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. More

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. More

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. More

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.


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. More

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. More

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. More

Totally unexpected Lucinda Williams train wreck

Lucinda Williams

Binge, part three: apparently disliking Lucinda is a contentious position. PopMatters now says I’m their “resident fan rankler” and even ran a counterpoint essay!

Williams somewhat redeemed herself with “Honeybee”, an unreleased song stuffed with reckless anthropomorphism that puts her quirkiness and general lack of shit-giving on the same level as Pixies frontman Black Francis. In general, though, she spent too much time fighting with her overbearing guitar players, who continued to heap blues runs upon her by the bushel, scaring off what little poignancy hadn’t already departed in a huff. More

Tim Reynolds live review

Tim Reynolds

PopMatters binge, part two: Tim Reynolds.

You’d think that the opportunity to see a master up close as he works his instrument in the raw would be a transcendental experience. With all due respect to Reynolds’ spacey wobbles and echo-laden swirls, that wasn’t really the case; he seemed to do best when he wasn’t saddled with duties of pulse, rhythm, or harmony. When he put his fingers on autopilot and let them free-associate on the fretboard, it made for a stupefying display, but his talents were ultimately wasted on rhythm guitar.


Bill Callahan live review

Bill Callahan

PopMatters binge, part one: Bill Callahan.

“Woke on a Whaleheart” was the first record he released under his own name, and, ironically enough, his return with a larger ensemble came only after dropping the band name. The logical inversion, of course, is that it can be a bit harder to see the man beneath the songs at times, but they’re still put to good use—Callahan’s songs are fattened up as much by the violin and bass as by the drum fills and counterpoint. “Cold Blooded Old Times”, in particular, is driven by biting octave dyads on a violin which, given its aggression, might as well be a distorted guitar. Eighth notes aren’t swung, they’re bludgeoned.


Concert For Virginia Tech


PopMatters seems to think this is a concert review, but I’m not so sure. Judge for yourself.

Syncopated mind games culminated during “#41”, when opener John Mayer turned up for his guest spot with staccato blues-guitar runs that answered each dotted sixteenth note in kind. In what I thought was bound to be the emotional climax of the evening, Mayer closed his solo by echoing the central sax riff, then stepped up to the mic and sang harmonies for each note, eyes wide and head shaking as if to convey his dismay at the circumstances that had brought him there. I was wrong: DMB was about to up the ante.


The B-52s bomb


PopMatters just posted my review of last month’s Charlottesville performance by the B-52’s.

Their moves were still outlandish: frontman Fred Schneider seems to have decided to split the difference between Screech and Carlton, displaying kinetics that threatened to degenerate at any moment into snorkel dancing or walking like an Egyptian. Schneider has been getting short shrift for decades, and it’s time we finally gave him his due: he is, without a doubt, the whitest rapper ever. A sort of Pat Boone for New Wave, he yaps on about shellfish with the same inept rhyme scheme your eighth-grade science teacher used when he decided that a rap would be a cool way to teach the kids about plate tectonics.


Battles live review


My review of last month’s Battles show at the Satellite Ballroom has just been published on PopMatters.

At any given moment, the three musicians might be working six instruments—including guitars, keyboards, bass, and electronics. Braxton and Williams are armed with everything from Echoplexes to Moogerfoogers, and Konopfka spends half the show down on his knees twiddling knobs on God knows what else. But at the end of the day, Stanier is the heart, and all the gadgetry is just a Rube Goldberg machine for him to destroy with his drumsticks.


It’s kind of a long story, but this was originally slated to be a Monkeyclaus article, which means I also got to do a live recording. Unfortunately, the guys later decided they don’t want us to release it. That’s too bad — the show was awesome.