Thursday, 29 July 2010

Live Review: Lightning Bolt (July 22, 2010)

I was surprised to see Lightning Bolt on the list of upcoming shows when I checked the Grog Shop's list of events one day back in the month of May. Firstly, I didn't know they were touring. Secondly, why Cleveland? I'm always surprised to see bands actually coming to my town. Sometimes, it seems so small and insignificant, and like a city devoid of fans of good music. While not everyone at the show is actually from the area, the turnout just seemed to be too many people for such a band. Since when is this kind of racket a fairly big draw? Maybe the rock I'm living under is too big, and I don't know what I'm talking about. Either way, I couldn't entirely believe that Lightning Bolt would be in Cleveland and that the crowd was as big as it was.

However, the opening bands of the night seemed to speak to the relative popularity of noisy business. Self Destruct Button kicked off the festivities, bringing the weirdness right away. I couldn't exactly put my finger on their sound, but it was pretty good. I wondered what it would sound like recorded, since it was quite peculiar, but I imagined it wouldn't work (and if the band's myspace is any indication, some improvements are in order). I truly enjoyed the band's set, as it reminded me of wacky noise punkers like Melt-Banana and Arab On Radar, but was dismayed to find that they didn't have any recordings for me to purchase (vinyl only? Is it a money thing?). Guess I just have to check them out live again.

Then we get to Clan Of The Cave Bear. I told in another review of how I feel about this band, though I feel the need to repeat myself (I did get their name wrong last time, sorry). I was entirely bored during their set. The set-up is guitar and drums (the guitarist was also in SDB), they sound almost exactly like Orthrelm, and they just can't seem to write a memorable song. I like and am accustomed to noise, lack of structure, sound experiments, etc., but what's the point if it doesn't stick? There needs to be something that grabs your attention, and a million jagged riffs without anything tying them together doesn't work. I was pleased that their set was the shortest of the night.

So, when I see a name like Megachurch, I expect the worst. Some band mocking gods and stuff, as if that's anything new? Take a hint from every metal band ever and get some new subject matter, whydontcha? And to boot, they don't sound so far off from the night's headliners. Despite all these Negative Nancyisms, I really dug Megachurch. It was kind of like Lightning Bolt with two bassists, but not so abrasive, and a heavy emphasis on sludge and groove. Their music is fun and pleasant, and the soundbites they use are actually clever and meaningful. I picked up the EP available and I'm happy to say that it captures their style and sound quite well.

I've been listening to Lightning Bolt for a long time. I kind of fell out of touch with the band on the last album, but since I knew I was going to this show, I made sure to acquaint myself with 2009's Earthly Delights. I sure was missing out last year. I was super-impressed by how interesting this batch of songs is, and naturally, psyched to hear them live. The set turned out to be a mixed bag, with me not recognizing a few of the songs (my guess is that they were Hypermagic Mountain jams, not my fave album).

2 Morro Morro Land
Nation Of Boar
Mega Ghost
Wonderful Rainbow
Dracula Mountain

I could not quite believe how the crowd reaction to this band. Why in the world was there moshing? This is not metal, or punk even. I didn't expect it. There wasn't even this much moshing when I saw Boris, or Converge! Perhaps it's a response to the intensity of the music, since you could certainly feel that. The band was ridiculously loud and they swiftly and efficiently banged out the tunes. Not much in terms of banter, or vocalizings. "Colossus," a song I was unimpressed by initially, was the highlight for me as it's true vertiginous character revealed itself in the live setting. The performance of "Dracula Mountain" felt like something I had been waiting for for years. It made my night to hear that classic tune and really reminded me of what initially made me a fan of the Bolt. The song was elongated and slowed down, which extended the experience. At that moment, it just felt right to get into the pit and shove around some sweaty dudes (it smelled so foul and I was winded so quickly).

The end of the set brought on chanting for an encore, but the request was sadly not obliged. How could they have improved after the finale, anyway? Answering my own question: only if the band had shirts. I want a Lightning Bolt shirt. What's with the lack of merch, dudes? I know Fugazi never had merch, but bands could use the extra revenue. I'd gladly fork over some dough if the merch looks cool. And Brian Chippendale's album art is awesome; they could easily translate that to excellent merch. Perhaps a DIY Lightning Bolt shirt is in order, if this dire situation isn't rectified soon.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Live Review: Caribou, Toro Y Moi (June 9)

I'm posting this kinda late, the show being over a week ago, but I'm just lazy. It took me awhile to hash out my thoughts, but I finally got to it. Et Voilà:

Opening the night's festivities was Toro Y Moi, a trio from South Carolina. The band's a perfect fit to open for Caribou, as their music is in a similar vein. TYM pumped out about 6 or 7 songs with minimal stage banter, breaking for mere seconds in between their dreamy, swirling pop tunes. Some tracks were danceable and featured strong bass lines, and a few members of the crowd showed their appreciation. They were mostly well received, certainly my attention did not drift to other things. I had previewed some songs online beforehand and was underwhelmed, but the live setting injects vivaciousness and personality into the songs that sound rather limp and dreary on record.

After the sole opening act got off the stage, Caribou promptly cracked the lid on their set. The band has a reputation for putting on an interesting live show, and I was fully satisfied with my experience (frankly, 'twas the best show I've been to in a while). The most impressive part about Caribou live is how the songs, which sound so quiet and intimate on record, transform into loud, huge opuses that fill a room with sound. Indeed, Caribou becomes an electronically-enhanced psych-rock band in the live realm, rather than retain the folk-like closeness of the albums. The more dance-oriented songs from Swim practically demand to be heard on a huge sound system, and a bar/club setting delievers this perfectly. That the band seems to oscillate between being rock gods and DJs doesn't really register since all the songs are uniquely Caribou. The set flowed with few interruptions, comprised mostly of cuts from the aforementioned Swim:

Leave House
Melody Day
Found Out
She's The One

There was a one-song encore, but I didn't recognize it, being familiar with only Swim and Andorra (I did finally pick up Up In Flames, though $15 is a bit steep!)

I knew he was part of the Caribou live experience, but I was surprised to see John Schmersal, AKA the Enon dude, take on lead vocal duties for several songs. He was a perfect match for "Jamelia", bringing the necessary soul and nicely echoing Luke Lalonde's rendition on Swim. However, I felt the particular timbre of his voice was ill-suited for a delicate song like "She's The One" (but I do have a very strong opinion about this one song). His backing vocals were always a nice touch, though. Caribou's main man and (only) songwriter, Dan Snaith, was definitely the star of the show. He sang, played guitar, manned the keyboards and electonic gizmos, hopped on the drums for several songs, and even busted out a recorder.

Another much-apprciated aspect of the show was the extension of songs, particularly "Sun" (which could have gone on even longer, if you ask me). Caribou's songs often feature repetitive hypno-rhythms that allow for openness and improvisation, and the band seized the opportunity.

Crowd reaction was unabashedly positive, but it was obvious that the more pop-oriented songs were the most well-received. The audience heavily applauded "Odessa" and "Melody Day." Unfortunately, there wasn't enough dancing! I realize that many Caribou songs are not suited to dance, but with a set so heavy on Swim tunes, I really expected a lot more people to actually move. I tried, but it also happened to be very crowded.

All in all, it was a lovely evening, and I can quasi-relive it whenever I want to, as NPR's All Songs Considered has put up a recording of Caribou's set from the DC date. It's a little different, but good enough.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Live Review: Portal, Krallice, Bloody Panda (May 23, 2010)

It seems like most music is designed to get people to move in some way. Techno, house, and disco all want you to dance until you drop. Salsa is both a musical genre and a style of dance. But what of metal? It's music to bang your head to, and perhaps to push/shove/fight to. However, that is not always the case. At a recent metal show I attended, the music ellicited mostly staring. How exactly do you move when listening to Bloody Panda, Krallice, and Portal?

The first band on the bill proved the exception. Nekrofilth, a punk-ish death metal band native to Cleveland, played some straight-forward head-bangin' tunes. It was not the stuff of legends, but it put me in a good mood, with some fun riffs, misanthropic lyrics, and a quick tempo. The band didn't even introduce themselves, much less banter on the small, bar-side stage of Now That's Class. Indeed, after they finished the rapid set, someone called out "Who are you?" It would have been to their benefit to say so, as I wouldn't mind seeing them again, certainly others agree with me.

Bloody Panda, who had soundchecked earlier, got down to business on the stage in the other room of the establishment. The sound was not great and the vocals were too low, but the set mostly held my attention. Unfortunately, BP's music just doesn't appeal to me much, and during the set I was able to pin down what I don't really like about the band: the drummer. For their droney, hypnotic songs, the drumming is always too fast or wholely unnecessary. It's too complex for this slow, sludgy music. Despite my complaints about the nature of their music, the band does perform well and I wouldn't complain one bit about their enthusiam for their music.

Third of the night was the band I explicitly came to see, Krallice (see my vow to see a Mick Barr band live in an earlier post), whom I thought were the headliners. I really loved 2009's Dimensional Bleedthrough and anxiously looked forward to their set. The band put forth all their might, each member moving his hands dextrously across his instrument, but the overall sound didn't translate well. I don't know if it was the sound in the club or the nature of this particular style of music, but it didn't sound great. I had a hard time identifying the songs (I think they did "Autocthon" and "Aridity," but I'm probably way off base). The comlexity of the music, aided by clean production in its recorded form, comes off as a mess of noise in a live setting. Now, I would have prefered to hear something more like the record, but I still enjoyed the energy of the band and the spectacle of watching them pull off such complex and long compositions.

The above two bands played to a crowd of nearly motionless individuals, but things picked up a little when Australian headliners Portal took the stage. Just beforehand, a few over-eager (and probably drunk) fans were yelling in their best cookie-monster growl: "PORTAAAL!" This surprised me, as I never thought Portal was that big of a deal (in terms of popularity, not quality of music), but they certainly have a few fans on this side of the world. On a unique bill of bands, Portal win for most unique. The members donned costumes in the 80+ degree heat, the vocalist wearing a black version of a cardinal/pope-type outfit. His gestures were theatrical and exaggerated, a good match for ripping, noisy death metal. He threw up the metal claw quite often and so did the audience (I guess that's some movement). The other bands didn't sound so great in this club, but Portal's music was perfectly suited to this environment. Noisy band, less-than-stellar sound, it all worked out. I have no clue what songs they did, since I just picked up Swarth at the show.

There was some disappointment during this show, but Portal really made the evening with their theatrics and skull-pounding heaviness. I do hope that Krallice (or maybe Orthrelm??) comes back to town in a better venue sometime, somewhere with better sound.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Live Review - Converge (May 7, 2010)

I've been waiting over 5 years to see Converge live. Converge is one of my favorite bands and I've been a fan since I first pirated the song "Homewrecker" (for preview purposes, as I later purchased the album) from Jane Doe back in 2002/2003 (can't remember the exact year). The band has been churning out an interesting brand of metalcore for a long time now and throughout the last decade, they've maintained a stable line-up and released consistently excellent releases. Last year's Axe To Fall was an invigorating mix of trampling hardcore, crunchy metal, and searing rock and roll riffage. It's probably my favorite release after Jane. On the strength of Axe and the fact that I had missed Converge the last 2 or 3 times they came to Cleveland due to being away at school, my anticipation level was through the roof, and the experience lived up to my expectations.

However, the were thorns that needed to be weeded through before I got to the (black) rose. The first band of the night, Touché Amoré from Los Angeles, went on around 8:30. They played a quick set of bland hardcore, which was interesting for about 2 seconds. They did do a song about the importance of legalizing gay marriage and the frontman sported a stylish "I support same-sex marriage" shirt, so I can at least say that they spread a good message.

Next up was a local Cleveland band who's name I did not hear (I didn't hear Touché Amoré's either, I had to look them up). Apparently, they got on the bill pretty last minute. They weren't much different from TA, other than the stage banter. Their mouthpiece was asking for the score of the Cavs/Celtics game and the crowd obliged. I thought perhaps their songs were too long, in addition to just being kind of rull-of-the-mill.

I changed my location at the Grog Shop for the next band, Lewd Acts. I had previewed a few of their songs online and was only slightly amused. The live set, sans vocalist, wasn't much to behold. I liked that the band gave it their best shot and tried really hard to appeal to the crowd, even getting them on the stage during the last song, but the music really didn't do anything for me. There's only so much hardcore that is actually interesting musically and has the all-important authenticity...

Which brings me to Converge. Maybe it's just the fact that I (and the crowd) actually know their songs very well or that the C is a veteran touring band, but everything seemed to change when they took the stage. The whole room just became chaotic, matching the intensity and ferocity of the music. I certainly didn't stand in the back and quietly observe, I was near the front, being beaten and shoving everyone in my sight (I'm still sore). The set was a nice mix of all the last decade's releases, focusing mostly on the hardcore side of things, as I expected. Here's a partial setlist (what I remember of it), not in order, except the first two songs:

Dark Horse
No Heroes
Axe To Fall
Reap What You Sow
Dead Beat
Distance And Meaning
The Broken Vow
Last Light
Hanging Moon

Jake Bannon had the good sense to say the name of each song, and sometimes album, before they played it. Converge mostly swept through without too many interruptions. There was a moment when Bannon gave props to the city and the only three bands from it that are actually good (Keelhaul, Integrity, Ringworm), which I appreciated.

Black Breath played last since their merch guy had a seizure, which prevented them from making it to the city on time. I only stuck around for a few of their songs since I wasn't really in it, but BB wins the award for second best band of the night, since they injected some much-needed musicality into their brand of rockin' hardcore.

Despite the boredom I experienced from the non-Converge bands, I still had a good time, as I was finally able to see a band that I love so much. I did walk away from the show with nasty, smelly beer in my hair, but it hardly detracted from my enjoyment.

A final note about the crowd: I did expect a mostly hardcore crowd, but was still a bit surprised by just how overwhelmingly hardcore-oriented the crowd was. I've always considered Converge to be a band that brings different types of fans together, but this night seemed to disprove my impression. And I also postulated that there would be more females, since I have some weird idea in my head that women like metallic hardcore music (especially among female metal fans), but I suppose that's also untrue. I didn't feel out of place in the pit, though. It was almost as if the pit erased all sense of sex and identity. It didn't matter there, only the music did.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

I haven't written much over the last few months. I'm just busy and writing isn't really my primary hobby. But I don't like neglecting my blog for long periods of time, especially since I have much to say about music. So, here's some recent thoughts:

The new Gonjasufi album is awesome. It's pretty much the Madvillainy of 2010. I make this comparison mostly because the album has a bunch (20) of short songs and it's innovative for the hip-hop genre. I definitely think it belongs in that genre, because of the sampling, but certainly some tracks take more of an IDM/electronic slant. Gonjasufi is certainly not a rapper, he sings in several styles, soul, blues, etc., but the rap and rhyming never comes up (it would be interesting if it did). Genres aside, it's such an interesting record and I love listening to it. It's just ridiculous how many good songs are on it, especially since they're short and abundant. Immediately, I latched on to the songs "Sheep" and "Duets," among others. I'm not much of lyrics reader, but I really like was GS has to say. It's simple life lessons, expressed perfectly emotively. I really can't praise the album enough.

My most recent purchase has been the album Lux by Alex Smoke. I've never heard of this guy until this year, but when I did, I was intrigued. It's pretty much techno, with some IDM. There's really interesting vocal manipulations on a few songs, like "Platitudes" and "Lux+," where the words fade away and the sound is all that matters. They're so interesting that I wish there was more of them on the album, but alas, there are not. It's still a fantastic techno album, being both heady and danceable, listenable, yet movement-suscitating. It's exactly the kind of balance that I like for this genre. On a side note, an acquaintance remarked to me the other day that techno was too repetitive, an argument that I seem to hear a lot from detractors. I disagree, though, in that it's no more repetitive than any other genre, but the repetition may be more noticeable since techno often lacks vocals (certainly contrary to rock music). Though I concede that techno may be considered more repetitive also because the song structures rely heavily on a repetition-and-variation pattern. So maybe that's what irks some? Not me. Getting back to this album, I haven't really examined the song structures, but it doesn't sound "too repetitive" to me. More listens are required.

Now I could just go on and on about the new Joanna Newsom masterpiece, Have One On Me, but it's pretty much been critiqued to death by now. Suffice it to say, it's great, it's different from Ys, it has a lot of songs, it's going to be considered on of the best albums of the year undoubtedly. My fave song right now is "Soft As Chalk," and it can all be summed up in one word: lawlessness. I kind of miss the harp, since it seems to me that piano dominates the instrumental part of the album (haven't actually counted the songs), but if I want to hear more harp-ing, then I'll just put on Ys because it's still a classic.

Some other favorite songs right now are: "Super Coming" by the Boredoms (it's bizarre and amazing), "Arms Against Atrophy" by Titus Andronicus (the new album is outrageously brillant, but this song can't make it's way out of my head, I even know the lyrics!), "A Larger Silence" by Ludicra (why did Decibel only give The Tenant a 7?? It's outstanding, 8 at least! I need to pick up their old albums and I hope they tour some more this summer) and "The Creeper" by Pelican (their last album was WAY underrated and "The Creeper" is one of many highlights)

I recently revisited the album Background Music by Give Up The Ghost/American Nightmare/American Nothing/etc. and it is truly a hardcore classic of the last decade. The passion is there, the lyrics are far more interesting than most hardcore bands, and the clean production gives it a freshness and bite that most bands just don't have. I remember this band being divisive when they were still together and it makes sense to me, but I'm on the "for" side. It's nice when punk rock isn't just preachiness and fuzz guitars (not always a bad thing, admittedly); it's a good change of pace.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

VV on the cover of Decibel

Not surprisingly, there's been some controversy over the fact that Decibel has chosen to put infamous murderer and racist Varg Vikernes on the cover of their new issue (oh yeah, he also makes music). I was reading this blog and my first impression mirrored her outrage. I mean, why in the world would any magazine choose to put this dude on the cover? The first impression it gives is one of acceptance and endorsement, and who would want to endorse the Count? It seems so idiotic to make a move like this. The only magazine that I read every month a fait une connerie.

But.... I soon realized my first impression was totally lacking in nuance, totally polarized, and this is an issue that demands nuance. It's easy to just call Vikernes a racist and murderer and that he shouldn't be given press attention since his ideas are outrageous, dangerous, and downright despicable (and this is all true). However, I think we must respect people's right to say what they want, whether it's something we agree with or not and whether it's something ridiculous or amazing. I think censorship is generally bad, but it goes both ways. We can't exclude unfavorable and unpopular opinions (I'm sure I have my share of them that no one wants to hear --- voilà ce blog).

Then there's the issue of acceptance and endorsement. Decibel obviously endorses Vikernes as a musician making music a genre that they cover. He's historically important and musically relevant to the magazine. It simply makes sense to include him in the magazine. But why the cover? Probably because he's so controversial. I'd say that he warrants a cover story. Endorsing Vikernes as a musician is not the same as endorsing his misdeeds, past, present, and potential. The same could be said of any other musician on the cover or in the stories. The others just haven't done anything as extreme (-ly messed up) as him.

I've honestly never listened to the music of Burzum. I enjoy black metal of the Norweigan variety, certainly not every band, but it's a genre I devote time and attention to nonetheless. The politics turn me off and there's plenty of other black metal bands (Norweigan and non) to keep my attention. Despite historical importance, I just can't bring myself to really care about Burzum. There's plenty of bands in musical history that occupy a place of high influence, but that doesn't stop me from not caring or liking them (see previous post about important bands that actually suck). So, there's really no reason for me to pursue the music of Burzum, other than to be more clued in to the controversy. Even if I did take an interest in the "band," I probably wouldn't pay attention to the subject matter in the lyrics, since I rarely care about lyrics anyway, and that goes doubly for metal of any sort. And I wonder how many metalheads really do pay attention to the lyrics or message of a band. And then, how many actually take any of those messages seriously, pondering them like some great philosophical arguments?

For some people, it's always going to be a matter of the fact that Varg Vikernes has done some reprehensible stuff and he's a bad person. They can't separate his music from his horrible character. Fine then, don't listen to his music, don't pay attention to him. I just don't think it's fair to slag anyone who chooses to listen to Burzum and automatically brand them a racist or supporter of murder, because she or he is probably not. She or he probably just wants to hear the sounds, since you know, it is music. It's truly only the fringe of an already fringy group of people that actually endorse racism and murder (or am I too optimistic?)

So do I support Decibel's choice to put the Count on the cover? I do, but I'm not without reservations. And after reading the story and the notes from the editor, I get the impression that the writers felt approximately the same. It's a tough, gnarly issue, that's undeniable, but it needs to be talked (or written) about -- both the character and music of Burzum and the choice to put Vikernes on the cover.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Favorite Songs EVER: Caribou "She's The One"

I don't remember the first time I heard this song or if I liked it then, but I know for sure that over the last few years, "She's The One" is a single song that I've been totally obsessed with. I typically listen to it late at night when I need to hear something calm and wondrous, though sometimes just whenever it gets stuck in my head. I pretty much love everything about it, but there are things worth pointing out: it's electronic-based, but it has an extraordinary warmth, so lush with layers of synths and samples. The vocals are certainly not something you typically hear in electronic music, sounding an awful lot like Elliott Smith, though not as depressed. The voice of Dan Snaith just glides along, with a very simple and natural-sounding melody. The emotion never seems melodramatic or false, though the lyrics are obviously delusional. It's a song about being in love blindly and not being able to see through the tricks and exploitation going on. The narrator is told about them and even acknowledges them in one line ("Every night there's a new name on her arm"), but he doesn't care, he opts for denial. It's not so much the narrator and his choice, but the sense of, well, self-destruction and confusion, that I like about these lyrics. It's the way emotions can sometimes get the better of you and make you want to do what you shouldn't (being self-indulgent). The ideas are communicated well both in the lyrics, but also in the orchestration; it makes you feel like you are the narrator. I guess I could pick any host of perfect pop songs, but this one is just so enduring and endearing.

Luckily, it's still on Caribou's Myspace page: