Heavy metal satire


An open letter to DragonForce:

As the most outlandish example of everything-to-excess metal, DragonForce simply has to be intended as parody, in which case it’s absolute genius; rarely does a lampoon simultaneously become the champion of that which it mocks.

I am almost famous.

Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan - Sunday At Devil Dirt

I have a review of the new duo album from Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan in this week’s issue of the Village Voice yes you read that correctly the Village Voice.

Although Devil Dirt has its rewarding moments, they’re usually matters of arrangement rather than execution or personality, which means it’s more about the chemistry of boy-meets-girl than about the specific boy or girl. That’s unfortunate, because both Lanegan and Campbell have tremendous track records that might congeal brilliantly if they’d just get over themselves and stop trying to coast on the strength of the premise.

Four Tet? Nah, more like 2.5-Tet.

Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid - NYC

PopMatters has published my complaints again, this time about the new album from jazz drummer Steve Reid and techno tinkerer Kieran Hebden.

Reid’s creative phrasing and pulse games are, as always, a fascinating contrast to the rigid rhythmic grids typical of Four Tet constructions, but on NYC the pair doesn’t seem to find a happy middle ground anywhere. With Reid on tap, ready to dive in headfirst with limbs flailing and very few responsibilities, you almost have to wonder whether Hebden just found himself in over his head; the album may have been considerably more focused if Hebden had sampled Reid’s performances and woven them in as loops. But that would defeat the whole point of the project, now wouldn’t it?

Probably, but it would have also put its crucial flaw to bed. A number of Hebden’s most compelling pieces as Four Tet start with the thumping of a lone bass drum or the cautious clicking of a hi-hat sample, only building to the sort of Taurined-out pitter-patter-slosh of something like “Sun Drums and Soil” after a fairly lengthy expository period. Here, largely due to Reid’s presence—specifically, his sense of texture and Hebden’s apparent competitive desire to goad his MacBook into keeping pace from the get-go—the joy of hearing the motifs evolve is gone.

CMJ 2008


I hit the streets for CMJ with several other PopMatters writers, and we all threw up some posts every night onto the Notes From The Road blog. Mine included Vivian Girls, Dexter Romweber, Giveamanakick (pictured above, as they were the best of the bunch), Annuals, Minus The Bear, and Dragons Of Zynth.

Chris Thile, Brad Mehldau, and Barack Obama

Chris Thile

The looming election and the recent economic collapse were weighing heavy on my mind when I tried to cover an admittedly political outing by Nickel Creek mandolin player Chris Thile and pianist Brad Mehldau, and the PopMatters editors decided to save the results for publication on election day.

The stiff entry fee might overshoot by quite a bit, but the leftovers will buy you karma: Proceeds go to the Obama campaign—after all, outspending the Republicans by a factor of three has to come from somewhere. So here we are, just a few blocks from where Lehman Brothers officially launched the downfall of Western Civilization a few weeks ago, trying to rally the elites who still have hearts. The room is well under capacity, though, which is troublesome both politically and culturally.

Squarepusher’s “Just A Souvenir”

Squarepusher - Just A Souvenir

Squarepusher‘s compositional philosophies have always fascinated me, so I jumped at the chance to use them as a lens into his latest album.

Tom Jenkinson announced his new album, “Just a Souvenir,” with a long recount of a dream and/or acid trip in which he watched a seemingly conventional rock band pound out extraordinary otherworldly sounds. As a result, it’s hard not to consider a thematic connection of sorts to 1998’s thoroughly confused “Music Is Rotted One Note,” in which Jenkinson played a one-man band wearing as many jazz-fusion hats as he could find. “Rotted” was considerably more aggressive with its mission statement—samplers and drum machines were banished entirely—but the concept of the music originating with blobs of meat is still a common thread. For a guy who writes essays called “Collaborating with Machines”, this is not a trivial detail.

Nullsleep live review


Jeremiah Johnson makes lo-fi techno using video game hardware, and you’d be astonished at how competent it is.

The assumption that Johnson is mixing together sets of different video game soundtracks is a pretty common mistake. The guts of this process are actually considerably more interesting, though: Specific timbres and pitch sequences are programmed using special cartridges—some homebrew software burns on blank cartridges made with expensive proprietary writers, others imported from Europe thanks to an industrious German—and are then sent through an amplifier several hundred times larger than the carts they start on. But it’s not quite that simple—first, the signals have to pass through Johnson himself.

Eli Cook

Eli Cook

At PopMatters, a somewhat longer look at sort-of blues guitarist Eli Cook.

“Miss Blues’es Child’s” prodigy was “Don’t Ride My Pony”, a country-jangle solo blues which, halfway through, trots out the revelation that the pony in question is blind. Why, exactly? It doesn’t really advance the storyline or have any bearing on the rest of the song at all, but this is the blues, man, and what could possibly be bluesier than a blind horse? Well, a three legged dog, perhaps, but that’s about it.

Operating in a space so dominated by pitchfork-waving traditionalists, then, Cook deserves a nod of respect for trotting out a surprise of his own on the follow-up to “Miss Blues’es Child.” “ElectricHolyFireWater” channels Alice in Chains as readily as Muddy Waters, blending the century-old blues that Cook is known for with the ‘90s grunge he was raised on. It’s as though the DeLeo Blues Brothers are lamenting Scott Weiland’s hell-bent determination to sink Stone Temple Pilots with his drug habits, or perhaps it was Tom Morello rather than Robert Johnson who made that deal with Satan.

Bord out of my mind


The original version of this article was over-the-top obnoxious to the point of absolute hilarity. Er, much like the band in question. So much so, in fact, that the editors toned it down, which is kind of a shame.

Oh well. I guess I’ll just have to wait for the (hed) p.e. comeback tour.

“Outside” still generated the most enthusiastic cheers from the crowd, which says something for a band that has been through a fair number of albums and singles (and probably a midlife crisis or two) since their breakout hit almost ten years ago. I wanted to shout out “I’m feelin’ those lighters, y’all” like Fred Durst did on the 1999 original from the Family Values tour live album, but ultimately opted not to risk a beat-down—the room was seething with spiky-haired dudes who probably fancied themselves metalheads.

Aesop Rock

Aesop Rock

Long Island’s finest verbal nerd helps the fantastic McCarren Park Pool Parties wind down. Sadly, I only made it out there this once.

“This is one of the best days of my career right here,” Aesop says as the turntable belts start to cool. Musicians are generally full of shit, and usually they’re lying when they say things like that in Cleveland, but here I’m inclined to buy it: I can’t remember the last time I was at a show that transcended its circumstances like this.

Rain on yo’ head

Radiohead bear

Mehan Jayasuriya and I wrote a fairly long article together about our experiences at a Radiohead concert a while back. (Spoiler: it was a total disaster for him). I’m particularly pleased with this one because it breaks away from the usual format of concert reviews.

If the first few songs from “Kid A” left you wondering where the hell the guitars were, “Idioteque” was the moment where you finally had to face the dawning realization that they weren’t ever going to show up. As such, it’s the focal point of all those modernist adjectives that everyone insists on lobbing at Radiohead’s electronic incarnation: “post-apocalyptic” and “angst-ridding futurism” and so on. It is also, by a mile, the highlight of the night. Phil Selway cedes control of the tempo to metronomic pitch glitches, their intertwined phrasing creating a cyborg drummer as Johnny Greenwood’s latest and greatest effects pad concoctions slosh over everything else. The stage lights up with grids that change on every beat like a Tetris game with no discernible rules, but the graph paper is drunk, the squares instead turning into trapezoids and rhomboids. If there’s a macro-level point to this band, it’s ensuring that the future will have a pulse.

British Sea Power

British Sea Power

On British Sea Power via PopMatters:

At times, touring violinist Abi Fry draws out long, languid notes that connect each palm mute to the next. Or at least, that’s what I think she’d be doing if she weren’t totally drowned out by the guitars. When she wraps herself around the intricate finger-picking figures, it’s absolutely gorgeous. It also happens only once all night.

Gentle guitar crunches layered over one another only go so far, you see, and half the songs come across as excellent instrumental beds that don’t really put anything of value up front. Neither of the Wilkinson brothers is a particularly strong singer, so the band’s strongest moments come about when a trumpet meanders through or when Fry starts digging in. “No Lucifer” has the best drum work of the night, with drummer Matthew Wood expertly rumbling his way across the toms in what seem to be perpetual fills, each thud impeccably timed. Unfortunately, it all gets buried under the damn guitars again. There are three keyboards on stage, but I can’t promise that any of them are actually plugged in.

Sound Affects

Sound Affects

I’m now occasionally contributing to a new PopMatters mp3 blog called Sound Affects. Check it out if you are getting tired of the whole dancing about architecture situation — given that pictures are worth a thousand words and all, songs must be worth a cool million, and I get to actually post mp3s there.

Thankfully, these posts are automatically aggregated by my author archive.

Nine Inches

Nine Inch Nails - The Slip

My most recent PopMatters assignment was a review of The Slip, the second major digital release of 2008 from Nine Inch Nails.

“The Slip” is a curveball of a release that whips around and still solidly connects with the temple. Even the most devoted Nine Inch Nails fan couldn’t possibly have seen this coming less than two months after “Ghosts,” and Reznor is the first high-profile musician to demonstrate that being best buds with the internet, even to the point of giving away major releases, actually facilitates continued creativity. If “Ghosts” illustrated the ways in which technology can shorten the distance between the studio and the hungry ears, the moral of “The Slip” is that jettisoning the red tape and bullshit shortens the distance between one project and the next. It’s not just a step forward artistically, it’s a triumph of logistics.

Blue Man Group live review

Blue Man Group

My latest bit at PopMatters is a review of a recent performance by Blue Man Group. They have also introduced cool new author pages where you can see all my articles at a glace.

They’re surprisingly dark, and I hear Tracy Bonham’s lyrics anew thanks to touring singer Adrian Hartley’s ability to straddle exuberance and downright creepiness. “Persona” starts with everyone wearing gas masks, finally removing them only to reveal others beneath; “Shadows, Part 2” shows the protagonist repeatedly devolving into a generic stick figure as she wanders around the city, dwarfed by intimidating skyscrapers. All the while, I’m racking my brain trying to connect the dots and come to some grand conclusion about the message they’re trying to send about emotional isolation and modern technology, but it’s hard to stay reflective when the guys on stage are squirting toothpaste at one another and barfing up marshmallows on some poor girl’s head.

Kaki King album review

Kaki King - Dreaming Of Revenge

PopMatters has my review of Kaki King‘s newest album.

In trying so desperately to diversify her artistic portfolio, King may be growing up too quickly, like a pre-teen wearing shorts with “JUICY” printed across the ass. Along the way, she might end up robbing her undiscovered audiences of the chance to watch her evolve—and worse yet, robbing herself of the chance to do it a little more naturally. Every record thus far has contained a handful of songs demonstrating her continued development as a composer, and more often than not, they’re the ones where she just cuts loose like she did five years ago, not those in which she makes a deliberate grab for some contrived new musical hat.

Monkeyclaus store

Monkeyclaus Blue Monkey

A beta version of the Monkeyclaus online music store is now open for business. Check it out — there’s tons of cool music that you won’t find anywhere else, and I had a hand in setting up some of the back-end audio functionality.