Stuck in my head this morning: a medley! Of All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavors songs. Mostly it’s just “I Am Where You Were” (one of the band’s most full-throated, krautrockinest (and derivative) shoegazer epics), but in my dreams it turned into half a dozen other songs from ANLLF’s self-titled debut and Flat Blue Line.
I just noticed that the xylophone part in “I Am Where You Were” is highly reminiscent of the intro to Yes’s “Changes” (from 90125), a comparison I highly doubt ever occurred to anyone in All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavors, or indeed anyone else. Great. Now I have that stuck in my head instead.
In my alternate universe, there is no TRL, and people find music through their friends and impassioned record store staff and critics who give the music they love the attention and respect it deserves, instead of being prey to marketing and publicity operations and the fifty billion forms of payola that hedge us all in. That’s where I want to live!
I agree that LOTFP is needlessly paranoid; I agree that most of us start with Def Leppard or Lamb of God before we get to Make A Change… Kill Yourself; and I agree that Decibel is not going to suddenly make the trve kvlt disappear in a flash from Avenged Sevenfold’s stage pots. I still think he / they make many acute observations about the relationship between metal’s margins and the musical mainstream, and that the relationship is, and in some ways needs to be, antagonistic. He defends the borders between “us” and “them”, and that kind of policing, as annoying as it can sometimes be, is part of what preserves metal’s energy.
You and I both came up through the e-music underground, so we’ve been through the situation where that tension collapsed, more or less, and it left a vacuum that sucked most of the good music in behind it. It’s not that the mainstream coöpted the margins, it’s that the margins sort of shrugged or ran out of energy, and with the exception of tiny pockets in Rotterdam and Ljubljana and east London, the renegade spirit that animated the early rave / techno / jungle scene is almost totally dead.
At the same time, I agree with Sandy: I want people to like this stuff, because I love it and I enjoy it when my friends enjoy stuff that I love. That’s why I write about music. If it weren’t for the inclusiveness of the metal community (to sound totally corny for a moment), I wouldn’t even be here. In large part it’s the unfeigned enthusiasm of metalheads (in the pit, shivering in long lines waiting to be let into The Pound) that sucked me back into heshing after a long chunk of my life mostly ignoring it.
Metal fans own metal because they control the terms of the debate and have deep convictions about what they like and don’t like, and what they will and won’t accept as “true metal”. Just look at the LOTFP. They can be dogmatic and dictatorial, but also incredibly enthusiastic. Just look at the the wave of American one-man black metal bands (Xasthur, Leviathan and Krieg being the ones with which I’m most familiar – pity about the Twilight album): all those guys are a pain in the ass to work with (or so I hear), and prickly to the point of sociopathy, but they are clearly motivated by deep (if inscrutable) passions. And for all their accomplishments as musicians, I think they’re fans first and foremost. That’s the beauty of metal, or any other marginal art: there is no line between fan, performer or critic. We all have a stake (and the fans and performers get more votes than the critics, which is absolutely how it ought to be).
Pinch’s Underwater Dancehall seems to be another in a long series of dance music albums that’s intended to bust out of the artistic ghetto from which it emerged. The production is bright and sparkly and about half the guest vocals are the kind of melismatic R&B that producers have been using to appeal to an imaginary “mainstream” since Soul II Soul, if not since Giorgio Moroder started working with Donna Summer. More damningly, since both the vocal and instrumental versions of the tracks are included on the album, it’s possible to hear just how gratuitous those vocals really are. There’s nothing wrong with being tooled for a broad audience in theory, but in this context (and maybe it’s just how it’s striking me tonight) it comes across as possibly a little over-eager and most definitely too busy (“Brighter Day”, for instance, works much better – works perfectly, in fact – as an instrumental, which is too bad, because the vocal would be appealing in a less crowded setting). About a third of the album is spooky and compulsive listening, a third doesn’t do much for me and a third is plasticky faux-soul / faux-dancehall / faux-R&B that makes me itch. I think I’d like it twice as much if Pinch had chosen one each from the vocal and dub versions, and had jettisoned the wailing divas.
1: that this produced “I Feel Love”, quite possibly one of the finest dancefloor tracks of all time is, uh, HEY LOOK OVER THERE IT’S A BEAR.
EMI, the smallest of the four major labels, got bought out by a private equity group last year. The new owners have now decided on a massive restructuring that’s going to cut 2,000 jobs and “realize new efficiencies”, which basically means everybody who’s left is going to have to work twice as hard for the same pay, feel stressed out, and probably still not make any money because the major-label end of the music business is in freefall.
“But Forrest,” you say, “why so cynical?”
It’s simple, my good sophont:
But Guy Hands, founder of the Terra Firma venture capital group that bought EMI for £3.2bn last year, vowed to further clip the wings of unprofitable artists by offering them a day rate or salary rather than shelling out huge advances.
leads naturally to this:
…[S]horn of the big advances and trappings of a major label, many artists may prefer to sign with rival independents or put new material out themselves.
Without fat advances and major-label marketing budgets, why would anybody stay on a major label in 2008? Hands’ plans are going to last a year and end in embarrassment followed by another restructuring. Either that or EMI will simply implode. I’d almost bet money on it.
I always knew on some vague level that I “should” like Gram Parsons; he’s one of those names you can’t escape if you grow up with your nose buried in old Rolling Stone books, and The Flying Burrito Brothers were one of those California bands, like Little Feat or Quicksilver Messenger Service, that get namechecked frequently by Deadheads. I probably avoided them for exactly those reasons – they were eminently worthy, I was surrounded by Deadheads and I really, really hated the Grateful Dead with a passion. While I’ve since decided that’s pointless, because (among other things) the Dead wrote “Ripple” and a handful of other gorgeous songs, I don’t apologize for my former disdain; Deadheads did (and still do) drive me crazy with their blinkered way of assuming that a band didn’t exist if it didn’t share a stage with Jerry Garcia at some point.
And what do you know, Gram Parsons & The Flying Burrito Bros’ Live at the Avalon Ballroom 1969 was recorded at a couple of live dates with the Dead in 1969 and I love, love, love it. Apparently these recordings had to be carefully pried from the suspicious hands of Bear, the Grateful Dead’s most dedicated recordist and custodian of the closest thing that exists to a comprehensive Grateful Dead archive (somebody should write a good, non-Deadhead biography of Owsley Stanley, because the dude has lived like three lives, all of them fascinating). I can only imagine why he took so much persuasion to allow Amoeba Records to turn these recordings into a widely-released double CD, but the quality of the recordings is amazing. It sounds like it could have been recorded last week.
Getting wanky about tape quality is one of the things I detest about Deadheads, so I’ll just move along and say the sound quality would be irrelevant if it weren’t for the fact that the band play astonishingly well. They make what they’re doing sound so easy, which is remarkable given that Parsons & Co more or less invented the style of country-fried psychedelia and R&B they were playing. Parsons famously coined the term “cosmic American music” to describe his sound, and it fits like a glove. It’s not a million miles from the Dead in sound, but it’s on a completely different spiritual plane. The fluid, confident guitar playing meshes perfectly with a set of classic high & lonesome country standards and is a bizarre and completely apt merging of Californian and Texan sensibilities. This sounds more graceful and assured than most studio recordings (of anybody) from the period, and I could listen to it all day.
Doesn’t it seem like every song from the 80s had a sax solo in it? Where did that come from? Why did it stop?
Severed Head’s last album with significant distribution in North America was 1991’s Cuisine (with Piscatorial), and their last album to be released at all in the United States was Gigapus, which was released by tiny indie Decibel all the way back in 1995. Severed Heads didn’t disappear, though, “they” – Severed Heads has been Tom Ellard alone for quite a while now – just moved on, without looking back to see if we were keeping up.
Back around the turn of the millennium, you could download low-bitrate MP3s for their entire catalog from sevcom.com. You could buy their albums as shareware, although the purchase interface was clunky. Then, once the rights to their recordings had reverted to them, Sevcom started selling CD-Rs of their albums, but still offered streaming audio for the curious or chintzy. Now, digital distribution has finally caught up with Tom Ellard, and you can buy a large chunk of their catalog through iTunes, most of it as “iTunes Plus” DRM-free AAC files. Or you can buy them as MP3s straight off sevcom.com and get, as a free bonus, Tom Ellard’s demented liner notes included as PDFs.
I highly recommend you do so, because there are few experimental pop musicians at the level of Severed Heads, and even their oldest, most primitive material still sounds pretty fresh. Also, I’m sure Tom Ellard could use the money. I’ve always thought of Severed Heads as being like Wire: both are artists who outgrew their original style (in Severed Heads’ case, tape-loop based experimental industrial), developed an ear for sickly-sweet melodies that play on in your head for days, write stream-of-consciousness lyrics that have no relationship with reality, and are driven by irascible eccentrics.
Severed Heads have released 9 albums since they last had a distribution deal in North America. Well, actually, that’s not quite right: they’ve put out 4 standalone albums, a couple remix collections, a side project (Coklacoma, a purposefully awkward electro-pop project which doesn’t do much for me), and one continually mutating, versioned release, Op.
The Op releases are intended to be sketchier and looser than the “full” albums. In reality, they’re also punchier and contain more of the loopiness and elusive melodies that have kept me a dedicated fan of Tom Ellard all this time. My favorite is Op 2.0, both for “Symptom Symphony 2.0”, with its Autechre Lite breakbeat (turnabout is fair play, and anyone who thinks Autechre doesn’t owe a huge debt to Severed Heads needs to hear more Severed Heads) and nonsensical lyrics, and the “Hank” half of “Pinagoal / Hank”, which is a disorienting, almost melodic looping blurt. It also features “Kern That Bembo Tighter 2.0”, which is about the nerdiest type-related title I’ve ever seen. They all have their moments, though, and Op 3 is free.
While you’re over there, grab Gashing the Old Mae West / Kato Gets the Girl (which is also free), and then buy some stuff. I recommend Come Visit the Big Bigot or Viva Heads!, but all of it is worth hearing.
Stuck in my head this morning: “The Number Knows Its Name” by All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavors and “The Eerie Bliss and Torture (Of Solitude)” by Xasthur (from the flawless Xasthur / Leviathan split – Xasthur’s Keeper of Sharpened Blades (and Ominous Fates) does nauseating things with sound and still leaves me slightly in awe), which is what I get for writing about both of them so much over the last few days. Eccentric electronic pop + relentless anti-life black metal = a mashup way more avant garde than Xenakis or Penderecki.
I’m obsessed with musical metainformation, but I don’t really have much use for lists. Whenever I see those “random 10” postings that pop up on political blogs on Fridays like verbalized daydreams of leaving the office and drinking beers, I sort of sigh and click on to the next post. I need some context and some motivation to care about somebody else’s musical taste, and lists are more about the compulsive recapitulation of something that probably only means something to the person making the list.
Best-of lists are a compulsory ritual of music nerddom, though, and they do often provide a useful frame for a year, so I generally make some kind of gesture in that direction. Every year ends up being a little different: sometimes I list my favorite records that I bought that year, regardless of when they were released. Sometimes I list the most interesting records released that year (which can run upwards of 50 or 60 records in a year where I buy a lot of CDs – I tend to only buy music I know is going to be interesting in the first place, after all). I experiment with ranking schemes. I try to write reviews for everything (and inevitably fail).
This year, when my friends at Aquarius sent out their yearly call for best-of lists, I figured I’d keep things relatively uncomplicated. Here’s a few lists of albums released last year. Each one’s unranked and sorted alphabetically by artist, and each one consists of albums that were released, in some sense, in 2007. Each one gets a single sentence to explain why it’s on the list. Every release is wholeheartedly recommended, by me if by nobody else.
11 very interesting new releases from 2007
- A Sunny Day in Glasgow – Scribble Mural Comic Journal
- Simultaneously a sparkly pop record and a bent experimental playground without sounding at all artificial.[*]
- Bloody Panda – Pheromone
- The interplay between Yoshiko Ohara’s theatrical, dissonant singing and the rest of the music’s hollowed out doom-sludge continues to fascinate me.
- Burial – Untrue
- Burial takes every cliché of 10 years of UK dance music and uses them to produce something deeply moving and enveloping. [*]
- Dälek – Abandoned Language
- Even El-P’s most claustrophobic hip-hop soundscapes have never been this bleakly downbeat and close, nor this evocative. [*]
- KTL – KTL 2
- “Theme” is 27 minutes of slowly building drone that crescendos in a solid wall of shimmering, awe-inspiring noise.
- Larsen & Friends – Abeceda
- Larsen have always been careful craftspeople with a penchant for concept-driven work, and this musical depiction of a dada abecedary is their most cohesive and affecting album in years.
- MIA – Kala
- Like the Burial, this warps a lifetime’s (and a world’s) worth of dance, punk and b-boy culture into a set of meditative ass-shakers that neatly balance the personal and the political. [*]
- Nadja – Touched [remastered]
- Womblike doom metal that is heavy like the sun.
- Neurosis – Given to the Rising
- Another immaculate album of world-weary pagan hymns from my favorite metal band.
- Skull Disco – Soundboy Punishments
- Still the only collection of unmixed dubstep tracks I’ve heard that’s interesting all the way through, with tons of micro-variations in the percussion and non-gratuitous samples of Eastern music.
- Xasthur – Defective Epitaph
- Depression made manifest in sound; an apotheosis of its style. [*]
13 only slightly less interesting new releases from 2007
- Colleen – Les Ondes Silencieuses
- Naïve chamber music from a gifted amateur. [*]
- Dødheimsgard – Supervillain Outcast
- I love the way Dødheimsgard are able to just barely keep their bonkers and mean heavy metal under control.
- Dopplereffekt – Calabi Yau Space
- Contemplative, meditative and cold space music that’s rhythmic without being repetitive. [*]
- v/a – Dubstep Sufferah, Volume 3 (mixed by Grievous Angel)
- A tightly-edited mix of dubstep and grime that takes a disparate collection of sounds and makes them work together like meshed gears (and free).
- Durrty Goodz – Axiom EP
- Inventive rhymes coupled with tailor-made backing tracks; I’m hoping this is a promise of things to come in grime.
- Earth – Hibernaculum
- Dylan Carson’s been around for a long time and tried a lot of different things, so this collection of old tracks in his current style – a kind of rarefied instrumental country – is a fascinating glimpse into the development of an artist who’s had more than his share of ups and downs.
- Every Time I Die – The Big Dirty
- This album rocks hard and loud and is a hell of a lot of fun. [*]
- PJ Harvey – White Chalk
- Harvey always takes chances, but this is a big experiment in self-restraint, and it pays off handsomely. [*]
- LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
- James Murphy has a talent for making his professional, sophisticated Steely-Dan-meets-Talking-Heads-in-CBGBs-Bathroom-in-1979 schtick sound easy, which is a very neat trick.
- Neil Landstrumm – Restaurant of Assassins
- Neil Landstrumm goes back to 1992 and comes back with the freshest, most loose-limbed collection of messed-up breakbeat techno and bleepy dubstep he’s made in the 21st century.
- The Necks – Townsville
- Sublime and trancy minimal jazz; every album from The Necks is one of the most interesting in whatever year it’s released.
- Six Organs of Admittance – Shelter from the Ash
- The most focused and song-based Six Organs album, which works both despite and because of its marked restraint and conventional take on droned-out psychedelic folk.
- Weedeater – God Luck and Good Speed
- Pissed off, drunk and really loud.
4 notable reissues from 2007
- Current 93 – The Inmost Light: Hallucinatory Patripassianist Song
- Beautifully summarizes David Tibet’s preoccupations while broadening them; compiles All The Pretty Little Horses: The Inmost Light, Where The Long Shadows Fall (Beforetheinmostlight) and The Starres Are Marching Sadly Home (Theinmostlightthirdandfinal).
- Nico – The Frozen Borderline: 1968-1970
- A nearly complete archive of the haunting voice and harmonium work Nico recorded with John Cale and Joe Boyd (her best period).
- Gram Parsons & The Flying Burrito Brothers – Live at the Avalon Ballroom 1969
- “Cosmic American music” is right; it’s hard to believe these immaculate recordings of folk- and rock-inflected country standards were made live.
- Young Marble Giants – Colossal Youth [expanded]
- Nearly everything released by a singular group whose minimal sound created a world of its own. [*]
The Björkiest album from 2007
- Björk – Volta
- This album confused and (seemingly) upset a lot of people, and it’s hard to love, but there are few artists (none of them popular) who surpass Björk’s rigorous and deeply creative engagement with their work. I really enjoy it sometimes and respect it all the time.
Red Mecca is a Cabaret Voltaire album I only picked up a month or so ago. It’s from the early “industrial” phase of the group, which is to say that it’s a mixture of experimental electronic sketches and tense, treble-heavy garage rock submerged in an acid bath of electronic squelch and unusual treatments (this perspective on their sound is also something I picked up only recently). Every so often they managed to float across some well-concealed rocking, too, like “Red Mask”, a droning, insistent and somewhat aimless song that misses being a goth club track mostly due to its compressed, reedy sound and the messy synth blurts and scribbles over the top. The song is constantly on the verge of falling apart, but instead the music and Stephen Mallinder’s near-chanted, surly vocals combine to hold each other together, making for a memorably crabbed and sketchy version of rock and roll.
There’s something vaguely insulting about the widespread conviction (at least among those who care about this sort of thing) that The Tuss is exclusively a secret Aphex Twin project. The Tuss, for those who aren’t obsessive e-music nerds, is a recent RePHLeX signing who claim to be husband-wife pair Brian and Karen Tregaskin. Googling “Tregaskin” reveals only that it is a name that exists almost exclusively in conjunction with The Tuss and RePHLex (it is also a relatively uncommon Cornish surname). So far they – whomever they turn out to be – have released an EP and a short album of mildly disco-influenced squelchy techno. Everybody’s assumption that The Tuss is “obviously” Richard James rests on the Tuss’s choice of labels, James’ known fondness for one-off aliases and running weird headgames on his cultishly patient fans, and the very real and strong similarity between The Tuss material and James’ recent Analord releases.
People have been wrong about this sort of thing before. In 1996, Warp released a limited edition one-off single by an artist known simply as Woodenspoon, and seemingly overnight it was accepted as fact by a disturbingly large number of people that this was the clever Mr. James releasing a secret followup to his recent Girl / Boy EP and Richard D James album. This is despite the fact that on the one hand, the Woodenspoon single sounded nothing like anything James had released for years, and on the other really wasn’t very good.
The pointless and feverish drama that ensued ultimately resulted in perhaps the most hyperbolic and regrettable flamewar I’ve ever been involved in, and right around then I decided that the IDM list had disappeared up its own ass and stomped off to do my own thing. On the balance, this was a wise decision, because there’s only so many times you can argue over which Autechre album is best before you completely lose all connection to reality. At the time, it was bruising, personal and ugly in only the way that a truly pointless internerd war can be. It was not my finest hour.
Some time later, it came out that Woodenspoon was in fact Mark Clifford of Seefeel and Disjecta, so the whole thing was an early case of Acute Internet Drama based on nothing more than a very small number of peoples’ desperate need to believe that Richard James is the savior of electronic music now and forevermore. Like I said, the Woodenspoon single wasn’t very good, but if I were Mark Clifford, who’s made a lot of very good music over the years, I would have been an equal measure of amused, angry and disappointed.
Back to today. The Tuss material has more than a passing familiarity to old Aphex Twin material, but it’s qualitatively different than anything James has been doing for a while. For one thing, it’s busier. There’s a lot of material in the Analord series (three and a half hours’ worth, in fact), and much of it’s quite good, but each track tends to explore a single idea and use a consistent and restricted sonic palette. Rushup Edge, by contrast, is all over the place, and feels more like the chockablock early UK hardcore tracks (albeit in a stoned and low-key way). In fact, quite a bit of it reminds me of Chris Jeffs’ early material as Synesthesia (which is some of my favorite music on RePHLeX), and there are hints and intimations of other RePHLeX artists in other places on the EP. There’s lots of bouncy synth-funk, some anodyne, dry rhythm tracks, and plenty of the analog squelchiness that seems to be RePHLeX’s defining trait at this late hour in their existence. The results are pleasant, satisfying, and not at all worthy of the ridiculous levels of hype the project has received.
My guess, based on my fallible ears and this bulletin board thread, is that The Tuss is some kind of RePHLeX All-Stars project. The odds are good that this a bunch of collaborative material (like the regrettable Mike & Rich album put out by Richard James with Mike Paradinas of µ-ziq) that’s been kicking around on James’ hard drive for a while that he eventually packaged up and put out. The only reason it matters to me is because I keep hearing very familiar things on Rushup Edge, and for some obscure reason it matters to me whether it’s an established artist pulling some good stuff out of the archives (and screwing with people’s heads for the sheer contrary joy of it), or an extremely talented mimic cranking out rip-offs.
Stuck in my head this morning: an indistinct admixture of Thom Yorke’s “Skip Divided” (both the original version from The Eraser and the (superior, bass-heavy) Modeselektor remix) and Torche’s “Fire”. I find myself without a whole lot to say about The Eraser; it’s a solid collection of gloomy post-rock that sounds nice but doesn’t really contribute anything new. It’s the rare album that’s surpassed by its remixes. And Torche make an appearance in my post-sleep haze mostly because I was writing about them right before I went to sleep last night.
I should be in bed for real, but after my last posting about Torche, I can’t let go of something that’s been nagging at me for a couple months now: wot up with re-recording your first album, dudes?
The original version of Torche’s self-titled first album was released by Robotic Empire back in 2004, and it’s a monster of heavy music carved into catchy bite-sized pop song chunks. I have already attested elsewhere to its greatness.
The band are perfectionists (something that comes through effortlessly in their immaculate craftsmanship, barring their sometimes off-tune singing), and for reasons I don’t completely understand, they decided to partially re-record and completely remix the album and rerelease it in 2007. The only immediately obvious changes are that “Sex Addict” has become an instrumental (losing its charmingly direct chorus of “AND I’D LIKE TO TURN YOU ON” in the process) and a bonus track’s been tacked onto the end.
I think re-recording it was a mistake. It bespeaks a lack of confidence in the material that’s unfounded. The new version has heavier low end and sounds more like a conventional metal album, circa 2007. But I think I get what whomever engineered the original was trying to do: there’s a buzzy lightness to the original mix that reminds me of the hard rock I heard on the radio when I was a kid. Stuff like Boston or Aldo Nova (or The Cars!), where the compressed, midrange-heavy mix would sound good on cheap car stereos, and the absence of bass gave an airy feeling that really accentuated the pop hooks that give Torche’s music so much of its appeal. There are a million heavy bands out there cranking out tectonically heavy sludge, but very few of them have the skill to put together a set of songs like Torche. The band should have stood by their original work, because it was worth standing by.
Nobody told Torche that stoner metal’s never going to make the top 40, no matter how huge the sound, or impassioned the vocals, or tightly-wound the songwriting. This is metal geared for AM radios and huge arena crowds, and I can only hope they pull it off, although I already know in my heart they won’t. They’re neither troubled nor insincere enough to go huge with today’s audiences.
There is absolutely no flab to any of In Return’s 7 short songs, and while there’s nothing as instantaneously perfect as “Erase” from their debut album, with its amazing and perfectly placed string-bombs (I swear, that song makes me feel like a kid again), Torche finally appear to have gotten a grasp on their sound, and this is as pure and clean a pop-metal EP as I’ve ever heard. The music is as immaculate and gorgeous as the packaging.
In the spirit of scientific inquiry, I had to investigate one of Andee’s claims, and after a quick experiment I can confirm that playing the vinyl for In Return at 45 does bring into existence something that sounds remarkably like a mutant, grind-punk version of Queen. The solos, in particular, become totally face-melting, but somehow the doomier parts still sound pretty heavy. Curious.
Man, it’s awesome being able to listen to the sound of a hippo emerging from a river any time I want. Field recordings are great precisely because they don’t have any kind of premeditated structure or narrative, they just are, yet nature still coughs up all manner of beautiful and bizarre sounds.
I’m only hearing it for the first time, so I can’t really comment on the recording yet, but the notes and exhibition catalog for John Duncan’s soundscape for Paolo Parisi’s “Conservatory” installation is very pretty, and has the kind of measured curatorial insight that European art seems to attract by default and that are so very, very rare in the United States. I wish I could have visited the installation.
I made an offhanded comparison yesterday between A Sunny Day in Glasgow and All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavors, as if it were a ready point of reference that would have you, my reader, going, “Oh, of course! Them!”
I do this. I no longer feel comfortable making assumptions about what random people on the internet will or won’t know about the musicians I mention, offhandedly or otherwise. Sometimes this will lose people, but allmusic.com is only a click away, after all. Or the Google, which will send you to ANLLF’s Epitonic page, which is, in fact, how I originally discovered All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavors back around 2000.
But as a result of that mention, I had to ask myself if there was a basis to that comparison, or whether I was going on some tentative, decayed memories, so I tossed the three full-lengths released by All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavors (All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavors, Turning Into Small and Flat Blue Line) onto my iPod for review.
If anything, I’d forgotten how immediate they are. Or how much they do owe to 1993 (Stereolab, the Lilys, all the other bands that tried to sound like My Bloody Valentine but failed). Or just how precociously creative a record Turning Into Small is, and what a departure it is from their debut. Turning Into Small and about half of Straight Blue Line (which is a compilation of singles and compilation tracks) exhibit a prickly, restless intelligence that manifests itself in funny and surprising ways (G-funk synth lines! Dynamics that fake out the listener!), and was what I was thinking of when discussing A Sunny Day in Glasgow, who do the same thing more nimbly.
There’s also a density to the sound that prefigures ANLLF’s connection to heavy-as-frozen-tar hip-hop auteurs Dälek. Oktopus, Dälek’s beatmaker, composer and producer, was also the engineer for All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavor’s albums, and it’s clear that there’s a continuity of sound between both groups, which is interesting because superficially they sound nothing alike. It’s the density of sound and intelligent restlessness in both groups’ work that they share in common.
Stuck in my head this morning: “Matilda Mother” by The Pink Floyd. The way the song begins, with a gentle organ fade-in and a slow build into song-ness, is a lot like the process of waking up. Of course, the song is also full of half-submerged mommy issues, so take from that what you will.
Speaking of The Pink Floyd and The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, the remastered 40th anniversary re-release of that album has been out for a while, in a couple of different editions. There’s a 2-CD version with both the stereo and mono mixes of the album, and a 3-CD deluxe hyper über version that appends a disc of semi-rarities, as well as a bulky clothbound book-like package that contains excerpts from one of Syd Barrett’s notebooks. The logic of all this is suspect; there have got to be far more people interested in unreleased material from Barrett-era Floyd than there are audio geeks who want to compare the two mixdowns, and the rarities themselves could stand to be more rare. If you’re inclined to pick one or the other up, get the three-disc version; the packaging is fairly gratuitous, but you also get “Arnold Layne” and the original, much weirder version of “Matilda Mother”, which had to be withdrawn because it *cough* stole its lyrics from a children’s poem by Hilaire Belloc.
Black metal is a style that lends itself to easy mockery; as Cosmo argues, even in its supposedly hypermasculinist misanthropy, it has a curiously overwrought emotionalism that suggests traditional notions of feminine hysteria:
I would argue that black metal is metal’s feminine side…and that it was a subconscious response to the hypermasculinity of the previous dominant paradigm, death metal. The first time I heard black metal, I thought I was hearing witches. Perhaps there’s some gender play at work, too, what with all the makeup and anorexic physiques…
For a long time, it was this combination of epic, minor-key romanticism with overwrought, screeched vocals that kept black metal at the fringes of the metal scene. Even after being embraced by the metal mainstream, black metal (especially of the more witchy, Cradle of Filth or Emperor variety) is often the butt of jokes. (One of black metal’s saving graces is that it trades the stereotypical misogyny of heavy metal for a more totalized misanthropy – nobody will escape the blackened apocalypse. Pity about the rampant homophobia, though – which in the end just buttresses Cosmo’s point.)
On Defective Epitaph, Xasthur demand to be taken seriously. Malefic puts everything on the same level when he mixes, with so many layers of distortion and reverb and other sonic chowder juxtaposed that the result is smeared across the soundstage like a heavy, greasy paste. This obscures the complex composition style he favors, which trades the easy minor-key “evil” chord changes featured by most of the more epic black metal bands for something more atonal and nuanced – which the untuned guitars, muffled percussion, deliberately overdriven recording and lo-fi mixing neatly conceal. Xasthur have turned the stumbling, inadvertent incompetence of old black metal demos into a consciously developed aesthetic of considerable power.
The effect of this on careful listeners is immediate and powerful; Defective Epitaph evokes a hypertrophically dismal landscape that is cartoonish in its twisted bleakness but exceeds caricature. The sound is relentlessly, tangibly industrial, a forced march through a broken-down old nightmare factory, and in context the harsh grating of the distorted vocals is completely dehumanizing. Some metal aspires to be pagan, or Teutonic, or outright Satanic. Defective Epitaph is beyond that; it evokes the complete negation of life itself. It turns hundreds of years of musical development against itself, and in its dissonance produces a work that is powerfully evocative despite its monumental ugliness.
When I was reading Billboard’s article about recent wrangling over publishing deals and digital streaming (an arcane bit of legal business that is far more complicated than it is interesting, unless this stuff is your day job, like it is mine), I also noticed another story about ADA – the Alternative Distribution Alliance – purchasing quasi-independent online record store turned quasi-independent download store Insound (here’s a Tiny Mixtapes summary of the subscription-only Billboard story). The ironies compound faster than I can explain them (starting with ADA’s very name), but the aspect of this deal I bring to your attention is the way the line between label, distributor and store is growing more scribbly and smudged by the day. Amoeba Music recently started its own label. Aquarius (last mention of them today, I promise) basically is a distributor, given the number of things it sells that are so scarce and self-released that they basically don’t exist (not to mention how much of their stock they get through direct deals with various tiny-label owners).
“Independent” distributors (almost all of whom are now owned by the four major labels) still play a vital – and largely unseen – role in mainstream music distribution. They’re how much-hyped indie bands like, say, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah or Wooden Shjips have any chance of getting into Best Buy or Amazon, which is where most people buy their music today. It’ll be interesting to see how they decide to move into the digital sales business themselves, and how that will affect the ever-shifting balance of power between the labels, Apple, subscription music services, and retailers.