Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Over The Hill (Halfway): My Life in Records According to 1993

Like everyone, much of my relationship with music is rooted in where I was and who I was when I’d first heard/been more or less irreversibly altered by whatever album from whichever musician/band.  This is true of all of us who recall certain feelings or events once a certain note is plucked and the gears begin to turn and twist into an apparatus of reminiscence and sometimes longing that results in bliss, tears or vomiting.  For me, twenty years ago isn’t a wellspring of fond remembrances, though that was the year I began to build my CD collection.  I graduated from my tape deck to a boombox with dual decks and a CD tray, which would later enable me to spend countless hours in what I remember as a perpetual cycle of revelation and mix tape assembly. 

This isn’t to say, though, that cassettes weren’t still investigated and sought after.  After all, I could still play both and cassettes were cheaper than CDs at the time.  My music library truly began to reflect who I was becoming in 1993 and the following albums were my musical identity began to thicken:

It’s not completely unusual for a son to try and impress or please his father, especially when much of what he knew as far as music was concerned had been gleaned from the patriarchal record trove he’d come to adore and obsess over.  As much of what I’d tried to expose to him from my what was becoming my generation’s music often allowed him to casually shrug or simply reassert that the music he’d grown up with was far superior, I still tried and tried and tried.  At points I felt like I’d had something to play for him just about every weekend we were together.  Tool’s Undertow had enough of the progressive elements of 60s and 70s rock and a riff-laden hard rush that I figured I’d maybe struck gold when I’d played it for him.  Such wasn’t the case, but for me Undertow stayed its course through that year as somewhat of an obsession, digging on its emotional weight and audible clarity.  This was an MTV discovery: “Sober” resonated heavily enough that I had to run out and pick up the album, albeit way after many of my fellow “headbanger” peers had.  I remember having this conversation:

“I just picked up the new Tool! It’s so good!”

“New?  Dude, that’s old.  That was out, like, months ago.”

From this I understood the importance of jumping on the new stuff so as to be THAT guy that heard it and had it first.  Otherwise, you were just a passenger on the bandwagon, drinking from the tastemaker’s glass and ingesting little more than backwash by the time it reached your lips. 

Tool’s appeal to me sort of lost its luster after Lateralus, the band’s humor notably in absentia next to the progressively ornate and complex arrangements they’d investigated more and more.  It’s not that I mind academia in music, (my love of Yes and Mahavishnu Orchestra confirm as much), but Tool’s more artful and subtle obscenity allowed them to perpetuate this mysteriously nihilistic persona that, in my mind, added more value to the package.  It was no longer enough that they could play music — the cow licking its own asshole had to be part of the equation, as strange as that is to point out.  

PrimusPork Soda
After 1991’s Sailing the Seas of Cheese had more or less locked itself to my psyche, Primus’ follow-up, Pork Soda, had been a disappointment at first.  While I appreciated that the band’s first single from the album, “My Name is Mud,” was an interesting little thumper about homicide via “aluminum baseball bat,” the album itself was a bigger, more ambitious effort, the band’s musical proclivities expanding to a grander scale.  The overall goofiness of Primus seemed less prevalent, the album’s tone darker and more serious.

The more and more I listened to it, though, the more I could appreciate how Primus had grown creatively.  The odd and heavy “Welcome to This World,” the psychedelically positioned “Ol' Diamondback Sturgeon (Fisherman's Chronicles, Pt. 3)” and then the see saw’d movement of the title track confirmed that Primus had not only maintained a fascinatingly prosperous level of weird, but Les Claypool’s thunderously dominant low end became more instrumentally sound, less a signature element than a versatile path into something more. 

The immediate transition from “Bob” to “DMV” remains one of my favorite parts of any album.

Liz PhairExile In Guyville
I won’t deny it: I bought Exile In Guyville because it was dirty and I had a mild crush on Liz Phair. 

As a sixteen year-old who’d yet traveled the thoroughfare to manhood via woman’s touch, it had not occurred to me that women could speak and think in terms as overtly sexual as those that Phair had employed.  “Flower,” alone, required concentration for me to hear the words “blowjob queen” escape her lips, her vocal a stream of consciousness styled drone that had me both in shock and awe.  (Yes, I know who Salt N’ Pepa are.  Yes, I know that Liz Phair is not the first woman in rock n’ roll to address sex in a song.  Yes, I’m aware that I sound like a complete and utter child.  Yes, I know there’s more to Exile In Guyville than its penchant for provocation.) 

But, that aside, Exile In Guyville appealed to me as a gentle rock album that offered me respite from some of the noisier, louder bands I’d subjected my ears to.  It was noticeably long, but not monotonous.  Lyrically, Phair was honest and had this resigned way of addressing the myriad situations presented in the album, which I found very engaging.  “Canary” is quite moving and Phair does demonstrate more than her signature tone in songs like “Dance of the Seven Veils” and “Gunshy.” 

I’ve been treating myself to multiple repeats of “Stratford-On-Guy,” remembering now that it's one the album's best songs.    

Morbid Angel Covenant
In pursuit of something loud and maybe more musically extreme, I came across Morbid Angel’s Covenant, the first Death Metal album to be released through a major label.  I had this on cassette, and carried it around in my pocket as some symbol of an objection to my religious upbringing as well as a newfound transition into complete and total “fuck you.” 

Only some of this was true: Black Metal’s then germinating and later subsequent fruit became a rather definitive oeuvre of Christian condemnation, y’know with church burnings and all.  This evaded me at the time.

Anyway, Morbid Angel’s anti-Christian antagonism was further complimented and enforced by the severity of the music, which was both brutal and at times prone to moments of musical progression, of which I’ve only recently been able to fully comprehend.  At the time, it was just loud and offensive.  Now, it’s loud, offensive and really well done and one of the few Death Metal albums I’d ever really explored other than Napalm Death’s Scum, which I hated, and Death’s Individual Thought Patterns, which I may still own on some anonymous dubbed cassette somewhere.  The Covenant cassette, though, has disappeared. 

Standouts:  “World of Shit (The Promised Land)” and “Sworn to the Black.”  Somehow Covenant also boasted a single, “God Of Emptiness.”

FugaziIn on the Kill Taker
In on the Kill Taker was my first properly owned Fugazi album and it led to my continued devotion.

I picked up a cassette of In On the Kill Taker at the Surf Mall on the Ocean City, New Jersey boardwalk and within seconds of hitting PLAY on a friend’s boombox, was immediately invested into its often abrasive tone and the immediacy with which it delivered on some understood promise of aggression, “Facet Squared,” “Public Witness Program” and “Smallpox Champion” composed with enough speed and fire to appease my want of volume.  But, I was also particularly engaged by its softer or, at least, more pensive and emotionally invested sounding moments, songs like “Rend It” and “Last Chance for a Slow Dance.”  “Sweet and Low” and “Instrument” remain two of my favorite Fugazi tracks. 


PennywiseUnknown Road
In 1992, as a formative youth with either pen or skateboard in hand, a musical identity in flux and no girl to speak of, a skateboarding video called Questionable, a demo from the amazing collective, Plan B, had an impact on me as far as how I wanted to be perceived, the talent I would seek to exude and then the albums I wanted to own.  The first Bad Brains and Bad Religion songs I’d heard were both from this video, along with snippets of the Beastie BoysCheck Your Head.  The inclusion of “Tommy The Cat” by Primus also gave me reason to pick up Sailing The Seas of Cheese. 

This video, though, was also where I’d found Pennywise, and I was particularly fond of the song “Fun and Games” which was used to soundtrack the “slam” section of the video: ankles twisting out of character due to physics and gravity and more than a few testicles squished atop guardrails much to my visual anxiety.  I picked up their then-new LP, Unknown Road, which put me on track to subsist mainly on Epitaph Records for a number of years.

Though I’m completely over the album now, Unknown Road at the time was a full-throttle exercise in melodic (accessible) punk speed and provided for me an avenue from which to discover other bands.  It wasn’t the best avenue admittedly, as I was unfortunately slow to discover the “good stuff” (i.e. the non-melodic hardcore bands I really should’ve been listening to at the time).  But, Pennywise was a partial starting point for me.  I’m sure I could’ve done worse.

NirvanaIn Utero
This is a pretty obvious inclusion.


Frank Zappa and Ensemble ModernThe Yellow Shark
It was maybe a month after I picked up The Yellow Shark that Frank Zappa passed away.  Being the only non-posthumous Zappa release I own, The Yellow Shark is very special to me.  It’s an orchestral interpretation of Zappa’s music, so “Uncle Meat,” “Be-Bop Tango” and “Pound For a Brown” all make appearances, composed for a live audience and conducted by Zappa and Peter Rundel. 

Though celebratory in tone, I’ve never been able to listen to The Yellow Shark without hearing some sense of the composer’s mortality.  The album’s cover is a rather somber portrait of Zappa that almost communicates from him an awareness that time was almost up. 

Still, the album ends with the best rendition of Jazz From Hell’s “G-Spot Tornado,” a huge outro garnering crowded praise during what may have been Zappa’s last living recorded hurrah. 

Later discoveries:

Wu-Tang ClanEnter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

SepulturaChaos A.D.

Bad ReligionRecipe for Hate
Cypress HillBlack Sunday

Letters From A Tapehead

Killer Mike & El-P: Run The Jewels download

Killer Mike and El-P's new collaboration, Run The Jewels, is available for download.  And, yes, it's better than Yeezus, (no mention of croissants at all.)

I grabbed the link from Stereogum.  


Letters From A Tapehead

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Singles: METZ, Ides of Gemini, Mammoth Grinder, The Coathangers, Midday Veil

METZ: "Get Off" (via Stereogum)

Ides of Gemini: "Starless Midnight" (via CVLT NATION)

Mammoth Grinder: "Paragon Pusher" (via Invisible Oranges)

The Coathangers: "Derek's Song" (via SPIN)

Midday Veil: "Great Cold of the Night" (via Rarely Unable)

Letters From A Tapehead

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Off Pause: Let's Review the Week I Missed, Shall We?

I'm off pause following a week long trip to the Outer Banks.  Internet connectivity was sluggish at best so I wasn't really able to make updates or post reviews, unfortunately.  I'll be trying to play catch up this week as a result.

First off...

R.I.P. Arturo Vega — As I'm a graphic designer by trade, the passing of the man behind one of the most significant band logos for one of the most significant bands qualifies to me as a huge loss.

The Guardian put together a really good tribute to Vega along which includes somewhat of an op-ed regarding musical iconography.

And, while we're on the topic of art and rock n' roll, I happened upon this little gem via Sound Opinions: A small documentary about the Black Flag bars logo and one of my favorite artists of all time, Raymond Pettibon.


Singles while I was out:

Califone: "Stitches" (courtesy of Dead Oceans)

No Age: "C'mon Stimmung" (courtesy of Sub Pop)

Locrian: "Two Moons" (via Invisible Oranges)


In tribute to the late Jason Molina (Songs: Ohia, Magnolia Electric Co.), I received word of an online compilation called "Songs: Molina:" A Benefit Compilation for Jason Molina's Survivors.  As the title states, all proceeds of the compilation will go to Molina's survivors.  

More info can be found at the project's Facebook page.


I took part in the 19th edition of No Ripcord's No RipCastDaft Punk's Random Access Memories was discussed, along with revisited albums from the 90s and selections for the Listening Post portion of the show. 

My selection for the Listening Post was "Gnomi" by Master Musicians of Bukkake.

And then I waxed fanboy over Faith No More's Angel Dust.

You can find the podcast at No Ripcord, or subscribe to it through iTunes

Letters From A Tapehead

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Palms: Trailer Up For Their Self-Titled Debut

Chino Moreno of Deftones and three members of ISIS are releasing an album as Palms.  It will be out later this June via Ipecac Recordings.  Check out the trailer below:

All info comes courtesy of Rarely Unable.

Palms, the Los Angeles-based band featuring members of ISIS and Deftones, have posted an album trailer ( featuring music from their forthcoming, self-titled debut (June 24, Ipecac Recordings). 

A variety of pre-order bundles have also been made available including limited edition vinyl (5 colors are available in 200 piece editions), t-shirts and posters. The packages can be found via A digital pre-order from iTunes gives users immediate access to the song “Tropics” (

“Patagonia,” a song from the upcoming album, is streaming via Pitchfork (

Palms came together following the demise of ISIS, with Jeff Caxide (bass), Aaron Harris, (drums) and Clifford Meyer (keyboards/guitar) electing to continue playing music together. “After a little time Jeff, Cliff, and I decided that it was insane that we all still lived here in Los Angeles and weren't playing together,” Harris says. “It just sort of happened naturally, probably because we have been playing together for so long, and things started to come together. But we didn't want to be instrumental: We wanted vocals. We just weren't exactly sure who that would be at first.” The band, knowing that Chino Moreno (Deftones) had been a fan of ISIS, thought he would be a great fit and he agreed. “A chance to work with the guys from ISIS sounded like a lot of fun,” Moreno says, “I've always been into the atmospheric sounds they had created with that project and felt my sense of melody would meld well with theirs."

On their self-titled debut, the heavy, stargazing rock outfit venture into bold sonic territory that careens from kinetic churning guitars to quiet, atmospheric moments mining rich emotional environments. The debut is wrought with dark anthems and intense textures, shoring cinematic, introspective interludes with tidal waves of distortion.

1) Future Warrior
2) Patagonia
3) Mission Sunset
4) Shortwave Radio
5) Tropics
6) Antarctic Handshake

Letters From A Tapehead

Monday, June 03, 2013

Chelsea Wolfe: Pain Is Beauty Trailer

A new Chelsea Wolfe album, Pain Is Beauty, will be out in early September.  No singles yet, but a trailer for the album has surfaced that you can view below. 

Cover art, links, tour dates and track list lovingly supplied by Us/Them Group.


How often nowadays do we read of an artist's "intensity", or their rhetorical, one-of-a-kind individuality? Journalistic hyperbole routinely contorts the mundane into the "epic", the tired into the inspired, all the while heaping praise on performers as seemingly vacuous and generic as possible. Navigating the landscape of contemporary alternative music can be an exercise in redundancy; true visionaries and boundary-pushers are few and far between. Enter Chelsea Wolfe. To simply call Wolfe unique would be an understatement. Even among her peers in the so-called "drone-metal-art-folk" scene she's an icon, a stand-alone singer/songwriter whose fully-formed aesthetic and haunting timelessness appear almost without effort.

Originally hailing from Northern California, Wolfe's formative years were spent tinkering in her country musician father's home studio, crafting "Casio-based gothy R&B" songs. For years, however, she lacked the confidence to share her creations. Then, in 2009, an overseas excursion as part of a nomadic performance troupe ignited her passion for performing and initiated a renewed interest in writing and recording. A year later she emerged with a breathtaking debut album, 2010's
The Grime & The Glow, immediately establishing herself as the focal point in a wave of new artists intent on blurring the lines between established alt-rock memes. Marrying the gentle intimacy of folk, the atmospheric voodoo of death rock, and the bleak, sullen nihilism of black metal, Wolfe's sound effectively cast a genre all her own: a cavernous rumble, marked by stuttering drums, ethereal synths, and a wash of guitar, all very much in the service of one of the most hypnotic, celestial voices in modern music.

In 2011, Wolfe relocated to Los Angeles and recorded her second album,
Apokalypsis, which was subsequently met with critical adoration. In 2012, she signed with L.A.-based Sargent House and released Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs, less an "unplugged" digression than an exploration of the sonic possibilities afforded by peeling-back some of what makes her characteristic sound so lush. The results, as NPR's All Songs Considered noted, are "every bit as ethereal and haunting as past work that mines the darkness of artists like Burzum and Leonard Cohen in one breath". On the heels of the acoustic album, Wolfe released an EP of covers by the enigmatic anarcho-punk band, Rudimentary Peni, entitled Prayer for the Unborn. This out-of-left-field development served not only to illustrate Wolfe's artistic solidarity with some of underground music's most fringe elements, but also to underscore her single-minded commitment to her vision, and nobody else's.

Now, in 2013, Chelsea Wolfe is set to unveil her third studio album,
Pain is Beauty. A self-described love letter to nature, many of the album's 12 tracks veer in a decidedly more electronic direction than previous recordings, while at the same time capitalizing on Wolfe's trademark penchant for the morose and otherworldly. As she explains, the album "becomes an exploration of ancestry, how the mythology, landscapes and traditions of our ancestors affect our personalities today." She continues, "Honesty is what initially drew me to music, and I've been more honest and open with myself than ever through these songs. There is peace in truth. There is clarity in solitude. And there is power within simplicity and focus. Love is not always easy. Tormented love is something I understand more than society's skewed idea of what love should be. Love is indelible, severe, earnest, merciful. To push forward against the odds is to make history".

Fleshed-out by bandmates Ben Chisholm (Wolfe's co-producer), Kevin Dockter, and Dylan Fujioka,
Pain is Beauty's dozen tracks form a coherent whole which never lingers too long in any one territory. Aptly-titled opening track "Feral Love" circles the listener, brooding with measured severity, its imminent threat instead surrendering to an encompassing swell which just as quickly retreats into silence. The plodding dirge of the brief "We Hit a Wall" soon gives way to the sinuous electronica of "House of Metal", whose fairytale keyboard and synthetic strings provide a purpose-driven sense of tranquility amongst the strangeness of nature. "The Warden" continues this theme, it's flittering shards of syncopated minimalist pop a crystalline canvas for Wolfe's mesmerizing croon. "Destruction Makes the World Burn Brighter" is a swinging, reverb-readied anthem, it's relentless "Who's that girl/use that gun" chorus over almost as soon as it begins. "Sick" feels heavy by comparison, despite the total absence of percussion, its breathy minimalism giving way to the uplifting refrain "we carry on." The album's most overtly political track, "Kings," is a buzzing examination of the status quo, bookended by "Reins", whose waxing forward-pull effectively channels an atmosphere reminiscent of the darkest of early eighties' post-punk all the while exploring the concept of closeness from times past to modern days: "These horses, they pull me…these wires, they pull me…to you." Next is "Ancestors, the Ancients", an impassioned plea to "holy ancestors" amid a swooning, heady mixture of thundering drums and understated guitar. The following track, "They'll Clap When You're Gone", finds Wolfe at her most vulnerable. "I carry a heaviness like a mountain", she confesses. Track eleven, "The Waves Have Come", unfurls itself methodically, pushing past the 8-minute mark (whereas the other tracks hover around 3-4 minutes). A heartbreaking story of love, loss and death in a natural disaster, Wolfe's lyrics provide a poignant summation of themes prevalent across the album: "We don't need physical things to make us feel and make us dream. When earth cracks open and swallows then we'll never be tired again, and we'll be given everything the moment we realize we're not in control". Album closer "Lone" provides a tentative parting of ways necessitated by the formalities of physical media. "When the sorrow is all gone", breathes Wolfe, "it is buried in the sun".

Chelsea Wolfe makes records that transcend time, avoid pigeonholing, and most importantly, allow a glimpse into the soul of a true visionary. Her work is free of the contrivances of lesser artists, the trivial "concepts" and pandering for attention at any cost. Hers is a dignified way of doing things, proven without any doubt by the sheer quality of her work.
Pain is Beauty presents not so much an auditory experience as it does an encompassing atmosphere with which the listener can surround themselves, a soul-stirring link with infinity.

8/25 - Los Angeles, CA @ FYF Fest, LA Historic Park
9/01 - Tucson, AZ @ Hoco Festival
9/03 - Phoenix, AZ @ The Crescent Ballroom
9/04 - Albuquerque, NM @ Launchpad
9/06 - Austin, TX @ Mohawk
9/07 - Houston, TX @ Fitzgerald's
9/08 - New Orleans, LA @ One Eyed Jacks
9/09 - Atlanta, GA @ The Earl
9/10 - Chapel Hill @ Local 506
9/11 - Washington DC @ Rock and Roll Hotel
9/13 - NYC, New York @ Bowery Ballroom
9/14 - Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer
9/15 - Cambridge, MA @ The Sinclair
9/17 - Toronto, ONT @ The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern
9/19 - Pontiac, MI @ The Pike Room at Crofoot Ballroom
9/20 - Lexington, KY @ Boomslang Festival
9/21 - Chicago, IL @ The Bottom Lounge
9/22 - Minneapolis, MN @ Cedar Cultural Center
9/24 - Denver, CO @ Larimer Lounge
9/25 - Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge
9/27 - Seattle, WA @ Barboza
9/28 - Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
9/30 - San Francisco, CA @ Great American Music Hall

Pain is Beauty
Sargent House
September 3, 2013

1. Feral Love
2. We Hit a Wall
3. House of Metal
4. The Warden
5. Destruction Makes the World Burn Brighter
6. Sick
7. Kings
8. Reins
9. Ancestors, the Ancients
10. They'll Clap When You're Gone
11. The Waves Have Come
12. Lone

Letters From A Tapehead

Singles: Big Black Cloud, Feuding Fathers

Big Black Cloud: "Cities of the Red Night" (via Brooklyn Vegan)

Feuding Fathers: "Brass Knucks" (via Consequence of Sound)

Letters From A Tapehead

Sic Alps: "She's On Top" (Video)

Sic Alps: The only band that did the garage thing right.

This video for "She's On Top" is the first of three videos from their upcoming 12" EP, which is also called, She's On Top.  All info comes courtesy of Rarely Unable.


With the fresh-released She's On Top EP object close in the proverbial rear-view mirror as it is in real life, Sic Alps gallantly drop the first of three videos from their three-song 12"EP. Directed by William Francis-Bashore Keihn, "She's On Top" rollicks San Franciscan-style just as you'd hope - like a mysteriously-flavored treat.

She's On Top is a concise gem-drop. Rock n' roll directives of an unusually clean (for Sic Alps that is) variety pour forever from pure grooves. One solid blast explodes with vitality and charm, a peakingly planned romp into the twilight hours that float beyond the late-night hours.

Letters From A Tapehead

Sunday, June 02, 2013

No Age: An Object out in August

I usually don't like to post upcoming releases info unless I have a single to go along with it, but I thought news of No Age's upcoming An Object would be worth skipping over that.  I meant to post this last week, but life got in the way. 

You can read a review of No Age's 2010 release, Everything In Between, at Kicking Against the Pricks (RIP). 

All info comes courtesy of Sub Pop.

No Age To Release An Object On August 20th via Sub Pop

No Age will release An Object, their 4th album, on CD, LP and digitally August 19 in UK & Europe and August 20th in North America via Sub Pop. The album, led by highlights “I Won’t Be Your Generator,” “C’mon, Stimmung,” “An Impression,” and “Lock Box”, was recorded by F. Bermudez and No Age at Gaucho's Electronics in Los Angeles.

We’d like to share photographic evidence of An Object's tracklisting at this time:

More info on No Age's An Object:

With An Object, their fourth full-length album, No Age has forgone the straight and narrow route, landing in a strange and unexpected place, feet planted in fresh, fertile soil. This new LP finds drummer/vocalist Dean Spunt exploding from behind his kit, landing percussive blows with amplified contact mics, 4-string bass guitars, and prepared speakers, as well as traditional forms of lumber and metal. Meanwhile, guitarist Randy Randall corrals his previously lush, spastic, sprawling arrangements into taught, refined, rats' nests. Lyrically Spunt challenges space, fracturing ideological forms and complacency, creating a striking new perspective that reveals thematic preoccupations with structural ruptures and temporal limits.
As the title An Object suggests, these eleven tracks, produced by No Age and their long-time collaborator Facundo Bermudez, who recorded tracks on their Weirdo Rippers LP (2007) and toured with the band in support of Everything In Between (2010), are meant to be grasped, not simply heard. Whether in the fine grit of Randall’s sandpaper guitar scrapes on "Defector/ed," or Spunt's percussive stomp and crack on "Circling with Dizzy" and "An Impression," created largely through the direct manipulation of contact mics, these are songs that pivot on the sheer materiality of music-making. Spunt's creative deployment of bass guitar accented through a modified speaker on the beautifully catchy "I Won't Be Your Generator" is a case in point: even at its most lyrical An Object incorporates the process of its creation into the very backbone of the songs (read more at Sub Pop).

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...