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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After spending the week wrestling with my own bad conscience, trying to decide just how accountable to hold myself for the music I own by murderers, anti-Semites, neo-Nazis, and other sorts of people with whom I do not hold, it’s something of a blessing to listen to something I can wholeheartedly support: the most recent Ministry record is loud, it is pissed, and it is pissed for all the right reasons. We are tangled in the thresher of a very stupid war, we are governed by mendacious, authoritarian idiots who have committed very real crimes against whatever morality we collectively share, and our society is beset by corruption – corporate, environmental, moral – on all sides. Al Jourgenson belts out all these sentiments and more with the same cartoony hard-edged clarity that has always been Ministry’s stock in trade.
The Last Sucker is a very fine Ministry album on its own merits, being at least as good as Psalm 69, and having one or two songs that are far better than anything on that album. Somewhere along the line Ministry transformed from an arty industrial techno parody of thrash metal into the real thing, and on this album they can stand toe to toe with Strapping Young Lad – the band who, in my opinion, took the latent promise of Burning Inside and converted it into something powerful and real, in much the same way that the Pinocchio at the end of the tale is more real than the puppet at the beginning. It’s not real subtle, but isn’t that the point?
I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that Ministry is a product of Clan Bush. Ministry’s finest albums (
StigmataThe Land of Rape and Honey and Burning InsideThe Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste, of course) were a product of Bush I, and during the Clinton years, Jourgenson – and Ministry – sunk into a torpor that has only lifted in the last couple years of Bush II’s seemingly endless reign. There have been tons of distractions in Jourgenson’s life (smack, booze, swingin’ dick contests with ex-bandmates and miscellaneous others), but I have this pet theory that he takes the Bushes personally, and that’s what reignited his fire. They’ve fucked up his country, they’ve fucked up the world, and – most importantly – they’ve fucked up the reputation of Texas, and that shit will not stand.
Looked at in that light, it makes sense that Jourgenson claims The Last Sucker will be the final Ministry album. This time next year, the Texans will have left the White House (at least until the Jenna / Barb ticket in 2024), and the United States will in all likelihood have an entirely different set of problems to confront. Jourgenson’s bête noir will have retired to the ranch, obdurate in his refusal to take any responsibility for the wholesale fuckup that was the 43rd Presidency. In my mind I see Jourgenson with a bottle of Jägermeister in one hand, watching the George W Bush Library burn to the ground as the tears stream down his face, having come as close as he dares to facing down his own Colonel Kurtz at last.