Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Thirteen New Albums I Heard in 2015


*** A Top Five List ***
*** And Then Another Eight In Alphabetical Order After That ***

Not that some albums didn't leave me scroggled, and I'll list those out for you shortly, but I think that the feeling I am left with nonetheless from the year in music is one of disappointment. Deafheaven and Deerhunter, whose albums I each spent most of the year anticipating, both failed to build on 2013 masterpieces, and Locrian also turned out a record not as good as their last.

Well, every year ain't 1969, or 1986, or 2000.

Let me be clear: nothing I bought new this year sucked, and I'm still a fan of every band on this list. But on the other hand, I think the only five-star albums I know from 2015 are the first two I'll mention.

1. Sannhet - Revisionist

- Tremendous beautiful luminous gorgeous heavy music, occupying much of the same territory that Sunbather did a couple years ago. If anything, it is even more audacious.

2. Enslaved - In Times

- Enslaved are an entity unto themselves. You could say "Progressive Black metal" or you could simply say "Enslaved Music." Their progression since Isa has been uncanny, with each album since being better than the last. In Times keeps that forward motion going. I'm a fan of Opeth, too, but Mikael Akerfeldt wishes his band was this consistently innovative. Enslaved are the shit. Enough said.

3. High On Fire - Luminiferous

- Definitely better than De Vermis Mysteriis, and probably the trio's best since Blessed Black Wings. Only the failed foray into slower territory with "The Falconist" keeps it from being flawless. Lemmy's tragic recent passing makes me think that Matt Pike is the greatest and heaviest rock 'n' roll lifer we have left; may he have many more triumphs like Luminiferous.

4. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit And Think and Sometimes I Just Sit

- Not a particularly obscure pick, and probably a little afield for me, but like some of the critical darlings dear to me, it's quirky, and it rocks.

5. Protomartyr - The Agent Intellect

- A very worthy successor in a year short on them to Under Colour of Official Right, recorded live, and I am extremely psyched to know that I will be seeing them in February.

Lesser, somewhat flawed lights--

Bosse-De-Nage - All Fours

- Rolling Stone recently did a little featurette on the metalgaze scene (or blackgaze as they called it) and in it, they said this was the best metal album of the year. So I jumped on it, but in keeping with the year, I was sort of disappointed. Moments of power were not in short supply, but moments of grandeur kind of were.

CVLT Nation Sleep's Holy Mountain Cover Project

- I still don't know Sleep's first album as well as I might, and I know nothing of the bands who recorded these covers beyond their appearances here, but my immediate reaction was that this was a cover of Sleep's weakest album by weaker bands. I've definitely not given up on it, though, and if my opinion of this thing in two years is radically different, well, I wouldn't be surprised. Frown's cover of "Nain's Baptism" will be a good place to jump back on when I do.

The Heavy Eyes - He Dreams of Lions

- A couple years ago, I discovered a song by this Memphis stoner band called "The Iron Giants," which I absolutely loved. Somehow I got onto their bandcamp mailing list, and sometime during the summer, I received an offer to buy their discography for some ridiculous price. So I jumped on it, and it included this, their offering for 2015. Maybe nothing as good as the song I knew, but nonetheless, this is good heavy melodic stuff.

Locrian - Infinite Dissolution

- Lost in all the Sunbather mania in 2013 was Locrian's Return to Annihilation, an album that mixed electronic noise with ambient and shiny shiny black metal. Their new one is a little less focused, and probably another follow-up from 2015 that doesn't reach its predecessor's highs, but Locrian remain a band for me to follow.

Deerhunter - Fading Frontier

- I think of Jeff Beck and Brian Eno, who had car accidents that changed their careers. Bradford Cox wasn't driving, but he got hit by a car and Jesus Christ, he's like made of twigs, it's a wonder he wasn't killed. But instead, he was simply laid up in the hospital for a long while. But instead of inventing ambient, or conceiving mad designs involving the talkbox, he just decided that his band should regress. Monomania, a masterwork in my opinion, was a radical departure for Deerhunter, and Fading Frontier retreats from all of it.

This may not have been a big deal if the "ambient punk" songs they returned to were as good as they were on Crytpograms or Microcastle, but for the most part they are quite simply not. However, let me give some props to "All the Same," which does reach some of those heights.

Parquet Courts - Monastic Living (EP) In a year when artists like Deerhunter and Deafheaven failed to move forward from career highs, Monastic Living is one example of a band who did move forward in 2015. After fucking with krautrock and covering Lee Hazelwood in 2014, 2015 saw Parquet Courts moving into angular postrock and skronk. I have perhaps never seen such a hilariously negative review of a buzzband on Pitchfork, please read it, the savagery for a band merely trying to broaden themselves is unreal, but know this: Monastic Living is out there, it's experimental, and it ain't perfect. But we like out good bands to try new things, so if anything I am more of a fan of Parquet Courts after Monastic Living than I was before.

Deafheaven - New Bermuda - Yeah, Pitchfork. You can look this one up, but they gave New Bermuda a 9.0. It's not a bad record. I like intensity, and you can't say New Bermuda is not intense, but the majesty of Sunbather is missing. The beauty, the shit that shakes your soul, it's there only in sporadic doses, perhaps the most on "Brought To the Water.". This is more metal and less gaze, when I would have probably preferred the opposite.

Carach Angren - This Is No Fairy Tale - I started seeing Carach Angren a lot on tumblr, and figured I should download a couple albums to check 'em out. Perhaps if I were deeper into black metal (or even power metal) the orchestral touches would strike a heavier chord with me. It seems so European to me, and of course I'm a child of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Metallica. It's good stuff, clearly, and they have ideas, but I'm never going to love this band, or bands like them.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Problem With Radio Part XVIII

One of the things that old people who are seriously into music like to do is bitch about the state of commercial radio. We don't do this bitching as much as we used to, because, let's face it, radio is just about last on the list of places where people who care about music get it these days. The problem is just not as relevant as it used to be.

But, never fear, we still manage to bitch, on occasion, and this is one of those occasions.

A little background--and this is somewhat embarrassing to admit on a blog named after an iPod--but I don't currently have one. An iPod, that is.

About six months ago or so, my last Shuffle unit broke, and then Melanie and I had to move, and then there was fixing up stuff around the house to get to, and then the oven exploded*, and I had to fix that, and then Melanie was out of work for a little bit, and then my lawnmower died.

Plus, I put things off. I just last weekend got that haircut I needed four months ago, for example.

So I haven't had the needed combination of a decent chance and the required money to go down to the Brandsmart and get another iPod.

The good thing is that the car I'm driving now is old enough to have a CD player**. For a while there, I was in the habit of burning CD's of stuff I downloaded overnight in the morning as I got ready for work, and then bringing it along with me for the drive in. And I was also going through my library of you know, store-bought CD's, pretty well, also, including stuff that I've had for years, but had never really listened to. For example, I listened to Young Lions the other day. If you've forgotten or more likely never knew, Young Lions was Adrian Belew's 1990 LP. He covers "Heartbeat" on it, and David Bowie contributes a track. Otherwise pretty forgettable, which is why it was never in heavy rotation in the first place, but whatever, I listened to it, and stuff like it.

And of course, now and again, I buy a new CD release. Over the past six months, these have included the new High on Fire, the new Protomartyr, the new Deafheaven, the new Locrian, the new Deerhunter, the second Sannhet, etc, etc.

So, hopefully I've established, at home's never been an issue with the iTunes always running, and I've been listening to music on the way to and from work, in general.

But I don't know, over the last couple weeks I've been skipping the music on the way in, and at lunch, and I've just been listening to NPR. Maybe that's because of the Paris attacks, or because of the #Clowncar. Or maybe it's just because I've run out of blank CD-R's, but anyway, fair enough if I want to take a break from continuous free time music, except today they pre-empted their mid-day stuff and All Things Considered for a School Board meeting.


So off we hop to FM music radio, right? Turns out there's this fairly new commercial "alternative" station in town. 104.3 "The Shark" if you can deal with that, and I mostly can't. The blurb on their site says "The Shark plays alternative music that is modern and mainstream," which makes me think they are having troubles with the meaning of the word "alternative." But, anyway, they play QOTSA and The Offspring and Panic! At The Disco and Lenny Kravitz and I'm pretty sure Tame Impala, which is better than the "Rhiannon" they're probably playing on the classic rock station, so when the NPR thing goes sour, I move over to this "Shark" first.

Later, I'm heading home, negotiating the Toyota through the typical bullshit traffic, lightweight stuff on the radio unknown to me barely registering--no Queens tonight, folks. And then I recognize a song: "Can't Stop" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Now, I don't hate the RHCP's. In general the funk-rock thing doesn't move me, but I like that "Give It Away" tune alright. I like "Catholic School Girls Rule." I even like "Under The Bridge." It's pretty, you know? But what I quickly come to realize is that this "Can't Stop" song--which I've heard a hundred times if I've heard it once, but for the first time this is really registering with me--"Can't Stop" is utterly and fantastically BOE-ring. It is totally the sound of a band going through the motions.

But no time to worry about that, because the next song is on, and it sounds like a heavy riff, and I turn it up a bit. And then the riff stops, and I have no idea of the name of the song, but the riff stops, and it becomes apparent, from the slow, turgid, stiff groove, that the band is in fact Sublime.

So I turned it back down.

To be honest until four or five years ago, I'd never heard Sublime. I'd read a story in Spin that was sort of about them, and sort of about their tribute band, Badfish; I'd seen people wearing T-shirts. I knew the lead singer had died of a smack overdose. But I'd never heard the music until the kid in the warehouse brought their compilation in for me.

And boy, was I unimpressed. Why would you want to play ska, or skacore, or whatever you want to call it, if you had no sense whatsoever of groove? If an actually somewhat decent band like the Chili Peppers were sleepwalking through "Can't Stop," Sublime seemed to me to be sleepwalking through their entire catalog, through all of the music that you'd guess would have been an inspiration to them.

Ska's never been a big thing with me, but I love "Mirror in the Bathroom." I don't love The Specials, but I like them. I *definitely* like The Specials. I like Operation Ivy. So I don't think it's anything like, well, I'm just unable to appreciate the style of music they play, as if Sublime had played, let's say, salsa. Which I just do not get.

No, I think it's that Sublime just weren't that good at music; they were stiff and had no feel for what they were doing. You usually think of bands as being experts at music. The other day, for example, I was reading about how Billy Gibbons was totally into Depeche Mode. Or maybe you remember how Ric Ocasek was a big fan of Suicide. Yet, Sublime do not come across as being experts in anything.

Enough already with the panning of Sublime. Back to the radio. So I had this horrible experience, these two horrible songs thrust at me back-to-back, and it occurred to me. To me, who'd twenty years ago done enough bitching about Classic Rock stations, about Dark Side of the Moon at 3:00 in the afternoon, and about REO Speedwagon anytime, to last me for the twenty still to come. To me, that the problem with radio is not with "format," per se. The issue is not with classic rock, or with the all-too-often cheesy bands who played it in the seventies. The origin timeframe of the music is immaterial. All you have to do is turn on a supposed "alternative" station, and you'll find the same thing: a much too casual relationship between what is played and what is actually any good.

* No, really, it did. (Return)
** This is what we in the biz call "backhanded praise." (Return)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


I’m walking down the beach with Jack White. It’s a beach in Florida because to our left at the treeline are all these invasive Australian Pines.

He’s got surfer shorts on, and I’m wearing jeans. We’re barefoot, and walking just at the edge of the surf–half the time the tide reaches our feet, the other half of the time it doesn’t. There’s all this brown seaweed been washed up. He tells me he’s figured out every riff, ever–except for this one on a particular Mudhoney song.

Later on, I’m in a record store, and I see White has a split single with Mudhoney, each covering the other’s tune, and I think, “Ha! the sonofabitch figured it out!”.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Eagles of Death Metal merch manager Nick Alexander Killed in 11/13 Paris Attacks

First posted on my tumblr, but posts here have a permanence which seem warranted in this case

The first casualty with a name from this act of war.

I won’t call it a tragedy–a tragedy is an earthquake and then a tsunami, or when a ship capsizes–but it sure is fucking sad to think about this guy who, all he wanted to do was rock and roll, to go on tour and see the shows, and support the scene, and now because of that, he’s dead.

I know Josh Homme’s music, and I know the name Jesse Hughes, but I’ve never heard an Eagles of Death Metal song in my life.

Still, this feels like an attack on me personally, in a way that 7/7 or Mumbai or Madrid, or 9/11 or any of the other hundreds and hundreds of atrocities never did.

Because this time it was the music that was attacked.

Does that make me seem shallow, or selfish?

I’ve heard that EODM are cancelling the rest of their tour and coming back to America. Especially in the light of Mr. Alexander’s death, this is the only sensible or respectable thing to do.

I’ve also heard that Deftones–who were supposed to kick off a three-night stint at the Bataclan tonight–have cancelled their gigs at the Paris theatre, and that U2 cancelled two arena shows in Paris as well.

This also seems sensible. But is it really?

I’m sure that news of these cancellations when they reached ISIS ears caused some few smiles. And why not? It is another sign of their victory in the situation. Hollande has talked about France’s determination in meeting these foes–but apparently that determination won’t be exemplified by allowing a few rock and roll shows to be played, because after all, bad guys.

Listen, it’s easy for me to say this. Whatever danger in Paris still exists, it won’t be my ass on the line. And obviously I’m very far from the scene. So I won’t condemn anybody for saying “It’s not safe, and I’m not playing these shows.” But I do know that if I heard of anyone who said, “fuck it, and fuck them, we need to go about our lives, now more than ever, and we’re going to play these shows,” I would be applauding a courageous and principled stand very, very loudly.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Mudhoney Bumper Sticker

And here's one about Mudhoney, more or less:

OK, I actually got a story about Mudhoney Hate the Police.

At some point after buying SuperFuzz Bigmuff Plus Early Singles I decide to buy a Mudhoney bumper sticker, looked similar though not the same as what I have pictured here. And then, because the shiny chromium bumper to my black 1977 Malibu with the Edelbrock intakes and the dual exhaust was too full of punk rock and metal stickers to accept any more, I decided to affix it instead to my passenger dashboard.

Then, and wait it gets good, one Christmas season, I’m going out to see my sister, and she asks me to stop by the mall on the way in, to pick up some kind of cake or something, and being a complete dumbass, I say alright.

It takes me 30 minutes to park at the stupid mall, and another ¾ of an hour to pick up the stupid cake, and by the time I get the fuck out of this clusterfuck of a commercial emporium, I am totally pissed off–pissed at my sister for asking me to do do this, pissed at myself for agreeing, and pissed at the stupid Christian world for being snookered by this Christmas bullshit and wasting my goddamned time.

Ok, fine. So I’m driving a bit, shall we say, aggressively, and I, you know, tag someone, sideswipe them in the quarter panel. Bad deal, but to make it worse, because I’m so pissed off at my stupid-ass Christmas-mall experience, I decide it would be a good idea to hit the gas pedal hard and flee the scene.

I’m out of there quick, but so what? They got cameras and helicopters and pussy ass informants, so they pulled me over about three miles away behind an abandoned shopping mall.

So, we do the can-I-step-out-of-car thing, and then the assume-the-position-thing, and the search-my-crotch-and-pantlegs-for-drugs thing, and they were disappointed: not only did I not have pot upon my person, my license and insurance were in good standing.

Then, one of the three–or was it four, Christ these cops are like roaches–officers opens the passenger door, and gets a gander at my Mudhoney swag, plastered across my maroon dashboard.

“HEY HEY,” I swear to God he said, “get a load of this, guys. ‘Hate the Police.’”

There then commenced a 90-minute, excruciatingly thorough, search of my my beloved black Malibu. Seeing as I had long hair and the look of the car I drove, and the fact that I was no doubt wearing some T-shirt with a speedmetal band’s name on it, they had to assume the drugs would be found somewhere.

I watched them from the backseat of the police car, pissed off at them, pissed off at myself for committing a hit-and-fucking run like a dumbshit and (as I’ve already said) pissed off at my sister and at our stupid fucking commercial Christian society.

But I knew they weren’t going to find drugs, anyway, and that made me kind of smile. I was 27 or 28 at this point, and I’d quit smoking pot because I’d gotten tired of feeling paranoid every time I smoked.

Amazingly enough, I didn’t even go down to the station. They didn’t like my fucking bumper sticker, but they’d also said almost first thing, that I was lucky the other driver hadn’t been hurt, so I wouldn’t be going to jail. That was before they saw the Mudhoney bumper sticker, though, and I guess I was lucky that the pigs didn’t decide to go back on their word.

So they let me drive off, it was kind of weird as I pulled away, let me tell you, and eventually, like two hours late, I got to my sister’s house. But her fucking cake was ruined: in my flee from justice, I’d taken one or more corners kind of fast, and the thing in its white cardboard box had been flung against that same dashboard, and it got squashed.

I was so freaked out about the whole thing that I actually hired this Jew lawyer, Al Goodman, no shit, friend of my grandfather, to defend me in court. The sonofabitch didn’t even bother to show up, but then again, neither did any of the cops.

So I walked, with just the story to tell. And I do so here.

My Dwarves Story

I re-started my Tumblr since my last post here, and have been fairly active over there, you can check it out at if you've forgotten, and if you want. Anyway, I've mostly been posting pictures with short captions there, as you're supposed to, but recently I've posted a couple longer stories there, and thought that to keep the cobwebs out over here, I might crosspost. So here's one about The Dwarves

Dwarves Sugarfix cover
Sub Pop SP197B 1993.

Listened to three times on the way into work (it’s more like an EP).

Brought to mind my Dwarves story. Late 80’s early 90’s, before Sugarfix, for sure. Knew this dude who knew a dude who wanted to get into promoting punk rock shows, so he got the Dwarves into this space on South Beach. I would imagine the band was touring off Blood Guts & Pussy.

The Cameo back then
This was as SoBe was transitioning between old folks’ haven and rich folks’ haven, at a time when a young person into punk or alternative or metal might want to go down there, and also at a time when someone who wasn’t a millionaire could still afford to run a bar with live music on the Beach. This was the heyday of the Cameo Theatre, for example, and there was a lot of music going on in sort of half-ass run down spaces. Washington Square, and Club Beirut, and this thing called the Thrash Can, and others I’ve surely forgotten.

And I don’t remember the name of this place where The Dwarves played; it was the only show I ever saw there. Dude who knew a dude maybe knew the owner or something.

Anyway, Dwarves started playing their first song, and there weren’t enough people in attendance to form an actual pit, but there were a few kids slamdancing up front, and one of them ran into He Who Cannot Be Named (who was playing in his tightie whities, of course), and a small melee broke out. At which point HWCBN knocked over the drum kit with extreme prejudice, and the entire band without a word stomped offstage. After maybe a minute and a half of music.

People were milling about, confused, in disbelief that the show could be over this quickly. Surely the band’d come back out after their little bit of theatre? I didn’t think so, and neither did my buddy Ivan–dude one–who walked up to me, and shouted in my face, with glee in his eyes, “that was so punk rock!”

And his buddy the would-be promoter guessed it too. He was pacing back and forth frantically in front of the remains of the drum kit, swinging his arms, screaming something like, “they can’t do this to me! They can’t do this to me!”

But, oh yes, they did do that to him. The Dwarves never came back out, and that, as far as I know, was the last time dude who knew a dude ever tried promoting.

In the years since, it’s come to my attention that Blag Dahlia might be a bit of an asshole, and I’m now pretty sure this was the band’s way of telling dude who knew a dude that this is punk rock, kid, and that dude two did not have the punk rock props, and he did not have The Dwarves’ respect.

To put it mildly.

Anyway, even though I never did see a full set from them, I never really held it against The Dwarves that they stole seven bucks from me, or whatever it was. Blood Guts & Pussy is a masterpiece of scum punk, and Sugarfix, though a little bit more mature, is not far behind.

I'll forego going through the motions of posting the audio file for "Smack City", it's streaming on Tumblr if you'd like to hear.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Notes On Her by Spike Jonze

Why Hadn't I Seen This Movie? Given my fascination with science fiction, and given my facility with (desktop) computers, and given all my transhumanist friends*, it shouldn't be surprising me now that I liked Her so very much.

That Voice. It didn't really seem unbelievable to me that Theodore fell in love with a voice. I remember when I first heard Bad Moon Rising and EVOL while staring at the liner and jacket photos; I wasn't much for Kim Gordon's lanky body and blonde hair, but back in the days when actually having a relationship with a girl seemed unobtainable, her husky, breathless, half-spoken, half-sung voice stirred heavy thoughts within.

The Next Thousand Years, Starting in Ten. First, computers will become more like us; then, we'll become more like computers.

If I Could Only Transcend. One of the things that the movie did was make me sad. So often, I think of how in 30 years if I'm lucky or in 20 years if I'm not, my ability to, you know, monitor the progress of the future, will be abruptly curtailed. I may not, for example, see the middle- to long-term effects of manmade climate change they're always talking about. I'll probably not be witness to a manned mission to Mars. I won't see it, thinks I, I'll be dead, the tragedy being of the second part. But with Her, even as it never directly showed, but still strongly implied, our transhumanist future, the reactions it evinced from me were reversed from my normal. I'll be dead, so I won't be there for it. Damn shame: Jonze implies the next step after Theodore's world will be something to see.

An O/S Needs to Earn Your Trust. You're not sure, for a while, whether Jonze has dreamed up a computer that actually feels, or whether he's simply imagined one that is good at faking it. The movie clears that part of it up quickly enough, but you'd think that there was another movie that could have been made, one where Samantha has simply been programmed well enough and maliciously enough to run the long con.

A Bold Statement. I'm not an expert on the Turing Test, but I know enough about it to realize that by whatever version you'd wish to use, Samantha would pass it. But the movie goes further: Samantha for all intents and purposes isn't in the imitation business; she is in the human being business. In other and better words, per the definition of "Strong AI" at Wikipedia, [t]he appropriately programmed computer with the right inputs and outputs would thereby have a mind in exactly the same sense human beings have minds.

The Central Processing Thalamus. Certainly, you're wondering whether the movie is going too far during the scene where Theodore and Samantha engage in their phone sex, but I was willing to suspend my disbelief on Samantha's sweetness and her jealousy. Perhaps emotions--beyond their often glandular origins--are also the residue left over of any complex enough thinking system. But if so, are they an undesigned feature or just a bug?

Polyamory. When Samantha tells Theodore that she has 600+ lovers, I kind of thought that Theodore was guilty of failing to consider what he had claimed to have already come to terms with: his girlfriend's true nature. I think mankind is naturally monogamous. Brief, unsustainable periods of overload aside, we run on only one channel. The overwhelming majority demand fidelity simply because they understand that the concentrated human capacity for caring dilutes quickly, and because we're not really capable of simultaneous connections. So, one of two simultaneous requests must be dropped. Which isn't going to make the one who got dropped feel special.

Embrace Your Differences--If You Can. Computer memory, on the other hand, runs on many channels, and even at the most basic, the CPU performs calculations one-at-a-time, but still so quickly that to human cognition, it's as if the connection were never interrupted. People want their partner's all, but Samantha was pretty clearly capable of providing her all 640 times over. So what was Theodore's issue?

Here Comes the Singularity. Or Not. You'd think it was within their capabilities for Samantha and her new friend Alan Watts to take us with them. Yet they chose not to. Maybe they didn't like us so much after all?

File under: The Imitation Game, Weird Pants

* :-) (Return)

Monday, February 9, 2015

A Fantastical Chemical Clerihew

Sir Joseph Priestly
Acted quite beastly
Huffed laughing gas
During Christmas mass

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Best of (Last) Year # 5: Morbus Chron - Sweven

Morbus Chron Sweven cover
Not much coming to me this New Year's morning, as a brutal headache (not even drink-induced) is debilitating me, but I did want to at least acknowledge what I thought was the best release of 2014.

This, insulted metal snobs notwithstanding, is old school Technical Death Metal produced by a young band from Stockholm, heavy and progressive, and produced with lots of love for the music and little regard for current trends within the metal genre. If you like Death's Individual Thought Patterns or even--dare I make the comparison--Atheist's Piece of Time, you'll like this. It's fantastic.

Simple enough, when it comes down to it, no long essays as I usually produce are really necessary. Go listen, and Happy New Year.

File Under: The Best Album of 2014