '87. And even then it was another eight years before anyone really gave a shit. In summer of '95 they released a single that fell into a really rare situation. It was an era defining song that actually deserved to be an era defining song. Weird. Riding on the back of 'Common People', Pulp realized that that needed an album to package it with. So, in three months they wrote, recorded, and released Different Class and that, also, turned out to be good. In fact, even though it was just an effort to capitalize on a hit, it's actually one of the best records in all of Britpop. Weird. Though, it really is the third oddity that is the strangest of all. Its Pulp ridiculous ability to write disco-inspired songs that are, at the same time, wildly wildly catchy and absolutely brilliant. This never fucking happens.

So a day came to pass when Jarvis Cocker could stand atop his peak at Glastonberry and look out across the country and know that everything he saw was his. These people wanting only the now were his. Oasis with their bigger-then-the-Beatles popularity was his. Blur bitterly leaving the park life behind was his. Kula Shaker talking about how great swastikas are was his. And as he gazed on the kingdom he knew there was only one way to go. OUT.

Three years, one lost band member, one lost girlfriend, and a mountain of cocaine later Pulp released This Is Hardcore. If there is a way that an album that hit #1 in its own country can commercial suicide this is it. The man who talked about how much he hated rich people realized he was now rich. The man who canonized the dream of revolution of the young realized not only did they fail, but that there was no revolution to begin with. The man who once slept with a mans wife purely as a form of revenge realized, well, that he had once slept with a mans wife purely as a form of revenge. This Is Hardcore is a bit hard to explain because I don't think there is any precedent. Somehow Jarvis spends an album relentlessly criticizing himself and looking at the pointlessness of everything without ever coming across as either Rivers Coumo circa Pinkerton or Robert Waters circa The Wall. Hell, I think I could listen to this album five hundred times in a row without getting annoyed at his depression, something not even OK Computer can manage.

In 'A Little Soul' a man looks at his son and begs his son not to turn out like him. Tells him son that the physical resemblance is as far as the likeness should go. 'Party Hard' and 'This Is Hardcore' and 'Seductive Barry' find him bitterly using clubs and sex as an escape even though he knows its just getting more fucked up as he goes along. In 'I'm A Man' he asks if he should even have started along in life at all, but he knows it doesn't matter.

The most depressing song to me is 'Glory Days'. So this is it? As we've gone I've sold out everything I had. I am poor and I am ugly and all I have are my drugs and my back-stabbing friends. I fought hard to get to the promise land but all I found there was unwashed dishes. We tried to take the world and the future but all I got was a scummy studio apartment. But it doesn't matter. These are still our glory days. And it will never ever be better then this. If you turn up the stereo real loud you might believe that we really made it.

The last song on the album deals with britpop. It deals with 'Common People' and 'Mis-shapes'. It dealt with 'Live Forever' and 'For Tomorrow' and the thousands of other songs of the era that swore that finally the young and the poor were going to rise up and throw out those in charge. The songs that were only thwarted by the fact that it never happened. The last song looks at the world after the revolution in Britain happened and says 'Isn't it all so nice. Aren't You Just So Fucking Happy?'

On the back of the album cover rests these words: It's Ok To Grow Up - Just As Long As You Don't Grow Old. Face It... You Are Young.

This is a very dangerous album. Step lightly.

1. The Fear
2. Dishes
3. Party Hard
4. Help the Aged
5. This Is Hardcore
6. TV Movie
7. A Little Soul
8. I'm a Man
9. Seductive Barry
10. Sylvia
11. Glory Days
12. The Day After the Revolution


Times New Viking - Rip It Off

Times New Viking - Rip It Off
2008, Matador Records, Columbus OH

I have some records designated as my come-down music. After a long night when I'm exhausted but not sleeping and I need to center my self a little bit its the music I lie down on my bed and crank up on headphones. A spot formally dominated by all things arctic monkeys and the killers first lp and whatever no age has put out recently. Now I'm afraid all of those albums have lost their spot the minute I herd Rip It Off. Perhaps I'm odd in this use.

Lo-Fi music is a bit of an anomaly. When it works it works. Brings you closer to the sound even as it crackles and distorts it. Bands like Elliott Smith, Neutral Milk Hotel, The White Stripes, Sebadoh, and Beck, just to name a few, push their limited equipment as far as it will go with amazing results. At its worst though it puts a wall between the performer and the audience and you end up wishing they would just cut the crap and let you hear the song straight. My first exposure to Times New Viking had me place them firmly in the second category. Back in November

Fuck it

I was going to go off on this whole direction that was going to be real reviewer-like but, fuck it. i'm not going there. This is loud shit. turn it up. kick your fucking shoes off. i'll make you jump, not brood. its punk over driven to such an extent that the poorly mixed live show is a step up in sound quality. but thats ok. its some how cleansing to me. like a breath of fresh air. and yet it can be angry and anthemic and even, gasp, catchy. its brilliant. once you get past the production it is a very very enjoyable record.

don't get their most recent, the 'Wake Up' ep. its very cheap, comes on a 7" which very few eps seem to come on anymore and hell it cost less then most 7" singles do but it sucks. theres a reason those songs got regulated to an ep instead of the lp.

lets conceive a new concept of thoughtless


Genesis - Foxtrot, Selling England by the Pound and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, with an emphasis on Foxtrot

Genesis - Foxtrot
1972; Atlantic Records; Surrey, England

First of all, can I just say how raw it is that Peter Gabriel used to dress up like that fox lady on the cover when he performed songs from this album?


Anyway-Genesis is quite an odd beast to tackle. Public opinion generally seems to flow against them, which is something I've never been able to understand. Or, wait, is it because my generation takes their opinions from South Park?

No, okay, I understand completely.

This is the fourth album they cut-it's from their "golden age", which means Pete Gabriel singing, Steve Hackett on guitar, Phil Collins on drums, Mike Rutherford on bass, and Tony Banks on every instrument in the world. This lineup had four albums-this one, Nursery Cryme, Selling England by the Pound, and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. I haven't heard Cryme but I can definitely say that this is solidly between Selling England and Lamb. That doesn't mean anything to anyone who isn't me, so I'll go into some more detail.

To understand this, you need to know something about early Genesis, and that is this: They write fairy tales. They don't write songs about fairy tales, they make new ones and make them as musically complex as possible. Yes, it's pretentious and dandy and abstract and weird, but it's also just gorgeous fucking music. I don't think there's one person who couldn't find a song that moved them if they looked into it.

On the proggiest, most inaccessible end of the spectrum, you've got Selling England by the Pound. It has eight songs, two of which are over eleven minutes long, and for all save one, there is a keyboard solo that takes over five minutes. It's essentially studio-sanctioned masturbation and it's not an album I recommend to anyone who can't sit through a lot of pretentious horse shit, lyrically and instrumentally.They try to jam too many stories and too many disparate ideas onto one record and it really doesn't work as well as they think it does.

And then on the other side you have The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.Much like Pink Floyd's The Wall, it's a double concept album, and what that means that when you have an album that's 90 minutes, you're going to have an audience that's not going to abide 50 of those minutes being instrumentals or keyboard solos, so what they had to do was rein themselves in, and shit, did it ever work. It's instantly accessible without losing a modicum of depth or intelligence and it tells a compelling, if hard to follow, story at that. It's easily in my top 20 favorite albums of all time.

And then right in the middle of all this you have Foxtrot, released before both of them. It's six songs long-the final song is the 23 minute "Supper's Ready". It's the centerpiece of this album-a lot of people would call it the centerpiece of their early career-and Gabriel, Collins, Rutherford and the rest had the good Goddamn sense to make sure that it moves. Every minute trucks along briskly as we start in the living room of a pair of lovers and ends with Revelations and the building of the new Jerusalem. "Epic" doesn't begin to describe this song, and not "epic" in the way a bro would use it- really, truly sweeping and moving, like the Illiad or Beowulf. It's worth getting this album just to hear this song, if you're willing to invest the nearly half hour you'd need to enjoy it.

The rest of the album fares pretty well-not a whole ton happens during the first song, "Watcher of the Skies", but "Time Table" is a pretty lovely letter to "A time of valor, and legends born/When honor meant much more to a man than life", and while "Get'em Out By Friday" can wear on the nerves, "Can-Utility and the Coastliners" entertains throughout. It's interesting to note that the two longer songs("Watcher" and "Friday) easily cause interest to wane, while the two shorter ones are superior and the very, very longest is by far the achievement of this album.

So it's hard to really get a bead on this one. I would say that it's without question better than Selling England and definitely not as good as Lamb. But how would it sound to a newcomer(the important part)? I couldn't in good conscience tell anyone to stay away from this album; I think it would be more beneficial to borrow it from a friend and see what you think. This is not "walking around" music-this is Mr. James's government class: You'll have fun and you'll definitely learn something, but you're going to need to plant your ass down, shut up and pay attention. This is big kid music, and Genesis is not going to hold your hand through it. If you don't mind a little keyboard action, if biblical overtones interest you, if you like your music as more than "background noise"-well, I don't actually know if you'll like it, but I'll definitely be curious to hear what you think.


1.  Watcher of the Skies — 7:19
2.  Time Table — 4:40
3.  Get 'Em Out By Friday — 8:35
4.  Can-Utility and the Coastliners — 5:43
5.  Horizon's — 1:38
6.  Supper's Ready — 22:58
     a. Lover's Leap
     b. The Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man
     c. Ikhnaton And Itsacon And Their Band Of Merry Men
     d. How Dare I Be So Beautiful?
     e. Willow Farm
     f. Apocalypse in 9/8
     g. As Sure As Eggs Is Eggs

Kick Out The Jams

I am not buying any records for the next two weeks. Instead I am going to take all my record-buying money and put it in a little stack until April 16 when the second In dependant Record Store Day hits. Last year's was kind of a bust (though Jello Biafra did man the counter at Amoeba SF for an hour or two) but this year looks like its gonna be pretty sweet. I don't want to list all the incredible releases, just check out the site. Also live performances and sales pretty much everywhere. Go crazy.

"Buy real records in real shops, or I'll come round your house and scream at your mother.” -Ian Gillian