Sunday, May 30, 2004

Thom Yorke...Ain't Got Nuthin' On Me!

When I was tiny, I crawled through a green field, barefoot, and became infected with a parasite no bigger than a baby gnat, which landed in my right eye and died. I shit you not. The micro-corpse left a scar, a kind of ocular fossil, which to this day induces a lazy eye syndrome when I am tired, drunk, wwaaaasted, really happy, or gazing slightly to the right. Thus, I not only have a mullet in my senior yearbook picture, but I'm also cross-eyed. This is how at least six people will remember me...always.

Friday, May 28, 2004

anger mang: Lee, let's change our last names to Coppola, and become famous with very little talent.

Some things just wear on the soul. There is repetition, and there is bleak hell. The daily rhythm of a predictable course of events can be enough to dull the most sharpened blade. The drive to work, finding that damn parking place, the drive home, the stop for gas, the phone calls, the billboards, the Golden Arches, the myriad warehouse superstores named after Sam Walton. I find myself dealing with such calamity at an alarming rate these days.

Even enjoying company can become a trial of taking the good with the bad, as one walks out of the bathroom (the last sacred place on earth?) to find personal articles rearranged, molested, possibly gone entirely! Anyone out there have a chronic practical joker in his life? I do. In fact, I have two. One's a very old friend, the other is an older friend, and he's related to boot. Silly fathers, while lovely and jovial in small doses, can be a bitch in the long run, especially those who use every moment of every recollection as an opportunity to say things like, "did you know I was the Yoyo Champion of Kansas?" as hiding your Shiner Bock in the microwave when your back's turned. Sometimes I just wish I was Loretta Lynn. This is why we all have to eventually leave the nest. Forget all that nonsense about making your own way and independence. What a joke. It's more about crime prevention.

Truth be told, I am a nonviolent person. The last willing fight I participated in was over 15 years ago, but sometimes, good people of the intervoid, I find my fist balling up into a gnarled clump of rage I like to call Da Hammer. Something gets punched or kicked, and it's rarely anything that needs to (like a pack-a-day smoking habit or habitual reality TV watching). Thankfully, I have learned to find other outlets for my aggression in this Autumn of my youth, almost all of them legal.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Can it finally be time to actually buy a turntable?

There are still some who attempt to negotiate the sub-pop terrain without the aid of a turntable, but for people who value overdriven, mind-flaying psych, that very well may be about to change. Two of the nation's finest practitioners grace alternate sides of this clear blue wax, molded by the head doctors at Plastic Records. Boston's Major Stars are rightly revered as the masters (and mistress) of skull-scraping, stadium sized rock glory, but Santa Cruz's Comets on Fire are rapidly climbing to the top of the same cosmic shit heap and surveying all the ruins scattered below with a sly grin.

Live in Europa is what one hippie might term a cosmic alignment of the spheres, or I might call the soundtrack to that expedition to the shit heap summit described above, but in reality it is simply a recording culled from a rock show at the Club Europa where the two bands shared a bill in 2003. Neither of these groups really write songs as much as chart improvised flight paths. These paths can take on the form of a straight line, involve just an arch from point a to point b, or weave complex trails between dense storm banks in sprawling polymorphic zigzags. There are melodies, maybe a verse or two of words, but really the whole song thang is just an excuse for some of the most tectonic shape-shifting psychedelic noise rock heard this side of the almighty High Rise. The Japanese masters are a noticeable influence on both bands here, but in the case of the 'Stars, guitarist Wayne Rogers (not the guy in MASH) has his own post Richard Thompson by way of Jimi Hendrix electric vocabulary that never fails to mystify lovers of explosive acid guitar squalls.

If anything can be knocked, it's Rogers' somewhat limited vocal range, which in studio can be tweaked and layered, but live barely registers audible over the shockwave of distortion the quartet (rounded out by David Lynch on heavy metal hammers, Tom Leonard on bass, Kate Village on second guitar) musters from beginning to end. So, I'm not sure if that's a viable critique. Who ever really listened to those old Dino Jr. albums for the vocals? Ok, I'll admit, J's voice grows on you, and if you want to hear a more impressive vocal performance from Mr. Rogers, you could do worse than Magic Hour's blissful Will They Turn You On or Will They Turn On You?, on Twisted Village, but what grabs me about Major Stars is not so much what or how the guy sings. It's the visceral lunge of the pummeling rhythm section and the staggering gymnastics of Rogers' dazzling fretwork, supported and complimented every step of the way by Kate's rabid rhythm playing. This is the music of a band not turned off by the endless side-long jams that comprise a bulk of the records put out on Brain in the early 70s, delivered with an attention to detail more expected from a Joe Boyd production, only it's live.

Don't get the wrong impression. As structured as Major Stars can be, they're definitely from the Dylan school: No song is played the same way twice. The epic "Elephant" is a prime example of this exploded pop cum improv action with a plaintive, folky opening, an endless shoegazing maelstrom of a midsection and an ultimate heavy psych fuzz climax. I have no doubt it's a monster pretty much every time they play it, but it's very hard to imagine a more vital or cathartic performance than the one found here.

Comets on Fire enforce their chosen musical operandi with a similar feral devotion, but this young quintet sounds a lot more drunkenly in debt to the early primitive blues psych of Blue Cheer and the Stooges. This is post death metal acid punk that singes eyebrows and melts teeth at extreme volumes. Rhythmic flows shift and buckle, kicking into overdrive at the drop of a dime, and downshifting into maniacal doom sludge before the smoke clears. High Rise, Mudhoney, and others have traversed such jagged high altitude terrain, but Comets on Fire live up to their name and leave gravity behind. Ben Chasny and Ethan Miller's ferocious, yet complimentary guitar playing is another parallel that can be drawn with Kate and Wayne of Major Stars, but these guys offer up an altogether more sloppy beast that feeds on lighting bolts and shits high voltage lava streams. What I'm saying, basically, is if you don't own a record player, you can't listen to this! And it may just be the best release either band has put out yet. Now is the time to join the vinyl revolution, all you 21st century schizoid children!

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Apologies, dear readers (reader?). I've been a busy lad, doing what, I can't exactly say right now. Damn short-term memory loss. Made it down to Austin last week and caught Einsturzende Neubauten in concert. If you're a fan (or not), you should try to go if the chance arises. They're really at the top of their game these days, even selling live versions of the show (which are processed and ready to go 15 mins after show end), very worth owning for far more than sentimental reasons. The version of "Perpetuum Mobile" was better than the one on the album, mainly thinks to Blixa's radio manipulations at the beginning. The band looked great, sounded incredible ("...sort of like Stomp or Blast, but cool!"), and Blixa owned from beginning to end. What an immensely charismatic front man.

Folks in and around Austin, 33 Degrees' going out of business sale is still going strong - everything in the store is now slashed down to %40 off! Still have tons of new Sun Ra on vinyl, and at least one Musica Transonic CD (I put it back)...While there last week, I got more than my share of goodies, including Bert Jansch's Jack Orion on heavy vinyl, the Black Dice/Wolf Eyes split LP, a Tom Carter/Scorces split CD, Beats for the Beast, the Le Jazz Non compilation and Jack Rose's new CD on VHF.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Some new spins, a few words:

No Doctors Hunting Season CD (GoJohnnyGo). The smokestack deathblues lightning. The first No Doctors album was good, but this is realllllyyy darn good! Like the choicest cuts from a rummage through a trashbin behind a Big Jack's Chicken Trough: stumbling, drunk-as-shit stomp rhythms, feral acid leads, stabbing sax trills, and an insatiable appetite for aural desecration all compacted into one very tasty boogy fondu, though most sane people will hate it.

Nurse With Wound Angry Electric Finger (Spitch Cock One) CD (United Dairies). Billed as a sampler of the upcoming boxset, one track is just NWW, the other three are remixes by Cyclobe, irr. app. (ext.) and Jim O'Rourke. Stapleton's track sounds like massive rubberbands or bass strings being stretched, twisted, snapped back into shape and contorted again. Cavernous effects make it all a lot weirder though in a been-drinking-from-the-cosmic-gutter-too-long sort of way. The irr. app. (ext.) track sticks out the soonest, a low moving fogbank of damaged electronics, primitive noisemakers and trippy children's voice samples. Despite the different mixers on each track, there's cohesion to the whole thing.

Davis Redford Triad Blue Cloud CD (Holy Mountain). Choice recent studio work from Steven Wray Lobdell and friends. Gotta give props to his pointed dissection of post 9/11 America in "Violent Stupid Friend," but most of the way this breaks atmospheric barriers and sets course for the nearest supernova.

The Black-Eyed SnakesRise Up CD (Chairkickers). Al Sparhawk aka "Chicken-Bone" George and company back up to their old post punk psych garage blues tricks. Incredibly smokelicious from start to finish. Loved the debut, love this even more--Swans cover, Bo Diddly homage, an incredible combination of grunge grooves and ferocious road house jamming. My kind of garage noise scum.

Oneida Secret Wars CD (Jagjaguwar). I've praised these lads in the past, perhaps over-praised, but this is without a doubt their best record. Short, compact and utterly infectious synth space punk drawing from Detroit rock city, New York new/no wave, krautrock and even Crazy Horse styled guitar battles. It's a solid knockout from start to finish, whether skating along the jittery synth punk ice or blasting things apart with atonal heavy metal thunder.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004, sister, it's just a kiss away.

(an informal ramble inspired by three teen flix.)

Highschool is a battlefield. That point, touched upon before in dramady satires like The Breakfast Club and Heathers, and since kicked in the arse with movies like Dazed and Confused and Welcome to the Dollhouse, has never been more apparent than today. Ever since Columbine and similar tragedies, it's "the thing to do" to tie in some sort of shocking climax to fiction dealing with the stresses of adolescence and resulting horrors. Hard to believe such a practice would almost feel like a cliche in the year 2004, at least in lit terms, but here we are vividly exploring the social chasms separating students in our schools and doing so with a disturbing frequency.

When I was younger and a few notches dumber, I used to get into trouble--sneak out the car, go to rowdy parties, abuse substances, drink Mad Dog--you name it, and my Dad would always come at me with these stock responses, "I swore to myself when I was your age, I'd remember what it felt like...But I don't." See what an adulthood of voting Republican can do for you? He's right, he didn't remember what it felt like, but at least he tried to. Even if he did, who's to say his experience was in any way similar to mine some 40 or more years later? Who's to say that the experience of the homely, nerdish girl with splotchy skin is even remotely similar to that of the Homecoming queen, or the most eligible bulemic, or even the captain of the girls volleyball team?

School is much like any old country, divided into sections and subsections of haves and have-nots. Some of those in the higher positions have earned it, maybe worked hard and forged some kind of romantic public persona in the process that people respond to, envy, even despise. Others have inherited lofty ranks with a sense of entitlement reserved for royalty. And still others have simply attempted to be themselves, and received a charge comparable to treason in the teenage world for their efforts. The punishment could be swift, over in seconds, or drawn out over months, even years. And this goes both ways, mind you.

Three recent films explore the battlefield with a nice mix of anthropological observation and occasionally some good old fashioned humor: May, Suicide Club and Elephant. May is what could be called a thinker's B movie, arriving a notch or two above exploitation, and tiptoeing along the line between arty integrity and pure tripe ever so gracefully with images that alternate between maudlin sentiment and spectacular violent outrage. Suicide Club, a recent entry in Japan's arty/mega violent new wave (Audition, Ichi the Killer, Battle Royale), is mostly a satirical dissection of herd mentality, always a welcome subject in any time or place. And Elephant is a plotless snapshot of a day in of the life of Anyschool, USA, but it just so happens that this day is a day to end all days. You don't have to guess what happens.

May's plot breaks down like so: May is a frail white ghost of a girl (probably 19) who doesn't have much luck making friends. Botched makeout sessions, jilted lesbian experiments and more lead our fare heroine to do the unthinkable after she accidentally kills her cat (kill a person in a movie, you're deemed violent, possibly insane--kill a kitty, and you are evil or seriously fucked up.) May is seriously fucked up, and in a nice modern twist on the Frankenstein myth, she starts killing her emotional victimizers and makes a patchwork best pal/flesh-and-bone dummy who will simply see her. He/it doesn't see her though, and she's forced to cut out her own eye in an effort to complete the puzzle. This is one of the most shocking scenes I've ever seen in any movie, and given that it's played straight and really quite hard to take, it gives a mostly disposable (but occasionally straight on) teen slasher flick some staying power and thematic resonance.

The kids in Suicide Club are a conundrum of sarcastic flippancy and wiggy conformity. The opening sequence is a mind-boggler with 50-plus teen schoolgirls approaching a subway platform in downtown Tokyo, all holding hands, and counting off before they jump in unison into an oncoming train. Why on earth would they do such a thing? Bet ya it has something to do with Dessart, the new hip girl dance pop group that's currently taking over the world. Are their songs rousing calls to personal indentity and strong willed independence, or is there something else hidden between the audible lines? One scene in Suicide Club gives no easy answer, as a gaggle of students joke and brag about the recent suicides with cocky bravado during a recess like any other. It's so obvious that each is just attempting to impress the other, none really saying what he/she feels or thinks. They're more concerned with saying what's expected, or being witty. They take it a step further, "let's join the suicide club!" one shouts. Others laugh, "yeah right!" they say. But they take hands and step to a nearby ledge, count off and jump anyway. Cut to two kids, in tears, left standing on the ledge. It was just a joke wasn't it? They jump this time though, as if they've betrayed their sarcastic brothers and sisters and have a pledge to honor, or maybe they just did it because their best friends did too. This chilling scene embodies the theme of copy-cat conformity much more realistically than the silly explanation the plot delivers: "But are you connected to yourself?" the same, frail, anonymous child's voice asks the cop assigned to the case.

In Elephant, there is no discernible event or subliminal pop message giving our young antagonists a nudge out the door (though the Acid Mothers Temple are featured on the s/t). In fact, it's questionable whether there's any antagonist at all, aside from general apathy. The events of a seemingly normal day are presented from a variety of perspectives in a highly visual style. Dialogue is kept to a minimum. We see the school hunk, school sluts-in-training fawning over him, an overly dorky girl who refuses to wear shorts in gym class. There's the impossibly cute, conscientious blonde guy, a short fleeting kiss, another kid with a camera who seems like the ultimate likeable artist-to-be. A series of vignettes are shown and revisited from various perspectives, like a teen rendition of Rashomon, each revealing a different version of the puzzle of truth. The beauty comes in realizing that the fleeting throwaway moments in one person's life can be the life-changing turnstiles in another's. Director/writer Gus Van Sant's "villains" are, not surprisingly, probably the most sympathetic characters in the movie (this is the guy that gave us Drugstore Cowboy after all). One of them goes home after school, after wiping a gross clump of wet spit-wads from his jacket, and plays Beethoven on the piano for an audience of himself. It's a poignant, sad scene that hints at the inevitable violence, but more importantly it shows the humanity of this kid, and the beauty that literally lies at his fingertips. But for some reason, he rejects that world, and chooses to treat his highschool like a the final level of the video game Doom. As Van Sant did in his earliest, and greatest films, he points no fingers here, assigns no blame. The culprits are apathy and despondency, the hero is a gauzy view of the blue sky, and that's why Elephant is so hypnotic and frightening at the same time.

All three of these movies have something to say about the lost souls that populate our hallways and break down sobbing in dimly lit corners. May's desire to be seen destroys her, by her own hand no less. In the more outrageous Suicide Club (which features a transvestite glitter glam rocker/Charles Manson wannabe as one of its antagonists), there's more than a hint of cultural satire driving its message of personal independence, but it's Elephant's vagueness and open-ended nonresolution that hits harder, deeper and truly leaves us at a loss. Like the characters that populate it, it is confused and alienated, lost in the clouds of what could be, failing to miss what's standing right there in the middle of the room all along.

Monday, May 10, 2004

You brought me back to the light, man.

The words melted from my mouth like goopy-hot american cheese. But it was true. I actually felt something worth feeling. Had had a rather bleak couple of days before I made the long drive Denton way to catch Six Organs of Admittance and Cerberus Shoal at Hailey's. To add fuel to the fire, stopped off in Louisville and saw my pals G and J, smoked a B before headin back up the R to li'l D, and they of course failed to mention how I-35 had night construction which would add a solid 45 min's to what should've been a 20 min drive, but c'est la vie!

Arrived at the club after midnight to catch the last half of Cerberus Shoal's set: fuckin' wiggy! I described them recently as Zappa freak jams with early Fripp/Eno soundscapes interlaced throughout, and I'd have to say I nailed it. On stage, there's a bunch of hippies and indie cowgirls in all sorts of loud outfits, playing everything from pump organ and handdrum to double bass and guitar. Here is a fine example of a band whose lunacy does not overshadow its musical prowess. Bewildered and stunned with much satisfaction before it's over.

The second tragedy of the night came in realizing that Six Organs had opened the show--I had in fact missed them (him). I went to the merch table, bought a copy of the new For Octavio Paz CD just issued on Holy Mountain, explained my plight to the merch girl only to realize later that Ben Chasny was sitting right beside her and I totally ignored his ass (accidentally). BUT, I did say what's up a bit later, and learn that he's going to head two blocks down the road and play an impromptu set (at 1:20 in the AM mind you), just for those of us who were stuck in that traffic jam and arrived late. This is where I take a minute to say how cool Ben Chasny is, how sweet and down to earth this mystical troubadour is, and how I'd happily buy him a beer one day (which I did last night actually). His music repairs frayed ends. A dog named Skillet wanders into the frame (the dog ploy fails to get Jeff, its owner, laid). The set is about 35 mins, starting with instrumental ragas like those found on Octavio Paz. Thinking the Fahey comparisons are becoming more apt and valid, but this guy still has an incredibly unique guitar sound. Lots of past masters pop in the brain space (Basho and Renbourn among them), but when I watch him massage those strings and coax that soul juice from his body and the guitar's, the two melt into the same corpus. I feel a sense of harmony and contentment that seems almost new again. I know Six Organs' music is often considered somber and downcast, but this night is celibratory, and apparently one of Ben's favorite sets so far this tour. I want to move to Toronto: Apocalypse Inevitable.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

First off, my apologies to all you die-hard Metallica fans that may have taken my review of Some Kind of Monster as inflammatory or provocative. It was just an honest and quite spontaneous reaction to what I saw and felt. It's a solid film, and some kind of next step for rock docs, just not sure if it's going up or down.

Another postscript: The 10 year old girl who plays drums in the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players is in fact the daughter of Ma and Pa Trachtenburg. They really are a family - fuck if I knew! I wasn't THAT impressed with their live show, but I heard a song off the record... and it's pretty great sunny oddball psych with nice production that any post Daniel Johnston/Beach Boys obsessive could dig into. Maybe I will one day.

I went to Coachella this past weekend. I know, it's hard for me to believe too. Not gonna spend much time here ruminating: saw a few great shows (Kraftwerk and Air chief among them; Wayne Coyne crowd-surfed in a giant plastic bubble; Beck covered "Kangaroo"; I said FUCK DA PIXIES), walked about 50 miles, enjoyed "quality time" with friends, drove too much.