I'm starting to hear talk of this past decade being officially the worst in recent memory. Of course we spent those 8 years gritting our teeth and losing ground politically, perhaps an ounce of forsight could have gone a long way, but I suppose people love to be wrong over and over again. Anywho there's something to be glad about and their name is TV on the Radio.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
I'm starting to hear talk of this past decade being officially the worst in recent memory. Of course we spent those 8 years gritting our teeth and losing ground politically, perhaps an ounce of forsight could have gone a long way, but I suppose people love to be wrong over and over again. Anywho there's something to be glad about and their name is TV on the Radio.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Monday, December 21, 2009
It always baffles me to find out that a band or song writer I love is religious. It's not that I'm in awe that the same genius I recognize in them could believe in something I can no longer bring myself to humor, but more that such opposing views on what seems like such a basic and important question could find a complete reconciliation in my appreciation of their art.
Perhaps it's David Bazan's belief in the other side which keeps him afloat when uttering the simply soul crushing truths he's capable of in Control. Perhaps it's a religious beleif which draws him to such dire topics, or perhaps its the topics that drive him to religion. In any case there are no easy answers, no religious platitudes, no "good news", just people being all to human in an all too modern world.
The plight of man in the age of information and technology is a pet theme for Bazan. Is technology going to make us better people, a better country, will it even make us happier? With Control, Bazan expounds upon the themes of its predecesor EP Progress. Borrowing it's icy April 6, 2039 and renaming it Progress, he reworks it with an auto-tuned voice transmitted from the future selling furniture or perhaps just a prideful consumer showing off. It's hard to tell. The track drives the point home with "if you're lucky they'll turn out as good as you/you tell them that they're good kids but you know it isnt true/your father drank a little, you're on liver number two",drawing to mind that old quote which goes something like "I have no problem with technologies getting better and smarter, my only fear is that we will meet them half way". To make the point even clearer, the EP puts the barcode front and center of a steel grey cover.
In the bleak world of Control live a married couple who deal with the disillusion of their marriage in destructive and "Unoriginal" ways. Going from feigned "I love you's" at its start and ending with a EMT's feigned "buddy just calm down, you'll be just fine". An epilogue offers no answers, but won't admit meaninglessness, instead offering in a sober tone "wouldn't it be so wonderful/if everything was meaningless/but everything is so meaningful/and most everything turns to shit.", then in his characteristic irony sings "Rejoice" over a bed of angelic guitars.
Bazan has ever been a master of the cautionary tale, Control following in the narrative footsteps of the previous Winners Never Quit, another story of flawed individuals trying to deal with situations far over thier emotionaly immature heads. And, like many-a-band who try their hand at the concept album, came up with something more engaging the second time around.
Another important album from more overt Christians is mewithoutYou's Catch for Us the Foxes. These believers take an entirely different approach from Bazan, but still come up with something beautiful and meaningful. The music is vibrant and emotional owing much to 90s bands the likes of Fugazi and Sunny Day Real Estate. But, the lyrics are are what truly stand out. Feeling more orated than sung, they move along in a way that combines the immediacy of evangelism with the awe and wonder of transcendenatalist poetry.
If this sounds a bit paradoxical, it works all the better for thier themes which focus mainly on a sort of man vs himself struggle to keep the faith, recognize the truth, and maintain innocence. Aaron Weiss the bands vocalist carries the sort of neurotic energy of a Dostoyevski anti-hero, epitomising with his all to forward approach the unreliable narrator. But, if you can take his faith and joy at face value, then you will open yourself to some the best poetry and freshest imagery of the past decade.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Remember when you were a kid and for the first time you went to Six flags, Disney Land, Universal Studios, or what have you. For the next few days you couldn't stop talking about HOW COOL it was, gushing about how it felt to be whipped around by a big metal contraption until you lose your shit and your adrenaline takes over. The ride stops and you step off grinning like an idiot.
Fun is the word, Battles Mirrored(2007) is fun, its a thrill, its an effect. Its 4 men in room with a few tons of electronics, mad scientists hammering away at this wondrous contraption, a sonic playground for your head. It's a century old promise finally fulfilled, a complete symbiosis of rock and electronics. Its pure bliss.
None of the lyrics are readily understood, and none need be, there's no narrative to tell, no emotion to convey, just a spectacle to behold. It's as close to avant-garde as anything I've ever heard. It's also Battles' first full length album.
It does owe a particular debt to the math rock tradition with its emphasis on angular melodies, electronic loops, odd time signatures, and lyrical ambiguity. Most importantly to math rock veterans Don Caballero.
In a move similar to the break of At the Drive In and the rise of the Mars Volta. Guitarist Ian Williams broke with Don Cab in 2000, and by taking on a more aggresively progressive and expiremental sound with Battles won wider appeal. The only album in the math rock catagory coming close to its sheer musical integrity is Don Cab's 2006 release World Class Listening Problem, that in a decade full to the brim with great math releases.
Mirrored's greatest success and largest leap from the genre is its grasp of the electronic. Keyboards are used to great effect, guitars processed, tweeked, and tapped to produce intresting new tones, and vocals bent to absurd and comic pitches. When going at 150 beats per minute its complete sensory overload, theres so much you've missed, you've no choice but to get back on and ride again. Conscious of this, mirrored is bookended. The albums opening and closing tracks Race In and Race Out respectively welcome you to show, and make a curtain call. A thoughtful and clever touch.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Saturday, December 12, 2009
I remember once hearing that the experience of loneliness makes everything around you seem sharper, more vivid, a sentiment I have to agree with. And, no album I've heard captures this feeling like Mountain Goats 2006 masterpiece Get Lonely.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Before Kurasawa made Yojimbo, before Seven Samurai, even before Roshoman, he made a nail biter of a detective story called Stray dog. It's the story of a young rookie detective who gets his gun stolen on a crowded bus. To his horror the gun ends up in the wrong hands and becomes the instrument of a string of crimes.
Detective Murakami, our protaginist, played by Kurosawa's golden child Toshiro Mifune goes on a rabid search for his lost pistol through post WWII Japan, combing the desperate and depraved ally ways in a city full of strays to get a lead on his sidearm. His ham fisted detective skills are presided over by veteran Detective Sato , Roshoman's Takashi Shimura who teaches Murakami the subtle ways of a successful gumshoe.
The dynamic between these 2 is very reminiescent of David Fincher's film Seven. In fact its impossible to watch Stray Dog without quite a few modern refereces coming to mind. And, we have the story of the cop who loses is gun in P.T. Anderson's Magnolia.
At the films center though is a story much like Scorsese's film The Departed. Murikami finds out hes on the hunt for a stray not unlike himself. Both hero and villian are just off the fronts of a lost war, and in a highly moral turn both of them have had thier knapsacks stolen along with all their money and belongings. On one side of the coin we have Murakami who joins the force, on the other Yusa who joins the underworld.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
It was a good year to be into hard-rock and heavy metal. A young man mad at the world was hardly want of charismatic facial haired crooners capable of articulating his all too common frustrations and desires. I rang in the decade with a lot of aggressive music. Bands like Tool, System of a Down, and Rage Against the Machine were at the top of my playlist, not to mention a few other less flattering choices that force me to cringe in hindsight.
And it keeps happening. This isnt to say I'm an entirely different dude. I still enjoy much of the same music I did 10 years ago. What's even more suprising is that some of those same bands are still releasing music I like to this day, not many but if say Cake, Fiona Apple, or Ben Folds put out an album tomorrow, I would waste no time getting online and stealing it first chance I got.
The Deftones 2000 album White Pony was a big deal for me. I was a huge fan of their previous release Around the Fur with its irresistibly beautiful teenage anthem "Be Quiet and Drive". The ablum is pure emotion. It's all smoke and dreams and estrogen and shameless desire. It sighed and throbbed and screamed and captured my imagination big time. I wanted to play music just like that.
I jumped into White Pony head first as fans are known to do with follow up albums, with every faith it would be the next big thing in my life. And, as is not so often the case, it was. The first month or so of the albums release saw a different album than what you will find on the shelves now. In a marketing move by the bands label the radio/music video hit "Back To School" was grafted onto the beginning of the album. Sure its just one song, but in such important real-estate and in such discordance with the rest of the album. Imagine renting Princess Mononoke only to find that Disney's replaced the first 10 minutes with a Pixar short. If you have to listen to this version just skip past track one and hear the album as the band intended.
White Pony marks a few key contrasts to thier previous work. Most importantly it feels more focused. The production value for one is ratcheted up. The drums are crisp and clear, an improvement drummer Abe Cunningham makes obvious advantage of, creating beats which are more nuanced and inventive than previous efforts. On several tracks including "Rx Queen" and "Digital Bath" the verses are reduced to little more than drums and vocals creating a Portishead like sound and arriving at trip-hop from a completely different starting point.
Like portishead Chino Moreno carries his voice, not like a growling cookie cutter cookie monster, but with the smoky diva surliness of a Bjork or Billie Holiday. Where as in previous efforts recording Chino seems more like documenting a strange natural phenomenon, here his throaty androgenous voice is fully at his command. Mix that with the lyrical content which has shifted from that of an emotional impressionist toward tighter more narrative driven structures. In the process the deftones lost very little emotional immediacy and gained a great deal in control and craft.
Rythmicly guitarist Stephen Carpenter and bassist Chi Cheng become less riff driven. Instead the guitars create an ocean of sound which baths the album in warm tones. The result is a rich and dreamy bed of sound which makes the drums and vocals really pop.
Most Importantly though, as always, the deftones have created a work of real emotion which defies easy interpretation. After 10 years I am very much still in love with the album. Because a couple songs enjoyed favorible radio play and the very dated "back to school" was such a hit, the Deftones are inneveitably associated with the nu-metal and rap-rock ilk of their time, descriptors that most have been conditioned to avoid like the plague. Aside from living this awkward outsider existance among rock fans, the album is an odd duck among their own oeuvre, the band electing after White Pony, to revert in many ways back to its earlier sound. After having followed them to such heights I couldn't go back.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
I brought Grizzly Bear's Yellow house home from the library after a particualrly dreary day at work, layed my head back agaist the couch cushion, and prepared to give it a first listen. I had stumbled upon a video of them performing a cover of the old Crystals doo-wop hit "he hit me (and it felt like a kiss)" and subsequntly a couple a cappella tracks a la the brilliant french video series "Blogotheque" aka "The Take Away Shows". Duly impressed, I decided to give the full length a try.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Today I happened upon someone's avatar in the A.V. Club comment threads and immediately recognized it as a drawing from the fabled t-shirt. I inquired as to its origin, and in little time was informed that it came from a comic/video created by Brad Neely a little googling and my months of anticipation were generously rewarded...
whites of your eyes, BITCH!
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Dan gave me a copy of Irreversible and asked me to watch it and let him know what I thought. He said "if you can make it though the first 15 minutes, then you should be able to make it through the rest." He also said that I would probably hate myself for watching it, but that I might want to watch it again.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
In the last post I alluded to "comfort music" and I cant imagine that term needs much more explanation. Like a warm blanket you can wrap yourself up in it and let it coo you to sleep. I'd say that we're living in a generation defined by the idea, but it seems pointless to pick on emo when as long as music has been around we've been pouring our frustrations into it.
The only difference Is that as the entry level age for society endorsed romance drops you don't have to be an old blues-man to howl away the tears and testosterone. Self-pity has always been around in music. The idea that because of an explosion in technology is lowering the bar for the theatrical moping and catchy histrionics we should lay the bill at the door of self-pity and shoe-gazing is a little off aim.
The unspoken rule is that as adults were expect to leave all this comfort music behind and start taking a more positive pro active look at what were listening to. I think one of the unique burdens/choices that recent generations have had to deal with within a culture of constant noise is to consider what they idly end up ingesting and just how it effects their decision making processes. Each generation is expected to be able to dissect manipulation at a younger and younger age. Its little wonder why we look back at what we were doing just years ago with a tall order of condiscension and nostalgia.
Without straying further into rant territory, i'll get back on the point which is that as time wears on the wheat is separated from the chaff and what makes real artistic progress makes the trip to new generations like a little box of love letters we couldn't possibly throw away while lazy and unoriginal emoting gets left in the rear-view looking like Boy George's hat. No finer example than the recent success and influence of the Beach Boys Pet Sounds album-- essentially an emo album-- embraced on all sides.
The cruel hand of reason is unforgiving. I'm sort of afraid to say too much about Misery, or even find out what I really think about it taken apart and looked at under glass. The reason is that I still rely on this album as comfort music. It has a very pragmatic use, regardless of whatever intrinsic musical or cultural value it possesses. The conventional wisdom is that any album worth its salt would survive and be enhanced by such a dissection, still I cringe at the thought of touching this butterfly for fear that I ruin its beautiful wings.
This albums strain may be of a particular genus within comfort albums: "break-up albums". Singing duties for each track are traded off by lead vocalist Kazu Makino and multi-instrumentalist Amedeo Pace(half of "the twins" BR's identical twin brothers). The affect is as if the two were writing dear john letters back and forth. The musical ground they lay for this modern opera is a dense tapestry of synth and strings that fuse art-rock, pop, and classical chamber music pushing the despair to brand new/very old heights.
You might remember the scene in Bill and Ted where Mozart having been brought to the present chances upon a modern keyboard at the mall and proceeds to melt everyone's faces Victorian style. Given enough time he may have produced something close to Misery's baroque aesthetic.
Its hard to say much about the albums content that can't be felt. Makino's accent makes Bjork seem Middle-American by comparison and every song is as desperate as Vespertine's "Pagan Poetry". Pace's tone is equally hopeless. Together they capture the frustration of the too-needy-to-go...to self-absorbed-to-stay pain of a relationship gone sour.
This alternating of tracks eventually culminates into a frustrated and lonely 6 minute duet. Then with the opening chords of the albums last song "Equus" its as if the dark sky opens and beam of light falls upon the one or two trees which survived the fire. The song compares its narrator to a horse rider and her companion to a horse, and finds its inspiration in part from an accident involving Makino being seriously injured after being trampled by a horse. The production is a bright piece of pop which couldn't possibly serve as a happy ending, but makes sure to end the album at least ambiguously.
In lieu of actually studying the album any further:
Here's a list of 10 other great comfort/break up albums to sink down into:
The Cure - Blood Flowers
Fionna Apple - When the Pawn
Metal Hearts - Socialize
Cursive - Domestica
Elliot Smith - XO
Damein Rice - 9
Circa Survive - Juturna
Veda - The Weight of an Empty Room
Sunny Day Real Estate -Diary
Of course preference will change from person, what is one man's sympathetic masterpiece is another's whiny cringe machine.
There's always a rock musician who knows your pain. Give up. Tune in. Lay down. And let the man with the guitar and the woman with the microphone make it all better.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
If De-loused is shrouded in obscurity, mystery, and mythology, then Dismemberment Plan's 2001 Album Change is at the other end of the poetic spectrum. The defining feel of the album for me is one of clarity.
The albums cover suggests it's nature pretty succinctly. We have the idea of change in the lower left, framed by a vast blue sky which leaves room any number of possiblities. It hints at what the lyrics make plain, it is time for airing our some demons, cleaning out the closets, and getting rid of some baggage. It makes for great road music.
The tone of the album is a two part mix that works perfectly to capture the feeling of starting afresh. The past is all there in all its mire and angst, you wouldnt know it at first but you're in for a lyrically dark album, singer Travis Morrison puts all the weird shit on his mind right there onto the track, and he does it with great poetic skill. It sounds like something out of Dave Eggars , its dark and heavy, buts its just quirky and fresh enough not to embarass itself too much with melodrama. Which brings me to the second part of the trick which is the rest of D Plan's musically optimistic tone. There's so much energy there musicly that you're convinced that the narrator is going to make it out alive and all the better for having confronted his demons. I use "narrator" because as tangible and many of the songs feel they are mostly fiction or at least offered from a perspective other than the singer's.
The album starts out with a sort of introduction: Theres no heaven and there's no hell/no limbo inbetween/i think its all a lie/ just a white light out to velvet black/then back to neutral grey/thats all when we die. It then comes back to say don't be fooled by my realistic take on the afterlife, I'm actaully fairly sentimental, "but you can bet I'll keep it real."
Starting with the second song The Face of The Earth we get a couple doses of brilliant little every-day vignettes which use what seem like insignificant details to capture the core feeling of each event: as kisses go it wasn't anything out of the ordinary/the alkaline lips/ her fingers hooked around by belt/she had to go/ she took a step back in and then she started to smile/ a heard a funny sound/ and everything seemed to shift.
The albums 4th track Pay for the Piano is a call to arms in the vein of Ted Leo's Shake the Sheets, another album that nearly made the list. And, while I have a chance I want to pay tribute to a couple others you wont be seeing. First Maratime's We the Vehicles which features D plan alumnus Eric Axelson which plays to me like a Change-lite. It's beautful, clean, and focused but missing the raw fire that puts Change over the top. Also, Mountain Goats Babylon Springs EP, puts off a similar vibe. But, well be seeing more of them soon.
Starting with the 5th track we get three songs of hard-core self-searching and bitter depression, sort of the existential core of the album. This trifecta by turns bring out some of the best emoting the album has to offer, best exemplified by the explosive Secret Curse which ticks like a time-bomb through the verses: secret curse/unwashable stain/ugly when bold/boring when plain/stricken with pleasure and taken with pain/ I'm nervous and lost and I cannot refrain, and then completely freaks out and fluxes as Morrison howls "IM SORRY!" over the chorus.
Next up Following Through rolls around and the spell is broken. The narrator cuts his losses and moves on with a statement of autonomy and freedom. Then comes the albums 2 song hit parade Time Bomb and Other Side.
Time Bomb is what got me into the album in the first place. The hooky verse, easy emotion, and focused narrative are the most accessible minutes of the album. I kept going back to D Plan's(or simply "The Plan" as many fans prefer to call them) web page to listen to the mp3 on repeat, to hear it build and get bigger every 30 seconds and let the self-pity wash over me like a thousand comforting hands.
Man am I a sucker for some self-pitying. Bright Eyes I'm Wide Awake It's Morning, was another front runner for this list , and his side project Deciperacidos too. This isn't to say I'll be leaving the exquisite pleasures of comfort music off the list entirely, its just too rewarding to sink your sadness down into a bath of lush violins and minor guitar chords. I dont think I'll ever get over it.
The Otherside is a much more sofisticated attempt which basicly makes the statement that yes, relationships with people can be hard work and we are going to hate eachother some of the time, we're going to doubt eachother, and be confused about what exactly it was we wanted in the first place. But, if we can keep from copping out we might be redeamed and reaffirmed just around the corner. You get the feeling that the otherside is the albums central statement or lesson learned. The music is tight and fast every bit as sofisticated as the lyrics. It reenforces the albums feel of accountability and honesty. Good luck finding a handful of albums in the history of rock music that can do this with any sort of success, or for that matter even try.
The album ends with the bouncy Ellen and Ben the story of a doomed relationship as told by an embittered witness. It gives a sense of being above and beyond and past and condescending that makes a great sort of bookend.
Don't expect a song by song for any of the remaining posts.
St. Louis locals So Many Dynamos have been trying for years to get the word out about The Plan and this was my introduction. I still feel like I'm in on some great secret that few people really know about. I just as easily could have never found this album which is what makes the experience all the more enamouring . You might have noticed I've given very little past or future in which to place the album, and thats basicly how I view it; just a great peice of humanity that needs little context in order to be appreciated.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Matt posted his mini-comic adaptation of a short story I wrote some years ago.
Check it out over on his page.
Here's the short with all spelling and punctuation errors in tact,
written in all the subtlety and elegance of second person...
Wake up. Your eyes open, and through the sleepy haze and sideways beems of light that irritate and force your eyelids to shut back, you see a soft smear of red. You close them back momentarily and feel the tears well up in the sides of your eyes. You blink once, then twice, and then look at the ground as you try and open them again. The ground below you is cement. Its smooth cement and your black shoes with thier hard black soles make a tapping sound as your foot taps nervously.
You follow your shoes up to your pants. Your pants, black also, the material is soft and flowing yet heavy, all the way up to your waist. Someone walks by. "Good luck", they offer, and they slap your back through a dark blue jacket, through a stark white, pressed shirt. You turn your head to meat them. Theyve turned their head and theyre walking away with a clip board in their hand, checking off a list.
On the other side of soft smear of red you hear the murmuring of a voice, loud, yet full of bass and hard to understand, followed by a chorus of laughter and then clapping. On a table beside you, you see a nearly full bottle of water. You grab it, quicly remove and drop the lid, and drink the whole bottle in a few quick gulps. You begin to look around for someone else. Noone is around you so you walk closer to the soft red curtain and pear around it. After your eyes adjust to the bright light, you see a man wearing exactly what your wearing, at a microphone, making hand gestures, he catches you out of the corner of his eyes as you lean out further to see the enourmous audience that waits on each word. He quickly looks back to the audience as you run briskly backwards strait into a young girl and nearly knock her off of her feet.
"hi", you say, "where am i?"
She hesitates and then laughs with all her lungs "Save it for the show" she says
You look at her, squint your eyes slightly, and bring your brow way down, you gesture back at the red curtain "wait, you mean, i have to go out there?"
She once again laughs up internal organs and offers up a "you're better than ive heard, i gotta go, Good luck again"
The murmuring voice on the other side of the curtain crescendos and breaks off. The laughs are cut short by more clapping and applause that last longer this time. Through the curtain comes a beam of light that hits the floor in a semi circle. With the beam comes a man.
"hey", there you are, "i got em warmed up for ya"
He grabs a towel on a nearby table and wipes off his face, the girl breezes by you and out beyond the red curtain. You can hear her voice in the murmur of the PA system. The man dressed like you sits with relief into a chiar next to the table. "tag" he says "your it"
Behind the red curtain the murmer reaches a slow down pace and she pronounces with a sing song finale voice in four long sylables, someones name.
The man in the chair looks at you, he stares you right in the eyes.
he laughs "now you can go"
You walk slowly forward toward the curtain , the girl rushes past you "get out there" she says half serious.
You push past the curtain, the spotlight hits you unexpectedly almost shoving you back out. You squint against it and then push forward again in a straight line to the microphone at the middle of the stage.
You grab the microphone it makes a loud noise as you pull it "hi" you offer "i dont know what im doing here"
The crowd roars with laughter
Reading over it again, it's kinda like a weird episode of Quantum Leap.
Kudos to Matt for finding a better tone in which to tell it.
Friday, August 21, 2009
In case you're wondering, this is an actual book. As you may have gathered its the story of an alligator who hungers for the flesh of a nubile human. The alligator persists in his hunger and nearly claims his prey. The book ends with the hopeful thought that if he can get big enough, someday this dream will be a reality.
In the spirit of this book. I present the books publishers, and you with the following story i've written and illustrated entitled "There's too many lions at the mother fucking zoo!"
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
So to begin the list, which is layed out in no particular order of importance, I want to start with The Mars Volta's 2003 full length debut De-loused in the the Comatorium.
First I'm going to attempt to save this damsel in distress from the bitter claws of the too-self-conscious breed of indie music reviewers, then I want to get on to some real cannonizing.
Critics of the Album site a few key aversions:
1. The ablum has zero filter for modesty or scale.
2. The lyrics are self-gratifying gibberish.
3. Toooo jammy...please play the 5 chords i know!
I want to point out that the first 2 statements are the albums strengths and are mistaken as its weaknesses, and that the third, if you give the album any sort of honest listen, is just lazy.
I'll be the first person to admit that after having listened to this album at least 100 times I have very little idea what the proported "story" is actaully about, nor does it matter. If you want to judge it on those terms thats fine but your missing the point. Better to look at Deloused as a work of inspired surrealism.
The album fades in with an angular back and forth guitar time-keeper which mimes the sound of sirens while washes of synth and guitar swells fade in and out like electric medical equipment. The first set of lyrics paint a pessimistic picture of a hospital ward and the frustration builds in staccoto guitar and drum blasts until the album begins proper with the forlorn narrator screaming: Now I'm Lost! as the music erupts around him like satan's own salsa freak-out turned up to a hellish 150 BPM.
It's safe to say I was irrevoacably taken at this point. Everything that Cedric Bixler and Omar Lopez were doing right with At-the-drive-in's Relationship of Command they were now furthering with De-loused. Relationship's raw poetics, fierce urgency, and brazen experimentalism were all present with an injection of latin rhythm and operatic vocals.
ATDI's main reason for dissolving was that the afore meantioned beleived that thier trademark brand of post-punk just wasn't giving enough reign to thier predoliction for artisic expansion. And so, ATDI dissolved forming The Mars Volta, but also Sparta, who did a fine job of keeping up the ghost of many of ATDI's best qualities for about an album and a half.
If you take The Mars Volta's narrative bait, which isn't really necessary to enjoy the album, our narrator is a man trapped in his own head. Much like the protagonist in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly but without the hopefull tone. He is a man stuck in dreams, a place where emotions take free reign, and connections between dispareate elements are barely traceable but often rewarding. In this context ,you might begin to get a picture of how I digest this album and why I keep going back to it.
And, cinema is really where the best comparisons lie. For me, one of the closest comparisons is Fellini's Satyricon. As Fellini's camera pans past, deformed figures stare with a mixture of fear, confusion, disgust, or apathy framed by a crumbling and cascading architecture. Voices fade in and out confessing thier dark desires. Ancient mythology is vulgarly evoked. The effect is unsettling. As viewer I'm left with memorable images that have definate, yet understated connections, like waking dreams. The Volta could likely be better appreciated in comparison to other Latin-American surrealists, yet I lack the experience to conjure up anything more than a few Garcia-Marquez shorts and Frida Kahlu paintings.
But back to the point, TMV like surrealist cinema treat their albums as high art. One example of this comes in the form of another Volta trait that critics can't stomach and that's the large expanses of quiet electonics and down tempos which frame thier frantic episodes. In the art world you might call this "negative space" a concept which is used to enrich a compostion by bringing aspects to the forefront. With deloused TMVs use of negative space is very obvious. What many critics denounce as gratuitous noodling, is to me a perfectly paced and lushly produced frame for their explosions of imagery.
De-loused ...Produced by Rick Rubin
Lopez' guitar is capable of carrying the melody of any song on deloused and does on a few occasions, yet when its not, and hes teaming up with drummer John Theodore to create a song's rhythmic soundscape the effect is tight and hermetic. While Lopez is highly capable of noodling around he is kind enough to save it for the live show and his solo project.
Most of the highest points on De-loused, an album filled with otherworldly "moments", though are when the rhythmic engine churns while Bixler provides the self-assured melodies. His voice and range are capable of feats which few men can boast.. His melodies feel at the same time ancient and futuristic, and they project the lyrics with confidence that suggests they are somewhere inscribed in granite. His lyrics are full of creative juxtaposions, what he leaves behind in consistancy he more than makes up for in shear freshness of image. Yet an emotional strain of confusion, forlorness, and uncertainty rings throughout De-loused, which really pulls it together thematically and makes for an equally exultant and cathartic listen.
It's not meant to be easy to intellectualize a Mars Volta album. I'm tempted to say that some of the "inspirations" they offer like finding a lost diary or an old quija board seem more like interesting bait for concept junkies like myself, which may never flesh out a narrative, but perhaps provide some sort of intellectual framework for those who need a conveniant mode of peristalsis. Other times they seem like an elaborate joke played by the gods on our tiny little hob-goblin minds.
If this Interpretation of the album is true, and it seems pretty legit, it makes classic-rock geek gods RUSH look like Andrew W.K. on a particularly lazy day.
In my estimation Bixler and Lopez have made 6 great albums, everything from ATDI's In-Casino-Out on up to TMV's Amputecture. They took a necessary leap after Relationship of Command(an album which would likly be on this list were it not overshadowed by De-loused)...and made a work of art which exceeds the camp of their moniker and gives the over used modifiers "mind-bending" or "epic" a comfortable place to hang out and be sincere.
Today I listened to the album again focusing on the lyrics with a little help from LyricWiki.org and the albums own Wiki page (which has a link to a story book which came with a special edition release) in order to make some sort of sense of the story.
Starting with the basic premis which is: Friend of the band Julio Venegas(mexican surrealist painter) overdoses on rat poison, falls into a coma, and does battle with his subconcious, only to wake up from the coma a week later and jump off an overpass into traffic a la Kafka's The Judgement.
The lyrics are uber-opaque, but I was able to get a sense of the arc of the story which is so well layed out in the above interpretation that I've decided not to do my own inferior version.
If you already love the album then I hope I've done it some justice. If you don't already love it, then that means you've never heard it. In which case, get the album, kick everyone out of the house, get in your socks on the linoleum, put the good china in the cabinet, and get your air drumsticks ready, I'll see you in a week.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Over the course of the coming months I'm going to take it upon myself to write lengthy reviews/love letters to ten albums. These albums will have been released at any time over the past ten years and will have captured my ear and my heart in some great big ugly way. Indeed this is my top 10 of the 2000s list.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Life is an endless parade of death and disillusionment, marching thoughtlessly forward as the path of incredulous hope is crushed with ease under the heel of it's careless sole. At approximately 1 AM this morning I swallowed what remained of a bottle of tums and washed them down with a mouthful of Alberto’s VO5. As the calcium courses through my veins aided by the volumizing proteins of my milky death rinse, I come here in my final anguished moments to post my last grievances with this brutish world.
What a cruel ride it’s been. To everyone along the way who has tried in every way to make it as soul-crushing and horrible as possible, I tip my hat, I couldn’t have done it without you. But, the real credit goes to the man who’s been with me since the beginning. He’s an all-consuming voice in my head and he calls himself Dr. Safety.
As life has pulled my fragile frame through the proverbial mangler, Dr. Safety has been at my side assuring me that the pointless pain of living can be forever soothed by what he refers to as "the mortal therapy." As the brittle walls of my shaky existence come crashing down around me in a hell storm of torturous reckoning, I leave my case in the hands of the good doctor and in the faith of his velvet cure.
To those left behind, I assure you now that you’ve played no small part in my untimely voyage to the infinite. Each of you like the many stones of a great wall has played some role in the aggregate of my shattered being. Reckless guardian, reviled lover, off-handed heckler, this note is for you. I have forgotten nothing, and the pain of each encounter resonates within me at a deafening frequency which grows louder each sunless day.
Why now then? You might be asking yourselves. Well the answer to that is simple.
As the autumn of my youth approaches, my pride has contracted me to build my modest home on the banks of a mighty torrent. In the throws of a raging tempest my foundation was unearthed and my life’s work was carried out to the vast sea where the ashes of my indentity litter the ocean floor. Looking back perhaps I shouldn’t have played that many PowerBall tickets.
And now with my chalky death soon approaching,
Goodbye cruel world, Good morning Doctor
I regret everything,
Saturday, August 8, 2009
I just finished reading this book...
...and i say, if you haven't read it yet, then by all means get to it.
Brian S. I'm sure you'd probably spot this cover art in a crowded room. And with this book the design and content, the form and function, are linked inseparably in a way I've not seen in a graphic novel.
The life of Asterios Polyp, an accomplished architect who's designs have won countless awards yet have never been built, is narrated by the voice of his unborn identical twin brother Ignazio. The story centers around a late-life-crisis which pits Polyp against a heart-breaking divorce, and a lightning fire which destroys his home and all its modern, angular furnishings.
Author David Mazzucchelli is a name I'm sure you're familiar with Matt, as he gets the illustrating credit for Frank Miller's Batman Year One. Mazzacchelli's characters are distinct and multi-dimensional in both personality and physical embodiment, and are, by way of his design, capable of both instant recognition and surprising depth. Their shapes, dimensions, font design, are all clues to their inner working and inherent conflict. Douche Brian, after having been overheard to say something to the effect of "I don't like modern design. I prefer more ornate shit." , were you a character in this book, you might find you self drawn in the labored style of a Victorian nobleman.
The story succeeds fantastically at illuminating one of arts great paradoxes...that is, of the false but apparently inevitable dichotomy of medium and message, and it does so in a way that never burdens the metaphor.
Now that I've written a post both totally informal and cringingly self-important I'm going to go ahead and say I've officially written a "blog". To my audience of 3 and my fictitious potential readership of millions, I now apologize for the disservice I've done you both.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
I owned my first car before I ever had my license. It was a 1976 Chrysler Cordoba centennial edition with a bronze coin on the fender to commemorate our nations independence. Ironic, considering the car is named for a Spanish town and whose television ad features Spaniard Ricardo Montalbon Talking about his “needs” in a car as if it were a loving wife or a seasoned hooker. It was bright hot yellow with a black vinyl landau top which featured 2 small side windows in the rear framed by ornate chrome branches. Dispite being the “small chrysler” as ads suggest this car was the biggest thing on the road A smooth ride to be sure with a big gas guzzling v8 engine with standard 8 track cassette player and Chronometer(read clock) in the black vinyl dash which smelled perpetually of armor-all and cigarette smoke.
I worked all summer when I was 15 and payed my dad 750 dollars for the car. From time to time I would sit in its huge soft Corenthian leather seats and imagine driving it around. Once I decided that it wouldn’t hurt to pull it out of the drive way and drive it a few hundred yards. I got it stuck in the ditch trying to pull it back into the driveway. I employed my friends and siblings to help me get it out before my dad got home from work. The car was broken down before my 16th birthday. My dad felt bad that I never got to drive it and pitched in come the next summer when I bought the second vehicle I owned and never drove.
This second vehicle was a late eighties modal Nissan light duty pick up. It was silver and it was missing a gear. We planned to change out the transmission and convert it to an automatic. After several failed attempts to find the tranny, I eventually sold it to my uncle who wanted to fix it. I’m not sure that he ever got it running, but for the brief moment it was mine it sat back at the top of the yard where I could point it out to my friends as we pulled away on the school bus.
By the time I got around to buying my third vehicle I was graduating high school and just got my license. It was 650 dollars, it was a 1989 ford escort sedan, it was red, and it got about 30 miles to the gallon. It had no title, instead I was given a “bill of sale” written on wide ruled notebook paper. I drove this car for the better part of my 2 years at college. I lived off campus, about seventy miles off campus and drove it the 140 miles every weekday. Most teenagers have some sort of foolish brand loyalty, it usually comes from what their parents own or want to own, and in better cases from shoddy anecdotes. I'm not proud of it but at one point I owned a shirt which depicted Calvin(of Calvin and Hobbes) urinating mischeviously on Ford's logo. I think I won it or bought it at the county fair, but why I agreed with it is still unsure. The teenage mind is capable of grand leaps of logic. Yet if fords were said to be made cheaply, this car was no exception. It did last me 2 years, though, with the exception of 2 major repairs to the timing belt and transmission.
At some point I decided it was imperative to remove the ford emblems from the car. You see during many of my junior high and high school years I had been duped into a brand consciousness. As my family was dirt poor this meant buying second hand and discounted nike shoes, and buying brand apparel knock offs and flea markets. For a while I thought this bought me a little bit of normalcy and if I could make sure no stray cockroaches were in my backpack in the mornings and try hard not to spill any any kerosene on my shoes from the space heaters then all the other kids would think I was just like them. Eventually through the help of hard rock bands and outsider friends I became enlightened and made sure to cut any and all brand signifying tags off my clothes which lead naturally to pulling the little plastic brand logos off my little escort. In the absence of the brands I placed a couple hard rock bumper stickers on there and felt pretty good about myself.
By graduation my friends and I were planning a road trip to California, for one reason or another this was going to be done in my car. Driving to and from school along the highway I noticed dark grey European looking car with a high windshield and wipers on the headlights. It looked educated, stoic, visually economic, slightly eccentric, and dark. Everything I wanted to be. It was a 1992 Saab 900 sedan, automatic, the headlight wipers were long since busted and the seat warmers no longer worked but aside from a heater core it didn’t seem to need much else. It looked exotic, it smelled classy, it had a decent stereo. I payed the man 1200 for it and drove it home.
We packed the car and headed to Jeff City to pick up my girlfriend to head west. Her parents gave us a resounding NO, and we drove it back home and took her car to Chicago. Had we tried to take it out west, the alarm system which relied on a battery in the keychain would have stopped us in our tracks as it did when we returned. We found a way around the alarm system and hooked up a push button starter. The headliner fell down and I replaced it with a rage against the machine poster; the one with the black and white burning monk in front of the old 40s coupe. This car gave me all sorts of problems but was too beautiful to just let go of. This seemed to be my philosophy with a lot of things.
It used gallons of oil monthly but it moved me to St. Louis. Eventually the waning transmission gave out completely and it sat in my dads yard where several people inquired about it but no one really wanted it. Eventually my dad used it in a trade for a minivan.
My dad loaned me his huge-ass, 5 miles to the gallon, Ford Econoline van while I was looking for another car. A ride my friends would endearingly refer to as the “stalker van”. One friend said jokingly “ I bet that thing can stop on a dime”…”oh man” I told her “ it can stop on a whole bunch of dimes” Driving back to my dads a goose hit the windshield luckily it didn’t come all the way through.
Das had a friend who worked a car auction. At these places all you can do is get in and start the car, and put it in gear and sit there. There are no test drives. This friend could drive the cars around the lot though and said he would do this for me. I found a little grey Nissan Maxima that I liked. He drove it and it ran fine. I waited for the car to come down the line and called my bid as the jabbering auctioneer dribbled out 50s and 100s I was surrounded by shifty looking used car salesmen and probably bidding against the cars owner. Luckily he stopped bidding at 750 which is where I had planned to stop and the car was mine. I came to get the car the next day which is when I realized the car was very close to the one we tested but slightly different. As we pulled out the car shifted nicely into second and the topped out at about 40 mph without shifting into third. I got out of the car and cussed at it. There are no refunds at the car auction. I was stuck with this crap car and had to do something. What followed was one of the worst ordeals of my semi-adult life and after a couple months of skeezy junkyard owners, mistaken transmissions, and big favors the car was finally running properly. This 89 Nissan Maxima was made just at the point when cars started getting curvy as opposed to the boxy style of the 70s and 80s. I hated this car for what it represented. I didn’t even like the look of it. It was a v6 and I was now an environmentally conscience suburbanite. The radio was a joke but it was a workhorse and it lasted me a few years. It still ran when I gave it to dad about a year ago.
Which takes us to the 1989 Toyota Corolla I own now. In my opinion a beautifully simple car, great on gas mileage, relatively simple to repair, I wish I owned one of these cars for every color. I got it cheap from a friend because I had to replace a couple parts to get it running. I really like this car.
The transmission went out. I replaced it. Then, The engine went out. I replaced it. Now, and this has all happened in the course of 7 or 8 months, I’ve been struck by a careless driver who gave me bogus insurance Info and a phone number that doesn’t work. My brakes are out and my trunk and bumper are smashed in. I have liability only. On the phone my dad said “Maybe your not supposed to have this car” and I’m thinking maybe he’s right…but ill try and fix the brakes and see what I can do about the trunk but she’s starting to get loud and run funny again and I foresee that after not so long she’ll be put out to pasture as well.
These cars have problems sure. But does that mean that they don’t deserve love?
I’m tired of driving half dead cars until they fall over exhausted, I want to be able to keep one running for more than a couple years. Even if I could afford a newer car it wouldn’t be the same I’ve grown an appreciation for these old vintage clunkers, which still exist in spite of bad odds and numerous owners. I can’t help from getting a little romantic.