Things in Music You Rarely See

  • A progressive rock band with a drummer that's just sort of okay
  • A Tool fan with more than a cursory knowledge of Eastern philosophy
  • Two bassists
  • A southern rock band where nobody has a drinking problem
  • A room full of metalheads agreeing on something
  • A rapper who makes a smart decision pertaining to crime
  • A Belle and Sebastian fan who isn't a teenage girl
  • Jazz music where you don't have to strain to pay attention to the entire song
  • Tasteful synthesizer solos
  • An industrial song that, in some way or another, isn't completely upsetting
  • Sharon Osbourne doing or saying anything that isn't completely reprehensible
  • A high-school anime club alumnus who doesn't listen to Dream Theater
  • Someone who can coherently explain the appeal of the Dirty Projectors
  • A sorority girl who's intimately familiar with the music of Steven Reich
  • A man with a ton of Ipecac Records releases who you aren't afraid of being killed by
  • A skateboard with a Genesis sticker on the bottom
  • Rick Rubin producing something that surprises you
  • The term "dance-punk" being applied to something that deserves it
  • Anyone anywhere who still consistently listens to the Barenaked Ladies
  • A Led Zeppelin song that's not better after three shots of whiskey
  • Five consistently incredible electronica albums
  • A large group of non-Brazilians who are excited for a Manowar concert
  • A girl who likes indie music and absolutely refuses to make you a playlist
  • A Shins concert completely devoid of humor
  • A context where Jack White couldn't benefit from a swift kick in the pants
  • A "Best Of" list where you don't get the urge to roll your eyes at least once
  • Robert Christgau saying something sensible
  • A Pitchfork Media review that doesn't feature five paragraphs of history before they actually tell you what the album sounds like
  • Axl Rose with a haircut that everyone can get behind
  • A teenage Radiohead fan who doesn't have an opinion
  • A keyboardist and a guitarist who agree on the direction of the band
  • A self-professed Roky Erickson fan
  • A guitarist who describes himself as "classically trained" who isn't at least slightly boring
  • A real-life Kansas devotee
  • A sober roadie with healthy self esteem
  • A shoegaze song where everyone seems to be having a great time
  • Two men, a stack of funk albums, and no weed


Black Rebel Motorcycle Club-Beat the Devil's Tattoo

2010; The Basement Studio, Philadelphia; Vagrant

Like my review for Fang Island's self-titled debut earlier in the year, I'm going to preface this by saying that this is going to be a pretty quick review. Unlike that review, it's going to be short because at least 80% of Beat the Devil's Tattoo is the same Goddamn song.

Go listen to the title track. It's the first one on the album, it's pretty short, and it's pretty cool. You may now feel free to ignore the rest of this album forever, because everything else on it is a worse version of that song. For a Kings of Leon album, concentrated doses of mediocrity is nothing to damage the spirit, but this fucker is 65 minutes long, and maybe-MAYBE-10 of those minutes are worth caring about. Rarely does one run across an album where the vast majority of the material is filler, but Beat the Devil's Tattoo goes above and beyond in supplying the listener with reasons not to care about it.

Is it at least fun? A little bit, in small doses, but you'll have to stop yourself from nodding off 15 minutes in even if you're listening to it on shuffle. And keep in mind, I've only talked about the songs that are inoffensive but dull. I haven't even brought up the two embarrassing folk-rock experiments that crop up, or the absolutely abhorrent closer "Half-State", a ten minute, shambling dullard of a song with no buildup, tension, emotion or drive whatsoever.

Beat the Devil's Tattoo is the album Jack White would make if he cracked his head on the sharp corner of a table. No risks are taken, no power-trio dynamic isn't abused and stultified, and every song runs about three minutes longer than it needs to. It is, in short, a dud, and the only reason you'll remember it at all is the pins-and-needles sensation of your ass falling asleep.

Too short? Blame Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. They didn't exactly give me a lot to work with.



John Wiese - Soft Punk

2007; Troubleman Unlimited; Los Angeles, CA

there comes a point when the inciting motive is no longer why you continue. When you realize that the punks are no longer in it because they're angry and misunderstood, that the hippies are no longer using drugs to induce a spiritual experience, now they're just using them to get high. And that's something I had to confront when listening to John Wiese, because lets be honest here, he doesn't extract the same passionate emotional response that Wolf Eyes does, nor the fierce irreverence and protest of no-wave. He doesn't intoxicate like Magik Markers or Yellow Swans. I came to straight noise music because I was angry in a way that no other music could capture, which is not something that Soft Punk does to any great extent. So I have to fess up and say that the passion and the emotion is no longer the sole reason why I'm here, that it is possible that I actually just like this stuff. I've gone from someone searching for help to somewhat of a fetishist. and that kind of scares me, it should.

Soft Punk begins with thirty four seconds of manipulated static that twitches and jumps for lost moments and then a steady clicking beat as if someone was teasing the drum mics, and then all hell breaks loose.... or, wait, no it doesn't. or well it doesn't quite make it. the music scratches its head, turns round and gives it another go. and, well, just misses once again. And thats the brilliance of this pink lp, it doesn't give you what you want, it keeps you on your toes. While Wolf Eyes traffics in a gloriously self-indulgent growl, giving everything they've and then some, yelling until they pass out from their lack of inhalation, Wiese brings the listener to a point just before orgasm, and then pulls out. And so for the forty-four minutes of the album we are constantly left unsatisfied, anxiously waiting for the next turn to fulfill us. And before you know it the forty-four minutes are up. And you want to listen again. And this, I'll be quite honest, is not something that can be said about any other noise full length that has ever existed - that it passes without exhausting you or loosing your interest.

Of course besides for the dynamic make-up of the disc there is a lot to keep you paying attention. While pioneers like Merzbow traffic in long drones of ear-splitting sound, Wiese goes the other way. He delivers a glitchy sampled brand of high-fidelity noise that never stays still for more than a few seconds, switching off between the kind of growl and broken glass that you'd expect from works of this genre and more pulsing subconscious ambiance. It's just never what you expect.

And so it's not hard for me to say that Soft Punk is the best noise album I've ever herd, and perhaps that I just need to come to terms with my enjoyment of the genre as a whole. I mean, it might not be that spiritual anymore, but at least I'm getting high.

no fun


A Token of My Extreme: Big Black- The Hammer Party /The Rich Man's Eight Track Tape/Songs About Fucking (1986/1987/1987)

1982-1985/1986, 1986/1987, 1987
Touch & Go Records

Yep, that's correct, I'm reviewing all three records out of Big Black's discography up in this bitch. As they are one of my favorite bands of all time, it didn't feel right to pick and choose.

Born in staid Illinois and without a doubt the most confrontational, caustic and brutal indie band of their era (even amongst other pillars of '80s No-Wave/noise rock such as Sonic Youth, Swans and The Birthday Party), Big Black was both the launchpad of righteous DIY curmudgeon/recording engineer/guitarist Steve Albini and celebrated independent label Touch & Go, which went on to sign numerous excellent experiments in noisy terror such as the mighty Jesus Lizard and quieter but no less intriguing bands like Don Caballero, Polvo, Dirty Three and Slint.

With aluminum-bodied custom guitars tuned for scathing feedback and metal-on-metal clang, a drum machine (credited as "Roland") providing the jackhammer backbeat and lyrical topics focusing on white trash depravity and crime, Big Black were uglier than the audience of a monster truck rally. They were the sonic equivalent of a John Waters film or Lynch's Blue Velvet, skewering and exposing things you didn't want to look at, things you didn't want to know about, the shadowy aspects of seedy small town life and filthy trailer parks. They brought the cauterizing noise bath of artsier predecessors like Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire to the masses, infusing a sense of songwriting and minimalist groove from post-punk bands such as Suicide, Wire, Gang of Four, Killing Joke and Naked Raygun (whose vocalist/bassist Jeff Pezzati and guitarist Santiago Durango ended up playing for Big Black) to make it even more direct and bludgeoning. The result is clearly not for the timid, and was extremely controversial at the time--Albini's pointedly offensive, epithet-filled rants got him labeled as racist and misogynist (which he isn't) and along with the brutally cathartic live antics (such as setting off bricks of firecrackers on stage) the band got booted out of several clubs. In spite of this, they managed to build a surprisingly large underground following.

The Hammer Party, Big Black's first record, is a collection of EP's--1982's Lungs, 1983's Bulldozer, and 1985's Racer-X. Lungs is actually the closest thing to a Albini solo record available--just him, his guitar, Roland and an 8-track in his living room, and the result is about as crude as you'd expect. Still it results in at least one excellent track and future staple, "Steelworker," and set the stage for the next two EP's with the full lineup of Pezzati, Durango, and Urge Overkill drummer Pat Byrne. Bulldozer was a more fully developed version of Lungs' sound, with redneck sagas "Cables" and "Texas" along with the neurotic "I'm A Mess" being the highlights. Racer-X broadened the band's visions a little, with a sleeker production quality and even some proto-math rock leanings like the track "Sleep!"

However, none of the three EP's can compare to their first proper LP, the landmark Atomizer (which was bundled with the EP Headache and "Heartbeat/Things To Do Today" single for The Rich Man's Eight Track Tape release). Losing Pezzati for new bassist Dave Riley only hardened the band's assault, as his funk-inflected basslines were an excellent counterpoint to Albini and Durango's even nastier guitarwork. The lyrical topics followed suit--"Jordan, Minnesota" is quite simply one of the most terrifying songs of all time, documenting the sordid tale of a Midwestern child prostitution ring from the molester's point of view. The equally brutal "Kerosene" depicts the trailer park pastime of being so bored and sick of everything that self-immolation becomes entertainment, and "Big Money" is a Swans-like rumination on the abuse of police authority. The (slightly) quieter "Bad Houses" is an interesting departure, and probably as reflective as Big Black ever got. While the bonus material is a slight step down from the heights of Atomizer, the punishing high-speed barrage "Ready Men" (to this day my favorite Big Black song) and the gruesome hitman vignette "Things To Do Today" are as good as anything else they did.

By 1987, Big Black was starting to erode due to internal struggles. Few bands had the balls to announce their breakup before releasing an album at the height of their popularity and a worldwide tour, but being beholden to none, Big Black did just that. And then dropped the (AWESOMELY TITLED) swansong Songs About Fucking, their biggest commercial success and to many a fan the band's best record (this reviewer prefers Atomizer by a slight margin). "The Power of Independent Trucking" kicks the album off with a bang, a furious assault of screeching guitars and thundering drum machine over a fuzzed-out Albini vocal. This is followed by an incrementally more sedate but still bitterly sarcastic and sleazy cover of Kraftwerk's "The Model" and the filth and fury continue with trademark asshole anthem "Bad Penny," psychopathic surf-rock "Columbian Necktie" and the venomous proto-industrial grind of "Precious Thing" and "Tiny, King of The Jews." By the time Cheap Trick's (one of Albini's favorite bands) "He's A Whore" is subjected to Big Black's sexual predator treatment, you'll want to hear the whole album again.

Big Black were defiantly unorthodox in their business dealings, hated the digital compact disc format, and released no videos on MTV, yet their recorded output will survive forever in the collections of lesser noise rock and industrial bands and for good fucking reason. Shocking and polarizing even today, their discography remains the widely emulated creme de la creme of noise rock and an essential touchstone for fans of independently made and independently minded music.


If you already like mid-period industrial bands such as Ministry and Godflesh, or post-punk mainstays Gang of Four, Killing Joke and their modern progeny these albums are no-brainers. Otherwise, I would recommend Wire's Pink Flag, Killing Joke's 1979 debut, Naked Raygun's Jettison and maybe PiL's Second Edition as preparation for these.