Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Roger Waters and Neil Young

Roger Waters at the Israeli West Bank Barrier
Notes on how complicated things have gotten:

Stumbling about the internet yesterday, I became aware of a letter to Neil Young that Roger Waters had written, and then when he got no reply, posted to his Facebook page.

Evidently, Waters had heard that Young had scheduled a concert in Tel Aviv this week, and wrote the letter trying to convince Young to join the BDS movement, those who want the world to Boycott, Divest of, and Sanction the Israeli state.

There was some regret that I was having to think about this at all, but I found myself glad that Young had not responded, and had not cancelled the show.

Yay, team.

Although I am not religious, I was raised Jewish. Although I am liberal, I support the struggle of the civilized world against the forces of terrorism. I support the State of Israel, and I condemn Hamas.

So I've come to the conclusion that Roger Waters, no matter his erstwhile contributions to music, is at this point nothing more than a clown and a tool.

And that's a terrible conclusion to have to come to. I wish that Waters understood about Hamas' 13-year campaign of missile strikes against Israel. I wish he understood about the true and avowed terrorist nature of Hamas. But mostly I wish that the world in its flaws did not require a man to come down on the wrong side or the right side here. I wish that the next time I pull out Animals, I didn't have to deal with the dissonance to the art that the man now provides.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse Tel Aviv 2014
Reading this morning that while Young himself never pulled out of the show, the Israeli police, citing security concerns, have done it for him. Too many missiles coming down, they concluded, for a large crowd to be safe.

Fucked up world, my friends, fucked up world.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Comments Elsewhere: On Led Zeppelin at Consequences of Sound

Sheldon Pearce at Consequences of Soundoverstated, I thought, the amount of critical shit Led Zeppelin took in their early days.  So I posted something.

John Mendelsohn and Rolling Stone reviews notwithstanding, Led Zeppelin’s quick success was not a surprise to very many.

Check out Tony Wilson of Melody Maker, quoted on the back of the first Yes album–

“At the beginning of 1969, I was asked as were all Melody Maker writers to pick two groups who I thought would make it in the following year.
One of my choices was LED ZEPPELIN. A bit obvious perhaps, but then we all like to back a winner occasionally.”

A later unsigned review of Led Zep I at Melody Maker said “Jimmy Page triumphs!” with the exclamation point intact.

Or Felix Dennis at long-forgotten OZ magazine:

“VERY OCCASIONALLY a long-playing record is released that defies immediate classification or description, simply because it’s so obviously a turning point in rock music that only time proves capable of shifting it into eventual perspective. (Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home, The Byrds’ Younger Than Yesterday, Disraeli Gears, Hendrix’s Are You Experienced? and Sgt. Pepper). This Led Zeppelin album is like that.”

And even Mendelsohn called II “a fucking heavyweight.”

It’s clear there were some bad reviews of early Zeppelin, but I think the article overstates their preponderance; and more importantly, their significance. Bad Reviews of Physical Graffiti, for example (maybe in Creem?), would have perhaps pointed to Zeppelin’s bloatedness, which in the light of the coming of punk rock, were somewhat accurate charges which thus would have meant more than some dude in 1969 simply failing to get it.




Thursday, February 6, 2014

Queens of the Stone Age with Chelsea Wolfe at the the Fillmore Miami Beach February 5, 2014

First time I'd been to the Fillmore and first time I'd seen QOTSA. Sometime during the show, Josh Homme said that it'd been 11 years since the band had played South Florida, which means that the last time they played in the land of bikini waxings and easy Oxycontin, I knew nothing of them . . . or of Kyuss, if you can believe that.

It was a long time ago. Never mind that I'm pushing 50, Josh Homme just turned 40.

Well, it's good that some things don't change. Except for a lame ballad or two (which, unfortunately, the band wasted precious set time with last night), QOTSA's still fairly new . . . Like Clockwork is chock full of the same robot rock that the band has always played. And the show amply demonstrated that Queens, whatever its current personnel, is still very able to pound that groove into your head over and over and over.

It's a wonderful thing, even if the coming back to South Florida thing was an afterthought. When the tour to support . . . Like Clockwork was first announced back in June, South Florida was not included.

Support for the first leg of the tour was provided by British post-punk revivialists Savages, but when the tour expanded into 2014 and to include Miami (hooray!), the backing band named for the second leg was Chelsea Wolfe.

It wasn't quite as bad as when the second leg of Nine Inch Nails' recent US tour switched support from Godspeed You Black Emperor! to Gary Numan, but I would have liked to have seen Savages play, and I certainly had never heard of Chelsea Wolfe.

While there's certainly nothing new or exciting about the goth-chick schtick she's got going, I thought her set was nevertheless interesting. Wolfe sang and played guitar on songs that had an electronic pulse, but seemed to have their backbone in noise and old-style reverb. Not all of the tunes overcame a certain melodrama, but enough did for me to buy her most recent album--Pain is Beauty, natch--during the intermission. My initial listen is making me think that Wolfe's set was heavier, and better, than her record.

Something about "Keep Your Eyes Peeled"--maybe it's the pots and pans intro, maybe it's the midtemponess, or maybe it's just that it's the first song on the new album--made me think in the days running up to the concert that it would be the show-opener for Queens.

It wasn't. "You Think I Ain't Worth A Dollar, But I Feel Like A Millionaire" did the honors. And good enough; it's as representative of the bands pound-the-groove approach as anything else. But, turns out, my imagined highlight wasn't even played. And a few other songs I would have liked to have heard--the songs that I feel pound you the hardest--were missing as well. No "Battery Acid." No "I'm Designer". No "Everyone Knows That You're Insane."

That they missed great stuff is indicative of the deep catalog they have built. You maybe--I maybe--may not have realized just how many good songs QOTSA has.

  • "Little Sister
  • "Sick Sick Sick"
  • "Burn the Witch"
  • "Go With The Flow"
  • "Better Living With Chemistry"
  • and let's include the new "If I Had A Tail" coz it's fucking great, you know it is
They played all these. But I do wish--especially considering they were pretty much obligated to play "Make It Wit Chu"--they'd skipped a couple of Clockwork's power ballads. They did "The Vampyre of Time and Memory" (the best one of the bunch) and "Kalopsia" and the title track to the new record, and it was too much schmaltz for a band that's about driving straight ahead hard rock, too much, frankly, for a band that decided to skip "Battery Acid."

One thing I did learn with all the the power-ballads being played, and I'm glad in this weird cynical way that I did, is that these kids these days, they still do the stupid lighter thing during the power ballads.

They still do the lighter thing, and they also as you know spend the entire show taking video with their phones, but they also don't move that much. Or at least they don't at Queens of the Stone Age. Josh Homme--again, 40 years old--spent the night dancing with his guitar. Yours truly, nearly half a century on this tiring tired globe, spent the entire show dancing spastically, banging his head, and strumming his air guitar. I worked up quite a sweat there in row five as I looked out over the groundlings who never once formed a pit.

Metal up your ass, kiddies, and get off my lawn!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Year End Album Reviews # 6:

MBV by My Bloody Valentine

http://www.mybloodyvalentine.org, 2013

If you thought I was all agog with Bailterspace for making a great record with their second album into a comeback, then wait til you get a load of how I'm feeling about MBV.

Given the time that has passed since My Bloody Valentine's last record, and the stature of that record, it's probably silly to review the new one without heavy reference to the old, so if you can indulge, that's how I'm gonna approach things here.

I think the new one is better than Loveless, and that is of course very high but also perhaps surprising praise indeed.

Hard to figure out how Kevin Shields managed this. Between the LSD usage, the experiments with sleep deprivation, for all I know his attempts to talk to the dolphins, and of course the passage of 22 years, My Bloody Valentine's third album probably doesn't have much business being good at all, let alone surpassing a classic.

Yet it does. MBV has--except in one case--better songs than Loveless; it's got a more forward guitar sound, and its experiments, though fewer, are more successful.

My purpose here is not to disparage the band's second album. Yet I do feel that the praise Loveless receives is mostly based on the songs that bookend it. "Only Shallow" and "Soon" are I think quite clearly the best two songs on the disc. My favorite theoretician, Brian Eno, famously described "Soon" as "the vaguest music ever to have become a hit," and consider this: the song as it shifts moods back and forth between the overdriven, minor key bridges and the brighter choruses creates a confusion of emotion. Eno described the song as vague because the emotions the song conveys as it moves forward conflict, and the listener is left unsettled. It's a trick that Loveless and MBV both use to good effect, but nowhere is it more effective than on "Soon.". The song is an enigmatic masterpiece.

I don't think anything on MBV matches up to "Soon", but that's hardly to be considered a fault. Not when I think that the songs overall on MBV are stronger. My favorite tune on the new one, and therefore one of my favorite songs of the year, is the opener, "She Found Now." Blinda Butcher's heavily reverbed vocals as they do lull you, and make things seem sweeter than they really are, but the song erects an almost impenetrable wall of guitar, worthy of mention in its excess even for a band that makes a practice of erecting those amplified palisades. If you removed the vocals, and downtuned things a couple octaves, it'd probably make sense as a Sunn O))) track. It underscores the idea that I have that this is a more guitar-forward album than Loveless, as does (since I'm on the topic) the third track, "Who Sees You." Yes, the fourth song, "Is This and Yes," eschews stringed electrical instruments entirely, and devotes itself to Butcher cooing seductively over what sounds like an old Casio; but this song is an outlier. Elsewhere on MBV, it's the guitar that is the centerpiece--and are the endpanels.

Shields and Colm Ó Cíosóig were credited with sampler on Loveless and most often the sounds they sampled there sounded like mellotrons. Things never got syrupy--I think Shields liked the tool because it was another way to bend pitch, and evoke strange waveforms--but the sampled sounds did tend to make things feel less heavy than otherwise. There are no instrument credits on MBV, just for personnel, but the samplers are clearly less in evidence, giving the guitars that much more space.

"Touched," from Loveless, used the sampler extensively and is the album's most experimental track. But, you know, some experiments fail. Loveless is here and there called a perfect album, but, while I'll always give a tip of my hat to experimentation, "Touched" just does not succeed. It is true that MBV does not feel as experimental or as revolutionary as Loveless. Time probably explains the latter, while the former was probably Shields' choice. Yet the new album's most experimental track--"Is Nothing," 3-1/2 minutes of essentially the same riff, pounded unto its death, until your weakened brain begins hearing stuff that is most likely not there, totally works, whereas Loveless' most experimental track does not.

As you would imagine from my Bailterspace review, I'll be shocked if My Bloody Valentine follow up MBV with something even better. For one, I'm not sure that's possible, and besides, Shields had 22 years of consciousness raising (and depressing) to draw on in this album's composition; he's got less time now.

We've all got less time. But Kevin Shields can tell us, and wag his finger at us too if he'd like: never say never.

Five Stars, the best I heard in 2013

File under: Music That Celebrates Itself

Monday, December 23, 2013

Year End Album Reviews # 5:

Under the Influence EP by Amon Amarth

Metal Blade Records, 2013

The Parquet Courts* did a good job in 2013 with Tally All the Things That You Broke, but Under The Influence has to be the most interesting EP I heard in 2013.

Beyond the quite-wonderful "Viking Metal" phrase, I hadn't been all that familiar with Amon Amarth. Then I heard that they were headlining a show in January with Enslaved and Skeletonwitch as support. And since there was no question, because of my fandom for Enslaved, and my interest in Skeletonwitch, that I was going to get my geriatric ass to that show, I figured it'd be a good idea to buy Amon Amarth's latest, just so I could be sort of familiar with the headliners when I did.

Turned out I bought some kind of deluxe version of Deceiver of the Gods, which included this EP, and good thing I did.

While there are some good examples out there (I'll recommend Coverkill in addition to the Metallica and Slayer and Rush stuff you'd already think of), the cover album over the last ten years has become something of a cliche. But though it pays tribute to Mötörhead, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, and Judas Priest, Under the Influence is not a cover album (or EP). Instead, Amon Amarth wrote and recorded four new songs of their own, one each in the style of the bands mentioned.

It was a risky thing to do, if you think about it. If you miss the mark, the whole thing falls flat on its face. You look like a bunch of highfalutin' idiots, and besides, with all due respect to Amon Amarth--I liked the melodic death approach of Deceiver of the Gods quite a bit--they're probably not as good as any of the bands they pay tribute to here, excepting perhaps AC/DC.

But they pulled it off. On each of the four songs, you know for certain within 30 seconds which band is being, umm, tributed. Amon Amarth nail it both musically and lyrically. The AC/DC tune is characteristic of the Aussies in that it is both singlemindedly concerned with sex, and hilarious, both things as they should be. "Stand Up to Go Down" is full of double- and single- entendres, sort of the only place you could still go after "Whole Lotta Rosie." And you'll swear it's Angus playing the solo.

Johan Hegg sings the Sabbath tune ("Satan Rising," natch) with uncharacteristic clean vocals that actually end up sounding a bit like Ozzy when he dropped down, and it ends with a characteristic production trick. And Amon Amarth have quite the feel for proto-doom, how about that?

Hegg sounds a little bit like Lemmy (probably because the esteemed Mr. Kilmeister is about as guttural as you can get outside the death metal scene), but "Snake Eyes," like the AC/DC riff, is also particularly on target with the lyrics, which covers the Kilmeister fascination with gambling, and even manages to name-drop "Born to Lose."

The Priest tune probably faces the biggest challenge, because Hegg sounds nothing like Rob Halford. But Amon Amarth get the twin-lead attack down, as well as the Priestian shout chorus.

Under the Influence gets a whole bunch of the details right, and is exceedingly clever, to boot. Again, something like this would have been very easy to botch. Amon Amarth's home field so to speak is melodic death metal, yet they show a wonderful facility with styles not their own on Under the Influence. Not to make it more than what it is, but it's undeniably a fascinating and deft achievement.

Four Stars.

*Or is it Parkay Quarts? Or Parque Corts? (Return)

File Under: Viking Metal Bands Who Know How To Play Proto-Doom

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Year End Album Reviews # 4:

Trinine by Bailterspace

Fire Records, 2013

2012's Strobosphere was the first new album in 14 years for these self-described atmospheric noisesters from New Zealand. The remarkable (and germane) thing as I write today is not that Strobosphere was a good, solid record, but rather is that the band has managed to quickly record a followup that is superior to it.

I am a skeptic as far as it goes with records more than a decade in the making. Not even considering the tolls of vitality and creativity that Father Time collects, if you figured ten years ago that you had nothing more to say, what about the passage of time is going to change the truth of that declaration?

And if it's difficult to make something decent in your first effort after ten years, you'd have to figure that a second album after that would be even more so. It's like the old canard about debut albums: Bailterspace had 14 years to think about Strobosphere, but less than a year to work up the new one.

Yet, the preconceptions I bring aside, Trinine is the real deal. Song after song features a nasty guitar tone, or a sinister bass sound, or both.

It is perhaps true that the jawdropping songwriting as they once displayed on "Retro" is gone, not to return, but songwriting was never critical with this band: "The Sonic Youth of the Southern Hemisphere" has been about sound, about texture, about the fucked-up noises you can make with a guitar, and in that regard, Trinine hangs with anything the band has ever done.

"Tri5" in its layered heaviness recalls Bailterspace prime work like "At Five" or "Projects." "Tapenzloop" if not in sound but just because of the experimentation recalls the amazing "Voltage."

There are a couple of surprises, too: "Together," in some strange way recalls the twisted alt-folk of Skip Spence.

It all sounds great, especially loud, and Trinine is as good (almost) as anything else new I heard in 2013.

Four-and-a-half enthusiastic stars.

File under: Atmospheric Noise