Monday, March 31, 2008

Another Shiver Down My Spine

I figured what with a new Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds record on the horizon, It'd be appropriate to break out a classic by an early incarnation of Cave's pre-Bad Seeds group The Birthday Party. Before moving to London in the early eighties, the group played and recorded in their native Australia as The Boys Next Door in fact many of the early Birthday Party records like Hee Haw were originally released under the name. Oddly enough Shivers is much more in line with the Bad Seeds's late eighties dirges than anything the Birthday Party would ever record. Great track, the first time I heard it was as a recurring motif in Aussie flick Dogs in Space, a great movie mostly known for starring Michael Hutchence.

And hey, a cursory search of youtube yields a video even!

How To Weep The Weepy-Weep Way

Like all well-cultured folk, I'm eagerly anticipating the imminent third season of The Venture Bros. So, learning about a new musical project by Veebs co-creator (and owner of the sultry voice of Dr. Girlfriend) Doc Hammer isn't just topical, it's an impressive testament to the man's ability to simultaneously keep his fingers in multiple pies.

Via the recommended post-punk blog Systems of Romance (and by way of the always informative gothmusicshare LJ community) I obtained an EP of demo material from Doc's in-the-works outfit, Weep. Weep retains all of the melodic lushness of his most recognized band, Mors Syphilitica, but bootstraps it with tightly wound, instantly memorable post-punk hooks. Doc also opts to handle the vocals himself this time around, and his trademark rasp gives a nice, earthy counterpoint to the sheer reaching gorgeousness of some songs ("The Weep" and "The Hole", in particular). If these are demos, I can't wait to hear an album proper.

Doc's given permission for the Weep demo to be passed about, so have at it!

-Weep - "Never Ever" demo

Edit: Doc's given this crop of tunes, along with a couple of others, an official release. It's a great disc, and crazy cheap. Go buy it!

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Remix: The Presets - This Boy's In Love (Lifelike Remix)

Y'know, normally I wouldn't bother posting a track that is burning up the Hype Machine (which you all check for music daily, don't deny it), but fuck it. The death rattle of my credibility as a music blogger will be drowned out by this amazing Presets remix by Lifelike. A track from the band's eagerly anticipated sophmore album Apocalypso, This Boy's in Love is a sweet track in a kinda synthpop electro style. But something about the way Lifelike leaves the vocals kind of naked and at the forefront on this version just gets me, the track ends up sounding like the lovechild of DMX Krew's 17 Ways to Break my Heart and Camouflage's The Great Commandment, which is to say fucking great. Enjoy. Apocalypso is out April12 in their native Australia, May 13th in North America, I am anticipating it gleefully.

"Damn it, it wasn’t quite fresh enough!"

What's that, you say? You loved the Eurovision-nominated cheese masterpiece that was DJ Bobo's "Vampires Are Alive", but you're much more into HP Lovecraft than Anne Rice? Dr. Re-Animator has the prescription for your eldritch blues: neon green re-agent.

Apparently this was a promotional bit for the third Re-Animator flick from 2003 and is on the "Beyond Re-Animator" DVD. As a nerd for any and all Lovecraft kitsch, I'm disappointed that I didn't come across this sooner. On a related note, I highly recommend checking out the recently extended, restored and re-released version of Stuart Gordon's "From Beyond", also very loosely based on a Lovecraft story. The body horror element of the film is finally brought to the fore with Gordon's trademark humour and sense for gore. While HPL certainly wouldn't approve of the S&M theme (and I shudder to think of how he'd react to that one scene in the first "Re-Animator" - you know the one), the fact his work still inspires explorations into the corruptible and abject aspects of the human body shows how adept he was at locating the source of so much deep-seated fear and anxiety.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

V for Victory not Vendetta

Thanks to the efforts of the good folks at my preferred online music retailer, I've now got the EP of music recorded by David J of Bauhaus and Love & Rockets fame for Alan Moore and David Lloyd's V for Vendetta. Those of you who have read the comic may remember the chapter told in song (with musical notation) This Vicious Cabaret, provided for your listening pleasure below. It's funny, when I saw the V movie a few years back I remember thinking it was mediocre but not awful. I think in the time since I've kind of grown to hate it. For one thing it strips away any of the real questions and complexities of the story and leaves you the kind of message that only Hollywood could consider political, essentially that "Fascism is bad". Yeah, way to take a stand there guys. At any rate, Alan Moore said it best : "[The movie] has been "turned into a Bush-era parable by people too timid to set a political satire in their own country… It's a thwarted and frustrated and largely impotent American liberal fantasy of someone with American liberal values standing up against a state run by neoconservatives—which is not what the comic V for Vendetta was about. It was about fascism, it was about anarchy, it was about England."

All that aside, this is a really cool little track. I always forget that David had some neat solo material, maybe sometime I'll post one of his oddball spoken word/ambient pieces, if and when I find the cd in my damn collection.

David J - This Vicious Cabaret

Dr. Pepper Democracy

Well, this is interesting. Dr. Pepper (yes, the soda) is calling out Axl Rose.

Tired of a world in which Americans idolize wannabe singers and musicals about high schoolers pass as rock 'n roll music, Dr Pepper is encouraging (OK, begging) Axl Rose to finally release his 17-year-in-the-making belabored masterpiece, "Chinese Democracy", in 2008.

In an unprecedented show of solidarity with Axl, everyone in America, except former GN'R guitarists Slash and Buckethead, will receive a free can of Dr Pepper if the album ships some time — anytime! — in 2008. Dr Pepper supports Axl, and fully understands that sometimes you have to make it through the jungle before you get it right.

"It took a little patience to perfect Dr Pepper's special mix of 23 ingredients, which our fans have come to know and love," said Jaxie Alt, director of marketing for Dr Pepper. "So we completely understand and empathize with Axl's quest for perfection — for something more than the average album. We know once it's released, people will refer to it as "Dr Pepper for the ears" because it will be such a refreshing blend of rich, bold sounds — an instant classic."

Commented Axl Rose in a statement: "We are surprised and very happy to have the support of Dr. Pepper with our album, 'Chinese Democracy', as for us this came totally out of the blue. If there is any involvement with this promotion by our record company or others, we are unaware of such at this time. And as some of Buckethead's performances are on our album, I'll share my Dr Pepper with him."

So they plan to give away 300 Million Cans of Dr. Pepper? Wow.
At least Axl is nice enough to share his with Buckethead. Slash, however, is left out in the cold.

Taking the wind out of your piss soaked sails

So today is the day Crystal Castles drops their new CD.
For those who don't know, Crystal Castles are the "newest thing" and well on their way to being the most overhyped band since THE KNIFE. Rest assured, there will be a steel cage handicap match featuring myself against Alex and Bruce over that comment.
Seriously though, do people even listen to music anymore, or just add "Favourite Bands" to their facebook profile based on what's hip with the hipsters?
Watch, right now, as I unveil the secret to composing "Untrust Us"
1.) Download ringtone of a New Order Song. The crappy old ringtones that sound like the tinny ass Midi files people used to put on their Geocities pages.
2.) Turn it into a high bitrate Mp3
3.) Play said MP3 on an old 386 computer that doesn't have the processing power to play an mp3, so it skips and irritates you.

There you have it. The colonel's 13 herbs and spices have been exposed.
Perhaps you expected more from Bif Naked's little sister, and the guy who pumped my gas last week?
I didn't write this post with the specific intent of calling the band's music credentials into question, but more to use it as a red carpet for the bigger point:
Crystal Castles are thieves.
That image of Madonna looking like she just called Chuck Liddell a fag that's on their T-shirts and was going to be on their album cover is by an artist named Trevor Brown. Like any band with integrity, they took the image, made thousands of shirts, and gave no cash or credit to the artist. Not only do the two C's in CC stand for Crystal Castles, but they also both stand for Class. Pure Class.
Not only that, but they straight up jacked Chanel's logo too.
Stealing some artist's art for your shirts is one thing, but trying to steal the logo of one of the world's largest fashion labels? Don't be surprised if their next single is called "Forced Anal"

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Ceci n'est pas une pipe

Building on Cyril's bitch-slap on Crystal Castles and their tacky art theft...

To be honest, I'd managed to avoid hearing anything by Crystal Castles (I've somehow worked myself into a strict diet of Jesu, Current 93 and Dr. Octagon) until now. I'll give it a "meh". Would definitely work in a club full of girls with brown bobs, knee-length olive dresses and those unfortunate wide belts. Not offensive, but certainly not deserving of any serious comparisons to The Knife, as will be proven in the aforementioned cage match. Yeah, you heard me right Cyril - this Sunday the Unnatural Boy Alex Kennedy and The Devastatin' Deconstructionist are comin' for you!

...Anyway, Cyril's more than bang-on about the cheesy art theft - read all the recent bloody details here. A clusterfuck all 'round to be sure, but the apparent lack of common courtesy is depressing. As Alex said, "Way to go indie scene, way to act worse than the fucking majors". The whole snafu calls to mind the infamous "This Is Not A Fugazi Shirt" shirt that was ubiquitous in the 90s. The legend goes that since the band had (and still has) a strict no-merch policy, Ian MacKaye regularly contacted those making bootleg Fugazi shirts, asking them to cease and desist. After receiving such a call, one particularly enterprising fellow came up with the "This Is Not" design. Impressed by the sheer cheek of the act, MacKaye came to an agreement with the printer wherein the portion of proceeds from the shirts that would normally go to the band were instead diverted to a women's shelter. See? Channels of communication are opened in good faith, and DIY ethic and entrepreneurial wiseacre coexist peacefully. Had common courtesy prevailed, maybe the Crystal Castles debacle could've ended similarly. This, of course, wasn't the last time that Ian MacKaye would garner ink fighting to keep his legacy free of crass commercialization - this bloke has a nice run-down on the great Minor Threat/Nike dust-up of ought five. Let's not even get into Converse's tasteless hijacking of dead rockers who never even wore Chucks in the first place.

Seeing the Fugazi shirt without knowing the back story confounded me. As an aspiring devotee of the band shirt (I'm now hard-pressed to think of five preferred tops that aren't band shirts, much to my mother's chagrin), I needed to know - was it a Fugazi shirt or not? Some have cannily noted that this recalls Magritte's "this is not a pipe" dilemma. The response made by Nirvana (or at least whoever was designing their merch around the "In Utero" period) seemed to argue that it wasn't. A shirt was produced which was covered with seahorses, with no indication that the shirt was "about" anything other than seahorses. On the back was a lengthy essay about the behavior and life cycle of the seahorse, which ended with the words "by the way, this is a Nirvana shirt". Those with a linguistic or philosophical bent might want to gloss JL Austin's "How To Do Things With Words" and his notion of performative utterances.

I'm not aware of any similar merch hubbubs ever erupting around any goth/industrial or related bands, be they license-based (Crystal Castles) or ontological (Fugazi), although I'd love to hear of any people might be aware of. This might have something to do with the oft-cited criticism that there's a profoundly consumption-oriented ethic at work in the bedrock of goth. I finally picked up that recent collection of academic essays on goth, which seems to set itself up as a reaction to Hebdige's book on punk in much the same way that goth was a reaction to punk, so watch this space for more on the commercialization of subculture. All that being said, I still want a pair of those fresh Joy Division kicks.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The endtimes aren't what they used to be

:wumpscut:, Schädling
Crikey, this one's a stinker. "Schädling" sits on the mellow end of the :w: spectrum, with none of the classic club-oriented endzeit crunch, but the latest from the non-papal Ratzinger also utterly lacks the evocative ambience of "Cannibal Anthem". After that record and the equally respectable "Body Census", we're squarely back to a "Bone Peeler" level of craptitude. Embarrassing vocals drown out any subtle flourishes that Rudy might have crafted into the tracks, but nothing here could go half a round with any halfway memorable :w: cut you'd care to mention. The only bright spot is the instrumental "Hard To Bear", which deftly constructs a traditional, non-EBM electro groove with surprising flair and panache. That there isn't any other real experimentation on this album is another mark against it - had Rudy tried to broaden his horizons and fallen flat on his face (*coughskyshaper*), it'd be slightly more forgivable than releasing what sounds like a hastily assembled collection of sub-standard leftovers from the previous two albums. By the time album-closer "Nest" ends with what (I presume) is meant to sound like the buzz of a swarm of insects ("schädling" appropriately translates to "pest", according to Google), you'd be forgiven for mistaking it for the final flatulence of a slowly dying, decrepit old horse, and being thankful that the sad thing's finally given up the ghost.

Rudy claimed a while back that "Schädling" would be more uptempo than recent releases, and that he was returning to "Music For A Slaughtering Tribe"-style aggression with all tracks weighing in at 135 BPM or more. He might be technically right about the latter claim (this couldn't be "MFAST" part II even in bizarro world), but when the beats can't even evoke a single foot tap or head nod out of yr highly over-caffeinated writer (again, with the exception of "Hard To Bear"), hawking a record on the specs of its BPM isn't just moot, it's comically pathetic. Rudy recently flooded the market with a glut of reissues and remasterings of far stronger classic material, so if you've got a hankering to drop some cash on :w: produkt in '08, you've got loads of options beyond the limp and uninspired "Schädling". Strong recommendation to avoid.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

It's the economy, stupid.

Long-running UK Industrial/Electro retailer Music Non Stop just closed its doors (no puns about the name, please). Interestingly, the statement on their site cites "current exchange rates of the Euro and the dollar against the pound", "the lack of consistent ‘big name’ releases in this scene" as well as the "increase in distributor and day to day running costs" before pulling out the ubiquitous spectre of file sharing, which they couch within the broader descriptor of "other methods now available of obtaining new music" (ie, all manner of paid, legal models of mp3 distribution are taking a bite out as well). At a personal level, while I was always staggered by MNS' catalog (I have fond memories of grabbing a particularly limited Welle: Erdball vinyl box set from them), their shipping prices, not to mention the aforementioned exchange rate always made buying from them a special case, rather than the rule.

It's interesting (as well as depressing) when basic global economics takes down a scene staple, rather than "personal issues" or piracy. This hasn't stopped the Side-Line thread on the subject from devolving into the usual poo-flinging about who is and isn't "supporting the scene", of course. Whether the recession (dammit, US media, you've been asking if yr in one for over a year now - just admit it) will put the squeeze on retailers/distributors who rely on domestic sales remains to be seen, but in the meantime the prices that COP/DDT are posting right now look rather tasty to this Canadian vulture.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

...but what is this world about, anyway?

Here's a bit of an oddity. Those weirdos in Xiu Xiu opted to do a cover of the ubiquitous Queen/Bowie collab "Under Pressure" on their new album...and brought Michael Gira along for the ride, who takes Bowie's vocal parts while free-jazz cacophony nicely accompanies Jamie Stewart's caterwauling Freddie Mercury impersonation. As a long-time devotee of just about all of Gira's output, there's something profoundly odd about hearing one of the granddaddies of noise and misanthropy gamely croon his way though karaoke-worn lines like "Love's such an old-fashioned word and love dares you..." Check it out:

Xiu Xiu - Under Pressure (feat. Michael Gira)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Wipeouts at the End of Scenesterism

Between the recent glut of abominable beardo folk and the triumph of by-the-numbers hipster disco, it's easy to forget that there was a time when the indie rock establishment actively championed bands that weren't only aggressive, but passionately and evocatively dark.

I'm certainly not the first to cite the following bands as fascinating and rewarding mid-points between the lumbering, schizophrenically-scarfed monster that is indie rock and darker genres like noise and goth, but given that all three have atomized and reformed in various guises countless times, giving their family trees confoundedly fractal structures, I felt it was worth pointing to three touchstones from the past.

Hailing from Colorado, these guys would record one LP and a smattering of singles before spinning off into Slaves, the thoroughly excellent Pleasure Forever, and even the now sadly defunct Gold Standard Labs label, amongst other projects. That one LP, "Nervous Circuits", would prove to be a landmark of post-hardcore wipeouts thundering through a death-pocked synthesizer vacuum. The riffs snap bones, the synths make your teeth hum in their sockets.

Out of print for most of the ten years since its release, "Nervous Circuits" is finally getting the deluxe reissue treatment it so rightly deserves this May.

The VSS - "Death Scene"
The VSS - "Lunar Weight"

Camera Obscura
No, not those fey Scottish pea-coat wearers. A San Diego-based quartet that fused a hardcore template with the dirges and plateaus of shoegaze. One LP ("To Change The Shape Of An Envelope") and one single's all we got. Last I heard, various members are now performing as Champagne Kiss, about whom I know absolutely bupkis.

Camera Obscura - "Cinematheque"
Camera Obscura - "Twenty Five Diamonds"

Love Life
After dissolving the ridiculous yet compelling Jaks (spazzy howling with fake blood), Katrina Ford and Sean Antanaitis spent two albums ("The Rose He Lied By", "Here Is Night, Brothers, Here The Birds Burn") grinding glass into concrete with big black boots as Love Life. As slow and devoid of light as early Swans, as bleak and desperate as Birthday Party records slowed to 22RPM. Throughout it all, Katrina's vocals reach gutteral basements Danzig didn't know existed. Seriously, kids, don't listen to too much of this in one sitting. Katrina and Sean now kick it much more uptempo and high-profile in the 4AD vetted, Creatures influenced, TV On The Radio produced Celebration.

Love Life - "Joy"
Love Life - "Good For Nothing"

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

hopeful ghosts

By now you've likely chosen one of the various formats in which the new NIN material has been released. Looks as though the uber-1337 with-vinyl-and-Trent's-sinal-fluid-sample box sold out in about a day - one IEI writer saw fit to shell out for it, but I'm not telling which of us it was. Whether or not this sort of model can succeed is one question - whether it's a viable option for any artist smaller than the Radioheads and NINs of the world is another matter entirely. For now, I'll leave that to Wired bloggers and BoingBoing regulars (I'd also like to hear my buddy Jean at Clicknoise weigh in if he's got a minute to spare between Phd comps and daddy duty).

Me, I'm more interested in how this sort of distribution model affects albums as aesthetic experiences and, in the case of those of us still interested records qua records, as physical objects. What happens when an impromptu jam session at NIN headquarters (caveat: I'm aware that if yr "jam sessions" involve Adrian Belew and Alan Moulder, you aren't using the term in the same way that the Jack Johnson-listening frat douches down the hall are) doesn't just net as-yet incalculable amounts of cash or hammer another nail in the record industry's coffin, but actually affects the way we think of and listen to the actual music of an act as established and iconic as NIN?

Talk to any science fiction writer who's dealing with issues like posthumanism and the singularity, and they'll talk about how the psychological normalization of technology relies in part on that technology becoming fast enough to accomplish its purpose without speed being a noticeable factor in that technology's perceived efficiency by the average user - technology sufficiently speedy to operate without yielding enough time to allow the user to notice the operation in the first place. To use a couple of commonplace recent examples, internet connections with enough bandwidth to offer halfway decent streaming video, torrents that can deliver mp3s of a CD I own faster than I could by going over to the shelf, hunting the CD out and ripping and encoding it. In brief - technology that operates at the speed of human thought, or (trust me, I'm bringing this back to "Ghosts I-IV") in the case of online music, distribution that matches the speed of production.

As revolutionary as the business model of "Ghosts I-IV" might prove to be, it's the fact that the commonplace nature of file-sharing has, in this case, taken down the notion of the "rock album" as a cohesive, planned and grandiose object in time that seems the most revolutionary aspect of it to me. Consider the psychological and cultural weight of "The Fragile", both in how Reznor talked about its pained production, and how we, the public, chewed over every snippet of sound or news that trickled out while waiting for its release, years before premature Internet leaks. The album took on an iconic status before any of us had actually heard it, expectations were correspondingly (ten miles) high, and after its release we spent untold hours nitpicking song orders, and trying to edit the thing down to a single disc. The concept behind "Ghosts I-IV" - muck about, record some stuff, release it and allow people to more or less pay in accordance with how much value they place upon the fetishistic aspects of albums (vinyl, gatefolds, signed prints) - turns the cultural logic of the rock album, exemplified by "The Fragile", on its head.

In "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction", Walter Benjamin talks about the ability of technological reproduction (the duplication of photographs, mimeographs, etc.) to destroy the nigh-religious "aura" of essential authenticity, historical location and cultural/spiritual mystique that accompanies the work of art (which Benjamin traces back to its cultic origins). A variety of factors allow this to happen - the lack of a single, "real" work of art thanks to photography and reproduction (never an issue with rock albums, really), but also increased access to the means of production, theoretically making artists of us all (which we've of course seen with mixed results via Reason and FL Studio). In the case of "Ghosts I-IV", it's the ease and speed of the distribution of the rock album that's stripping away its aura, and in turn affecting how we think of the production of a rock album.

The fact that we aren't going through the same media-enabled high drama of the birthing of a rough beast as we were with "The Fragile" suggests that we aren't as vested in the pomp and circumstance of The Album as we once were - we're instead identifying favourite tracks and deciding for ourselves how much we're comfortable shelling out for it. Trent's playing into this as well - by seeding portions of the album on PirateBay and eschewing song titles for (utilitarian?) numeric ordering he's helping tear down our (and possibly his own) inflated expectations for how revelatory we expect NIN material to be. Given the opulence and essentially legendary status of both "The Downward Spiral" and "The Fragile", this is no mean feat.

As for the music itself - I'm liking it. A great deal, in fact. I remember thinking when "Still" (the bonus disc on the generally unremarkable live album documenting the Fragility tour) was released that I'd love to hear Trent forsake the well-trodden teen angst territory (which, despite how much I loved "The Fragile" musically, was wearing pretty thin by 2002) for impressionist, stripped-down piano tracks on a more permanent basis. The welcome shift away from navel-gazing whinging in "With Teeth" and "Year Zero" made me forget about that passing fancy, but with "Ghosts I-IV" dropping flat out of nowhere, I'm reminded of just how well Reznor works when he's on a Debussy binge. Personal faves? 18 and 24 right now. Ask me again tomorrow...

A few years back, there was much talk about how Napster and the like would kill off the album - choosy consumers would just nab choice cuts from albums otherwise bloated with filler, and record sales would plummet. As a life-long fan of the album experience, this gave me some worry. I liked immersing myself in a lengthy, developed, conceptually grand if occasionally self-indulgent experience, and both "The Downward Spiral" and "The Fragile" were nothing if not all of those. If the death of the album (which still, like that of Mark Twain, seems to have as of yet been greatly exaggerated) means the emergence of new forms like this, these hopeful ghosts that apparate and disseminate without warning, then there might be a space for us esthetes in the post-Album landscape.