7 songs for the summer that is 8

Posted by othiym23 Tue, 22 Jul 2008 07:25:20 GMT

OH NOES! I got TAGGED with a MEME! Cosmo hit me with this, and because I needed to get back into writing, I accede to his demands.

In keeping with the spirit of his post, I will not try to come up with the definitive list of 7 tracks I am all into right now, because like him, my favorites lately are totally ephemeral, largely due to the endless deathmarch slog of trying to listen to every bizarre cassette release ever ripped and posted to Blogspot (currently getting lots of play: Smersh. Dier. S•Core.). Instead, I will offer a list of 7 songs that seem to be getting stuck in my head with unusual frequency (whether or not they’re any good, as we shall see), or that are evocative of the leaden, gray summer I am “enjoying” in San Francisco’s wishfully named Sunset neighborhood.

  1. Alec Empire – “New Man”

    Taken from his most recent solo effort, The Golden Foretaste Of Heaven, which seems to be intended, in all seriousness, as an electroclash album, years after electroclash collapsed into a cosmic sucking wound of bad electro-house and nth-derivative Daft Punk clones. Why he chose now to abandon the maximally abrasive digital hardcore sound in favor of a particularly unsubtle version of Gary Numan is beyond me. Empire has always had a twonked sense of humor and a broader range than the somewhat monochromatic sound of DHR would indicate, and “New Man”, which features lines like “as long as I can bleed / I’m pretty much okay” display both. This really reminds me of Luke Slater’s doomed electropop efforts on Alright On Top, particularly “Stars and Heroes”, which displayed a similarly take-no-prisoners combination of devastatingly catchy yet obsolete pop and thuddingly obvious beats. Both are mind-obliteratingly catchy.

  2. Novembre – “Deorbit”

    Somehow fuses late 80s stadium rock with some genuinely progressive (gothic) metal sounds, and comes out sounding like Catherine Wheel’s Chrome by way of Opeth. I’d never heard of this Italian band before Amazon’s recommendation engine coughed up The Blue, and this is the song that keeps coming back to me, even though The Blue is overall one of the most solid and coherent progressive metal records I’ve heard in the last couple years. “Deorbit” is full of extremely clever songwriting and, to my ear at least, genuine progression over its length, without ever failing to be accessible. Heavy, full of twists and turns, culminating in some of the most perplexing vocal harmonies I’ve heard in a while, and featuring some nifty soloing. It’s a beautiful, mournful, exuberant song.

  3. Fairport Convention – “The Deserter”

    If you think Fairport Convention is a bunch of hippies singing about faeyries dancing round the toadstool, you should probably pull your head out of your ass, because you’re missing some of the finest, most on-point music made in the last 100 years. There was a time when Liege & Lief was an essential element of any halfway literate (white) music fan’s collection, and I’d argue that’s a tradition that should have perpetuated to the present day. Recorded in the wake of catastrophe by some of the most talented musicians of the era (Sandy Denny’s voice! Richard Thompson’s guitar! Dave Mattacks’ drumming!), it’s a stunning display of virtuosity that resolutely refuses to age.

“The Deserter” is a traditional song about fleeing the English Army. The words tell a simple story of flight, betrayal, unjust “justice” and reluctant fealty, and the music is one of those simple folk melodies that hangs in the air long after the song has finished, but what really stands out is the execution. Whether it’s Joe Boyd’s production or the band’s careful teamwork, the result is a song that fills the room, seeping into every corner and crevice, regardless of how loud it’s played.

  1. Smashing Pumpkins – “Today”

    I don’t even like Siamese Dream, and I would have sworn I burned this song out of my system at least 10 years ago, but throughout the process of building bookshelves and unpacking boxes and cleaning floors and the various other moving-related tasks I’ve had to do over the last couple months, this song has been an omnipresent and only sometimes unwelcome companion. I sort of think a song about the joys of ending it all in a glorious burst of ecstasy would be less appealing if the weather in our neighborhood had been less crap. Just saying.

  2. Jamie Woon – “Wayfaring Stranger [Burial remix]”

    Another simple, haunting English folk song – this time run through the Burializr™, coming out sounding like it was meant to be that way all along. Like most people, I think, I have no idea who Jamie Woon is, but this remix is probably one of the two or three best things Burial’s ever done (along with the original dubplate mix of “U Hurt Me”). A good song for misty early mornings and foggy late nights.

  3. Primordial – “As Rome Burns”

    My so-called “friends” owe me big time for never telling me about Primordial. The Gathering Wilderness and To the Nameless Dead are absolutely monstrous records, roaring out of the gate with a ferocious, boundless passion and intelligence that cannot be denied. Notionally this is some kind of pagan or black metal, but it doesn’t really sound like most of the music marching under either banner. Amon Amarth at their best sound a little like Primordial, but without Primordial’s effortless wielding of their own (Celtic) folk traditions, and without Primordial’s ability to use traditional music as a springboard for something fearlessly new. Perhaps Primordial are more akin to Neurosis, although Primordial are more rooted in traditional notions of heavy metal, and there’s little of the self-conscious artiness bands who model themselves on Neurosis these days seem to find obligatory. Maybe they’re a little less earthy and more refined version of Root, which will make sense to fans of that particular group of Czech weirdoes but nobody else. Primordial are mostly just a really, really talented metal band.

To the Nameless Dead is an album about the collapse of empire, and “As Rome Burns”, with its insistently repeated refrain “sing, sing, sing to the slaves that Rome burns” has a timeliness / timelessness and urgency I find compelling, especially when wedded to rolling tribal rhythms and thickly droning guitars. Special attention must be drawn to Alan Nemtheanga’s singing, which is perfectly suited to the urgent, storytelling style of songwriting favored by Primordial.

Truly, I haven’t been so excited by a new metal discovery since I first heard Abigor’s Supreme Immortal Art. Primordial could quit now as winners, but I have a feeling they have more in store for us. I hope so.

  1. Ministry – “Radar Love”

    Another song, like “Today”, that is on this list more because of its persistence than any actual quality it may have (thank the NAMELESS DEAD I’ve managed to dislodge Nine Inch Nails’ Broken from my frontal cortex, along with the nasty-ass visuals that go along with it, thanks to watching its stupid, demeaning and evil video). I mean, I love “Radar Love” – what’s not to love? it’s one of the best road trip songs of all time – but Ministry’s version is at best 2/3 assed. The main thing it has going for it is its ridiculously over the top and full-throttle take on the chorus, which makes me think of drag racing and funny cars more than lazy trawls down the highway. Not that that’s a bad thing. It just doesn’t strike me as what Golden Earring had in mind.

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  1. Avatar
    Jesse 3 days later:

    I’ve been digging Primordial as well.

  2. Avatar
    Matt 3 months later:

    Hi, just stumbled across your blog from a link on Invisble Oranges. Love what I’m reading, I hope you start posting again!

    Primordial’s last two are fantastic, but I think To the Nameless Dead is clearly superior to The Gathering Wilderness. I see you’re quite the completist, so I suppose there’s no point in telling you not to bother tracking down all their earlier releases, because none of them can stand with the last two :)

    Similarly, I have the first three from Fairport Convention. Liege & Lief is clearly better than …Holidays and Unhalfbricking; partly because it’s more cohesive, and partly because it’s just plain better executed. Is anything else from their extensive post-Sandy Denny catalog worth acquiring?

    And finally - your exuberance over Joanna Newsom is finally tipping me over the edge to check her out; the hype machine has been barring my way until now…

  3. Avatar
    Forrest 3 months later:

    Hi, Matt. I read enough of the reviews of Primordial’s older releases to learn they’d become a much better band about the time of The Gathering Wilderness, so I picked up Dark Romanticism from Amazon MP3 because it was cheap and decided that was enough of their old stuff for me.

    I can’t really answer your question about Fairport Convention, because those are the albums I have too. I do like Richard & Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out the Lights an awful lot, and the totally weird Fotheringay record (which is mostly a Sandy Denny solo project) is worth hearing. I will say that if you like the early Fairport Convention records, you really ought to check out Joe Boyd’s awesome White Bicycles, which is a fun, breezy memoir about dealing with a lot of non-fun, non-breezy musicians. The accompanying soundtrack CD is an invaluable aid for putting his various production jobs in context, too, although it’s never been released domestically in the US.

    Finally, Joanna Newsom gets hyped an awful lot, but her music will still be there, being awesome, long after Pitchfork’s servers have been decomissioned and its DNS name reassigned to a third-tier Croation bondage VR porn site. If Ys had been released 40 years ago, she would have become a superstar. It doesn’t need me to defend it, but I’ll defend it just the same. It’s an amazing record.

  4. Avatar
    Matt 3 months later:

    Thanks Forrest. Primordial’s earlier releases are all held in very high esteem on Encyclopaedia Metallum, which, of course, is yet another demonstration that collections of reviews do not necessarily approximate the truth!

    Can’t bring myself to get excited and R&L Thompson, but I should definitely check out Fotheringay. ‘White Bicycles’ does sound like a good read; the idea of a soundtrack CD to a career memoir is eminently weird…

    Pitchfork, the VR bondage porn site. Yep, that sounds like an improvement of sorts. I promise to take your advice, though.

  5. Avatar
    Jesse 3 months later:

    Yeah, but those earlier reviews at Metallum are averages of only a couple scores. You can guess that there are a couple of people who feel the need to talk up anything their favorite band did. The last two albums are reviewed by more than 10 people, which makes me trust the average score a bit more. (The problem with averages is that both of the later albums have a bunch of 99-100% scores and one low outlier. Those outliers are just as valid, yes, and cogently stated, but it’s apparent pretty quickly that they’re way outside the consensus.)

    This is of course confirmation bias, as I agree with those average scores. Still, I find that albums that end up with high scores from a lot of people are usually albums I like. Metallum’s pretty useful like that, unlike a lot of sites.

    And that’s enough blathering about statistics.

  6. Avatar
    Matt 3 months later:

    Jesse, I think you just described the two review patterns that dominate E.M. Half of the releases have only a single review, which is certainly better than nothing, but hardly likely to be entirely accurate.

    The best chance for a meaningful score is when an album has only 3 or 4 reviews. Fewer than that, there’s only a certain chance that the reviewer(s) will have been accurate, as per your own taste. Or some relative of objectivity.

    Once an album gets more than 4 reviews, the range of opinions often becomes too broad, and the score moves into a mid-range that doesn’t necessarily reflect anything very useful. Of course, most albums that get 5 reviews will rapidly progress to 10, 15, or 20 reviews! Interesting that no-one seems to be keen to add a 21st review to an album…

    And for contentious albums, or contentious bands, the average score eventually shows the ratio between reviewers who give the album 100% and those who review it at 5%!

    But, as you say, it’s still pretty useful. You just can’t take any actual number you read off it as meaning very much.

  7. Avatar
    Forrest 3 months later:

    My main problem with Encyclopædia Metallicum is that it’s essentially a broken-backed site: it can’t decide whether it wants to provide a critical overview of the bands it covers, or whether to be more a pure informational resource. I think it’d probably be instantly improved by the removal of scores on reviews, while still allowing the users to be as critical or adulatory as they like in the articles themselves. Sticking numbers on things tends to skew people into a “it rocks / it sucks” mindset (I know, I’m no better) which is unhelpful. The worst in this regard is All Music Guide, which has a tendency to publish reviews deeply at odds with its scores.

    When I’m trying to figure out if a metal release is worth my time, I generally see if Chronicles of Chaos or Metal Review (or, y’know, Cosmo) has an opinion on it. If they can’t help me, I sigh and hit up everybody’s buddy Google. EM can sometimes provide a useful overview of an artist’s career, but I trust it about as far as I can throw anything immaterial.

  8. Avatar
    Matt 3 months later:

    Yeah, that’s an interesting idea. Unfortunately, I don’t think enough of the reviewers on EM write well enough to communicate their thoughts without the reference point of a numerical score attached.

    I would like to see a moderation team on EM, whose role is to pass or fail each review, based on its internal consistency and cogency. Then, all cumulative scores can be presented as a pair of numbers - one including sub-standard reviews and one without. I think this would go a long way to improving the scores.

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