Thursday, January 25

Podcast #16

Because no one ever gets what they want.

Tuesday, January 23

Itchy & Scratchy

I don't have anything to say about this right now (beyond the fact that I love the Butthole Surfers in general and Locust Abortion Technician in particular), but for those of you still reading you must follow this link to WFMU's Beware of the Blog.

This is just so cool, in a really geeky and pointless way.

Question, in parting: is the Butthole's take on this the invention of "chopped and screwed?"

Monday, January 22

Beyond the Walls of Sleep

Feedback into distorted down-strokes, the guitar a dark invocation. The tone swells, richer, fuller, as tentative cymbals are heard chiming like birds witnessing an ominous red dawn. Thud Thud Thud as the kick brings a pulse to the proceedings, the bass as muddy as the guitar, the cauldron's brew thickening like porridge, an overworked glue pushed forward only by the unfaltering cymbals steady crash.

There is a shift; the guitar tone begins its clean ascent to the realm of Iommi, the bass now not a thickening echo but a countering force. The drummer begins to march the troops forward, the formation having tightened and the arms shouldered and ready. Presentation before the general has begun, the cymbals roll, the formation pauses, the guitar restates the invocation.

A voice, straining to be heard in the farthest rows, the deepest reaches, begins the ceremony. The musicians offer not support but challenge, fighting the call of solemn intonation, their groove, their force something to be reckoned with outside the ritual. The guitar has its own power to summon, thick with electrical discharge.

The invocation returns, the guitar restates its purpose, and the ceremony continues. The distortion, feedback and crackling thunder has reasserted its dominance.

A shift, as the guitarist acknowledges the thinner strings, the bottom of the neck, hammer-ons and pull-offs equaled by the kick and tom-toms, the crashing cymbals. The bass player finds a space in between, and a tube-driven warmth fills the gaps.

Again, a return. The invoked being is called by name, "The Weedian – Nazereth". To call a being requires name and location, so as to separate the desired from all others so called. The notes of the invocation proceed a second calling. A third is expected, to seal the spell. The ritual form follows course; invocation by sound, by name, by sound, by name – but no! There is a challenge, the guitar unwilling to cede its own rights to the vocal leader.

The challenge is fairly met, as the guitar, alone states its case, then hesitantly falls into line for the voice to state his own. The ritual leader parts the crowd with his voice, but is left somewhat unintelligible by the continued bucking and squealing of the temporarily subordinate guitar. He states a lineage, a history, claims past to justify present. Before the invocation can continue, the guitar once more raises the question of leadership, but is brought quickly in line. There is no argument with the Priests of the Weedian.

"Arise/arise/aris/ari/ar" I must question here - the traditional three-part summoning is incomplete, the danger is real. The priest, so called, continues fearlessly, his accompaniment now strong, united, challenges put aside for the glory of their Lord.

They approach the halfway point, and with the forces once more in formation, the guitar restates the invocation. The smoke thickens, and begins to coalesce as a description is given by the ritual leader. He describes the rites for his followers to partake in, to bring about the proper mindset for meeting their Lord. It is a Mass, not a summoning as I had heretofore surmised. With all in place, the priest must step aside and let the music carry forward.

The guitar tone switches back to its early, muddy, foul discharge. It dances around a restatement of the invocation but plays tricks, unwilling to quickly reach its purpose. The bass comes close in, menacing, forcing the guitar back to its proper place and sound. Once again the leader steps forward and raises his voice.

A mere two lines, a regrouping of sorts, before once again the guitar sallies forth. Like before, the guitarist has found a voice in the higher register, but instead of the hard attack he finds a sliding warmth, softer. The bass and drums recede as an echo is added to the strings, their keening rather Eastern. Soft – almost feathery, like down – is the kick drum that joins in behind, the cymbals back to the tentative chiming birds we heard so long ago. The peaceful lull is short - the bass brings us back as the priest is ready to continue, having finished this part of the ritual.

The next section is short, a mere four lines, a history of their Lord and his resurrection in the flame. The guitar fills the gap quickly, like the Iron Man. The gap filled, the higher register again appears, this time triumphantly, as dirty and rough as it began the proceedings. There is something guttural and mocking about it, as if - just perhaps - there is a longing to be free of all this, to move on.

The band reels in those flights of fancy, pulling the guitar back down to the depths. The dominant force is, must be, the priest, who now has finished with the tale of The Weedian and chronicles the path of the believers, the proper path with the priests as guides. The reading of the ritual – its history, its purpose, its path – is complete.

A blessing is said:
Drop out of life with bong in hand
Follow the smoke to-uh the riff-filled land

And the band plays out.

This has been a real-time commentary on the experience of listening to Sleep's magnum opus Dopesmoker.

Thursday, January 18

Podcast #15

I got a new mic! Come check out my early struggles with new technology!

Betcha By-Golly Wah-Wah

Though I've never been to the land of YOB, I'm planning a trip. Along the way past the Dead Meadow, I'll probably find the Electric Wizard at the court of the Acid King, and with both their blessings will travel through the Conifer forest to the Ocean, lie beneath the Mammatus clouds and Sleep, dreaming fitful dreams of those Buried At Sea. There are some heavy things going down.

I've completely ignored metal and its sub-genres for over a decade, thinking I was past the need for it. I still had noise, and experimental free-form improv, and the all-genre melding inherent in following Zorn and Patton and their Tzadik and Ipecac imprints. It didn't seem to have a place. Well, I'm happy to say I was wrong. All of the above linked artists (I promise not to go MySpace crazy again in the future) excite me; heavy, sludgy, blistery purveyors of doom, thick with effects and scorching the raw earth with their mellifluous tones. Dirgey bliss, all for me.

For those who are metal connoisseurs, you will probably be asking one primary thing: where be the descendants of thrash? To be honest, I went through a series of short but intense thrash/grindcore phases (Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax/Slayer, Suicidal Tendencies, Napalm Death/Carcass, Pantera, Sepultura - in those subsets and order), and the technical riffing and brutal tempos don't really hold much appeal anymore. I can appreciate the skill, but I can't say I enjoy listening.

Regardless of my own predilections and prejudices, I'm looking forward to "rediscovering" my inner head-banger. Should be a fun year, and I'll dutifully share my thoughts as I add yet more music to the all-together too much already lying around the house and clogging up my brain.

Thursday, January 11

Podcast #14

Because my fan demanded it.

Monday, January 8

Diamond Dog

Today is David Bowie's sixtieth birthday, and I haven't heard of any scheduled celebration like his all-star Madison Square Garden's fiftieth bash, which is quite a shame. Video from that bonanaza is all over Youtube, and worth searching out, particularly a blazing "Scary Monsters" with Frank Black and "Hallo Spaceboy" with the Foo Fighters. For comic relief there are also a couple of songs with bald Billy Corrigan and the enthusiastically coiffured Robert Smith. Overall, a fun and joyful celebration.

Someday I'll write up some in-depth thoughts on The Thin White Duke, but today is just a birthday wish for Mr. Jones. Come celebrate the with me, and enjoy a song he willingly butchered for a few dollars in the movie Starship Troopers ("I have not been to Outer Space..."), but which, in its original form, was an anchor of the underrated Outside.

Thursday, January 4

Podcast #13

New Year, same routine.

Tuesday, January 2


It seems each time the calendar changes I mentally lay back in the grass, gaze at the sky, and reminisce. This year I've been trapped in those strange days of youth, ages five to ten.

I had a somewhat idyllic childhood, a seventies pastoral blend of Maxfield Parrish and Mayberry. My neighbors were farmers, quarrymen, preachers, and teachers like my parents. Every home (all five, mine included) was my own, every adult a parent and caregiver. We had a partyline; for those who never had that singular experience, it meant we shared a phone connection with multiple other homes (so you could pick up the receiver and listen in on other's conversations, naturally) and had to "arrange" calls with the others involved. We got a dedicated line I think about the time of my fifth birthday, which came with the ability to call anyone in town by only dialing the last four digits of their number. We hit the big time.

Music was a big part of that childhood. We got one TV channel (ABC, if memory serves), so rainy days and blizzards meant my parents record collection was the source of much entertainment. That collection, which is now an adjunct to my own, formed one of the building blocks of my musical taste; the Beatles, the Mamas & the Papas, Neil Diamond, Simon & Garfunkel. My mother also had a solid collection of classical music which lead to an oft-shared anecdote about me I don't remember in the slightest; on the turntable is Saint-Saens "Danse Macabre", and I am describing to her a scene of skeletons bopping about. This possibly apocryphal tale is one I often cite when discussing my musical education - I can't read notation without great difficulty (Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge/FACE; my second-grade music teacher would be proud), I can't whistle except one sad note, my singing voice is fine if greatly limited in range, and my instrumental prowess is sub-rudimentary - but I taught myself how to hear.

As my sister and I got older, my parents concern for our education caused them to move us from our eighteenth century community to a more modern one, where education extended past the eighth grade. I was seven, and by my tenth birthday two more pillars of my musical fundament were in place; classic rock and MTV. FM radio was ruled by the iron-fist of classic rock - by Boston and Led Zeppelin, "Godzilla" and "Iron Man." I could hear Mountain and Foghat, but not Chic or Elvis Costello. Unsurprisingly, 4/4 beat and electric boogie was added to the harmony-heavy bedrock of my youth. There was no Top 40 radio for us then - Casey Kasem was the sole proprietor of that mainstream ghetto, and Saturday mornings were a lifeline to current sounds. But then came cable, and with it that befouler of souls, Satanic warper of fragile little minds, the "new thing" - MTV.

Cable was in its hardscrabble early days, and it seemed every household got a free chunk of time to "try out" the full range of offerings. We had MTV either at its beginning or shortly thereafter (but it went the way of the dodo when the cable company wanted our limited funds), and it was through the idiot box I discovered the "New Wave" of music. Adam Ant, the Dandy Highwayman; Talking Heads, and their kaleidoscopic "Once In A Lifetime"; The Police, whose horse-faced (sorry, Stewart) drummer danced around but didn't seem to have any drums; and most importantly for me at the time, the oft-maligned "Police rip-off" band Men At Work. Men At Work's inescapable video for "Down Under" was an early staple at the channel, and was one of the first 45s I purchased (the earliest was Blondie's "The Tide Is High" for my sister's birthday in 1979). MTV also broadcast, very early one Saturday morning, a concert by the affable Aussies. I was enraptured - the songs I knew ("Who Can It Be Now?" was a monster hit too) were great, but they had other good songs, like "Be Good Johnny" and "I Can See It In Your Eyes." They were playing songs from Cargo as well, so when "Overkill' and "Dr. Heckyll & Mr. Jive" were released I was already familiar with them. This broadcast concert also led to the first album I bought - Business As Usual.

Business As Usual was that next step for me; from casual consumer - adrift in the cruel sea of playlist payola and market forces - to active participant, shaper of my own musical destiny. It was novel to me, listening to my music on my own terms, not just what others decided I should be force-fed. Men At Work set me on the path of an obessive, one who argues about the strength of album cuts versus singles ("Helpless Automaton" - showing the Split Enz inspiration was as, if not more, important than the Police - is one of the true gems in the Men At Work catalog, for example), of unappreciated artists and flawed masterworks. Unfortunately for my friends and family, the cost of Business As Usual was pretty much all I could afford to spare from my comic book buying money, so it was on my turntable for ages and ages. I think that was why one of my sister's friends gave me her 45 of the Buckner & Garcia classic "Pac-Man Fever." Otherwise, I can't imagine anyone making that kind of sacrifice.