Koenjihyakkei-Angherr Shisspa

2005; Skin Graft Records

Take a heaping scoop of Mr. Bungle, a dash of Emerson, Lake and Palmer and just the slightest hint of Steve Reich and what do you get? Something that is at least as crazy as that description sounds. But while Angherr Shisspa is indeed one of the most insane albums you're ever likely to hear, it's also far more than the sum of its parts, transcending its own inherent wackiness to become a wholly thought provoking and, at times, even beautiful piece of music.

First, a mild explanation in terms of what genre of music this. Koenjihyakkei play in a subgenre of progressive rock called Zeuhl. If you look the term up on Wikipedia you'll see that fewer than 30 bands across the world are active in the genre. Which is fitting, because Zeuhl is as hard to describe as it is elusive: Sung in a language of the band's own making(think Sigur Ros' "Hopelandic", but usually a bit more structured), Zeuhl essentially tries to capture the essence of what an album created by aliens would be like. This usually involves a lot of jazz instrumentation, quick tempo changes, prominent keyboards and a sense of absolute bewilderment on the part of the listener.

Don't be scared off by that description, however, as Angherr Shisspa is very listener friendly. The instrument work, while spastic, is incredibly complex and very tight, and it sustains interest even during Koenjihyakkei's lengthier pieces. You're as likely to hear a fuzz bass pop up as a flute or mellotron, but it never feels disjointed, as the band has extraordinary chemistry: As fast as the time signatures and styles change, you'll never feel jarred mid song.

What truly sets this band apart from others, however, is the vocals. To put it bluntly, I've never heard anything like them in the context of rock music. The women who sing are opera singers. I do not mean that they have an operatic, theatrical style, like Bruce Dickinson or Ronnie James Dio, I mean that they literally, actually sing opera. As in, these women wouldn't be out of place providing backing vocals for Pavarotti. They're immensely captivating and at points downright awe inspiring, and why they've chosen to use their talents to sing in an inscrutable nonsense language for a band that probably sells around 4 albums a year is completely beyond me.

But God bless them for it. We need more music like this: Smart, talented people taking unbelievable risks. When the drums suddenly completely flip out, or a bit of jazz improv steals the scene for a minute or so, or when, completely without warning, the keyboardist starts channeling Rick Wakeman, you may become confused, or even slightly uncomfortable. But here's the thing: It is impossible to be bored while listening to this music because, as I stated earlier, the vast, vast majority of you have never heard anything like this(I'm counting myself in this-I had no experience with zeuhl before this album). Maybe you've heard something crazier, maybe you've heard something more technically proficient, maybe you've heard something that's more fun, but I'll bet you've never heard anything that manages to be all three and make it seem so effortless.

Angherr Shisspa has all the makings of an unprecedented catastrophe: It could have turned pretentious, it could have taken itself too seriously, it could have chosen to be weird for weirdness' sake, it could have chosen to be relentlessly abrasive and drive away anyone who would've taken a chance on it...all of these things could have happened so easily. But Koenjihyakkei is too talented, too musically savvy and just too damn psyched to be doing what they do to let any of that stuff happen. Angherr Shisspa is like the fever dream of an 8 year old given a script by David Lynch and the animators of Studio Ghibli to make it come to life. It's condensed imagination brought to life by men and women who are masters of their craft.

I guess what I'm trying to say is: This album is the musical equivalent of Axe Cop. Be psyched, world. Be psyched that this is real, and that somebody made this. God knows none of us would have.



Styrofoam Boots' Decade List 2000-2009, Part 1

Yeah, I know, it's the end of August. And as the decade is rapidly beginning to seem so small and distant in the past it seems a weird time to revisit it, but in this nice little space between the point of time when your engrossed in it and the point of time when you're so removed that nostalgia starts to set in always seemed to be the perfect moment to see the past clearly. It was an amazing decade for music, and though it was a almost unanimously shitty decade for most everything else it is somewhat astounding to recall all the ebs and turns the landscape took. The world of popular music started getting extraordinary choppy and complex, it went from an easily calculated orbit to an electron cloud, with equally crazy results. This was the decade to us. -Stuart

100-91 (90-81) (80-71) (70-61) (60-51) (50-41) (40-31) (30-21) (20-11)

100. Coalesce - Ox

Relative old hands in a young man’s game, Coalesce were filling moshpits with their angular, vicious metalcore while the current crop of Gothenburg-biting pantywaists were still outgrowing Barney, and OX returns them to the scene after a ten year hiatus still destroying all competition. Not content to rest on their laurels as one of the most brutal bands ever, Coalesce have added a darkly theatrical Spaghetti Western feel to the proceedings, giving the flesh-stripping hardcore parts even more menace than before. Ten seconds into the honky-tonk twang and Sean Ingram’s bluesy holler on “Wild Ox Moan” should make it clear that this isn’t your usual skinny jeans ‘n’ eyeliner hardcore record. -Stephen

99. Jurassic 5 - Quality Control

Jurassic 5 has always struck me as a group that would’ve been much more at home in the early ‘90s than the ‘00s, and I mean that in no way as an insult. Quality Control keeps the spirit of bands like Digable Planets, A Tribe Called Quest and Black Star alive with its jazzy, soulful beats and pointed ponderings on the music industry and life on the streets of Los Angeles. While enjoyable throughout, the second half of the album becomes one of the defining segments in the last 10 years of rap, with hard-grooving gems like “Monkey Bars”, “Jurass Finish First”, “Contribution” and the incomparable “Swing Set”, an instrumental composed exclusively from old swing samples. Years later they would become a bit too obsessed with trying to emulate their heroes from the ‘80s, but at this exact moment, Quality Control turned out to be just what the doctor ordered. -CJ

98. Bat For Lashes - Two Suns

Nastasha Khan, like her forebears Bjork and Kate Bush, makes minimalist and dreamy pop music for grownups—pretty synths, tribal drums, whimsical lyricism and a stunning yet restrained voice taking center stage are Bat for Lashes’ forte. Two Suns takes the potential hinted at in her previous album Fur & Gold and runs with it—you’ve got the prog-pop escapades of “Glass” and “Pearl’s Dream” and ethereal balladry like “Good Love” and “Moon & Moon” sharing space with the tailormade single and ode to the Karate Kid “Daniel.” Yes even the resident metalhead (me) fucking loves this, stop laughing. -Stephen

97. Kunek - Flight Of The Flynns

Kunek is not a very well known band, and they don’t adhere to the current trends very well, so I assume this is the reason for their lack of success (they only released one LP until they changed their moniker to Other Lives, which is headed in a somewhat new direction). However, this doesn’t detract from their merit in anyway; Kunek is pretty damn special. They sound like what a folk band would sound like if they played post-rock— by combining both traditional songwriting and instrumentation with the signature melancholy and sweeping instrumental passages of post-rock, the final product is melodically and emotionally moving. -Adrian

96. The Knife - Deep Cuts

The Knife is nearly singular in its devotion to creating a conflicting listening experience. For every serene and comforting “Heartbeats”, there is a nervously exhilarating “Listen Now.” For every conventional dance track like “You Take My Breath Away”, there is an equally puzzling and disconcerted song like “You Make Me Like Charity”. Sometimes, The Knife will combine every psychotic trick in their repertoire and give you songs like “Is It Medicine?”, where one can scarcely decide between jumping on the dance floor and calling the police. Ultimately, Deep Cuts is an album that the listener must create for themselves, and for that it earns the distinction of being one of the most interesting and re-listenable dance albums of the decade. -CJ

95. The Strokes - Is This It

The decade in rock and indie music has in many ways been defined by the New York buzz band, for better or for worse, the first and perhaps the definitive example of this being The Strokes. And despite the obnoxious over-coolness of this album as well as its generic radio music leanings, it manages to find an intense youthful passion. Maybe its how the voice just slightly distorts around the edges when he screams “I want you here right now, now let me go!” or the wandering disenchantment on the title track, but there’s something that gets to you, more than I even think it rightfully should. If only they could have kept it up. -Stuart


Imagine some really good post hardcore, combine it with some traditional Japanese folk melodies, and add the snarling, growling, rapping and singing of an insane man on top of that and you have Num-Heavymetallic. It’s hard to contextualize these elements together, but just think of it as a really experimental, heavy post-hardcore album. Like every great band that consists of collaborative members (i.e. not The Shins), each instrumentalist has a very distinct style which comes through to create a cohesive sound*. Although I don’t understand Japanese, the pure visceral impact of the album paints a strong image in my mind**, with it’s extremely gritty and, as the title rightfully implies, metallic sounding qualities. Despite the overall aggressiveness of the album, it’s still incredibly appealing to listen to because Mukai Shutoku knows how to hold this shit together by combining both the abrasive elements with accessible melodies, sort of in the same vein of Isaac Brock (which is a huge compliment within itself). This album fucking rocks. -Adrian

*It’s understandable as to why they dissolved after one member decided to leave.
**with the insight of a few translations, I know that the lyrical content is not something that anybody takes lightly.

93. The Mars Volta – The Bedlam in Goliath

The Bedlam in Goliath is the work of a madman, an Alan Moore-meets-Alejandro Jordowsky explosion of spirituality and pure, unrestricted violence. Gone are the emotional tribulations of Deloused in the Comatorium and the objectiveless wandering of Francis the Mute and in their place is a mix of heavy metal, psychedelic soul and noise rock, converging with all the force and drive of a bullet from a Smith & Wesson. No wonder The Bedlam in Goliath is the Mars Volta’s most reviled work: It’s loud, frightening, intelligent and bold. In other words, a progressive rock triumph. Read along with the liner notes to complete the experience. -CJ

92. Fuck Buttons - Tarot Sport

These days, people love calling shit ‘hipster garabe’. Fuck Buttons is unsurprisingly victimized by this new phenomenon. Like a lot of electronic music, they build their songs using long repetitive structures, which to some listeners may make it difficult to distinguish Fuck Buttons from any other ambient-electronic or post-rock influenced groups. At first, I couldn’t distinguish them either, and even now, I recognize that a lot of the sounds they use aren’t particularly unique. However, what I could tell after several listens was how honest the record was. In every genre, there are bands that try to sound more emotive than they are, not necessarily to lie, but to evoke a response that is beyond their capacity. In this day and age, we have assumed that most things that sound as epic as Fuck Buttons are overreaching their boundaries, which is why Fuck Buttons is so swiftly labeled ‘hipster garabe’. The problem with these quick assumptions is due to the fact that Fuck Buttons sound so epic because they are actually are that epic. Listen the shit out of this album. -Adrian

91. High on Fire- Blessed Black Wings

The dissolution of mighty stoner rock icons Sleep resulted in the birth of two bands each embodying a different side of their Black Sabbath 2.0 sound. Om is the droney psychedelic half fit for ripping bongs full of sweet leaf in lysergic ecstasy, while guitarist Matt Pike’s High on Fire jars those addled stoners awake with riffs heavier than boulders. Blessed Black Wings adds some serious Motorhead worship in the process with a blitzkrieg assault on your speakers, bringing the black-tar sludge of their earlier efforts to a roiling boil. Guided by the atomic bass presence of one Joe Preston and sonic wizard Steve Albini, this is hairy-chested retro metal that will leave you exhaling smoke and brimstone. Resistance is futile—headbanging is nigh. -Stephen


Really Weird French Techno Songs

One of the weirdest/funniest/oddest things has been going on at Canadian punk band Fucked Up's excellent, and usually well thought out, blog Looking For Gold. A few months ago they started using a tool to find out how people got to their page and where from, a rather common internet convention, and all was fine until someone from Stockton, Califonia got to their page by google searching I'm Looking For This Really Weird French Techno Song That Just Came Out. alright. And then 20 minuets later someone from Australia got to the page by searching the exact same thing. And then someone from upstate New York....... it got to ridiculous. This sparked a really long, excessively angry, clever, bizarre, quite meta post by the band, ("THATS NOT HOW YOU USE GOOGLE. IT'S NOT A PERSON YOU IDIOT.") I suggest you read it here..... and then that sparked a (possibly fake) band hastily forming who called themselves, you guessed it, I'm Looking For This Really Weird French Techno Song That Just Came Out, who, just for the fuck of it, started getting gigs DJing at Fucked Up shows.

And since then its been quite a circus of strange searches ending up at Looking For Gold. This includes Google inquires like "Cool Looking Websites", "Is There Any Screamo Songs Put Onto Flute Sheet Music?", and most recently "What Order Of Countries Makes The Most Sense While Touring Europe." It all has noting to do with music, and the band realizes this and seems pretty pissed off/utterly baffled by that fact, but it has to be the funniest thing that has ever happened to a contemporary Canadian kind of experimental punk band.


A Token of My Extreme: Ween- Pure Guava (1992)

Electra; November 15, 1992

Lo and behold, the first entry in my column to actually have a charting single in the U.S.

"Push th' Lil Daisies" made it all the way to #21 (complete with a Beavis 'N' Butthead cameo) and is quite possibly the strangest song to do so--an irreverent, cryptic piece of helium-voiced pop in an age largely dominated by self-serious dudes in flannel, it launched the otherwise (and undeservedly) obscure duo of Dean 'n' Gene into major-label stardom... where they resided for maybe a few months before disappearing back into the deep drug-induced fog from whence they came and where they are far more comfortable.

And believe me, this is one of those classic cases where the single is the most accessible track on an otherwise challenging release. However it's not like "Push th' Lil Daisies" is unrepresentative of the rest of Pure Guava--the album does in fact sound like that. More or less. Just add a bunch more electronic vocal distortion, genre bending and weapons-grade hallucinogenics and you're on your way.

Pure Guava represents something of a transitional album for these guys. It's the last Ween release recorded with just the duo, a drum machine and a four-track; the next album Chocolate & Cheese was recorded in a professional studio, and most of the albums after it were similarly lush and fairly song-oriented (by Ween standards). Pure Guava still has a roughly equal ratio of fully formed tracks, utterly stoned rambling and sophomoric anti-songs like their previous adventures in lo-fi but apparently is a lot more tuneful and less noisy--I haven't heard the albums prior, so I can neither confirm nor deny this.

What I can confirm though is that despite their Zappa-esque penchant for fourth grade humor (they have a song titled "Poop Ship Destroyer" for Christ's sake) and every annoying/hilarious vocal filter under the Sun, the Brothers Ween are extremely talented musicians with a gift for crafting some very catchy if askew hooks. Seriously. "Little Birdy" sounds like a pretty acoustic ditty played on a busted phonograph. "The Stallion Pt. 3" is a truly neat piece of spacey sorta-prog, even if the lyrics are exercises in total non-sequitor. "Sarah" and "Loving U Thru It All" are downright beautiful ballads played seemingly without an ironic sneer in sight. They also show a amusing talent for appropriating other styles--"Springtime" is excellent Prince homage, "Pumpin 4 The Man" is straight-up hoedown Ween style, and "Don't Get 2 Close 2 My Fantasy" is a fucking Bowie song. No I don't mean it's a cover. I mean it sounds eerily, exactly like Bowie, in a way that probably made the Thin White Duke check his coke-era outtakes to see if something was lifted.

Of course this is a Ween record and we can't go without mentioning some of their browner (as in the acid) excursions, none being more brown than the five-minute lapse of sanity known as "Mourning Glory," which accurately depicts the state of being completely skullfucked while low-flying jumbo jets pass overhead and some jerk is verbally assaulting you. "Hey Fat Boy (Asshole)" and "Reggaejunkiejew" are even more silly and casually offensive than their titles imply. "I Play It Off Legit" sounds like the boys were huffing paint thinner and just hit record.

Ween's diverse and always outre career on the goofier side of psychedelia has put them in the league of other American underground legends such as The Residents, Mr. Bungle, and The Butthole Surfers, and Pure Guava is just one step on their way to greatness. The slight spoilage of MTV aside, this is a downright fun and hilarious record that pushes the bounds of music and good taste while being terminally addictive. You don't need a bong to enjoy it either--though it probably couldn't hurt.


If you enjoy the aforementioned bands and don't have Pure Guava, it's quite possible that you're either retarded or too wasted to go to the record store. This is exactly what the doctor ordered. Dig some change out of the couch and go.

For the newbie, I would highly recommend the more easygoing Chocolate & Cheese followed by The Mollusk, their prog-rock opus and a straight masterpiece. Once you've played those into the ground and crave more Boognish, Pure Guava is the next stop.



A Token of My Extreme: The Body- All The Waters of The Earth Shall Turn to Blood (2010)

At A Loss; 2010

Despite its obvious pedigree of inaccessibility, doom metal and drone has sadly not been featured in this column as of yet. Today I plan to change this, and with a truly engaging and strange album at that.

The Body are in loose terms a two-piece band made up of militant Arkansas expats Chip King (guitar/vocals) and Lee Buford (drums) living in Providence, RI--however in practice, The Body encompasses a huge group of collaborators (including a 13-member choir on this, the band's second album). Within the conventional doom assault lies creatively fucked-up sample work, viola, drum machines, and strains of pure noise. The Body's attack reminds me of Today Is The Day circa-Sadness Will Prevail, if Steve Austin had been listening to Neurosis and Khanate instead of Slayer and Converge.

Pretty fucking awesome, in other words.

While the lyrics are supposedly inspired by such fine upstanding individuals as Jim Jones and Charles Manson and are routinely blood-soaked, nihilistic invocations of apocalypse, King's strained screaming renders them all a psychotic, unintelligible stream of consciousness. Frankly this doesn't hurt the impact of the record one bit--the dismal, brutally atonal and bleak music could produce fevered dream visions of Doomsday all on its own. Before you listen to it, I'd advise cranking the volume up, as this is a conspicuously DIY affair with very raw, lo-fi production values, to the point where I thought there was something wrong with my computer on first listen. I can't decide whether it's annoying or if it adds to the effect.

The angelic yet ominous tones of the choir are the first thing you hear on the album, track one "A Body" taking its time and deliberately layering in the female voices for a hypnotic effect. After five minutes of this and contemplating whether you bought the wrong CD, King and Buford bring the pain with some truly grim noise as the choir continues to accompany them--think seraphs falling headfirst from the sky, wings blazing with a trail of smoke. Following that is the most accessible track, "A Curse," with an honest-to-goodness, hard charging 4/4 pulse and its jagged guitar line gradually dissolving into more ugly sludge over four minutes. Just when you think you can nail down this band's MO, they throw "Empty Hearth" and its heavily manipulated snake handler chants at you for a truly unnerving effect.

The album continues in this fashion, the violent churn and repetitive riffing punctuated by bizarre left turns, all the way up to the epic closer "Lathspell I Name You" which is the entire kitchen sink--a hypnotic thirteen minutes of blood-letting guitar, King shrieking his throat out, droning viola, a lone female vocalist sounding somewhere between agony and ecstasy, noise washes, a sample-heavy eerie industrial interlude and Buford pounding his kit with tree trunks in various tempos. And with a single droning, despairing note, the fifty minute album comes to an end, leaving you to check out your window and see if the world is still there.


If you like any of the bands mentioned above, All The Waters... is a pretty natural progression and a must-have. Pitchfork is seldom right about anything. This is one of those times.



Re: Rock Radio's Drummer List is super, super SUPER dumb, here is a better one

As usual, I'ma follow Chris' commentary on a fuckawful list with some of my own thoughts.

A bit of history: I love drums. I can't play them for shit, but I love them and have been trying to do so for years, and as a general rule I often have a tendency to overstate the value of a drummer relative to the rest of his band--wouldn't go so far as to state that a drummer is the most important member, or that ridiculously flashy and clinic-worthy 240 bpm playing are integral to a band being good... but even if your band has a pair of amazingly skilled guitarists, a solidly funky bassist and a vocalist with the pipes of Bruce Dickenson*, if your drummer sounds like s/he just rolled out of bed with a hangover and a click track approximately two seconds behind the rest of the band, bet your ass that I won't like your music. You might as well replace him with a drum machine--which are awesome by the way (*cough*Skuppy*cough*) but that cold, mechanical pulse can't impart the organic knockout punch of a proper skinsman on their A-game.

*No, Nicko McBrain, I like you just fine. Though your stage name is dumb.

Now in all fairness Rock Radio's list is not total ass like I expected it to be when I clicked on it. Certainly not as horrific as BBC's guitarist list. There are some solid, underrated participants here--a few long time favorites like Bozzio, Colaiuta, Gadd, Dailor, Morris (who was also great in Joy Division, thank you), even that douchenozzle Collins--say what you will about his musical sensibilities, put a ball gag in his mouth and hand him a set of sticks and he will likely dust off 98% of drummers on this Earth (sadly, that goes for Peart too). I also had to laugh that Portnoy was included--not so much regarding his actual inclusion, which I mildly disagree with, but the fact that he drums for A7X now. What's the matter, Mike? Not making enough cream with your fellow boring, pedantic Berklee grads?

But then we get to the rest of the list, and the order and it's just... wow. I think Joey Jordison, who is a halfway decent drummer stuffed into a flock of tone-deaf retards and primates banging around in dumpsters isn't even the most offensive pick--yeah, he is most definitely not #1, for reasons already established, but at least he has some modicum of talent. I have no fucking idea why that complete shit-sucking tool Travis Barker is on here, or Chad Smith, or Cozy Powell, or the loser from Toto... does that band even exist anymore? On the county fair circuit, maybe. And look Dave, I think you're fucking awesome, but just because you had the good fortune to be playing with a drugged-out generational symbol that had the good sense to end himself with a shotgun to the cranium when he saw the future and that future was Puddle of Mudd, doesn't mean that makes you qualified to be in the Top 10 of every "Best Drummer" list from here to fucking oblivion.

Sadly my bitter drunken ranting must come to an end, and I have to actually be constructive and offer some alternatives here. To wit:

Danny Carey (Tool, ZAUM, Green Jelly, Pygmy Love Circus)

Does Danny Carey look indisputably like a pompous shit in this photo? Why yes, yes he does. Unfortunately his main gig playing behind Maynard and Adam in Tool kinda promotes this. Does this deserved smugness in front of a huge quadrillion-piece kit in any way, shape or form degrade my opinion of this man's ability? Fuck no. Mostly eschewing the crazy windmilling of some of the other drummers here for organic, snakelike grooves that completely throw the concept of what human limbs are capable of in question (amazes me that he's close to celebrating his 50th B-Day), Carey's syncopated antics are always the highlight of Tool's best songs, whether it be the pulsing mathematical buildup of "Lateralus," the intense flurry of toms that is "Ticks & Leeches," the Bonham-on-acid performance of "Third Eye," or the tight synergy with bassist Justin Chancellor in "Forty-Six & Two."

Damon Che (Don Caballero, Bellini)

I hate to take away or diminish anything that the mighty Zach Hill has done, but Damon Che is clearly his stylistic daddy, along with at least half of the other math rock drummers from the late '90s to the present. The powerful and hot-tempered skinsman of former Touch & Go icons Don Caballero Mk. 1, Che makes even the adroit performances of his bandmates (including the incomparable guitarist Ian Williams, whose clashing ego was at least marginally responsible for the dissolution of the first lineup) melt into the shade, a manic postmodern firebreathing (literally) hybrid of Keith Moon and Stewart Copeland on a half-pound of uppers. Even as the only founding member of the current Don Cab lineup, he hasn't slowed down or gotten the least bit sloppy.

Tomas Haake (Meshuggah)

As you stare at that photo, you stare into the eyes of a Swedish death machine. All hyperbole aside, as the drummer for Meshuggah Haake is simply beyond most of the current paradigm. At least when I listen to Carey or some of these other extraordinarily trained musicians, I can sorta intuit what they do, and what piece of their kit they're going to hit next. While Tomas' style is clearly rigorously clean-cut and regimented in beats of mostly four--to him--the rest of us are simply trying to guess at what the fuck he's doing, exactly. The unyielding 4/4 crash cymbal in most Meshuggah songs is precise and robotic enough to shame most Roland-powered industrial outfits, but underneath that there's a brutally stuttering set of patterns and experiments in mayhem with four independent limbs that give Meshuggah its baffling chimera-like sonic signature. Enough big words, this man is a god, and will probably be studied by an entire school of metal and prog drummers for years to come.

Chris Pennie (Dillinger Escape Plan, Coheed & Cambria)

You see the size of Chris' kit? Pretty basic, right? This man will technically rape the likes of Peart and Portnoy and their house-sized sets with that, and he's just getting warmed up. As the former drummer of noisecore champions Dillinger Escape Plan, Pennie was in a band of equally talented individuals most comfortable changing time every four bars or so while keeping the tempo at a brisk 200 bpm on average, and he was the driver behind the wheel holding that psychotically fast machine just on the edge of launching itself off a cliff Evel Knievel-style. It's a shame to see his ridiculous fusion/hardcore stylings wasted on a bunch of boring emo-prog sasquatches like Coheed. I hope the money is good.

Brian Chippendale (Lightning Bolt, Mindflayer, Black Pus)

The prime mover of face-destroying bass 'n' drums duo Lightning Bolt, Chippendale is not a fancy instrumentalist eager to show off what he learned in class or a smooth set of hands trying to impress you with finely honed technique (though he's certainly no slouch). What he will do, though, is beat your soft ass and every surface of his set into an unrecognizable paste while shrieking and warbling all kinds of totally incoherent shit on top through his hood mic. He reminds me of Animal from the Muppets and that is a good thing, his performance imbued with the childlike glee one can only acquire by smashing things and making noise. Paired with equally stellar bassist Brian Gibson, Lightning Bolt is the loudest, craziest two-piece you've ever heard, all the while having way more fun than the average po-faced metal or hardcore band that tries to be this heavy.

Matt Cameron (Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Temple of The Dog, Smashing Pumpkins, et al)

Yeah, I know what you're thinking already--the fuck is this guy? But if there was a song from the early to mid '90s mainstream radio scene that you enjoyed, there's a very good chance that Matt Cameron was behind the drums for it. While his main gig throughout the '90s was in Soundgarden, he's been all over the place with other headlining acts (most recently Pearl Jam) and there's a damn good reason for that. Cameron's ability to take an odd-time groove full of ghost notes and jazzy accents and quietly blend it into the background of hits like "Outshined," "Fell on Black Days," and "Burden in My Hand" amongst others makes him a very well respected musician across the board, and while he may not consistently drop jaws like others on our lists, his effortless and tasteful dexterity behind the kit can definitely be appreciated by a discerning listener, and he's further proven his mettle by writing a fair number of good songs for the above bands to boot. Moreover if you think what Matt does is easy, try covering any track from Badmotorfinger on drums and eat your side of crow.

Gene Hoglan (Death, Dark Angel, Testament, Dethklok, Strapping Young Lad, et al)

In my mind there are two gods of thrash drumming--Dave Lombardo has already been featured, and I wholeheartedly agree with Chris' choice, but Gene's been around just as long if not longer, and has enjoyed a career just as varied as a badass musical mercenary with the likes of Dark Angel (the only thrash band on Earth faster than Slayer in '86), Chuck Schuldiner's landmark band Death, the bipolar industrial-metal death bomb Strapping Young Lad, and Gorillaz' metal dopplegangers Dethklok. While Gene can thrash along with the best of them (odd to see a 300-pound man move his hands and feet so fucking fast), his real talent is throwing in some seriously challenging cymbal work, touches of percussion like propellers and M60 shells and confounding syncopation over the insistent double bass pounding. Hoglan's signature is always immediately identifiable no matter who he's playing with, and he's an awesome guy and constantly in demand within the top echelons of the metal community.

John Stanier (Helmet, Tomahawk, Battles)

The name of John Stanier's game is discipline--all three of the bands above have benefited heavily from the man's utterly rock-solid yet subtly tricky grooves. From Helmet's minimalist post-hardcore to the space-age funk of Battles, Stanier's unique style lends itself well to any setting and has a classic yet thundering swing that belies his stated influences--John Bonham, Billy Cobham, Lenny White and Bill Bruford--all the while keeping a primal, catchy thump firmly front and center. When you manage to be entertaining for over eight minutes at a time with only marginal variation of the beat, that's serious talent.

Might post some more runners-up later, if I'm feeling ambitious.

8/13--as promised:

Brian Viglione (Dresden Dolls, THE WORLD/INFERNO Friendship Society)
Flo Mournier (Cryptopsy)
Morgan Agren (Fredrik Thordendal's Special Defects, Frank Zappa, Mats/Morgan)
Ben Koller (Converge)
Ted Parsons (Swans, Killing Joke, Prong, Jesu)
Trym Torson (Emperor, Enslaved, Zyklon)
Sean Reinert (Death, Cynic, Aghora)
Grant Hart (Husker Du)
Coady Willis (Big Business, Melvins)
Chris Frantz (Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club)
?uestlove (The Roots, Soulquarians)
Martin Lopez (Opeth, Amon Amarth)
Mick Harris (Napalm Death, Scorn, Extreme Noise Terror, Painkiller, et al)
David Sandstrom (Refused)


Rock Radio's Best Drummer List is super super SUPER dumb, here is a better one Part 2

6. Dave Lombardo(Slayer, Fantomas)

The man basically invented metal drumming. No, shut up, he did. Black metal, death metal, thrash metal, power metal...if it's a significant genre of heavy metal, Dave Lombardo probably influenced the guy sitting behind the kit. He more or less made double bass drumming the thing to do when playing metal, and good God in Heaven, have you heard the drums on "Angel of Death"? I almost feel silly writing a blurb for this guy: Dave Lombardo is one of the elite few who simply defies the need for description. Hearing is all it takes to believe.

7. Matt Helders(Arctic Monkeys)

MattHelders1.jpg Matt Helders image by Hidemy

Matt Helders might look like he's about 14 years old, but it doesn't even take a minute of listening to realize that you're hearing the drumwork of a wizened sage(were wizened sages the sort to play drums in a rock and roll band). His drums are some of the most curiously quietly dominating you'll hear: Whether he's hitting the skins at mach-4 or pounding out a heavy groove, he has a tendency of adding a hefty dose of electricity to any given song without becoming overbearing. Add in the sheer, immaculately tightened ferocity of his style and you have a drummer who unquestionably adds tremendous value to any song he's playing on.

8. Atsuo(Boris)

Atsuo's style takes direct influence from a drummer who will appear later on the list, and what he lacks in the unrelenting heaviness of his forerunner, he makes up for with versatility and singularity within each individual song. Not many drummers can switch from crushing, claustrophobic drone-doom metal to exuberant hardcore punk at the blink of an eye, and not a one of them can do it as memorably as Atsuo does. His drumming has an ability that's generally left for the guitar: The ability to make his drumlines catchy and memorable, staying in your head at least as prominently as the guitar or vocals. No drummer today throws curveballs like Atsuo does, and none are as much sheer fun to listen to.

9. Jeremiah Green(Modest Mouse)

More than any other of the great drummers today, Jeremiah Green's talent has a quality that is, quite simply, implacable. There's an aloofness to his style that's hard to pin down. Is it the power of his drumming? That's part of it, but it's not really the reason he's great. His military-style precision juxtaposed with a thumping energy that might even be called sloppy? I'm not sure that's it, either. Could it be his ability to run all over the drumkit while maintaining a somber, forceful groove? Maybe. The real heart of the matter is this: Green's drumming is unforgettable, and his style is inimitable.

10. Dale Crover(The Melvins, Fantomas)

Of all the drummers mentioned so far-both on Rock Radio's list and the one I've been making-none of them can compare to Dale Crover for relentless, titanic force. Crover's drums don't only sound big, they feel big, right down in your gut. The way in which he makes each stroke of the kit feel like the world's angriest thunderclap is downright remarkable, and what's more remarkable than that is that he doesn't lose that power when he starts drumming fast. The Melvins were a punk band before they were a sludge metal band, and Crover combines both disciplines seamlessly to monstrous, bowel-movingly powerful effect. Dale Crover may not be the most technical drummer who's ever lived, but he may be the most forceful, and with that kind of power backing him up, who wants technique?

You hated this list, didn't you? Of course you did. Tell me why in the comments. Tell me if you liked it too, but I'd be just as interested in hearing your own picks.



Rock Radio's Best Drummer List is super super SUPER dumb, here is a better one

I spit on Rock Radio and their reader-submitted list of the best drummers of the last 25 years. Joey Jordison is a fine drummer, but the best of the past 25 years?! 25 years is a long time! Maybe it's tainted by the fact that the band he drums for is a raging shitshow, but I find it hard to believe that nobody could think of a better drummer than this guy over the past 25 years.

I can. Here are 10 that didn't appear on their list and deserve a spot among legends. A few worthy names appeared on their selection, but I'm not going to be mentioning them here because, well...they're already there.

1. Zach Hill(Hella, Wavves, every band that has ever existed)

Zach Hill is the definitely the best drummer of the last 10 years, probably the best drummer of the last 25 years and maybe even the best drummer since Keith Moon. Hill hits the drums with a mania and precision that can only be compared to the Loon himself, and he plays with all the force of an avalanche, as if to silence those who would call him all show. His sheer speed would be enough to make anyone do a double take, but its his ability to make every hit instill the song with an electrical dynamism that truly puts him a cut above. There's a reason that he plays in so many bands: He has the energy of 80 men, and the focus and dedication of a scholar. His intensity knows no bounds and his skill knowns no comparison.

2.Thomas Pridgen(The Mars Volta)

What Jon Theodore, the Mars Volta's first drummer, had in precision, he lacked in groove. Thomas Pridgen, with his gospel-influenced rumble, proved to be just what the doctor ordered as the Mars Volta head into a more soulful, if no less crazed, period. Quick as a whip and as versatile as they come, Theodore can switch time signatures on a dime and provide drumlines and improvisations that can be called nothing less than explosive. He folds himself into the sound of the group with such complexity that you may forget he's there, but take a moment to find him and you'll realize he's pulling tricks that could almost be called inhuman. Jon Theodore mixes the drive of funk drumming with the dexterity and swiftness of prog drumming, and for that the world can't thank him enough for being a breath of fresh air.

3. Pat Mastelotto(King Crimson, Mr. Mister)

It takes balls of steel to be an equal rhythm presence in a band with two drummers, and they're probably made out of Panzer tank parts if that other drummer is prog legend Bill Bruford. In 1995, that band was King Crimson and that man was Pat Mastelotto, proving that he could set and match any challenge that the illustrious, and notoriously musically complex, band could throw at him. But Mastelotto's true gift lies in his versatility, session drumming for prog groups like the Flower Kings as well as '80s pop bands such as XTC, Eddie Money and Hall and Oates. Many drummers can be phenomenal on a technical level, but it takes a true master to be able to conform and change to any style that the music demands of you, and for his chameleonesque musical abilities, Pat Mastelotto remains one of the most underrated drummers of the past generation.

4. Bryan Devendorf(The National)

One of the least well-known names in one of the most talked about bands right now, Bryan Devendorf is a force to be reckoned with. He is minimalistic, in the sense that he only plays when the song requires it of him, but each drum stroke takes on a significance that can stand head and shoulders above the rest of the composition. Every thump has a weight to it that not only fills the song, but pushes it forward. What's even rarer than a drummer with such presence is a drummer that manages to be so clean with each forceful strike: His drumming subtracts anything that is not needed within the song with its force and adds a level of clarity with its precision. Devendorf knows not only how to fit his drum playing within the song, but how to lift it higher, which is a rare skill indeed.

5. Brad Wilk(Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave)

BRADWILK.jpg brad wilk image by mikehake88

Brad Wilk understands that a strong groove is at least as important as technical proficiency, especially when dealing with a group like Rage Against the Machine. Though seemingly the most innocuous of the group from a musicianship standpoint at first, Wilk provides all the rumble and crunch needed to propel the songs forward without getting in the way of the band's ferocious frontmen, Zach de la Rocha and Tom Morello. If that sounds like a back handed compliment then it certainly isn't meant as one, as Wilk and bassist Tom Commerford provide a funky, powerful rhythm section without which their flashier bandmates would not have a leg to stand on. De la Rocha and Morello are the lightning of the group, but Wilk is without question the thunder.

Five more tomorrow.



The Hold Steady-Heaven Is Whenever

2010; Vagrant

So...we have not updated in, officially, a trillion years. You have to trust me that there's actually a good reason, but I heard an album from this year, from a band I liked, and I was like, "I should review this". And now I am. And here we are.

So: Heaven is Whenever. Both the album artwork and the title are complete winners. The music itself...that's a little harder for my brain to come to a consensus on. Mostly because this album is divided into precise halves, the first half being "pretty terrible" and the second half being "excellent". You see the dilemma.

Even if the second half is great, I think that for all intents and purposes this album is a failure. I absolutely see what the Hold Steady were trying to pull off, it just did not work even a little bit. For the first half of the album, they chuck aside all the brass and pianos and go straight standard format rock: Guitar, vocals, bass and drums. And I've gotta say, it's making me reevaluate their previous two albums, which I loved, in a pretty strange light, because without all that other stuff surrounding it, the music almost totally crashes and burns.

Even when the rootsy stuff works, it's flawed. "The Sweet Part of the City" is nice and all, but it feels superfluous. It says nothing that the band hasn't already said a million times before and even if it sounds pretty and thoughtful, it has an air of wilting ideas around it that's hard to shake off. "Soft in the Center" is, once again, a nice sounding, sweet song, but it feels wrong coming from Craig Finn. Even when it brings a smile to your face("You can't kiss every girl, you gotta trust me on this one"), it's uncomfortable to hear fatherly advice coming from the Hold Steady. It's like...you're not my dad, Craig Finn! I listen to you when I want to feel like I'm around people with beer! You are not a role model!

After that, the first half of the album's merits run out entirely. "The Weekenders" and "The Smidge" are absolute retreads of earlier Hold Steady material, except reframed with a "look, we can be hella sensitive too" angle. And it's like, I know you can, I've heard the sensitive songs on your earlier albums. But even those had some push to them, even those had a point to make. This feels aimless, like you're trying to get back to your roots not because you feel like you've lost something but just because you're bored. "Rock Problems" is just utterly embarrassing nonsense, and if there were some decent lyrics to be found I completely ignored them as I tried to pretend that the grinding, generic KISS runoff riff that dominates the song didn't exist and that Craig Finn couldn't have made such a terrible musical choice no matter how much he loves the '70s.

Thankfully, things get demonstrably better as the album reaches its conclusion. "Hurricane J" is a charming, straightforward tale about what it means to be an adult, and it brought back fond memories of earlier Hold Steady excursions without feeling like a Boys and Girls In America b-side. "Barely Breathing" is a disappointed, frustrated account of violence at concerts, and it's one of the few songs on the album that really hits in the gut. "We Can Get Together" demonstrates with expert simplicity the need for parties-"We're good guys, but we can't be good our whole lives"-and "A Slight Discomfort" is a rare display of sincere melancholy from the Hold Steady: No real anger, just sadness, fear and a cautious optimism about trying to stay sincere in a room, and life, full of phonies("They're never funny and they're all so scared to die").

These last songs are all wonderful, and they all show something that the first half of the album distinctly lacked: Real, honest growth and maturity. And I think that the reason for that is because it sounds like they're trying so, so hard to prove that they can sit at the big kid's table for the first 5 songs, and on the last 5 they're simply playing natural extensions of the music they know they're good at. That's the thing about trying to age gracefully: You don't try at it at all, it just happens.

So...I'm torn. I can deftly recommend the second half of the album, but not the first. I want the Hold Steady to grow and change, but I don't want them to lose sight of what made them good in the first place. I want to be blown away by Heaven is Whenever, but I find myself having to settle for being slightly disappointed and mildly hopeful.