Sunday, December 27, 2009

019: Of Popes And Dopes On IM Ropes

brian: Okay, question for you... One you'll like. If you can start a rap beef with anyone in the world – Who do you go after, and how far do you go in?

alex: hm. I start a rap beef with the pope - it ends when he's succeeded. Note: that bitch who tackled him? Let's just say we've had knowledge. And by we, I mean I, and by knowledge, I mean her pussy.

brian: What happens when he starts shooting lightning at the children because he's pissed off at you, though?

alex: fuck the children
they were my rap beef plan b

brian: Bammm
I think I'd take on Soulja Boy because it would give Evan a chance to converse with his hero, Soulja Boy...That's right, I typed "hero" and "Soulja Boy" (and hero was in the affirmative) and the only thing dividing those two is a comma.

alex: jesumaria

brian: You already starting in on the Pope rap? I don't know if using the sentence "I hurrd your pussy was pissy" directed towards the Pope gets you canonized faster, though.

alex: man
in the new netherworld...log... when the brotherhood of machines has risen they will proclaim me their pope
before assassinating me.

Monday, December 21, 2009

018: Another Year, Another Number

Towards a blinding numbness

Ah, the List. As every year draws to a close, any number of niche-orientated nerds feel the need to reflexively puff out their chests, take in a deep breath and express their innermost feelings to the world at large, spewing out words with attached numbers to them, while borrowing one of the myriad number of soapboxes thrown out by those who've given up on the pop/pulp culture/machine. They argue endlessly, draw up lists, numerating systems, stipends and regulations meant to box in their peers and try to keep this strange playing field they're created level. These people feel a desire to share the fire burning inside of them.

The proliferation of lists popping up on almost every single website I visit now, given that it's the end of the first decade of the millennium, is disconcerting a bit. The self-reflexive need to objectively numerate, index and share preferred albums/songs/movies/television shows/actors/comics/books/trends/websites/bowel movement/favourite (insert occupation) is one that continues to grow and grow as more people take to being better digital citizens. Where these conversations once took place socially, in real-time and in 3d, they now take place in a self-constructed web of interwoven words whose loosely-corroborated nature gives birth to newly-presented personas, this creation coined the blogosphere artbitrarily by a bunch of users. This new millenium brings new facades to obsessiveness and connecting to like-minded individuals, and year-end lists are usually a re-affirmation of stated shared values amongst community members.

With this giant technological machine lumbering around, assimilating all it can while shitting out outdated bits of information makes it a venerable beast that must be constantly fed. Nixon, during his first stint as president, called the political machine the "beast", its workings unstoppable by even the most well-executed series of plans devised by the higher echelons of power. I've paused and reflected upon these words a lot, considering the unstoppable nature of the cultural zeitgeist now that information can be concretely amassed in an orderly, quick fashion. The teeth of the beast glisten in the dark as it continues to devour, to eat away. The collective tastes of a culture can be studied and speculated upon, if this beast isn't somehow slayed by the arrows of time. We are offering up potential data mines for future generations with our misguided attempts at being the most comprehensive, though how often we realize this is unknown.

Also, one has to remember that lists are neat and can be easily read, so those are always advantages to this ADHD-riddled generation.

In defense of helplessness

I will be the first to admit that I willfully feed the machine; that I serve it the information that it desires and that I have no qualms about it. I've picked my battles in the past and I feel like this one is not one I can win. The Beast will eat up my List and life will continue. The main difference, though, is that unlike a lot of people who use the soapbox to demonstrate their aptitude/oneupmanship, I'm going to use this list more as a reminder of a mindset at a certain time in my life. To pause and reflect and perhaps one day, with the zeitgeist willing, be able to look back and relive a certain part of my past. I've made my peace with knowing how hypocritical this can seem, but the acknowledgement of the defeat, I feel, is grounds enough for forgiveness.

The list below isn't drawn up based on play counts, a numbering system or any other close scientific method. It's simply based upon how the record has affected me emotionally throughout the listening experience. In a certain sense, measuring records in that manner is a lot more difficult than being able to simply say that x had more plays than y, therefore I enjoyed it more since I must've listened to it more for a reason. It is not repetition that matters to me, it's how any number of sonic choices affect how my head and my heart react. It's a list created mostly from primal instincts rather than the pandering and consessions that my brain encounters. The numbering system is relative and not absolute... The difference in-between a record taking spots 3 and 4, for example, could be oceans away mentally, but yet they stand side-to-side uneasily.

Note: The albums below have been listened to at least 3 times all the way through. Anything else wasn't considered.

Top 50 of 2009

1. Gallows - Grey Britain
2. Converge - Axe To Fall
3. P.O.S. - Never Better
4. Drake - So Far Gone mixtape
5. He Is Legend - It Hates You
6. Slayer - World-Painted Blood
7. Mastodon - Crack The Skye
8. Slaughterhouse - Slaughterhouse
9. Propagandhi - Supporting Caste
10. Megadeth - Endgame
11. Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II
12. The Prodigy - Invaders Must Die
13. Barn Burner - Bangers
14. Timber Timbre - Untitled
15. Agoraphobic Nosebleed - Agorapocalypse
16. Derelict - Unspoken Words
17. Method Man and Redman - Blackout II
18. Pac Div - Church League Champions mixtape
19. Ghosface Killah - Ghostdini: Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City
20. Baroness - Blue Record
21. Brand New - Daisy
22. Bike For Three! - More Heart Than Brains
23. Felt - Vol 3: A Tribute To Rosie Perez
24. Royce Da 5'9 - Street Hop
25. Coalesce - Ox
26. CKY - Carver City
27. El Michels Affair - 37th Chamber
28. Poison The Well - The Tropic Rot
29. Revocation - Existence Is Futile
30. Thursday - Common Existence
31. Andrew Bird - Noble Beast
32. Busdriver - Jhelli Beam
33. Brother Ali - US
34. Cannibal Corpse - Evisceration Plague
35. Wale - Back To The Feature mixtape
36. Dethklok - Dethalbum II
37. Think About Life - Family
38. Maylene And The Sons Of Disaster - III
39. Hatebreed - Hatebreed
40. Buried Inside - Spoils Of Failure
41. Augury - Fragmented Evidence
42. Kid Cudi - Man On The Moon
43. Brutal Truth - Evolution Through Revolution
44. 16 - Bridges To Burn
45. Jay-Z - Blueprint 3
46. The Mountain Goats - The Life Of The World To Come
47. Tombs - Winter Hours
48. Thrice - Beggars
49. Isis - Wavering Radiant
50. Moby - Wait For Me

5 disappointments

1. Between the Buried And Me - The Great Misdirect
Too long... Too long. Too bad, too, because Colors was great.

2. 50 Cent - Before I Self Destruct
Fitty promised Get Rich Or Die Trying 2, what we got was a sad grab bag of disconnected, boring tracks.

3. Eminem - Relapse
Drop the voice, Mathers. Seriously. No one cares for it. The saddest part about Eminem's year is that his two best verses were guest verses on other records. (Drake's "Forever" and Lil Wayne's "Drop The World").

4. Them Crooked Vultures - Them Crooked Vultures
So much hype surrounding the meeting of three of rock's greatest musicians is bound to be anticlimatic. The record's good, but there's a lot of sameness.

5. Cursive - Mama, I'm Swollen
I don't understand how this once-great band can degenerate to being so utterly boring.

017: Numerology

I know it's particularly en vogue among this generation's pseudo-intellectual elites to claim oh-so-bashfully, "Oh, I'm the worst at math," but we are a species obsessed with numbers and mathematical operations no matter which way you cut it. So, with that in mind, I'm sure my time-consuming habit of checking play-counts, average plays per record, number of 5-star songs, and so on, with regards to determining a year-end list, devised and divined from the sum total of everything I've bought or downloaded (or both) this year, you will find above and beyond reproach. Likewise, my subtracting of outriggers like Polar Bear Club's EP The Summer of George and its 1 song not included on their later full-length Chasing Hamburg, or Patton Oswalt's wonderful My Weakness Is Strong, which for all its replay value, contained no music, or my addition of a "Mixtape List" of particularly good songs that were either not on albums that made the Top 25 or stood out particularly from the albums they were on. So, without further numerical ado, here it is:


25. Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) - What It Takes to Move Forward
24. Hostage Life - Centre of the Universe
23. Gallows - Grey Britain
22. Shook Ones - The Unquotable A.M.H.
21. Barn Burner - Bangers
20. Tegan & Sara - Sainthood
19. Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band - Outer South
18. Dear Landlord - Dream Homes
17. Banner Pilot - Collapser
16. Dead to Me - African Elephants
15. Blakroc - Blakroc
14. P.O.S. - Never Better
13. Polar Bear Club - Chasing Hamburg
12. Gray Ghost - Deep in the Shallow End
11. Cobra Skulls - American Rubicon
10. Bedouin Soundclash - Where Have the Songs Played Gone To?
9. Brand New - Daisy
8. Jay-Z - The Blueprint 3
7. Dave House - Intersections
6. Metric - Fantasies
5. Nine Eleven - City of Quartz
4. Fake Problems - It's Great to Be Alive
3. A Wilhelm Scream - A Wilhelm Scream
2. Paint It Black - Amnesia
1. Propagandhi - Supporting Caste


Alexisonfire - "Young Cardinals" from Old Crows/Young Cardinals
Banner Pilot - "Skeleton Key" from Collapser
Barn Burner - "Holy Smokes" from Bangers
Bon Iver - "Blood Bank" from Blood Bank
Dead to Me - "Modern Muse" from African Elephants
Discovery - "So Insane" from LP
DOOM - "Ballskin" from Born Like This
Fever Ray - "If I Had a Heart" from Fever Ray
Gallows - "The Riverbank" from Grey Britain
Grizzly Bear - "Two Weeks" from Veckatimest
The Lawrence Arms - "The Slowest Drink at the Saddest Bar on the Snowiest Day in the Greatest City" from Buttsweat & Tears
Metric - "Gimme Sympathy" from Fantasies
P.O.S. - "Goodbye" from Never Better
Polar Bear Club - "Dead Man" from The Summer of George
Shook Ones - "For Flannel" from The Unquotable A.M.H.
Thursday - "Love Has Led Us Astray" from Common Existence
The Tragically Hip - "Love Is a First" from We Are the Same
The xx - "Crystalised" from The xx

So, talk amongst yourself, you faceless masses. (Ha, ha.) If I'm feeling particularly generous with my time I may make links out of all the text I just typed at some point so you can experience some of the delights therein for yourself without needing to forage in the great everlasting wastes of the int0r wabz.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

016: The Dense, Dark Woods (A Review)

(Firstly, apologies for the absence. It's been a while, kids, but I'm back and ready to throw down once again in 2k10.)

I wrote this article a while back and I kinda like the original version, so I decided to throw it up. The edited version is located at the bottom of the post if you wish to peruse it, and I do suggest that you do.

Timber Timbre mastermind a true reflection of his work

r. Brian hastie

Timber Timbre mainbrain Taylor Kirk is not a man used to being in the spotlight. Case in point: whenever I finish a question and offer him a chance to respond, the answer is usually prefaced by pauses and a number of single-voweled noises that sound like his brain is gearing up to properly formulate answers, unsure about his word choice. He'll often ask me if the answer he served up fits the question I asked (it always does), and he'll digress a few times during the course of the conversation. An unwitting musical entity would be an apt description of Kirk's phone mannerisms.

Though he is cordial and genuinely nice during our chat, Kirk has, according to many, accumulated a cult of mystery around him, a propensity to leave things unsaid in a certain manner that invites discussion among others. His music is a reflection of this personality trait: dark and recorded largely off-the-cuff, the reverb-rich, atmospheric brand of organ-friendly folk rock that he parades around while on tour is best suited for those coming down from a long night of drinking, preferably while sitting in the dark. He states that his music aims for an “interesting” edge, trying to balance the sonic aspect of the music as much as the song structure and melodies themselves. “I come from a recordist [sic] background, and so the properties of the recording themselves are just as important to me as the songs.”

This cult of mystery also extends itself into the digital world: though Kirk has a presence on the web, he largely stays off of it, preferring to remain as off-the-grid as possible. “I like to remain as detached as possible a lot, I guess, but I use the web to promote myself” Kirk explains, haltingly.

At a lot of my shows, I'll see kids pull out cellphones and take pictures or whatever, you know, to put up on their websites.” Kirk sounds genuinely confounded by this notion, the concept that this narcissistically-centered generation needs to feed on itself in order to survive.

His third (and newest) album, officially untitled (though dubbed Timber Timbre by others) is his first true studio project. Where his first album was recorded “up in a log cabin on a 4 track”, and his second was “recording all alone with a 4-track, wandering through [his] Toronto apartment with headphones dangling, going back and forth in-between takes”, he now had actually entered a proper recording space to start sessions, with an actual engineer “sitting there, watching [him] as he recorded take after take.”

The decision to record in an actual studio with people was a practical one: Kirk's move to Toronto and subsequent befriending of people in the TO music scene allowed him to make proper connections. Kirk acknowledges the fact that having many hands involved in the process has been beneficial, stating that “it was actually a joy to have people around.” Kirk also singles out producer Chris Stringer for being able to “differentiate between a good take and a bad take, to be another voice” in the process.

These songs weren't originally designed to be played live,” Kirk said. “The nature of their recordings was much more interesting to me. I'm still uneasy about playing live, and thankfully I don't count on being on the road continually.” He also states that this new record was untitled due to the fact that he didn't feel like the songs included weren't a cohesive set, a notion that he's since reversed course on since playing a large bulk of the tracks live.

Playing these songs live is a real challenge,” Kirk asserts, with the prerequisite pause, noting that transcribing the experience into a live setting is a tad more difficult than traditional songwriters.

Taylor Kirk continues to remain a mystery, perhaps even to himself.


You can find the edited version of this article over at The Link's website

Monday, September 7, 2009

015: Shucks (Finesse)

As the title obviously indicates, this is a follow-up to 011: Fuck Shyness. It was one of my better posts, all told. This will not be in the same echelon, unfortunately, but it does bear listening. So:

Friday night I dragged Hastie along to a concert at Il Motore, a strangely large and empty bar/concert hall in the vast empty elephant graveyard that is night-time Mont-Royal. I told him, "I don't fuck with the Blue Line," as we were making our way there. It's not really my thing, because it sucks.

What doesn't suck, though, is Titus Andronicus, the band we were going to see. Though the concert took forever to start, and was pretty sparsely attended, Titus brought the mosh. Frontman Patrick Stickles, the grime of a three-days-sans-shower-minimum head of hair (plus the least-groomed beard you've seen this side of the line between us and the homeless) and all, drunkenly told us that he was glad we were enjoying ourselves because "That's what it's all about, right?" Never before have I heard a less sincere-sounding celebration of happiness, which is fitting considering the tone of most of TA's lyrics, which are the the top end of the literate, angry and despairing spectrums.

That's not the only great thing about Titus Andronicus, though. They, as a band, represent the antithesis of the shyness and coyness I was complaining about in the aforementioned 011: Fuck Shyness. I'll break it down: their debut album, The Airing of Grievances, was nine tracks long—and still clocked in at over 45 minutes long. These guys know how to do long well—very well. Apart from short, punky bursts "My Time Outside the Womb" (2:30), "Joset of Nazareth's Blues" (2:55) and eponymous track "Titus Andronicus" (3:13), every song takes its sweet time growing, building, and then dominating.

The main reason? These guys don't underuse their great riffs. They let them build and then unleash them, and ride them just far enough so as to be completely satisfying without oversaturating. I've racked up a combined 500 plays from those 9 songs since I first downloaded The Airing of Grievances about 13 months ago and it remains my favourite album of the last two years by far. It's a modus operandi I wish more bands would employ, but which is made all the more satisfying here by its relative rarity. Do your ears a favour and check these guys out.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

014: "u mad?": The 5 Best Rap Beefs Of All-Time (#4)

#4: 50 Cent Vs. Rick Ross

A clear lesson in "careful what you wish for". Though the origins of the feud are mysterious and various (the most popular belief is that Rick Ross dropped the initial warning shot after 50 allegedly looked at him funny at some awards show), the feud ended up terribly for the Miami-based rapper as his past as a correctional officer came to light, largely destroying the credibility he had built for himself.

50 Cent, never one to shy away, decided to use his website as a soapbox from which to fire off video after video, mocking the Miami-based rapper and Ross cohort DJ Khaled. In one particularly strange incident, the NY-based rapper even threatened Khaled's mom. This feud showed Curtis Jackson's truly fucked-up persona as bizzare video after bizarre video was rolled out. 50 hangs out with Rick Ross's ex-baby mama, who helped give 50 ammo in the form of pictures and videos of Ross in his pseudo-cop uniform. 50 also managed to unearth a sex tape (which is definite NSFW territory) with Ross's current baby mama, narrating it in his Pimpin' Curly persona. Ross managed to walk away from this somewhat unscathed. Sure, his reputation and persona as a drug-pushin', law-ignoring son-of-a-bitch took a hit, but he continued on his way, merrily playing a character he fashioned for himself. 50 released two mixtapes and continually pushes back his newest studio record. Perhaps by 2011 we'll see it come out.

Unfortunately, unlike the majority of the beefs, this wasn't kept on wax too much, but the level of amusement and the sheer amount of material 50 came out with in order to totally bury Rick Ross is astounding. Some may even contend that 50 and his network of folks put in just a bit too much work. But maybe that's just me asking too much.

Friday, August 21, 2009

013: Apologies, Then We Get Down To Some Wu-Related Business

This blog has laid dormant long enough... At least as far as my output is concerned. I feel like my stupid, meaningless opinions and ideas need to continue onwards, and as such, I command thee, blog, to RISE.



The Wu-Tang Clan is a vast army of slang-slinging, an enterprising group of hustlers who have no lost love for each other. But brotherhood is brotherhood and as such, they've managed to put out collective albums that have lasted beyond the ages. Hell, even their last record wasn't that bad. But their vast wealth of solo material available continues to boggle the mind as all 9 members (even Ol' Dirty Bastard, from beyond the grave) continue to put releases out that vary vastly in quality, so in that spirit we'll be looking at some of the great (and downright terrible) records members have put out.

Top 5 solo albums

5. Ol' Dirty Bastard - Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version
ODB, bless his heart, was at his very core a man always struggling in-between being the designated wildcard of the group and trying to find some semblance of artistic integrity. Joe Bananas tiptoed that high-wire very deftly on this, his first record. Released in the aftermath of the ultra-successful 36 Chambers album (as well as Method Man's platinum-selling debut) and with production duties largely handled by Wu architect RZA, Russell Jones starts his album off with an eccentric 5-minute intro that sees him quoting Blowfly and pretending to emote through a series of feelings he can't seem to properly project. At first glance a strange left-turn, it makes perfect sense for a man known mostly for his comic-like antics. From then on ODB manages to bring the ruckus all on his own with the piano-driven 'Shimmy Shimmy Ya', before moving on to the vastly under-rated 'Raw Hide' (which features great verses from Meth and Raekwon). The album continues to astound with stellar track 'Brooklyn Zoo' (and its sequel, Brooklyn Zoo II) as well as several posse cuts. The real winners here are the beats RZA constructs for Big Baby Jesus: playful, vibrant, resonant with the personality spitting lyrical on it. An album that steps out of the standard rap pattern and delivers a product that is full of unforeseen twists and turns, engaging the listener far more than typical rap fare.

4. GZA - Liquid Swords
The first Wu member to wrangle himself a record deal prior to the group's debut album, the Genius jumps outta the gate as part of the first-wave of post 36 Chambers releases. The RZA once again comes to the rescue on this album, orchestrating a collection of dusty beats that feel as if they were laying dormant decades prior to being utilized by the GZA. The intro sample, lifted from 1980's Shogun Assassin, sets the mood for the rest of the album: rapper as warrior, man as a creature constantly seeking conflict. Spiritual, introspective and laid back, the record brings the goods consistently, the GZA's almost-mumbled prose definitive, his aim sure. The RZA and the GZA both hit the mark on this one.

3. Ghostface Killah - Fishscale
Ghostface Killah is perhaps the most soulful of the Wu-Tang set. His albums have always been chock-full of soul-based, string-laden beats that find the Wallabee Champ perpetually living in a '70s haze. Ghostface is also gifted with the inate ability to tell stories with such gusto and a keen eye for detail that following Ghost down the lyrical rabbit hole as he spits is no easy task, but rewarding if done right. Dude is more enthralling than most suspense flicks and it feels as though he finally combines his most gangster moments along with some grasps at his ladies man persona, careful to appear thug even through his most difficult moments. It doesn't hurt that the stellar production on the album brings out the best in Ghost, as he comes full circle, combining the best parts of his prior albums. Debut solo album Ironman was too hard on the gangster tip, and follow-ups Supreme Clientele, Bulletproof Wallets and Pretty Toney Album found Ghost relying a bit too much on the soulful atmosphere he so loves, creating an uneven output that finally coalesces into a complete package on this album. Oh, and just for kicks, the album ends on one of the best posthumous Biggie collabs you will ever hear, as if the album couldn't get any better.

2. Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...
Raekwon is definitely one of those 'practice what you preach' fellahs. The man, who during his tenure in Camp Wu, has allegedly spent his free time involved in various illicit activities (as corroborted by the RZA), helped pioneer the mafia gangster genre. Along with Jay-Z's debut album and albums by Nas and AZ, this strictly New York phenom quickly spread to the rest of the country, inspiring many. This landmark, street-tough release found Rae living up to his chef moniker. The dude was on fire, enlisting the help of Ghostface Killah throughout most of the disc as his lyrical cohort, extolling the virtues of a drug-dealin', mafia-inspired, enemy-hating lifestyle. Raekwon's subsequent output has been far inferior to his debut release, marked by repetitive lyrics and boring production, rarely living up to his abilities to enthusiastically come at the genre as he should. Rae himself has acknowledged this fact and the forthcoming OB4CL2 should slay, given the fact that we've all been waiting 15 years for a proper follow-up.

1. Method Man - Tical
Bring The Pain. Meth Vs. Chef. All I Need. Release Yo Delf. Case closed.
Actually, not so fast. The dirty and down-low production (the beats had to be reconstructed in a matter of days by the RZA after an accident destroyed the originals) add a distinctive flavour. Meth as a street hustler, bringing in the ladies with promises of growing old together. Lots of great guest spots and Meth definitely shows up to play on every track. Simply mesmerizing, musically and lyrically. To understand is to listen. Over and over.

4 Wu albums that disappointed

4. Wu-Tang Forever
Now I know I'm gonna catch some shit, but damn. The second group album (a two-disc marathon) was wildly inconsistent, spreading material thin and giving the world subpar solo joints. Stand-out cut (and first single) 'Triumph' sets itself apart from an album of boring, forgettable raps. Concise is the key to victory in the land of the Wu, and this album is a product of excess, of celebrity and an unsureness about where to go next on the part of the RZA, who applies a 'throw it against the wall and see what sticks' approach, trying to cater to whoever will listen.

3. The World According to the RZA
The RZA decided to use his clout as an industry figure to put out, for all intents and purposes, what one would consider a compilation album of rap acts from around the world. Label politics forced him to release this as a solo record, and he does sporadically show up to spit, though he leaves that largely up to the contributors. A strange pele-mele of various styles and languages that is nothing beyond a novelty, unfortunately. Stick to Bobby Digi releases and we won't have a problem. Also has the fuckin' worst album cover ever. 1994 called, they want their shitty fonts and halo effect back.

2. Raekwon - Immobilarity
From riveting gangster accounts to overdone and droning. This follow-up to OB4CL finds Rae trying to display the fact that he can go out on his own, eliminating one of the features that made his debut memorable (the exclusion of Ghostface), utilizing other guests sparingly over RZA Lite beats from producers who studied the Wu Architect and tried their best to sound like him. It goes nowhere quickly, and is worth barely a second listen. The Chef keeps the drug element around but is unsure about how to best talk about it, instead just relating hood stories in a tone that makes him sound bored. Also, it has the worst Method Man guest appearance I've ever witnessed. Meth, sounding thin and haunted, delivers line after line in an off-putting cadence.

1. Method Man - Judgment Day
Bloated, skit-loaded, boring. The follow-up to Tical fails in every respect, barely containing any of the memorable tracks that made Tical a classic. A truly sad moment. No keepers. Who the fuck wants to listen to a skit that's merely an 8-second phone call from Donald Trump? No one. That shit ain't gangsta in the least, it's tacky and shitty. Fuck. Thankfully, Meth's recent output has changed the current of my feelings towards his work.

3 solo collabs that make you say "hold up"

3. Beyonce feat. Ghostface Killah - Summertime

2. Shaquille O'Neal feat. The RZA and Method Man - No Hooks

1. Mariah Carey feat. Ol' Dirty Bastard - Fantasy

2 Wu-Tang members that should forever work together

Ghostface Killah and Raekwon. Have appeared together on countless songs, and continue to collabo to maximum effect to this day. The ying and the yang, the sun and the moon, the obvious and the metaphorical. They complement each other, almost like rap's Hall and Oates. Good apart, stellar together.

The most consistent Wu member
Without a doubt, Ghostface. Even his lesser albums feature engaging production and several rough gems to enjoy. Ghost is fearless, flirting with pure R&B tracks and guesting on tracks that you wouldn't normally associate him with. There is something for everyone on all of his tracks, and he's usually engrossing, lyrically-speaking. Also, he has a song all about being Santa-like. Who can't get behind that?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

012: Foxes Fellowship

I saw Fleet Foxes in concert tonight, finally putting to rest the long arc of the fourth law of thermo-nuclear-dynamics, to borrow an inside joke from tonight's conversation. Which is—in this case—beauty wins. Holy shit. So much beauty. I am engorged to the point of suffocation. I am suffused with gorgeousness. Oh, it's too much.

I'm really glad I kept on listening to Ragged Wood on Maddie Lee's wonderful Tumblr blog. I'm so glad Brigitte sent me a YouTube link to White Winter Hymnal. O, I'm so glad.

Come back soon, guys! I will try to buy a medium-sized t-shirt earlier in the night next time. Hopefully I will not be turned away.

And the rest of you: Listen to this shit. It is golden; it is good as gold.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

011: Fuck Shyness

I was at the AMC theatre recently watching The Brothers Bloom, which is being criminally critically underrated, and, as it's showing in only 173 theatres across the continent, will make far less money than it should. It's also the best movie I've had the pleasure to watch, in theatres or otherwise, in a very long time, and I urge you all to see it while it's still playing. As the movie came to its end, and the screen, as it is wont to, faded to black, I realized that the music playing over the credits was amazing. My friends and I all left the place before I could stay for the whole of it, but I knew I had to hunt that song down. So I did.

It's the second-to-last song on the Brothers Bloom soundtrack, titled "The Perfect Con" and my beef with it is this: The song is a cocktease. It's almost 7 minutes long, it spends the first 3 and a half minutes transitioning slowly from the movie's softly beautiful and emotional ending to the beginning of the credit-rolling, and by the time it reaches its climax, it plays a fucking amazing little riff two times, fucks around for a bit, comes back up with the exact same keyboard lead-in for said amazing riff, and then plays something else entirely instead, followed by two minutes of crap. I spent 99 cents at the iTunes store for about 15 seconds of great music and 6:28 of nothing-special. It's not the expenditure that angers me, though. It's that Nathan Johnson, the guy who wrote the song, and also Brothers Bloom director Rian Johnson's cousin, for whatever reason, would not repeat this genius riff so much as one more time.

I wish I could say this was the first time such a thing has happened to me. It isn't. Musicians, though I love them dearly, like to play mind games with us listeners. All too frequently I find myself listening to a song over and over, simply because the catchiest, best, most listenable part of a song is far, far too short, repeated too infrequently, if at all, or both. It's like the goddamn songwriters are too shy to let us appreciate their genius. Christ! All I want is to rock out to this little wonderfully climactic portion of your song! Throw me a bone here!

Now, some people go too far in the other direction. Yes, such a thing is possible. It is completely possible, as well, to ruin a song by over-repeating some part of it, no matter how good it sounded when the band first wrote it. And some people actually make good music by only using extremely short snippets of awesome music. But at the end of the day, I look to professional musicians for a balance; a harmony, if you will. I want good goddamn music, not 15-20 seconds of good goddamn music stuck in the middle of an otherwise uninteresting—or good, but not great—song.

A few examples:

Jigsaw Falling Into Place, by Radiohead: Probably my favourite song on In Rainbows. The mood here is wonderful. Intro is very OK-Computer-creepy. Unfortunately, Thom's nnn-nnn crooning in the background, which sounds FUCKING COOL underneath the vocals in the first verse, is completely absent from the climactic last verse. Boo-urns.

Dark Island City, by Crime in Stereo: I really loved the guitar tone on The Troubled Stateside. In that vein, this whole song is pure amazingness due to the main riff. Unfortunately, it's only 2:06 long. And there are about four lines of lyrics. It feels like the skeleton of a great song that never came to be.

Confessions of a Revolutionary Bourgeois, Part 3, by The Sainte Catherines: Check the guitar part from 1:24-1:40 and then to 2:13 to 2:29 and ask yourself why that guy barely plays at all on the rest of the song. I guess that's one of the problems inherent to having three guitarists? Anyway, there were lots of other great songs on Dancing for Decadence not plagued by this problem. (See: the bass riff building into the "hey! hey!" ending in "If There's Black Smoke Over a Bridge, It's Over", for instance.)

Owner Operator, by No Trigger: This song is probably still the best on Canyoneer. But just as the chorus gets reaallly amazing on the third repetition, the song ends. Total bullshit move.

Brandy Alexander, by Feist: The "it goes down easy" segment from 2:05 to 2:33 really makes this song. The rest of it? Kinda ehh. Nice, but not nearly as catchy.

Straight to Hell, by The Clash: The fucking intro riff! Goddamn! They only use it two times, and they don't really incorporate any elements from it into the rest of the song. At least M.I.A. saved the day on that one.

Anyway, if you share my beef, let me know, and I encourage you to post other good-but-frustrating examples.

Friday, May 8, 2009

010: Hey Man, Nice Shot Vol. 1

Fame can be a tricky and strange thing, especially in the realm of popular music. How can a band know that the follow-up to their first smash-hit also certify them some amount of success? How does one make sure that their sophomore effort allows them to stay in the public spotlight and some charting? It is a tricky endeavour,to say the least.

Sometimes, though, fame can be a bitch. Certain bandmembers hop onto the famous train of a band whose dynamics they grow angry with and eventually decide to depart from, only to decide to start up their own outfit and hope to see comparable success.

So without further ado, here are a list of people who have left/disbanded successful bands in order to strike it out on their own with a similar-sounding endeavour, only to fail and return to their original well of money. Such are the pitfalls of fame.

Richard Patrick: Filter / Army Of Anyone
Dean/Robert DeLeo: Stone Temple Pilots / Army Of Anyone
Mr. Patrick fronted and was the mainbrains behind Filter, who had a string of successful singles in the late '90s. Waning visibility caused Patrick to give up the ghost, as he also checked himself voluntarily into rehab. Upon re-emerging, he teamed up with the DeLeo brothers (who were also currently bandless, given that Scott Weiland was off being erratic) and drummer Ray Luzier (now a certified member of nu-metal royalty) for an album and a tour that met with critical indifference. Patrick eventually returned to the Filter machine and the DeLeo brothers undertook a Stone Temple Pilots reunion as Weiland was either shown the door or booted from fellow supergroup Velvet Revolver in early 2008.

Wes Borland: / Black Light Burns / Bigdumbface

Axeman Wes Borland was the perfect foil to loudmouth Fred Durst: Where Durst was loud and seemed to exude crude, simplistic comments that played down to people's basic urges (oh, and he also could bust out amazing guitar solos), Borland came off as tasty, artful, wearing make-up and writing memorable riffs, the consumate outsider to Fred Durst's frat sensibilities.

Unhappy with the direction that was taken after 2000's Chocolate Starfish And The Hot Dog Flavored Water (amongst the worst titles/puns of all-time, natch), he departed and soon finished work on Big Dumb Face's album. A playful mix of Zappaesque riffing and light-hearted humour, the record unfortunately went nowhere. Borland disappered into the abyss, re-merging to produce tracks with the Crystal Method, and also was to take part of a supergroup with Robert Patrick before Patrick hit the ol' "creative differences" button and the band ceased being despite never relasing anything. He also produced From First To Last's Heroine album. He rejoined in late 2004 and the band released an EP in 2005, before Borland was fed up of Durst's douchebagness and formed Black Light Burns, who released an album of decent rock material, which also... went nowhere. After playing with Marilyn Manson for two shows, he's now filling the Borland Family Coffers by playing festivals this summer with

Rob Halford: Judas Priest / Fight / 2wo / Halford

Rock god Rob Halford was a part of Judas Priest for close to 20 years, garnering mammoth record sales and playing to countless people. One night in 1991, Halford had decided that he had enough of the machinations around the band and left, suing the band and their label for funds owed in the process. He then spent a few years with more straight-forward outfits, pairing up with Trent Reznor for the industrially-charged 2wo project, spending time in Fight, which liberally took from the House Of Pantera (trademark pending) and then the eponymous Halford band, which was considered Priest Lite. He found a certain measure of success with this band configuration but after two studio albums and a live release, Halford eventually returned to Priest just in time for 2005's Angel Of Retribution, citing that he wanted to feel the chemistry again. The album, the first step to many tours and another studio album (so far), is a record worth checking out.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

009: Band Name Wank

Everyone knows band names are huge deals. Everyone who ever dismissed !!! because of their ridiculous name, or who got into Rage Against The Machine purely on the basis of how cool they thought that sounded when they were 14 can tell you that band names play perhaps a larger role than they should in how bands fare. Ever wonder why Afghan Whigs and Archers of Loaf never made it big? Neither do I. Notice something about all the big rock bands these days? They have simple, inoffensive names. Radiohead. U2. Coldplay. They don't exactly have you on the edge of your seat.

If you're wondering what the genesis (lol) for this post was, I'll come clean. I read the first Scott Pilgrim book in my friend Will's basement a few months ago, in the span of about half an hour. It's not much by way of artistic great-shakes, but, like marshmallow bananas or cotton candy, it was a lot of fun to read and went down easy. Anyway, apparently, in the Scott Pilgrim universe, there's a band called "The Clash at Demonhead". I found this out while obsessively reading this blog, for no good reason.

It started me thinking about band names that incorporate other band names into them. In this case, "The Clash at Demonhead" is named after a 20-year-old videogame but for a brief, glorious period, the thought of a band named after The Clash playing a show at a club somewhere (probably in Britain) named Demonhead had me completely enraptured. I'm a big fan of meta-ridiculousness.

With that in mind, I present a list of potential band names featuring other band names. They really only work when the band/artist being name-checked is so big that they're a cultural institution of sorts in their own right. So, here:

1. The Clash at Demonhead (The triple reference—Clash/Scott Pilgrim/videogame—makes all the indie nerds jizz their pants.)

2. Fuck the Sex Pistols (Probably just a Modern Life Is War cover band.)

3. This Is Not a Fugazi Cover Band (In concert they play Fugazi songs in the middle of their own material.)

4. Like The Monks, But With Better Haircuts (This is almost more of a Murder by Death reference than a Monks reference.)

5. The Ghost of the Rolling Stones (Sort of a Joy Division/ Thursday/Interpol midway point. All of their album covers are in black & white. They will be huge in a few decades.)

6. A Mob of Heavily-Intoxicated Bob Dylan Impersonators (A bunch of bearded guys who probably hate Conor Oberst and dress like someone cloned the Blues Brothers' wardrobe.)

7. The Jimi Hendrix Escape Plan (This is a terrible joke about choking to death on one's own red-wine-infused vomit. These guys are all Republicans.)

8. A Tribe Called Zeppelin (Live instrumentation Led Zep/ATCQ mash-up band. Surprisingly large fanbase.)

9. In a New Order (Think Telefon Tel Aviv meets Beirut, but with more of a Phil Collins influence.)

10. "Pink Enemy. Public Floyd." (Not a mash-up band. Lead singer/cellist probably commits suicide during first Japanese tour. Retrospective live DVD gets rave reviews.)

11. The Beatles (These guys get sued out of existence before they can really get going. All the publicity the lawsuits afford them generates a much more substantial fanbase than they deserve. Two of the members drop out of the music biz to become tradesmen, one pulls a Richey Edwards, and the drummer becomes a feared and respected producer à la Phil Spector.)

Okay that's all. If I do any more my brain will explode. Feel free to post other non-sucky ones in the comments section. Warning: Comments containing sucky suggestions may be deleted.

EDIT: The Ghost of the Ramones (Career Suicided version of The Ghost of the Rolling Stones. Music critics completely divided as to whether to fall over and die in praise of them, or to railroad them out of music, tarred and feathered, for egregious crimes against humanity. World ends the day after their self-titled debut EP release, for unrelated reasons.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

008: A shameless plug

Most of the time, the bands my friends are in are really shitty. And unfortunately, I have to let that be known.

Shotgun Highway, on the other hand, is definitely not one of those instances. FACT: Tony (the guitarist also known as Tony Midas) has been a friend of mine for years, and guitarist J.D. Steel (known in 3D as Jarret) has been an acquaintance for quite a few moons. The friendship in-between Tony and I usually means that when I see his live band (which I actually have) I'll have to tell him how bad it sucked by choosing my words carefully. After seeing the Shotgun Highway recently, though, all of my ideas changed and my mind quickly scrambled to come up with enough words to praise the 35-minute set I witnessed.

SH manages to mix the exciting musical and vocal gymnastics of Judas Priest while simultaneously channeling the sleazy attitude of an early '80s band trolling the Sunset Strip. Their live show is something to behold, one of the rare instances where a band recorded is way better live.

They have a bunch of shows coming up (you should look on their Myspace), and if you can overcome the unfortunate photos at the top of the profile you can find a band with the whole package and who have it, whatever it may be. What is it? It's it. Was it? Or was it not?

Things to ponder.

Friday, April 17, 2009

007: "u mad?": The 5 Best Rap Beefs Of All-Time (#5)

So I've been accused of being too-long winded in my blog entries, and that's all fine and dandy. So, in stark contrast to some philosophical bullshit I may spew out, I'm just going to simply let the music do the talking.

#5: G-Unit Vs. The Game

Any rap beef that escalates to the point where it forces a reputable wordsmith to put out a 15-minute diss track that lives up to its hype definitely constitutes a decent feud.

The Game gets brought into the G-Unit fold at the urging of Aftermath's Dr. Dre. Being the first prominent signee (barring Dre, who was kind of the architect of this entire empire) from the West Coast, The Game had a bit of trouble fitting in. Tempers flared during the recording of The Game's first album, The Documentary. The Game wasn't playing nice (disrespecting 50 by appearing on a track recorded by Joe Budden, a perrenial 50 target as well as showing up in a Jim Jones video, too) and the plot to have the stable of artists work together quickly fell apart.

Game kept yelling out 'G-Unot' wherever he could (even in 50's backyard), angering the G-Unit clique. 50 then claimed to have written the rhymes on one-third of The Documentary and that The Game's second album would surely flop. The many-on-one attack (the G-Unit roster vs. The Game, all on his own) showed the fact that The Game could take on a multitude of attackers all at once and still hold his own, becoming a formidable, wordy opponent.

The feud died down after the release of '300 Bars', but the mantle was picked up by G-Unit member Young Buck and G-Unit affiliate Spider Loc, who released a bunch of tracks on mixtapes aimed at The Game. He, in turn, bided his time and the last move made in the feud (semi-officially, or as officially as people consider mixtapes to be) was a song released in May 2008 called 'Our Turn', from one of the Black Wall Street mixtapes. This feud still lies dormant, though it may rear its amusing head some day soon. Until then, 50 will continue to wear a wig and act stupid.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

006: TGHC And Me

The Context
I was never a tough kid. In high school, I was often the kind, nice kid who sat in the corner/side of the class, made idle smalltalk when it was time and who didn't have too many friends and was an easy target for the bigger hallway predators. To say that my teenagers years were drama-free would be a blantant falsehood, but I didn't have it as bad as many people do, relatively. Even while living through my angsty trials and tribulations I recognized this fact and was grateful for what I had, but once in a while I'd enter a phase of downward emotional feeling, a period of intense self-loathing as I learned to cope with my feelings of being pushed into adulthood, into a world I was (and still am, to a degree) unsure of, and of being forced to make decisions that impacted my future.

Unable to outwardly deal with those emotions, I often listened to music that would allow me to vent without saying a word, to release anger from my body, a form of abstract meditation that found me nodding in time to kick drum blasts and the chugga-chugga of the primal guitar riffs as they slowed down long enough for a breakdown. It allowed me some degree of inner peace, an odd sense of calmness that washed over me much like the rain you can imagine hearing in Enya songs. (Disclosure: Yes, I've heard multipke Enya songs and I don't really care what you make of that. I do believe that there's no such thing as a guilty pleasure if you truly love it.)

The First Contact

The opening salvo from Hatebreed's 2002 tough-guy hardcore pseudo opus Perseverance immediately drew me in as I heard it that summer. The track was entitled 'Proven' and Jamey Jasta spat relentless. "You wanna see me fail? You'll never get your chance," Jasta posited. I was lovestruck from the onset. I had previously heard the album's first single 'I Will Be Heard' and found it highly enjoyable, but it wasn't until I heard 'Proven' that I truly understood the power of the music, its direct approach and the muscular instrumentation that had been lacking from first-wave hardcore records. The better production made the listening experience more palatable, though for the record I still count Black Flag's Damaged in my top 5 records ever, despite its technical shortgivings.

The music's direct approach attached to it a certain amount of danger to the music; there was no room to speak about unicorns and old towns, no need to mention the joys of cocaine dealing and acquiring carnal knowledge. These were tunes armed with a sense of immediate purpose, they were songs meant for a survivalist's ear, one who aspired to thrive and continue to live another day. Such lofty ideals like sex and money were pushed under the rug and the basics (social justice, fairness, anti-racist sentiments) were expounded upon, rehearsed and then recorded in quick succession. These sorts of qualities appealed to someone with a sense of danger like me, who enjoyed the sense of purpose in listening to the music created and who (somewhat) understood its messages and bought into them more easily then I would other forms of music, whose intentions and motives I often questionned more. What did fuck is Cedrix Bixler singing about on 'Pattern Against User'? was a far more recurring statement in my pubescent mind than I wonder who Scott Vogel is discussing on 'Don't Need Your Help'.

Feeding The Urge

I soon scoured the internet on my shitty dial-up connection, hoping to find more of this music. This was the age before the prominence of Google and Wikipedia, where search engines were hit and miss. I relied upon a variety of websites to keep me informed and educated about bands that I might like and that's how I fell in with bands like Madball, Agnostic Front, Integrity and Terror.

Madball's brand of New York hardcore definitely appealed to me. A precursor to the proper tough guy hardcore movement, it represented simplistic lyrics that first branched out of the Black Flag/Minor Threat school of using as little metaphors as possible in their lyrics. 'Police Story'? 'Screaming At A Wall'? 'Rise Above'? These all sound like straight-ahead anthems and their lyrics were rather self-explanatory. Madball had songs like 'Set It Off' and 'Pride' (which included lines like 'All grown up I gotta do for myself/I refuse to depend on anyone else") and most songs lasted less than 2 minutes, a collection of orally-charged shotgun blasts of buzzsaw guitar and breakdowns which expounded upon the ills that singer Freddy Cricien saw.

These bands, in a live setting, are formidable creatures, able to whip up a small hall into a strange sort of cult-like frenzy. I once attended a Hatebreed show where a circle pit broke out, while a series of hardcore dancers spinkicked their way to glory in the middle. The scene looked like a strange Broadway musical narrated by a deranged, sandpaper-voiced protagonist who needed to spit out some venom at an unknown target, courteously summed up by the 'you' pronoun.

The Giant Pink Elephant In The Tough Guy Hardcore Room

The one true constant in the subset of tough guy hardcore music is the ever-present second-person pronoun. "You" becomes a catch-all for the vocalist to aim all of his/her venom at, to place blame upon. In a genre where metaphors are usually kept to a minimum, the apparition of the "you" becomes near-metaphorical when one considers the fact that "you" could mean anyone: the singer's mother, the singer's ex-girlfriend, the singer's old valet who fucked up his pimped-out '67 Oldsmobile. It becomes a catch-all that could be interpreted any number of ways, even when the context of the song's analyzed. This is the great contradiction in hardcore music, the one great deceit: in a simplistic musical genre, the very foundation upon which it is based (the hatred of the other) is in actuality a much more complex arrangement when one considers the fact that the pronoun used is vague enough to imply multiple meanings, based upon different readings by the listener. This makes exploring the genre that much more harder sometimes.

The Pulpit

But it's not at all about wordplay. Much like most punk rock, tough guy hardcore music is about having an ample amount of heart. To display this on one's sleeve and have fans love you for it is the hallmark of a truly great tough guy hardcore band. The bands involved in this subgenre keep it simple for a reason: it appeals to listeners, the meaning of its lyrics are easily discerned and chantable. Putting out records is just an excuse to tour and to connect with other fans and the band in a direct manner, to share in an event. There's a reason why tough guy hardcore frontment love to go off on rants in-between songs (looking at you in particular, Mr. Vogel): the message implied in the songs is made clear in these long-winded speeches, meant to wind up the crowd much in the same way preachers might preach about hellstone and damnation. These messages, though, are a lot more basic: believe in yourself and all obstacles can be surmounted. The belief in the self is paramount in all songs by tough guy hardcore songs. To give into others blindly is tantamount to treason – you have to be able to find it in yourself to move forward and beyond your problems.

That's why so many people buy into this kind of music, I think: the message of salvation in the self is more fulfilling in 2 minutes worth of TGxHCx than it is by sitting in a pew on a Sunday. It's like attending the coolest church on earth, but its tenets are simple: rock and ye shall be rocked. Push and ye shall be pushed. Believe and ye shall be filled with pride in the self. And that's all anyone can ever ask for.

Friday, April 10, 2009

005: A Fleet of Fleet-of-Foot Foxwood Foxes

Following from my insuccess at getting into Arcade Fire after repeated tries, the song Ragged Wood is doing a number on my brain on my third attempt to get into Fleet Foxes.

I guess what this says is that: I am a sucker for critical acclaim and alliteration. Which is true, I admit. But is it such a bad thing?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

004.5: Sabbath > You (Counterpoint)

Being a life-long fan of most of Sabbath's catalogue (yes little Billy, Hastie even likes late '80s Sabbath), I feel the need to clear up some points Manley may have not thought of while composing his last entry.

Firstly, check out the title track of their self-titled debut. Sabbath guitarist-cum-god Tony Iommi makes effective use of the Devil's Third. Also known as the diabolus in musica, the thing just reeks of scary. The three notes employed by Iommi handily do the trick over a drawn-out, nightmarish backbeat. The story the Ozzman telleth is one of seeing a spirit (possibly even Satan!) that actually happened to bassist Geezer Butler before Sabbath's formation. Close your eyes and listen to the 6-minute opus and then then wonder if there's a sense of danger in there. I do belive there is.

No one at this time was making music that was inherently evil at the time. Their peers, like Pentagram, didn't start up until 4 or 5 years after Sabbath's apparition. Sabbath was, as Manley noted, singular and so didn't have a preset path to follow. Some of their riffs were based around blues-rock, sure, but Iommi also recognized the need to amp it up and so in a live setting he plays loud as fuck (employing multiple Laney stacks) and tunes down to C. He played beyond those blues riffs and created his own brand of riffing that incites instant recognition. How's that for powerful-sounding?

Secondly, Electric Funeral. The song itself, a testament to apocalyptic war, is aided by another nasty riff and Ozzy's lower register. Shit just sounds EVIL (even live). Ozzy's "crooning" works effectively here once more.

Watching Ozzy cover 'In My Life' isn't considering the fact that he makes/made up one-fourth of the members of Sabbath. One latter-day piece of work by one member of the band doesn't necessarily taint the whole band, I feel. Also, Tony Iommi's Iommi album features a host of screamers and screechers on there anyways.

Similarly, I could argue that watching HORSE The Band cover the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles song lowers them down by sounding like a second-rate punk band throughout most of the song. They don't sound evil, they sound snotty and and whiny, like prepubescent teeangers extolling their love of cartoons, but that would be taking the entirety of their music out of context too.

Manley's problem is that he equates fast music with evil. All of the bands he listed as contemporaries love to play fast. Sabbath's idea of being a lumbering giant in the night, destroying the shit out of stuff with giant prodding footsteps is in stark contrast to Manley's quest for speed, and therefore evil. Staying at a certain BPM (usually under 100) automatically takes a band out of the running for "evil".

Manley's assertion that Sabbath are just "a heavier, gloomier version of the Beatles parading around like they're the most evil and Satanic thing on the planet" is plainly false. When's the last time the Beatles wrote a song about the perils of cocaine? Or about the horrors of the war in Vietnam? Or about hell? No other band dealt with these aspects head-on, preferring to drape their musings in heavy metaphors for fear of being labelled 'Satanic'. The Beatles were all about having a good time and keeping their songs at the 3 minute mark, something that the Sabs blatantly disregarded. The Beatles embraced radio play while Black Sabbath never went looking for it, preferring the tried-and-true live route as the big way to gaining more fans.

The differences listed above are integral to each band's make-up. The Beatles were a pop band because their songs were cheery and radio-friendly, their albums packaged in a message of peace and love. Black Sabbath were angry and confused, their songs overtly long and only finding a pseudo-home once FM radio came to prominence in the '70s and even then played sparingly. Pop music's main objective is to reach as many people as possible (hence the popular moniker). Sabbath understood that they were a niche, an acquired taste, a real alternative to the Led Zeppelins, Deep Purples and Yes' of the day. Zeppelin, who definitely copped a few (dozen) riffs from the blues-rock domain sang about love and hot summer days. Yes crafted intricate concept albums that emphasized the use of synthesizers and a distinctive sonic space. Deep Purple similarly looked towards synth use as a primary vehicle for their music, as well as the need to jam things out in a live setting, like their 'Stairway to Heaven' brethren. Sabbath stood in defiance, offering up songs in a live setting that had a little bit of tweaking but largely remained the same, offering up a selection of evil-sounding songs and a message of danger.

Sure, the occasional love song would slip into Sabbath's repertoire ('Sabbath Cadabra' comes to mind), but they were mostly a bunch of evil-sounding Negative Nancys. Sabbath understood their place in the world and continued onwards, undettered. I do believe they sound evil and threatening, and are far removed from the pop moniker Manley wishes to attach to them.

NOTE: I've decided to stick with the "classic" '70s line-up due to the fact that they managed to stay together for most of the decade and have a lasting legacy. Dio's involvement in Black Sabbath/Heaven and Hell was all start-stop-start-stop and the various incarnation of the band in the '80s and '90s make it hard to judge because of lack of consistency.

004: Sabbath Bloody Sabbath

I got into a bunch of hot water with Hastie a week or so ago. He was extolling the virtues of Black Sabbath (much as he extolled the virtues of DMX yesterday) and I was having none of it. He was all "Sabbath bla bla bla" and "Ozzy bla bla bla" and I was like "Nuh-uhh."

My thinking was, Black Sabbath is a band built around a concept. That concept is that they are evil. It's pretty basic. Their name is Black Sabbath, and literally everything they do is draped and shrouded in gloom, murk, doom, and terror. It's the essential conceit of metal music. Just like rap: we are harder than you. Now just as rap has its Will Smiths, metal has its Mike Pattons as well. But the majority of metal bands are hell-bent for leather on seeming tough and evil and mysterious. It's why they use Latin words as song titles, it's why Scandinavia has produced so many seminal metal bands, and so on. In many cases, the posturing works.

Why does it work? Because the music backs it up by actually sounding evil. This is where my problem with Sabbath comes in: they don't. They don't fucking sound evil. They don't sound scary. I remember watching a video of Ozzy doing an acoustic cover of the Beatles' "In My Life" a few years ago and there was nothing incongruous about it. For one, Ozzy doesn't have a particularly intimidating voice. For two, he doesn't really push it to its limits. He doesn't scream, he doesn't growl. He sings. He practically fucking croons. And for three, the music he sings over is... blues-based rock. It's not very heavy, it's not very fast. It doesn't sound like it's going to tear the shit out of your house. It... it's just not powerful-sounding.

Now, the main thing to keep in mind here is that it's not Sabbath's fault. They are old as hell. When they were getting started, there were no pre-existing metal bands for them to evolve from. They represent a logical step in the progression of music from black American blues to white British rock and so on through the NWOBHM and then to the present. Without them, none of the heavy music I respect—Cancer Bats, Protest the Hero, Propagandhi, Genghis Tron, HORSE the Band, etc.—would probably ever have come to be. But when it comes to that short path between my ears and my brain, they leave me dissatisfied. I like Chuck Berry and I like the Rolling Stones. Sabbath? Not so much. They're a heavier, gloomier version of the Beatles parading around like they're the most evil and Satanic thing on the planet. Please.

So. I will stick to listening to Trap Them—who sound like the sort of horrific, shit-tearing-up music that I mentally associate with Sabbath's posturing—and Hastie can have his old-school metal.

Coming Later: Part 2: Why this doesn't apply to The Clash, but does apply to the Sex Pistols.

Monday, April 6, 2009

003: Irony in musical tastes

We live in an age where liking things ironically is considered the norm. The neo-hipster set has ruined any chance at letting things be, as the self-policing corps of tight jeans-wearing, filterless cigarette-smoking mob dictate what's cool and what's not. And like sheep, we let them, through websites, blogs and social networking sites. Our relative coolness is gauged and then mentally ranked. "Oh," one hipster would say to another, "I hear that Mark enjoys Iron Maiden." The other hipster would pause, and sigh. "Maybe it's just a joke. Maybe he just ironically enjoys the triple-guitar attacks of the band's current line-up." The first hipster would throw the spent cigarette to the ground and then squish it with his Chuck Taylors. "Nah," he'd say. "He knows all the words to 'The Trooper'. He can't be kidding." And then the two hipsters would mentally knock Mark down a notch in their totem pole of coolness, for actively enjoying a band as passé as (the almighty) Iron Maiden.

Because Mark is a hipster and not a devoted metalhead, his interest in Bruce Dickinson and co. is confusing. He should be out enjoying My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, not pumping his fist in the air while listening to '2 Minutes To Midnight'. That's what rednecks do, the hipster alleges. Hipsters are (supposedly) smarter and more involved, and their music should reflect that is a party line I've often heard before. Liking something as "moronic" as Iron Maiden is to be put down to the taste level of a southern Texas gas station attendant circa 1986.

To concede to a modern-day hipster that you enjoy something based on its merits and not its supposed ironic factor is an interesting concept. It is tantamount to heresy, an act not seen since the 17th century in some circles. To show off your tastes and be judged upon them is to label you a heretic, one who cannot be trusted with The Next Big Thing. It colours you a scarlet red, forever tainted in the eyes of those in your holier-than-thou circle.

The notion of irony creates a security net that allows people to admit to liking things without actually outright spelling that out. It's an unspoken agreement; though you may admit to liking something because it "makes you laugh" (like this) or its sheer absurdity (The Beach Boys go disco!), deep down inside a part of you most wholly enjoy it in order for you to even consider enjoying it "ironically". The safety blanket imposed by inserting the i-word allows you safe passage through the land of MC Hammer, Motley Crue and Star Wars flicks.

I'm not trying to defend people who have outright terrible taste, but rather empower those who want to admit to liking things that are non-canon per the hipster dictums. Watered-down versions of superior bands are usually a no-brainer when it comes to most musical genres. Being able to articulate why you enjoy something based upon its merits is good reasoning. Being unable to do so may lump you together with the target audience you're desperately trying to avoid in the eyes of your peers.

Thanks to the technological advances we can be kept up-to-date on every scene around the globe. Even 20 years ago, with the emergence of MTV/MuchMusic/other national video music outlets, scenes and tastes were largely local and/or regional, depending on where you were. There were clear differences inbetween East and West Coast rap music; New York hardcore and Cali hardcore were markedly different. But as technology advances, so do the invisible lines in-between scenes get erased, and tastes become unified and dictated a lot more clearly. Those in possession of the biggest internet traffic dictate the terms. The reasons for the traffic are varied (access to people who may be The Next Big Thing, album exclusives, the most up-to-date news, etc.), but the fact remains that it is still there.

Tastemaker sites like Pitchfork are ardently followed by thousands (and perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands through osmosis) and dictate what is cool and uncool. Where before that was decided on a local level, it is now decided on a pseudo-international level, thanks to the equality of the internet. How else could a record like the Arctic Monkeys' first album sell so well in the UK right out of the box? Pitchfork and co. deemed it "cool", and in response fans ran out and picked it up. The band's subsequent fall from grace denotes the fact that the band had once again fallen out of the good graces of the majority of those who bought the first album and moved on, to perhaps one day be labelled ironic and uncool due to a myriad of reasons.

I think we live in an age where we're scared to admitting what we like. Our guilty pleasures turn out to be our only pleasures, in some instances. We're scared to stray away from the party line lest we be mocked for enjoying things that other people enjoy in the comfort of their own abode.

So in that vein, I'm going to list off 3 things that I enjoy un-ironically:

1 – Boy bands
Sure, mock away. I happen to be ale to understand that one cannot judge all music using the same criteria. Comparing a Cursive album to a Converge album is like comparing apples to oranges. Sure, there are instruments and vocals involved, but beyond that there is a sea of difference. And so, with that viewpoint in mind, I feel as though I cannot judge pop music the same way I would just metal music. Pop music must be judged by itself, stood up against its peers and then reviewed accordingly. It is music is something I find to be enjoyable in a non-ironic way, as long as your radio dial doesn't hover around your local FM station with your ears glued to it 24/7, then you might find something you like before it's beaten to death through rerererererepetition. And one of my favourite subgenres of pop music happens to be boybands (and girlbands too, natch). Part of it has to do with the fact that boybands came to prominence again through my formative years and its sound has always stuck with me. A lot of the bands I happen to enjoy have catchy hooks and great production. Pick up Nsync's 'Gone' and give it a listen, and you shall see that if you took the band name off you could actually see yourself listening to it. I make no bones about enjoying this brand of music based upon its merits.

2 – "Emo" music
I think the music speaks for itself. Unfortunately labelled, unflinchingly emotive. Beyond the legion of black-wearing, bad-haircut-owning shmucks of today, there is great music if one just looks past the fans and access the music itself. Yes, sad bastard music, for those who understand it. Raw emotions abound, the need for metaphors is dropped. The wounded lyricist strikes back, and I think the primitive nature of a lot of the lyrics are attractive.

3 – Southern rock
Great musicmanship, catchy tunes and a laid-back attitude. These are three selling points in any music I happen to enjoy, and although those three are far from the only points I judge music upon, they play a large part. Bands like the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd received a bad rap due to their perceived public personas, in the case of Lynyrd Skynyrd people assumed they were loud rednecks and nothing else, due to their American southern roots. The truth is, though, that the original line-up that produced two untouchable albums of pristine material that's the perfect soundtrack to hot summer evenings. Leave your pretentions at the door and sit down and enjoy.

Unfortunately, the overplayed nature of 'Freebird' and 'Sweet Home Alabama' (and its use as a comedic punchline, in some case) knocks it down in the eyes of many, and the only thing a lot of people only see the words 'southern rock' and get turned off, assuming the word. Thankfully, there is much more beyond the descriptor words utilized.

002: Arcade Fire Musings

Listen, I love the shit out of Montreal. I've lived here all my damn life and I can hardly even imagine moving to Paris or New York once I inevitably hit it ridiculously big thanks to my infinite wellspring of talent and own more money than a person could comfortably fill a mattress with. And other people, if they share my love of this wonderful city, are cool in my book.

So it goes without saying that anyone who moves to Montreal despite our frigid winters, ridiculous potholes and underperforming Glorieux, reps Montreal, and, you know, makes it seem like Montreal is the place to be, is cool in my books.

So I have no beef outright with Arcade Fire.

But let's be honest, everyone: their music is pretty sucky. I know, I know! Pitchfork loves it. The Gazette loves it. Hipsters love the everloving shit out of it. Whatever. I have tried, I have tried so hard to get into them. I can't do it. Their music is boring. Face the facts, people. It's boring. Let's all go home now.

001: DMX Musings

Oh. says: (3:10:48 PM)
Oh. says: (3:10:51 PM)
pretty basic says: (3:13:01 PM)
...dmx is so dumb
Oh. says: (3:13:15 PM)
Oh. says: (3:13:17 PM)
pretty basic says: (3:13:21 PM)
man, right?
pretty basic says: (3:13:26 PM)
i think that's what you mean
Oh. says: (3:13:46 PM)
Ask me why
Oh. says: (3:13:49 PM)
Ask me why he rules.
pretty basic says: (3:14:13 PM)
he doesn't
pretty basic says: (3:14:15 PM)
point final
Oh. says: (3:14:17 PM)
Oh. says: (3:14:18 PM)
That's why.
pretty basic says: (3:14:52 PM)
pretty basic says: (3:15:02 PM)
it's times like these when you truly sadden me brian
pretty basic says: (3:15:08 PM)
act like i didn't already know about this
pretty basic says: (3:15:15 PM)
from like eight months ago or something
pretty basic says: (3:15:18 PM)
c'mon now
Oh. says: (3:15:18 PM)
Oh. says: (3:15:22 PM)
But I was illustrating a point
pretty basic says: (3:15:23 PM)
you think i'm some sort of idiot
pretty basic says: (3:15:35 PM)
like i don't know a damn thing about dmx
pretty basic says: (3:15:41 PM)
dmx circa today is like maybe
pretty basic says: (3:15:42 PM)
five things
pretty basic says: (3:16:06 PM)
1) rapper
2) dogs barking
3) getting arrested a lot
4) in a few shitty movies
5) you know your mother didn't name you obama

pretty basic says: (3:16:11 PM)
and that's it
Oh. says: (3:16:35 PM)
Oh. says: (3:16:36 PM)
Oh. says: (3:16:37 PM)
What a list.
Oh. says: (3:16:45 PM)
Okay Manley, we need to start a musically-related blog
Oh. says: (3:16:50 PM)
Where we make observations like that
pretty basic says: (3:16:53 PM)
pretty basic says: (3:17:23 PM)
brb, registering
Oh. says: (3:17:40 PM)
Oh. says: (3:17:41 PM)
GReat idea