Courtesy of Joel Johnson, I found out that Paul Robertson has a new animation out. It’s a hearty 320MiB AVI file (I recommend downloading it via BitTorrent) and is a worthy sequel (this time in color) to Robertson’s indescribable masterpiece Pirate Baby Cabana Battle Street Fight 2006. To describe both videos as unholy apocalyptic freakouts is to do them inadequate justice; anyone who ever played Dodonpachi or Metal Slug X and felt that the boss battles just weren’t ridiculous enough needs to give this a look. It really makes former brainbursters like the Emergency Broadcast Network and Tetsuo: The Iron Man look tame. Impossibly dense seas of pixelated pop trash iconography flit by on torrents of blood at 30 hallucinatory, psychedelic frames per second; Paul is quite possibly the most skilled artist of Generation x-chan.
Integral to Robertson’s complex eschatological imagery is the soundtrack, both to Pirate Baby and (especially) to Kings of Power 4 Billion %, and fittingly enough, Robertson gives full credit to the soundtrack’s creator, Cornel Wilczek. Wilczek really goes balls-out on this one, producing disjointed industrial prog-metal electronica that wanders between amped up Clark and something like a more traditionally death metal version of Meshuggah. The guitars are a little rudimentary, but occasionally reach for a sort of Robert Fripp lunacy that, combined with the rest of the swampy, dense electronic mix and the eyeball-searing, brain-violating visuals creates a pure gestalt, a solid block of crushed and compacted pop culture that requires time, attention, and no predisposition towards epilepsy to decode.
Wilczek and Robertson are a natural team, and for a case study that is slanted more towards the Wilczek side of things, check out Devil Eyes. Left to his own devices, Wilczek has a much more pastoral folktronic sound, equally reminiscent of the aforementioned Clark and Dwayne Sodahberk’s second, superior album. Combined with Robertson’s sterile, disturbing vision of supercute zombies filtered through Alien Syndrome, the work as a whole strikes me as deeply melancholic and curiously affecting. There is no subject in these videos, only objects, and it strikes me that Robertson incidentally accomplishes what eluded Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick in AI (a movie that would itself work much better without dialogue): an evocation of a world where only our toys survive to carry out a degenerate pantomime of conscious existence.
(On a tangential note, for another, very different example of someone using gamer and anime culture to produce deeply personal pixel art, check out Jennifer Diane Reitz’s Unicorn Jelly. Almost nobody takes me seriously when I make this recommendation, but if you can get past the somewhat slow and obtuse beginning, you’re in for a novelistic experience of incomparable metaphysical depth. It’s very user-unfriendly, but it genuinely changed me, which is more than I can say for almost any other webcomic.)
Stuck in my head this morning: two things, actually. At first it was Severed Heads’ “Kittenette” (from Op 2.0), with one of the winding, sinuous melodies Severed Heads have specialized in since Rotund for Success. It’s delicate and fey and I like it a lot.
Of course, by the time I made it to the shower, Turisas’s “Battle Metal” (from the album of the same name) had rambunctiously elbowed its way into my frontal lobes, and there it remained for the rest of the day. Turisas make cheesy, self-consciously epic Viking metal – it is utterly bereft of any awareness whatsoever of irony, and I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that’s desirable or not. I could have handled something a little less generic sounding, myself.
Sometimes the nicest surprises are the ones that come attached to no expectations. Every so often I’ll throw something on my iPod just because it looks sort of intriguing and end up liking it a lot more than I would with music I’ve been looking forward to a lot longer. Such is the case with Swallow the Sun and their engaging and thoroughly enjoyable Hope. They’re a metal band who have been around for a while, apparently (for as much as I love metal, you could write a couple fat encyclopedias about what I don’t know), and they have a varied sound that draws from death metal, doom metal, hardcore, and the increasingly ill-defined “metalcore” / “post-hardcore” continuum. They remind me a lot of the Ocean collective, in that they move between clean, gruff and shouted vocals as best suits the mood of the music, they know how to move between loud and soft parts of a song with actual dynamics, and they have a nice balance between melody, low-end chug and more prog notions of extended composition and weird sounds. They’re maybe not as ambitious as The Ocean, but I don’t get the sense they’re trying to be.
If you’ve ever heard a doom metal or death metal record, there’s nothing really surprising here, and folks looking for especially raw or harsh sounds should probably look elsewhere. In the unhurried way in which they play their songs and the confidence with which they do so, they remind me of Opeth, without succumbing to Opeth’s sometimes over-precious songwriting (but also without Opeth’s sometimes stunning grasp of structure). The only thing really unusual about them is their easy confidence and the grace with which they put their compositions together, but that’s a pretty big deal in my world. It’s often a goal but rarely realized. I’m going to have to seek out more of their work.
Clark’s Turning Dragon is a vast, immediate, atonal monster of a techno record. The first half, in particular, is probably the finest half-hour of hard techno released since Surgeon’s Klonk. The album starts out with a short field-recorded ambient intro, and then warps (ha!) itself through a series of thudding hard techno rhythm loops, oversaturated noise-ambient interludes, diced R&B and disco samples splattered all over the mix, and Clark’s instantly recognizable downcast melodies, all fused into a seamless whole. Things calm down in the second half, but it’s still heavily beat-driven. The net effect is like moving between rooms at a very large, very loud and very postmodern warehouse rave, and it seems to me that this was the effect that Clark was looking for.
Chris Clark spent a bunch of time on tour after he put out his last full-length album, Body Riddle – his first under the shortened name of Clark – and it shows. Turning Dragon, for all its excess and outsized energy, is a concise and taut record that has obviously been refined by exposure to the dancefloor. There are parts of Central and Eastern Europe where the kids still want dance music to make the obvious dancefloor gestures – prominent kick drums, reverb, stabbing synths, meandering acid lines, everything compressed to hell and gone – so it’s not so surprising that Clark came back from a European tour sounding more like Chris Liebing or Umek than his beardy labelmates at Warp.
Something similar happened to fellow Warp alumnus Speedy J a few years ago (to which I alluded in my previous hyping of “Volcan Veins”, which is still my favorite track on the album), but Speedy J got so wrapped up in making an album that perfectly mimicked the “schranz” style Liebing made popular that he ditched most of the elements that made Speedy J sound like Speedy J. Clark doesn’t repeat that mistake – there is no point on this album that is not obviously Clark music. The combination of his sharp ear for atmosphere and the telling detail with straight-up techno and electro rhythms makes for a stunning, deep album. And techno albums that work as coherent wholes, rather than collections of tracks, are precious because they are rare. Only time will tell if this stands up to my personal choice of high-water marks, Surgeon’s Force+Form, but it’s off to a good start.
So I was listening to The Smiths and reading allmusic.com, as I do, so I could maybe put together a few of the pieces of how the combination of John Mahar and Stephen Morrissey got to be just so potent. allmusic.com mentioned the controversy surrounding The Smiths' "Reel Around the Fountain", and I was all, "is that the same song as 'Virginia Reel Around the Fountain'?", which sent me rooting through my collection (man, is it nice having all my CDs ripped) so I could remember that no, "Virginia Reel Around the Fountain" is a Halo Benders song that Doug Martsch included on the Built to Spill live album.
But then I was trying to remember what the other covers were on that album, so I had to pull it up. I had this vague memory that they'd covered a song by The Rock*A*Teens, which they hadn't (there's just a really boring-ass cover of a Lee Perry song and a largely gratuitous version of Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer" with some fabulously wanky guitar soloing), but after all that I just had to hear The Rock*A*Teens' "Hwy R" – from the Matador 15-year retrospective, Old Enough To Know Better – three or four times. It's a thunderous, fuzz-drenched 6/8 epic with lyrics that remind me of nothing so much as Sparklehorse in a particularly generous frame of mind, with maybe a tinge of Archers of Loaf (oddly enough, all these bands are from southeastern states). I could listen to it all day.
That reminded me that I'd been meaning to check out other stuff by The Rock*A*Teens, so I headed over to Rhapsody, and lo and behold, we have a whole bunch of Rock*A*Teens. I found the album that "Hwy R" was taken from, and I clicked on "Hwy R" to see if it was the same version. It was a totally different song. Weird. This stuff happens on Rhapsody a lot, though. There's a lot that can go wrong between a song is recorded and when it's ready to be heard on Rhapsody.
Some futzing around with the other tracks on the album
revealed that the song I've loved for the last 3 years was actually called "It's Destiny", which is a more fitting title for it anyway, and that somebody at Matador got confused when they were putting together the compilation [nuh-uh, see below]. And just in case you were wondering: man, the Rock*A*Teens sure are talented at that style of echoing, layered avant garage. Awesome! Must hear more!
I end up going on one of these insane tangents two or three times a week. Get used to it.
UPDATE: Further research on allmusic.com indicates that the song is, in fact, "Hwy R"! I always forget they have song samples on their album pages. Great. Now I have to remember how to get someone to fix the album on Rhapsody.