“The Long, Bloody Road To Hell”
This was back during a time when I was dealing with frenetic hand-drumming married to near-chaotic thumb piano lines. Early 2004, I think. A collection of increasingly ominous historical quotes from a variety of figures that ends with Rodney King’s sobbing plea to stop making it horrible for the old folks, and the kids.
Don’t forget to stop by the books page here to check out some fiction which you can use to subsidize my existence.
“The Function Across The Street”
I was once, back when GarageBand.com was still a thing, referred to as the illegitimate son of Herbie Hancock. I don’t think it was for this song, but then again it might have been. Lord knows it has a zippy, jazzy feel to it. The “function” across the “street” referred to the twin bars across from where I was living in Brantford, ON at the time; one had a sort of half-assed tiki bar theme going on and the other, right next door, didn’t, but both were quite busy on the weekends.
Feel free to check out some books: today’s featured titles include Disappearance, only 99 cents, which if you enjoy the action bits in books and you like apocalypse fiction you’ll enjoy; What You See Is What You Get, which manages to combine the specter of ag-gag laws with criminal trials that look more like reality TV than anything else; and 9th Street Blues, about a kid delivering cobbled-together drugs in the near future ruins of Woodward, OK (and is also the jumping-off point for my new serial novel, coming soon from ATM Publishing).
“That Great Backbone In The Sky”
Has anyone bought Soundcloud yet? There’s 47 days of cash left. Surely it can be monetized somehow, right? Anyway, here’s another track I’ve uploaded for free with no financial obligation on my part toward Soundcloud.
This one is an instrumental, sort of electro-jazzish, named because the illustrious ludoligist Mark Pifher thought that a later lead synth in the piece sounded like I’d sampled the connection tone from a dial-up modem. Don’t let that scare you off – it’s not quite as bone-chillingly irritating as the lead lines on liars’ “There’s Always Room On The Broom”. It’s basically a melodic interplay of a number of synth voices with a chopped-up break holding the rhythm underneath. It’s a pretty tight track, all in all, even if it’s not mastered to perfection. DIY baby, punk rock forever.
The Mothers Of Invention – Absolutely Free
Released May 26th, 1967 on Verve Records
Of the first three Mothers Of Invention albums, Absolutely Free tends to be the forgotten middle child, stuck between the white-hot innovations of Freak Out! and the balls-out satire of We’re Only In It For The Money. It’s a little more free-wheeling than either (if you want to split hairs) and lacks the conceptual focus that either of it’s flanking albums have. What Absolutely Free does have, however, is internal cohesion. It’s an album made up of two mini-suites, with call-backs to themes throughout. Musically it’s an early Frank Zappa album, meaning that it’s continuously balancing on the edge of free-form jazz, skipping from idea to idea with the impetuousness of the creatively uninhibited. There are references to Stravinsky and Holst; there are callbacks to previous soundtrack work Zappa had done; there is an admonishment to eat one’s vegetables because they’re good for you. “America Drinks” and “America Drinks and Goes Home”, the bookend tracks of side two, are tongue-in-cheek references to Zappa’s days playing lounge music; “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It” paid homage to President Johnson’s fashion faux pas of the day, matching brown shoes to a grey suit. The most impressive part of the album is the opening, where Zappa goes fifty years forward in time to find a President Of The United States who can only communicate by bleating the main riff to “Louie Louie” in a cracked, off-key voice. NATO heads of state can probably relate.
Special Friday Edition!
Friday is the day on /r/music where the mods like to turn off the ability to post YouTube videos in the hopes of the subreddit actually becoming one for music discussion and not, say, where Reddit likes to dump it’s garbage fire taste in music. Ha. Ha ha. Well, they try, that’s the important thing.
If you tuned in yesterday, you’ll get the basic gist: I take a look at the top ten songs posted on /r/music in the last 24 hours and tell you how terrible Reddit’s taste in music is. In much rarer occasions, I’ll tell you where they get it right. Fridays will be fun because of the phenomenon mentioned above: it’s going to be a collection of those songs with the staying power to make it through the discussion posts.
Also, for the record, no I don’t plan on this being an everyday thing, but I would like it to be an everyday I can manage it thing.
June 2nd, 2016 (12:30 PM) to June 3rd, 2016 (12:30 PM)
#1: Mr. Bungle – “Air Conditioned Nightmare”
Reddit manages to kick it off with something weird and cool, courtesy of Mike “Weird and Cool” Patton. Goes through four different changes in tone and structure, each completely different than the one before. In anyone else’s hands, it would be a gigantic mess, but Mike Patton isn’t anyone else.
#2: Dinosaur Jr. – “Feel The Pain”
Sirius XMU’s favourite Dinosaur, Jr track is also Reddit’s most commonly posted DJ song. Thankfully it never gets old, although I’ve heard it three times today between the radio and this particular set. Two good tracks in a row, Reddit, maybe Fridays are your thing.
#3: Beck – “Wow”
Ah, the new Beck track. The one that starts off like a generic hip hop beat, or maybe something like what Beyonce might have rejected for her self-titled 2013 album. Then Beck manages to bull through it in a display of sheer Beck-ness. Still, it feels a little empty and it’s not until 2/3 of the way through that Beck lets his freak flag fly in even a limited fashion. Honestly it feels a little like Beck chasing a hit and I’m not sure how I feel about that. Holding out opinions for the album, we’ll see.
#4: The Cult – “Love Removal Machine”
The Cult were an Eighties goth band that scored some hits when they decided to be an AC/DC tribute band instead. My mom knew the lead singer in high school at one point, to no one’s surprise he was a dick. Trust Reddit to go ga-ga for generic hard rock because “it has guitars”.
#5: A Day To Remember – “Bad Vibrations”
Why do metalcore bands have such fucking awful band names? Why do metalcore bands all recycle the same damn low-end chugging? Why do metalcore bands mistake sung choruses for depth? Why do metalcore bands insist on breakdowns that are cheesier than a Wisconsin hamburger?
Anyway, you can always tell when the pre-teens are posting, because there will be metalcore.
#6: The Monkees – “Birth Of An Accidental Hipster”
Okay, show of hands. Who was crying out for a Monkees comeback? Anyone? Put your hand down, dad, Jesus Christ. Wait, this is actually sort of good. I…I kind of like this. Noel Gallagher co-wrote it? I suppose that explains some things.
#7: Portugal. The Man – “Plastic Soldiers”
Who gave the indie kids access to the internet? They managed to find a Portugal. The Man track that isn’t all that great. It’s about as middling a work as you can find from a middling also-ran indie act. You thought you were doing something good, but instead you fucked it all up. Good work, Reddit.
#8: Soundgarden – “Rusty Cage”
The rest of the post title literally reads: “I know this has been posted before, but not for months & I think it’s well worth posting again.” Oh, well, I guess that makes sense except wait IT WAS LITERALLY POSTED YESTERDAY AS THE JOHNNY CASH COVER.
Who are you trying to fool, anyway? We all know where the inspiration to post this came from.
Decent tune though.
#9: Link Wray – “Rumble”
Link Wray poked a hole in his speaker cone with a pencil and invented hard rock single-handed. That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. Reddit of course knows it from its multiple pop cultural appearances, including Tarantino. At least it’s better than just posting the songs from Guitar Hero .
#10: Joywave – “Nice House”
Lyrics are the only really halfway interesting part of this song, the rest is a really generic and straightforward electro-pop song, like what Hot Chip would write if they got really, really boring all of a sudden. The outro is rather nice though.
TODAY’S AVERAGE: B- (Not bad, Reddit!)
And now for a new sequence, brought to you by the…ahem…”tastemakers” of Reddit’s infamously awful /r/music community.
It’s often said that Reddit has shitty taste in music. Granted it’s usually 4chan’s /mu/ community saying that, but let’s be serious here. Whether it’s the constant love of Queen and Foo Fighters that makes me roll my eyes or the circlejerking over how superior they are because of their love of Tool, /r/music is a bottomfeeder in terms of music communities.
Or is it? I’ve decided to start an ongoing series where I listen to the top ten songs posted to /r/music in a 24 hour period and assign them completely subjective ratings based on my own insane whims and thought processes. Then we’ll see if /r/music’s taste actually sucks as badly as I’ve always thought.
Without further ado, I give to you:
June 1st, 2016 (12:30 PM) to June 2nd, 2016 (12:30 PM)
#1: Rancid – “Ruby Soho”
The most poppy and milquetoast of all of the Clash-rip-off’s poppy and milquetoast songs. /r/music loves punk rock, but only if it’s from Le Nineties and it’s been beaten to death on the radio since then.
#2: The Avalanches – “Frankie Sinatra”
The first time since 2001 that Australian sample-stackers The Avalanches release new music AND it’s fucking stellar? You win this time Reddit. You win this time.
#3: Dethklok – “I Ejaculate Fire”
I’d say something snarky about how the only way metal gets to the top of Reddit is in cartoon form but I can’t hate on Dethklok. This isn’t completely dildos.
#4: Johnny Cash – “Rusty Cage”
The best that can be said of this is that at least Reddit took a break from jerking off over “Hurt”. At least with “Rusty Cage” I don’t have to read about how “REZNOR TOTALLY SAID THAT SONG BELONGED TO JOHNNY CASH NOW BECAUSE THE COVER WAS SO MUCH BETTER!!1!11!”. In fact, one of the top comments is the exact opposite. Thank you, Jesus.
#5: The Distillers – “The Young Crazed Peeling”
Man it has been a long time since I thought of Brody and The Distillers. It still sounds like Courtney Love fronting Rancid to me, and as the years have gone by that prospect appeals to me exponentially less. Also, those fucking spikes. Jesus Brody, how much money did you shell out to get that look down just right? How punk rock of you.
#6: Huey Lewis And The News – “If This Is It”
Jesus Christ Reddit, Bret Easton Ellis was being ironic. What the hell is wrong with you?
#7: Lagwagon – “Island Of Shame”
Apparently it’s awful pop punk day on Reddit. Lagwagon was that band that was there for you if Pennywise was too edgy for you. Completely indistinguishable from anything else on Epitaph in the mid-90s.
#8: Grand Funk Railroad – “I’m Your Captain (Closer To Home)”
GFR got a lot of hate back in the day from critics because, well, they’re not really that good on average. Still, they were capable of moments of brilliance, and “I’m Your Captain” is one of those. For more on Grand Funk Railroad, consult your local library.
#9: Men At Work – “Down Under”
Goofy Eighties pop rock from the Gowan of Australia. I often wonder who posts these sorts of songs. Kids nostalgic for a time they never had to live through? Adults putting on rose-coloured nostalgia glasses? Mouthbreathers who listen to bland Mix FM stations at work? At least in dying you don’t have to deal with New Wave for a second time.
#10: The Justified Ancients of Mu-Mu (aka The KLF) – “It’s Grim Up North”
Reddit’s sizeable school shooter community comes through in the clutch.
TODAY’S AVERAGE: C+
M83 – Junk
Released April 8th, 2016 on Mute Records
My wife and I keep Sirius XMU, the “indie” satellite channel, on in the car pretty much all the time. One consequence of this is that, when the blogger guest DJs come on, things can get pretty random. One day, during what might have been Brooklyn Vegan’s set but was probably Gorilla Vs Bear’s, the subject of vaporwave was brought up. Sort of. Whomever it was referred to what they were playing as “weather-channel-core”, as in “the sort of music that you’d hear played over the weather channel as it flips through various local and regional forecasts.” This is pretty similar to the concept of vaporwave – where the dulcet sounds of late 80s/early 90s training video music (along with every other uncool musical movement of the era) are reconstructed into something bizarrely post-modern. Either way, it’s taking the sound of music that was never really meant to be listened to actively and ensuring that the listener has to do so.
The genre has had some limited success, mainly online. Macintosh Plus (or Vektroid, as she normally goes by) had a lot of people on /mu/ convinced with Floral Shoppe that vaporwave was their life. Saint Pepsi has bubbled around alt-indie radio and Oneohtrix Point Never celebrated his signing to venerable Warp Records with R Plus Seven, a heavily vaporwave-influenced album. Still, in a year where everything sounds like Drake (because everything on the charts has Drake on it, natch), it’s hard to imagine people grooving to adult contemporary saxophones, smooth jazz sounds, factory-preset synth voices, and those hollow, echo-laden drums that scream “cheap Eighties power ballad”. And yet, here is Junk.
Of course, if anyone was going to “go vaporwave”, it was going to be Anthony Gonzalez. His M83 project may have kicked off with a couple of hard-synth albums that appropriated the bombast of Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness for an uncertain new age, but his sound came into its own on Saturdays=Youth, the soundtrack to the dream John Hughes movie that only ever existed in your head. It was unabashedly influenced by the Eighties, to the point where the person inside you that desperately wants to be cool feels uncomfortable listening to it at times. Hurry Up We’re Dreaming followed this up with a sprawling double album of synth-rock heroics, dream pop bliss, and more of that Breakfast Club soundtrack vibe. Junk is not like that. Junk takes Gonzalez’s love of 1987 and dives in full-force. This is the smooth jazz-AOR-proto-diva-power-ballad-hybrid album that has been lurking inside of his head since forever. “Go!” has one of those searing guitar solos that used to anchor pop songs (like Eddie Van Halen’s wailing on “Beat It”); “Walkway Blues” has some texture-treated sax (or synth-sax, possibly); “Moon Crystal” is pure VHS nostalgia – an advertisement for a spa, or some other feature you’d watch on an internal hotel channel. “For The Kids” is the sappiest family movie ballad that was never released in a glut of bad straight-to-video movies, although “Atlantique Sud” comes close. “The Wizard” adds in the thin-tape of cheap commercial grade VHS sounds, like a training video that’s been watched too many times over thirty years. “Sunday Night 1987” closes out the album with exactly what the title promises, a smooth, nearly edgeless bit of calmed-down soulful balladry with those Casio-preset piano noises and reedy late-period Billy Joel saxophones.
Junk has all of the trappings of vaporwave except perhaps for its politics. The artists that originally started piecing together the disparate parts that make up the genre intended to offer a satire or critique of modern consumer culture and the disturbing habit of throwing away everything that is even the slightest bit old. It’s meant to reveal the cracks in the golden facade of capitalism by ironically remixing music that was only intended to be a backdrop to sales tools, or to cynically fill in places in art that was only ever intended to make someone along the chain some money. Does Junk fulfill this? Not particularly. It seems to function instead as an homage to Gonzalez’s youth, much as his previous two albums functioned. It uses nostalgia to make nostalgic art, rather than critique the past and future. It’s done in such a deft and seamless way, however, that I can’t really count that apolitical status as a fault. Instead, it’s a tribute to a time and a sound that most people would rather gloss over or ignore. You can see that reflected in the reaction to the album; most people don’t seem to know what to make of it, thinking that there must be some hidden ironic agenda going on that they’re not in on. The cheese is sincere, however, and celebratory.
AND THE REST…
04/08/2016 on My Animal Home Records
That Kickstarter Josh Dibb did initially to crowdfund this album? He donated most of that to charity. Kickstarter is problematic. Sleep Cycles is a good album though, one that approximates the bare essentials of his Animal Collective day job without getting into the high-flying lysergic excesses.
A Cure For Loneliness
04/08/2016 on Concord Records
The former singer for the J. Geils Band tries to pretend that thirty years of history hasn’t happened and that he can still get away with lite-rock AOR music. It’s always fun when you can guess exactly where each song is going to go from the minute it starts. Did I say fun? I mean sleep-inducing.
04/08/2016 on Universal Music
Like an actual fever dream, it goes in many strange directions and there’s very little to grasp onto once you wake up.
Future Of The Left
The Peace and Truce Of The Future Of The Left
04/08/2016 on Prescriptions Records
I just want an album that’s as rich, over-the-top, and powerful as Travels With Myself And Another. Admittedly, this comes pretty close.
04/08/2016 on Moshi Moshi Records
One of those indie albums that sounds an awful lot like all the other indie albums. Except for “Dusseldorf” and “Glory Hallelujah”, though: both of those are stellar tracks.
Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered
Released March 4th, 2016 on Top Dawg Records
It is inevitable that an album that set a benchmark as fiercely as To Pimp A Butterfly did would have a collection of b-sides and outtakes left over from its recording sessions.
It is not inevitable that such a collection will stand on its own as a great album in its own right.
Odds n sods collections rarely have the same cache that an artist’s studio work does; they lack in coherence, vary wildly in quality, and you can often tell that there’s a reason that the songs were relegated to one-offs or left on the editing room floor. untitled unmastered does not have that feeling. While it lacks the thematic coherence that K Dot’s opus of corruption and empowerment brought, it continues in the same stylistic pursuits that set that album apart. The jazz influence on untitled unmastered is even more pronounced, leading one to wonder what a fully jazzed-out (and likely Flying Lotus-backed) Kendrick Lamar would sound like. The funk isn’t ignored either, although the primal stomp that fueled magic like “King Kunta” isn’t as prevalent here. Regardless of style and coherence, the quality is top notch on each of the eight tracks. Any one of them could have fit comfortably on To Pimp A Butterfly; in the case of both 7 and 8, it’s almost criminal that they weren’t included. Given that the album was already very long, however, it’s likely that they were cut due to time considerations. Kendrick himself remarks in the liner notes that most of the tracks included here were left out because they weren’t quite finished to his standards, or because there just wasn’t space for them. While that’s a shame, the fact that they’ve achieved release at all is a testament both to Kendrick’s powers as an artist and to the ease of distribution that the internet age has wrought.
It’s telling, I feel, that Kendrick Lamar’s tossed-off album of outtakes feels far more vital and alive than a good half of Kanye’s The Life Of Pablo. The torch of hip hop tastemaker is being passed, and if Dre and The Game’s 2015 output – as well as the success of artists like Anderson .Paak – is any indication, that changeover is occurring sooner rather than later.
AND THE REST…
03/04/2016 on Shake It Records
The dream of gnarled, dense indie rock is still alive in Cincinnati, and Wussy keeps it going with punch and verve.
03/04/2016 on Sub Pop Records
Do you fondly remember such mid-00s head-nodder bands like Comets On Fire and Dead Meadow? Excellent, there are members of Comets On Fire in this project. Do you like wispy ambient folk vocals that are reminiscent of a more modern Renaissance? Perfect, Meg Baird is right up your alley. Do you like searing guitar work that marries Boris-level noise to the psychedelic flamboyance of old-school Billy Corgan? You’ve arrived. Seriously, just listen to this album, it’ll haunt you for the rest of your days.
All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend
03/11/2016 on Glassnote Entertainment Group
An eclectic collection of the darker parts of pop music that largely fails to connect emotionally. Remember the Anchoress album from January? Pretty much my exact same thoughts.
03/11/2016 on Because Music
Luneworks is a lot like having fitful dreams while sleeping. You can’t quite call them nightmares because they’re only vaguely remembered and you’re left uneasy rather than horrified.
Into It. Over It.
03/11/2016 on Triple Crown Records
Is this Death Cab For Cutie or Taking Back Sunday? Disturbingly, it sounds like equal measures.
03/11/2016 on Roadrunner Records
For a band I’ve come to increasingly dislike over the past ten years (maybe because I associate them with the regrettable rise of metalcore) their seventh album is surprisingly solid. If only we could convince them to ditch the godawful soaring melodic choruses. This is metal. Stop singing.
Post Pop Depression
03/18/2016 on Loma Vista Records
Largely inessential although still rather interesting for Iggy Pop’s vocal and songwriting debt to his late friend David Bowie. There’s more than a whiff of Berlin-era Iggy-and-Bowie here, minus the Bowie of course.
Tortoise – The Catastrophist
Released January 22nd, 2016 on Thrill Jockey Records
Once upon a time Tortoise were one of the most important bands in popular music. Let’s put scare quotes around “popular”, because let’s face it: post-rock has never, aside from brief Godspeed-induced moments, been popular. Still, arguments about popularity aside, Tortoise gave us two albums – Millions Now Living Will Never Die and TNT – that helped to shape and define the concept of post-rock as it now exists. That was nearly two decades ago, though; Tortoise circa 2016 is on the tail end of three increasingly mediocre albums, and their major conceits – creaky drum machines, jazz splashes, Krautrock rhythms and trance-inducing funk grooves – are all things that their descendants have spun into cliche. Recognizing this, perhaps, the band has chosen to widen their sound a little, to the point of adding vocals (very few vocals, of course, but something is more than nothing). Unfortunately, the overall effect is one that is too little, too late; the world has passed Tortoise by, and releasing an incrementally different album in January is not going to change that. It’s a decent enough album – stumbling wide-eyed into classic rock tropes to spruce up the surroundings as it does – but it’s not one that will be remembered by the time December rolls around.