Friday, August 29, 2008

Notice for strangest comment...

A week or so ago, I received an anonymous comment regarding my last "mix tape" entry that made me laugh out loud and simultaneously go "wha?"

Read, consider, react:

I have a confession. I made this mix and it got me laid. Apparently, I am cooler, thanks to your site. Did it get your brother laid too?

Don't get the Monkees track - but I kept it in.


Honestly, I don't know how this playlist got you laid because there's NO Al Green, NO Barry White...this is an unsexy mix of songs. If it offered you some kind of cred, that makes me happy and I'm glad that I could assist you in your carnal endeavors.

As far as whether or not this mix got my brother laid, I would guess not. I could always ask, but it's really none of my business.

Now, the Monkees track: "Writing Wrongs" was one song that, as a kid, I could not stand. Mike Nesmith pouring his lungs out over a back-and-forth piano combo just didn't sit well with me and the midway breakdown of high speed, pulsating organ was just too strange.

This is a cool little YouTube video featuring "Writing Wrongs"

Later however, I really appreciated it for being the melancholy and odd little number it is, 180° from the songs that made them famous and got excessive rotation as background noise for some Three Stooges-inspired montage where the Monkees defeat the villian, or get the girl. It's songs like these that have kept me defending The Monkees, trying to make a case for their credibility and integrity despite the hurtful truth that they were a band manufactured for a TV show. Their efforts for respect, to me, were admirable.

Letters From A Tapehead

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The cover says it all...

Earlier this year, I'd learned that Beatles-tribute band, The Fab Faux, ("We're not a COVER band; we're a TRIBUTE band!"), are doing shows based on The White Album. It didn't occur to me, for some reason, that the show might have something to do with the fact that The White Album turns 40 this year.

Writing anything about The Beatles more than 40 years after they'd unknowingly cemented themselves a permanent place in every "best of..." list to be conceived by every music-based magazine or cable station is what some would call "needless" or "unnecessary." Countless novels, articles, criticism, many words have been spent repeating the same observations and coming up with same undeniable conclusions? Like the stars? Generations of musicians are born under the unfortunate and futile circumstance of never being able to live up to a band that had its day more than 40 years ago. What must that feel like: To know that you'll never live up to four working class kids that were completely unaware of the impact that they would have?

Well, now I'm spending MY words, discussing The White Album and my take on it because I guess I'm into being redundant. Plus, it's an important album to me, basically because I consider it to be the TRUE anti-Beatles record, more so than Sgt. Pepper had initially set out to be. It's the mark of a dissatisfied unit that was bound together by its obvious success, but comprised of elements (3 at least) that wanted to make their own individual marks. The White Album, to me, is like the world's first mixtape.

I think I was 10 or 11 when I'd first really dropped the needle on my Dad's crackling and overplayed copy and gave it a real listen. Up to this point, I was going through my Dad's Beatles collection chronologically, exhausting records before I'd move onto the next thing. Magical Mystery Tour, which is easily in my top 3, had been spun way too many times thanks to an obsession with "I Am The Walrus." I even watched the movie. I hated it, but I endured it.

The faint and familiar airplane whistle was barely audible before The Beach Boys-infused surf rhythm of "Back In The USSR" began and it was already obvious that experimentation had been thrown out the window. It was back to Rock N' Roll. At the time, I didn't know the occurrences or events that led to the making of the album, and I didn't really care. When "Dear Prudence" came on, I had a new favorite Beatles song. I think I wound up replaying that one over and over, almost-tearfully drawn to Paul McCartney's prominent and jumping bass line and John Lennon's mournful tonality. That song is absolute perfection and, more than twenty years later, it still chills my skin.

Listening to the album now, it really does sum up the best and worst of what The Beatles were/are capable of. The most sentimental and cheesy aspects of McCartney's art was rearing its ugly head in the form of "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" and "Martha My Dear." Lennon was accessing a rather morbid sense of humor ("The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill") and coupling that with an attraction to blues and political folk ("Yer Blues," "I'm So Tired," "Revolution 1"). And, George Harrison, probably because there were two LPs to fill, managed to contribute more than just one or two tracks with the Clapton-aided "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," the satirical and overtly British "Piggies," the quiet "Long, Long, Long" and Poppy but forgettable "Savoy Truffle." The album is so 50/50 in terms of quality, it's the type of thing that begs for attention simply because it shouldn't work. But, somehow, it does. Dysfunction rules if a song like "Helter Skelter" can be its theme music and I only say this because, as the songs have aged in my head, it's really easy to sift through the dirt to find the gems.

"Wild Honey Pie," for instance, doesn't really count as a track, but I love it anyway. "Rocky Raccoon" has lost its novelty, but I still sing along whenever it comes on. "Don't Pass Me By," one of the TWO Ringo Starr mistakes included, isn't my favorite thing on Earth, but I never skip it. Even Yoko Ono's "Revolution 9" has gained SOME appreciation from me even if it was nothing more than Lennon's attempt to appeal to the artist set.

But, the mature and raw Rock fury of "Happiness Is A Warm Gun," the rhythmic melancholy of "Cry, Baby, Cry," the soft and sweet "Blackbird"...for all the mistakes The White Album commits, The Beatles were never so honest as they are here. Through their lack of cohesion, they still connected with their fans on a new level, hinting at their individual abilities and sort of making a case for their eventual demise. The album basically requests emancipation and cites irreconcilable differences.

Is it any coincidence that their most honest album is so simply titled, The Beatles? Was it just an accident that their simple and flat album cover could easily speak of "clean slates," "starting from scratch," "blankness?" In its own way, The White Album may have the most brilliant album cover ever designed as it is the most frank and straightforward explanation for a band at its end. It speaks volumes while saying NOTHING. The absence of light, color,'s the perfect testimony from a band that no longer felt magic or excitement.

It's unfortunate that that honesty only spoke of a need to disband and move on, but at least there was one more masterpiece in them before they called it quits. As dysfunctional families go, it would be a better world if they all sounded this good.

And here we have some more words spent on an ever-adored and perfect entity. We love you, Beatles. Oh, yes, we do.

Letters From A Tapehead

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Out Of San Francisco

Out Of Africa
Alternative Tentacles
Released: 3.25.08

Rating: 9.75 out of 10

Maybe a month ago, I was reminded of how dead Punk rock really is. It happens very often these days that I witness SOMETHING that makes my insides liquefy, rise past the uvula and pour out of my mouth. It splatters. With what’s left of my strength, (at this point I’m lying in a boneless, contorted mass of skin and muscle), I’ll manage to acknowledge the steaming puddles I’ve spewed and note, “Hmmm…hopeless longing with a smattering of exhaustive rage.”

VH-1 was doing one of their decade round-ups, an 8-part series on the new millennium because they evidently couldn’t wait until the decade was actually complete. They got to 2002 and the topic of Avril Lavigne came up. The “expert” panel they hired for sometimes-amusing-but-mostly-mediocre commentary had no qualms whatsoever with talking about how refreshing and punk rawk she was and I wanted to crawl into the TV and beat the shit out of them all. Labeling her the anti-Britney, (what a complete misnomer that is), it didn’t seem fathomable that anyone with the physical capability of taking in air, expelling air, taking in air, expelling air, could make such a stupid and WRONG observation about Avril Lavigne and her non-existent contribution to American Hardcore or Punk Rock in general. I figured the fact that she didn’t know David Bowie sort of spoke volumes. Apparently, it didn’t.

I digress…

It was, in my mind, yet another testament as to why Punk should be laid to rest, attainable only through its spit-covered and lack-lustrious (yes, I made up a word) past, meant to inspire and NEVER to be fully assumed by anyone ever again. Leave the safety pins and leather jackets alone.

This is understood by SOME bands. Not many, but some. I felt last year, despite Against Me! undeservedly grabbing all the headlines, it was Pissed Jeans that took the artform and kicked some integrity back into its saddened and criminally brutalized little heart by adding some Hard Rock riffage to the mix and bringing back Punk Rock’s right to be inalienably insane about whatever, mundane or pivotal. This year, the honors belong to Triclops!, an enlivened and enlightened bunch from San Francisco that have utilized some thick King Crimson progression and drowned the genre in a deep Pcylocibin bath. Jazzy, syncopated and heavy on the loopy, Fusion bass, Triclops! is a force to be reckoned with: a four-piece powerhouse with ample energy and their first LP, Out Of Africa, will send shivers down your spine.

Out Of Africa is a seven-song mind-F-U-C-K that persists in throwing curveball after curveball while instinctively keeping its mentality relatively agro. The STOMP! STOMP! CRASH! CRASH! of album opener “March Of The Half-Babies,” a sort of agonized situational wherein a drug-induced phantom keeps the narrator from jerking off, (at least, that’s what I think it’s about, though, the repetition of “Mommy” amidst guitar chaos and infant cries may have shot that theory all to hell), definitely sets a precedent: Loud and unusual.

The following track, “Iraqi Curator,” shows some shades of At The Drive-In in terms of vocal arrangement and some of the time signatures used:


Politics are big, as are the observations of “Freedom Tickler,” which discusses the excessive consumption and blind allegiance of the atypical American:

“Real Americans can see from our lofty SUVs /To survey all the freeways we command/Individuals! All!/So rugged and so tall/Days full of porn and guns and Adderall/I am one I won’t deny it/If I want it, I will buy it/I don’t even need to like it/It is there so I must try it/But I am so hungry/I am so so so so so hungry…”

On the surface, “Freedom Tickler” is a blatant denouncement of where America stands currently, but its tone is mostly mournful even in spite of its sarcastic content and loud hook.

Be warned, this video might pull your lunch directly from your stomach.

The one song clocking in at less than 5 minutes, “Duende War (Out Of Africa),” is really the only instance where a song’s speed is consistent. Purely built on the licks of guitarist, Christian Beaulieu, “Duende War” is mostly spoken by Johnny No, who dispenses with the vocal effects that otherwise shroud his voice through most of the album. I guess it would be the album’s most accessible moment, as it is the track that takes the least amount of liberties with tempo and rhythm.

“Cassava,” an epic track if there ever was one, mixes noise riffs and surf guitar with storms of cymbal work and percussion. Not necessarily the band’s “Freebird,” not necessarily the band’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” (after all, we are talking about Psychedelic influences here), “Cassava” is a furious and elbow-breaking summary of what Triclops! is capable of musically and the whirlwind with which all these elements come together is stunning.

The following track, “Secret 93,” is basically exercise for drummer, Phil Becker, as he just doesn’t stop for most of the song. Acting mostly as a riff-driven spoken word, the aural assault is interrupted midway for a carnival interlude that brings the song to a violent build up before it ends quietly.

Closing track, “Lovesong For The Botfly,” is an artistically licensed, albeit graphic, tale of the botfly’s survival, and how its species continue to flourish:

”…Just one mother more/A giant fleshy house for you, beautiful/Carve out your burrow, little guy/Maybe behind an ear, covered with brown crust and tasty infected mammal sores…”

The music itself, rhythmically sound with a humming bass line and syncopated drum beat, is loud and proud for the song’s mission statement and then wanders elsewhere, becoming solemn for what ultimately becomes its one profound observation:

”…Every nutrient you need, and you eat, you eat, you eat to grow strong/You are safe, and it doesn’t matter if you aren’t loved…”

Honestly, before this song I’d never even heard of the botfly, so my entomological knowledge is evidently beneath these guys. For the band however, at least for singer, Johnny No, the botfly is an envied specimen, as it needs nothing in terms of feelings, love or support. All it needs is food and an unsuspecting host.

Be happy that a band wants you to feel something and maybe be a little pissed off. There’s nothing complacent or apathetic going on with what you hear in Out Of Africa. Its point-of-view is interestingly cryptic and raw; the music has balls and knows what to with them. It’s worth pointing out that a Punk band typically, in the past anyway, rejects musicianship. That was the whole point during Punk’s genesis: it was an argument against arena rock, disco, prog…it was the collapse of an artistic peek that allowed music to build from nothing and start anew. Triclops! doesn’t seem interested in building from nothing, but they’re obviously into refurbishing a grand idea, maybe to the point of insulting the Punk pathos. Does it make sense that something this well crafted belong in the Punk pantheon while legions of imitators with barely half the musical wherewithal (ahem…Avril) so blaringly pronounce themselves genuine? If it means coming up with something new to keep a spirit alive, so be it.

Letters From A Tapehead

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A letter to SubPop…

My wife and I decided last night that we were going to get out of the house for a little while. This meant dinner (scrambled eggs, bacon and home fries for dinner…alright!) and a little trip out to the local BORDERS for some magazine perusal and possible music purchases.

I found nothing in terms of music. So, scouring the music mags for laughable headlines and unjustifiably acknowledged music celebs, my eyes graze over the cover of MOJO magazine and I internally comment, “Oh, look: Nirvana’s on the cover of a magazine for once.” But, then I notice the OTHER headline, the one that says: “20 Years On…SUB POP.” “Wow,” I thought, “it really has been that long.”

The headline had me thinking a little bit. Before Nevermind took a chunk out of me, the same way that it took a chunk out of everyone else, I’d already been a budding music enthusiast, (I’ve gone on and on about my Monkees obsession and my sexless love affair with my Dad’s record collection). When “Smells Like Teen Spirit” became an FM staple, it was then that I knew music was going to be an uncontrollable and relentless force in my life. And, at the time, you couldn’t have asked for more. Every record label was suddenly investing a ton of green into the next loud and obnoxious, (“Your parents will HATE this…we guarantee it!), alternative rock group. Perry Farrell was in full-swing promoting the first of many Lollapolooza festivals and it seemed like, everywhere you turned, there was some freak with a guitar singing something fucking awesome. The execs were daring to be more outlandish, realizing that an open-mind could possibly yield a lucrative bottom line, so they were nice enough to bless us kids with all these sounds that, at the time, were 180° from where Pop music had been maybe months before. It was a good time to be an angry, self-absorbed teenager, thankful that these beautiful sounds were being funneled into my somewhat sheltered suburban existence. And, these bands offered me a solid base to work from as I spent time in my high school library reading issue upon issue of Rolling Stone magazine, photocopying reviews and articles, just so I could find out where to go next, and what albums led to these bands’ respective leaps to fruition.

As history states, it will always be Nirvana that brought Seattle to the rest of the country. But, Sub Pop was the driving force behind the Renaissance. Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Green River, L7, Tad and, of course, Nirvana, led what was probably the last label-driven movement music has seen. And, I say this with an otherwise significant amount of respect and gratitude for the wonderful Internet, chances are, there will not be another.

Ever since Shawn Fanning opened our eyes to the money we could save by sharing and downloading music online, making it possible for EVERYONE with a computer to basically own a music library without having to pay for it, music’s impact has become less significant. Record stores are dying. The eager young kid with a crumpled ten dollars and a Walkman, willing to blow his allowance on the dare of a potential musical eureka versus a bad purchase, has been replaced by the young kid that scours Myspace pages and finds free sources for MP3s to throw onto his/her iPod. The disposability, lack of personality and ease at which music is attained, has sort of diminished its value, which has, in a way, justified the continuing downward slope of quality. And, really, who wants to pay for crappy music? But, who wants to invest in quality if there’s no compensation?

The kid with the crumpled ten-ner, fingers flying through stacks upon stacks of stacks of dirty LPs or CDs with cracked cases, THAT’s where you get your awakenings, THAT’s where generations begin their assent into musical, forgive the pun, nirvana. The SubPop label was probably the last to experience the joy of being appreciated for what it could bring to its audience and, only a few years later, the world.

This isn’t to say that there’s an absence of independent record labels. On the contrary, there are many and, thankfully, their existences online have seemingly allowed them to prosper probably better than they would have through the old school channels: ‘zines, local newspapers, college radio and paper catalogues. But, I don’t see any of them leading any kind of cultural shift the way STAX, SST, Touch & Go, Impulse!, etc. had touched a nerve so long ago. There’s too much at our fingertips, shorter attention spans and no work necessary. Every musical Renaissance we have going forward, will most likely be quiet, setting off small eruptions amongst its select group of purists and appreciators. Converts are welcome.

Letters From A Tapehead

Current listening:
Louis Armstrong - La Vie En Rose (Best Of The Best, compiled and released 2003)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Praveen & Benoît: Meditations on Meditation…

Praveen & Benoît
Song Spun Simla
Music Related
Released: 8.26.08

Rating: 8.25 out of 10

Interesting that Brian Eno and David Byrne decide to realign themselves with all that’s electric and beautiful once again after years of dormancy. At the same time, Electronica musician, Praveen Sharma, and singer/pianist, Thomas Meluch (aka Benoît Pioulard), deliver something along the same vein: A soft and mesmerizing collection of vocal chants over ethereal sounds and unpolished percussion.

I’m not always drawn toward Electronica, mostly because its static lack of character usually fails to carve any distinguishing or memorable aspects with which to hold the guilty artist, (or offender in many cases). Every once in a while though, the genre puts forth something interesting, something that conveys an idea, a mood, a time and place…a state of being. Even though there’s no blood that surges along with the electricity, Praveen & Benoît capture some poignancy through the medium, though it helps that there’s singing involved. Instrumentation helps, too.

Song Spun Simla, their six-song collaboration, was apparently created over the course of two years without much in terms of physical interaction. Basing its name on Praveen’s ancestral point of origin, a village in India, Song Spun Simla doesn’t feel like it comes from only one place. It’s incorporation of myriad instruments and noisemakers give it an existentially united feel. The slice-of-life exchanges that precede the accordion played intro, “The Tunnel Is Still There,” seem to mix languages, creating this anyone/anyworld/anywhere landscape. I don’t think it’s too dramatic to say that it almost stakes its claim on its own uncharted piece of land.

“Death As A Man,” which begins as a ringing cloud of multiple chimes, winding whistles and perpetual pings, interestingly maintains a chaotic overlay of effects over a consistent rhythm base of acoustic guitar and a brushed snare. Benoît, as a vocalist, does remind me of David Byrne to an extent in terms of his light tone and his ability to sound somewhat heavenly, for lack of better term. It’s an aesthetic he carries throughout the album.

“To Scale,” a mostly percussive arrangement, may be the album’s gem. Being the only instrumental, Praveen amasses a layered selection of aural effects and drumming sounds that seem to fall and echo out of sync at points and then, somehow, get back on track without any hint of catch-up. It could just be that the elements get overwhelmingly complex at points, but the arrangements and sound collage herein are the type of thing that makes one thankful for headphones.

And then, something like “Embers” acts largely as a vocal arrangement. Praveen’s penchant for layered percussion doesn’t receive less of a spotlight, but Benoît does compete for attention. “1991” sounds like one dreary, dark and orchestral year and the climactic “Chiaroscuro” adds a large dose of distortion what begins as a pretty acoustic track.

Overall, Song Spun Simla is a mostly ambient piece of melancholic gorgeousness and its use of traditional instruments in an Electronic setting is interestingly executed. It’ll catch your ear; maybe make you meditate a little bit. Enjoy.

Letters From A Tapehead

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Isaac Hayes (1942-2008)

To Isaac Hayes,

Does Soul or R&B even have a chance at survival? Obviously, it's too late for you to answer that now. I'd like to think that this new generation of R&B Popsters can even come close to anything as remotely influential or meaningful as what you and your fellow STAX labelmates put out there so many years ago. What an amazing time that must've been: Sam & Dave, Booker T & The MGs, Otis Redding, The Bar-Kays, The Staple Singers...unstoppable!

I guess, without coming off like the slew of music writers and reporters that've been regurgitating the same old shit about Shaft-this and Shaft-that, I'm thankful that you tried to give Pop music depth. Taking Pop standards and Middle-Of-the-Road moneymakers that otherwise just sizzled in the pan long enough to generate some moderate interest, turning those songs into long, complex and orchestrated things of beauty...why don't musicians love music anymore? Does it feel that way? Does it feel like Pop musicians don't want to challenge their audience?

I guess I'm generalizing. I know they're out there: Those wand-twirling madmen and songwriting scientists. I know they're trying. We can only hope that they hit a nerve at some point, turn a few heads and blow a few minds.

I don't think there will be another era that will know the likes of anyone like you. There certainly won't be a repeat of the kind of creative success that a label like STAX knew so many years ago. Tragic, I know. But, at least those recordings are alive and available to be enjoyed for years to come. At least you've earned yourself SOME immortality, even if you have left us in the physical world.

If I'm grateful for anything, it's for your rendition of "Walk On By." Covers usually fail to live up to the originals. Your covers seemed to beat the originals all to hell.

Rest in peace.

Letters From A Tapehead

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Elvis Gets the Natalie Cole Treatment…

So, a while ago, in a fit of raging sarcasm, I scribed a satirical look at the ridiculousness of the posthumous album trend using Elvis Presley as my prime example. My commentary was born from the news that Mariah Carey had garnered more hits in her career than The King, but I countered that with “yeah, the guy hasn’t put out an album in thirty years…why don’t they give him the Tupac or Biggie treatment and start freshening up his appeal?”

I was kidding. But, apparently, this is going to happen.

Elvis Presley Christmas Duets is what they’re calling the album and it’s going to pair Elvis’s voice with the likes of people he wouldn’t otherwise associate himself…y’know, since he’s dead. Is it just plain brutal that Elvis will have to sing a song with Gretchen Wilson? Way to tarnish a legacy.

My biggest problem with posthumous recording, other than the fact that it’s just another way to stretch an artist for all he or she is worth in terms of revenue, isn’t so much that their creative property winds up utilized and manufactured in every way, shape or form. Any artist would, or at least SHOULD, know that going into ANY contract, their legacies, no matter how seemingly sacred, are up for grabs at any price and potentially subject to a slew of refashions, rehashings, reshapings, reissues…you name it.

My problem is that these artists, because of their understandably inanimate conditions, have no choice but to become vehicles for whatever up and coming Pop stars their respective record labels select. Elvis is, consequently, promoting American Idol now because somebody in the Penthouse thought that Carrie Underwood was an appropriate candidate for an album like this. Were he alive, would he protest? Maybe not, but it’s not as if he has any say in the matter. He’s adding a dash of credibility to a fourth-rate Country star while having his taste and preferences dictated to him by the living. Also, while enhancing her name, Presley is in no position to keep his own intact. Granted, it would take more than “singing” with Underwood to damage the Presley legacy, but why put it to the test?

Plus, with the exceptions of Ann Murray and Amy Grant to an extent, maybe Olivia Newton-John because she was at least relevant before and after The King offed himself, the roster largely consists of country acts that Elvis never met, heard…a couple of them weren’t even alive. Admirers or not, would Elvis actually have worked with these performers if he wasn’t dead?

Sony BMG, the label working with Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc. on this project, is billing it as Elvis’s first duets album. The fact that he didn’t do one while he was still in the pink sort of says it all.

Here’s the tracklist for those who are interested. From ELVIS dot COM:

“I'll Be Home For Christmas” with Carrie Underwood
“Blue Christmas” with Martina McBride
“Here Comes Santa Claus” with LeAnn Rimes
“Silent Night”with Sara Evans
“Merry Christmas Baby” with Gretchen Wilson
“Silver Bells” with Anne Murray
“White Christmas” with Amy Grant
“O Little Town” with Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman of Little Big Town
“Santa Claus Is Back In Town” with Wynonna Judd

So, Puffy, when can we expect the next Biggie album?

Letters From A Tapehead

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Boris Smiles...

Southern Lord
Released: 4.29.08

Rating: 8.75 out of 10

From play, my brain was more or less skewered, (in a good way if that’s imaginable), by the raw, psychedelic hard edge of Boris’s latest album, Smile.

Since 2006’s Pink, an album whose genre-hopping managed to act more as a summation of Boris’s versatility and talent than a fluid album, (it rules anyway), Boris have become the collab-band du jour for the likes of Sunn O))), Merzbow and guitarist, Michio Kurihara. They’re essentially this millennium’s answer to The Band: A self-sustaining entity that can also back-up or take on anybody. By themselves, they’re a relentless force with songs that drive through the murkiest depths, decibels that could swallow lesser bands by the truckload. And, the fact that Smile, their latest for Southern Lord, is a mixed bag doesn’t detract from their brutality.

The bitch with Smile is that it shouldn’t be a mixed bag. The songs herein are by and large an explosive batch of pure fucking rock energy with experimental doses of sobering balladry and sound explorations for any ear to feast upon. The aural collapse one gets when listening to something like “Buzz-In” through headphones is unreal and unmatched by most Mallternative bands that typically get mislabeled as “metal” or even “rock.” By and large, Boris is the perfect culmination of the best the 60s and 70s has to offer us, a Japanese outsider looking in at the US and England, taking it all in and adding a fresh perspective: mud, murk, pea soup fogs of enveloping distortion…Coltrane with TWO guitars!

Beginning with the sorrowful tonality of “Flower Sun Rain,” a song that basically melts into a Stay Puft dollop of sonic icing, the one-two-three punch of “Buzz-In,” “Lazer Beam,” and “Statement,” is a relentless pulverization. “Buzz-In,” whose notes are preceded by infant laughter, bridges heft to speed with the Motörhead-paced “Lazer Beam.” “Statement,” what would be considered the album’s first single, rips itself open with what could be a variation on Black Flag’s “Thirsty and Miserable” riff and turns into whiny guitar solo heaven on Earth.

But, after peaks, it’s nothing but valleys. The second half of Smile is mostly experimental sludge. “Your Neighbor Satan,” a faint drum machine suffocating under static-cling, couples Pop-balladry with stompy hardcore sections to maintain the album’s otherwise excessive weight.

By the time “Ka Re Ha Te Ta Sa Ki - No One's Grieve” comes into its own, it’s obvious where the album’s biggest drawback lies. This song, the first time I heard it, was brilliant. It’s metal trance: A rhythm extract from digital hardcore and placed underneath some crushing distortion and sorrowful harmony. It’s as if Richard D. James decided to work with Greg Ginn and came up with this raw, imperfect but extreme idea of high-speed chaos and gloom. I was mesmerized the first time this song took hold of my ears through my headphones and shook my head.

But, then I heard it on speakers and the beat gets completely lost under the chaos of guitars, becoming some sort of howling free-jazz mistake that goes on for too long. After this point, I realized that the overall production on this record was too reliant on muddied distortion and too willing to let other elements of the music suffer for its sake. Understanding that the mud makes Boris drive as hard as they do, I think the elements, especially for the more adventurous numbers, should’ve been treated with as much attention. “No One’s Grieve” winds up being an unfortunate casualty of bad production.

In addition, there are also a lot of strange transition and sequence choices made. The concentration of rock numbers in such close proximity throws the album off balance. And, there are moments where song transitioning seems committed by a novice making his first mixtape. Most notably the end of “Lazer Beam,” which provides a repetitive drum/cymbal crash and what sounds like an acoustic lead into a medley, is abruptly stopped with a couple seconds of dead space before “Statement” begins. The only time throughout the album where song sequencing or blending are considered, is at the beginning of the album, where “Flower Sun Rain” and “Buzz-In” collide.

The morose and ponderous tonality is carried through to the album’s climax with the beautiful “You Were Holding An Umbrella” and “[],” which sounds like a slower and longer version of The Doors’ classic, “The End.” At least, it does until the loudness kicks in and continues in drone fashion until the tape runs out.

There is really no question that Boris is a take-no-prisoners type of band with more than enough bang for your buck. Smile is flawed from a technical standpoint, but the band makes up for it by just, well…by just being raw and loud. Really, isn’t that all that matters?

Letters From A Tapehead

The Mon: "Doppelleben"

Acting somewhat contrary to his normal work with the doom metal colossus Ufomammut , vocalist/bassist Urlo performs as The Mon , whose new...