Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sonic Youth and Independence...

Sonic Youth
The Eternal
Matador
Released: 6.9.09

Rating: 8 out of 10

The Eternal is what you’ve come to expect from Sonic Youth, and then some.

With a noticeably enlivened sense of purpose, possibly the result of Sonic Youth’s return to the independent pantheon, The Eternal isn’t much of a deviation from the series of albums they’ve been making since 2002’s Murray Street. Though less polished and discordant at times, The Eternal’s reputation in terms of fan and critic-generated op/ed seems mostly fueled by the band’s much-publicized switchover, the excitement of inclusion back into the fold embellishing the album’s reality.

Since Murray Street, Sonic Youth have been satisfied enough just to make good albums, shifting their focus from abrasive chaos and instead finding some semblance of soft melody within their signature tone. After my first or second listen to The Eternal, I revisited Murray Street, Sonic Nurse and Rather Ripped, just so they were fresh in my mind and I could begin to understand exactly HOW Sonic Youth utilized their new freedom. And, while the energy of opener “Sacred Trickster” is a noticeable hook that the previous three records seem to lack, the subtly entrancing and more lovely characteristics of songs like “Disconnection Notice” and “Jams Run Free” feel absent this time around, that slow and melodic structure possibly sacrificed so that Sonic Youth could confirm any pre-conceived notions their fans may have had regarding their major label ex-patriotism.

But, even though I’m skeptical about how much of a “return to roots” this really is for Sonic Youth, The Eternal rocks and nothing felt better than that first wave of dissonance that bled my ears once “Anti-Orgasm” fused Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo’s respective six-strings into a tuneless barrage of cacophonous electrical arguments. To hear them unleash is always a thing of beauty, but even more intense is their willingness to pull you into their music. As “Anti-Orgasm” finishes its societal protest, (“Smash the moral hypocrisy/Mission control keep anarchy”), they take the last three or so minutes to let the storm fade, calm the excitement and allow you drift along in the song’s afterglow. This aspect of Sonic Youth is more engaging than any ruckus they manufacture, even if the album’s intent is to make the ruckus its primary characteristic.

With the permanent addition of ex-Pavement touring bassist, Mark Ibold, Kim Gordon’s gravelly vocal finds occupation at the forefront and backdrop of most of the album, making her voice more of a consistent element as opposed to an expected one. As “Leaky Lifeboat (For Greg Corso)” called for some lalalala’s, Gordon coaxes a pleasant enough note or two out of her otherwise coarse gullet. There are some moments though where you’re glad she’s mostly out of the picture, the electrifying “Antenna” a perfect marriage of melodious disarray and introspective passion. Thurston Moore has the perfect voice for what he does; as does Lee Ranaldo whose “What We Know” typifies his near-desperate Beat delivery.


“Calming The Snake” and “Poison Arrow” are close in jagged intensity and chaptered like one basic idea, their collective energy somewhat slowed by Gordon’s mid-tempo “Malibu Gas Station” whose final minute melts into a blast of free form confusion before gaining composure long enough to end.

Moore has a double-shot with “Thunderclap (For Bobby Pyn),” (the short-lived handle worn by Darby Crash), and “No Way,” decent enough rock songs that keep the momentum going, simplistic enough to balance out Ranaldo’s psych-inspired “Walkin Blue.” Thick low end and floating guitar strings eventually convene into a heavy-strummed noise jam and transition into Gordon’s “Massage The History,” almost ten minutes that come off like a less intense “Titanium Exposé,” her voice at times breaking up as if emotionally spent.

The Eternal is a great album: Great songs, no signs of complacency or age, no wear or tear. Their permanence as icons having had a hand in the design of modern/alternative music well understood, Sonic Youth have up until this point exhibited no need to improve upon perfection. They just continually deliver good music. Indie label, or not.

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Monday, June 29, 2009

DJ Shadow: Six Days

When The Private Press came out in 2002, I enjoyed it, though I thought it nothing next to Endtroducing... If I remember correctly, the general consensus at the time was that DJ Shadow’s previous opus had left him little room to maneuver or improve, earning The Private Press the pseudo-honor of being “likable.” It’s a familiar trap that many artists fall into, momentary creative elevation followed by a steady decline as expectations wind up unmet or unmatched.


But, though mostly offering dance licks and overt “I’m a bad muhfuckin’ DJ” styled aggression, The Private Press did boast “Six Days,” a blue-based melancholia that mesmerizes and boosts the album’s worth.


DJ Shadow - Six Days from lika2008 on Vimeo.

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson (1958 – 2009)


To be honest, I’m not sure how to feel about Michael Jackson’s passing. Granted, when I was a child hurtling toward 7 or 8 years of age, Jackson’s “Thriller” video was the absolute rage as it was a one-of-a-kind dance event with a storyline and direction from an actual filmmaker, (John Landis for those of you not in “the know”). It was a big deal and deservedly so, as MTV was still in its relative infancy and, through “Thriller,” became more of a pop culture presence. At the time, Jackson was a credible hit machine: talented, charismatic and much loved.



Then, soon after, as he became the poster boy for surgical do not’s and a regular dietary necessity for the paparazzi, his music was more of an afterthought and his alleged and suspected involvement with children damaged his reputation. Having said that, while I’ve scanned the internet and seen the outpouring of heartfelt “we’ll miss you”’s and RIPs from fans and the public alike, for me it seems as if Jackson passed on over twenty years ago. The sparkling gloved performer, once the smiling cherub-faced little boy from the Jackson 5, hadn’t existed in years and it feels as if THIS is the Michael Jackson we’ll all miss.



Not to step on the life and legacy of a legend, but it’s unfortunate that the last twenty plus years will exist to overshadow his accomplishments. If there’s any consolation to be had, it’s that since 1984, there’s hasn’t been another performer like him. Through the muck of imitations without half the heart or ability, Michael Jackson remains the King Of Pop. Chances are, that crown can be buried with him.

R.I.P. Michael Jackson

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What I Heard This Morning: Mad Gregs

What I Heard This Morning: Mad Gregs

As barbershop quartets go, Mad Gregs is a strange permutation of the genre, a nature sounds polyphonic smooth jazz variety. "Safe In Sound" is subtle and soft, strange and well written. Either give it a listen or appease your music video fetish.


"Safe In Sound"




Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Monday, June 22, 2009

Stewart Copeland w/ Stan Ridgeway: Don't Box Me In

At some point, I would like to produce a word or two regarding Stewart Copeland's brilliant score for Francis Ford Coppola's film Rumble Fish. In the meantime, I found a video for "Don't Box Me In," the movie's theme song featuring Copeland and Wall Of Voodoo's Stan Ridgeway.




Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

No Ripcord: The Horrors

The Horrors
Primary Colours
XL Recordings
Released: 5.4.09


No Ripcord review

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Shopping For Records #15: DNA, SY & DK

Insound purchase:

DNA
DNA On DNA
No More Records
Released: 2008


No More Records had released this compilation on CD in 2004. Possibly feeling the choke from the current CD marketplace, as if the band’s obscurity wasn’t enough to keep sales modest, DNA On DNA was released on vinyl late last year with live CBGB performances and some other gems that didn't make the CD.


Admittedly, DNA is one of the most irritating bands that ever plugged in, but to hear Arto Lindsay violently scrubbing away at his six-string in an attempt to perform an instrumental, an anti-instrumental; you understand why DNA is so essential. With arrhythmic, syncopated shrieking-word pieces, to me, DNA is the most defiant band from the No Wave era, Arto No Wave’s Les Nessmann a threat to conventional song structure and rhythm having NO jazz chops or real musical ability. DNA was a band that didn’t really have a place to influence anything, but they did. Ask Thurston Moore.



Insound purchase:

Sonic Youth
The Eternal
Matador
Released: 6.9.09

Speaking of Thurston Moore: The Eternal just came out a week ago and my copy arrived last weekend. The edition I purchased came with a live LP and a couple posters.


This is their first release on an indie label in over twenty years.


Multiple reviews for this album are being compiled at No Ripcord. An update will come once the feature is completed.



Anonymous yard sale purchase:

Dead Kennedys
In God We Trust, Inc. EP
Alternative Tentacles
Released: 1981


My wife routinely checks out yard sales every Saturday morning, always on the lookout for cheap baby clothes or discounted home-related accessories and art. She also scouts around for vinyl, knowing what I like.


Last Saturday afternoon, she handed me three albums: a Leadbelly compilation, Black Sabbath’s Paranoid and the Dead Kennedys’ In God We Trust Inc., the long out-of-print Alternative Tentacles issue. I’m not sure how original it is, but a vinyl copy from AT is a rarity these days. In God We Trust, Inc. is an artifact from my impressionable years, so I got candy store excited and quickly pulled the album out. It’s in really good condition. The sleeve itself is a little tattered, but intact. Amazing find.





Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Monday, June 15, 2009

No Ripcord: Iggy Pop

Iggy Pop
Préliminaires
Astralwerks/Virgin
Released: 6.2.09


No Ripcord review

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Pop Group: An Introduction to What Will Be A Long and Useless Set of Observations


About a year ago, I found a copy of The Pop Group's For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? on vinyl for a lot less than I thought I'd have to spend. As I've gotten more and more acquainted with the album, (this and 1979's Y), The Pop Group have become one of those near-obsessions for me, the type that outlast any real interest in current music, (though, my latest addiction has been Mission Of Burma's Vs.), and that's led me to look into other funk-post-punk Brit bands like 23 Skidoo, Throbbing Gristle and A Certain Ratio.







Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Black Flag: Your Last Affront

The first few seconds of static are interrupted for almost ten minutes after you drop the needle. Bassist Kira Roessler fastens the foundation in a series of repeated thumps as drummer, Bill Stevenson, chimes in with warm up percussion before he finds his place, crash symbol spark showers falling on guitarist Greg Ginn, who winds up his six-strings and lets loose a tunnel of mechanic mayhem that you can essentially drown in.

What you have is “Your Last Affront,” the first song on Black Flag’s instrumental EP, The Process Of Weeding Out.



As far as Black Flag records are concerned, people don't look past Damaged as it is widely considered the band’s milestone. But, speaking as a fan, Black Flag made no album more complex or extreme than The Process Of Weeding Out, its combined energy, inorganic make-up and strangely amateurish experimentalism a troubling and unsettling byproduct of Ginn’s dissatisfaction with scenester-ism.

The Process Of Weeding Out was, in all honesty, one of the first examples of hardcore’s intent for progression. Punk in general back in ’85 had been evolving with no wave, new wave and post-punk, the first wavers and their progeny creating music influential enough to facilitate a huge portion of this decade's indie output. Hardcore didn’t want to grow up, but its progenitors couldn’t really go anywhere without exploring new territory, and though the hippie generations were widely mocked for folding under societal pressure and ultimately conforming, the hardcore scene was itself becoming a clique whose ideals of individuality, self-expression and rebellion had scene-instilled constraints. The open-minded became the close-minded, hence the almost offensive nature of a hardcore band creating something “artistic.”

To listen to “Your Last Affront,” realize that there is no music more hardcore, challenging or potentially revolutionary than jazz music. What Ginn did with guitar, Ayler had done with a sax. As the sonic barrages shift and contort, free form atonal improv over Kira’s unwavering and militaristically disciplined pattern, Stevenson pulling Rashied Ali at times, seeing how far he can deviate from the plot, one can almost hear the shock of the ye olde jazz crowds back when structure began to melt away as the playing of Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane took less shape. It’s possible that the same shock was felt and heard from the collective of disillusioned and malcontented hardcore youth; children convinced to be different, though put-off by a band so set against the grain that they confused the paradigm. You don’t get more hardcore than that.



Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Friday, June 05, 2009

“I Can See The Light,” kind of…


Damian Lazarus
Smoke The Monster Out
Get Physical
Released: 5.26.09

Rating: 6.25 out of 10

I really don’t like dance music, at least not from a “listening” standpoint. Whereas I appreciate the need for a beat, the perpetual oontz oontz influencing body movement and coaxing hot liquid from the skin of the young and single club patrons lucky enough to be allowed past the velvet rope, it's a genre specific to the confines of whatever all-night domicile features DJ So-and-So’s handiwork. Yes, it’s a skill to keep a club rockin,’ but… without the club, the patrons and the alcohol, dance music doesn’t translate well in a “listening” sense.

One thing you can say about Damian Lazarus, London DJ-turned-Los Angeles maestro, is that he’s evidently attempting to branch out. His album, Smoke The Monster Out, is what one could call a semi-industrial electro beat art statement, reveling in its allegiance to Brian Eno and firmly tied to a raver-friendly foundation. As a budding musician, Lazarus is ambitious, cutting his compositional teeth (with the help of Arthur Jeffes) on ominous and tonal film score interludes (“Cold Lizards”); pop tracks (“Neverending”) and trip hop atmospherics (“Spinnin’”). He covers Scott Walker (“It’s Raining Today”) and dabbles with Lou Reed (a “Walk On The Wild Side” riff finishing up “After Rave Delight”). There’s a lot that Lazarus wishes to do, which is why Smoke The Monster Out only kind of connects.



As the darkly ominous swell of the album’s title track sort of seeps into being, Smoke The Monster Out utilizes those familiar dance beats, minimalist on the percussion end while the backdrop howls and hums. Piano notes follow with “Moments,” a sort of dance lullaby featuring Swedish singers, Taxi Taxi (Johanna and Miriam Berhan), both of whom appear throughout the album and contribute to some of its best moments.

Like Tricky, Lazarus’s music seems to benefit from feminine and angelic melody as “It’s Raining Today,” “Spinnin,’” and the Sneaker Pimp-ish “Come And Play” represent its highlights. When Lazarus himself vocalizes, it’s less emotional, the only exception being his KMFDM snarl in the Kraftwerk-ian “Memory Box.” A brooding android of a song, “Memory Box” is the album’s spoken darkness, its other sinister moments cut out of the Angelo Badalamenti (“Cold Lizards”) or John Carpenter (“Lullabies”) handbook of film scores and tones that convey dread.

Otherwise Lazarus plays popster, satirically (maybe?) with the mechanized folk and purposely trite “Diamond In The Dark,” (the soft rock beat under Lazarus’s humorously impassioned “I can see the light/that’s shining on you” while the static of applause politely emerges… hilarious) and the straightforward dance number, “Neverending,” which adds another example to my ever-lengthening list of reasons why Auto-Tune need be destroyed.



And though Lazarus does succeed at furthering himself and his craft from the dance floor, he sort of shoots himself in the foot by forgetting that he is, above all else, a DJ. As eclectic as the music is on Smoke The Monster Out, Lazarus allows this diversity to drive his vision, leaving it to feel at times disjointed or unfinished. As a DJ, his main concern is keeping the beat going, blending music to fit seamlessly into an ever-changing but long-lasting block of songs that never loses its ground. Smoke The Monster Out would’ve benefited from such treatment, just an extra step to refine and unify his product.

The big band trumpets ringing beat-worthy for “Bloop Bleep” exemplify this refinement: a perfect marriage of compositional artistry and creative DJing. Had something like “Bloop Bleep” not been included, I may have felt differently about Lazarus’s debut, better satisfied with his efforts. But, the track introduces too late in the album a fun and thoughtfully considered side of Lazarus that doesn’t receive its due exposure. Smoke The Monster Out, while accomplished, says more about the influences than the artist himself.

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

What I Heard This Morning: Boogie Boarder

As Wavves, Vivian Girls, No Age and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart seem at the forefront of a noise pop/lo-fi revitalization, Brooklyn's Boogie Boarder seem set to join the movement with their second album, Pizza Hero. Dig that album title? Anyway, I liked their track, "Bio Hassle," enough that I figured I'd post it. Thudding bass amperage and squeaking surf guitar rhythms.





Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

New Selections — Emma Ruth Rundle, Tropical Fuck Storm, Primitive Man, Private Life, Uniform, Erika Wennerstrom, Djrum, Windhand

Starting August off with some new singles. Emma Ruth Rundle:  " Darkhorse " (via Rarely Unable /  Sargent House  / YouTub...