Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Greater Than One - Index

Year: 1990
Genre: Industrial - Dance

Highlight Track: "Dubkiller"
Weak Track: "Metal"

Index is a nice meditative EP from electro-industrial pranksters Greater Than One that focuses more on the electro than the industrial and tones down their usual reliance on mile-a-minute samples by instead doling them out with restraint. I am tempted to call this their ambient EP if not for the inclusion of the track called "Metal" which features a pretty ripping guitar sample loop. Unfortunately "Metal" is also the album's weakest track; so the song is kind of a let down for fans of guitar use in industrial music.

"Metal" is a weak track because it begins with a grandiose orchestrated sound and then launches into a great abrasive guitar attack that ultimately repeats itself into oblivion. The track ends with no payoff whatsoever. This is extremely disappointing coming from a band that made some of the best sample orchestras of the late 1980's.

Fortunately for us the rest of the EP makes for great listening. As I mentioned before Index is ultimately more ambient (or background) than Greater Than One's other releases but that's not exactly a strike against it. GTO are very good at making cool sounding electronic music and this EP is an excellent example of their 'cool' factor. Especially the track "Dubkiller" which simulates the effects of shooting-up with sound. It is an industrial-ambient oddity that works on every level by first hypnotizing the listener and then waking them up with a final finger snap of sampled Christian radio. The listener is then left with the unsettling after-effects of processing all of the subliminal suggestions made by the song's subdued yet subversive samples.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Forced Reality - 13 Years Of Forced Reality

Year: 2000
Genre: Oi!

Highlight Tracks: "Backbreaker", "15 Pints (And I'm Still Standing)", "Blood Is Thicker Than Water"
Weak Tracks: "The Flag Is Mine"

Forced Reality were an enigmatic Oi! group from Connecticut in the 1980's who reunited for a few years beginning in 1999. During their reunion they recorded this live 'best of' album that also includes the two new songs "Backbreaker" and "Felon Love". I bought this Oi! gem when I saw them play at the DC Superbowl of Hardcore in 2001.

13 Years of... is a great album from start to finish. The band rip through an extremely tight set recorded live at Boston radio station 88.1 WMBR. Forced Reality sound like the spiritual precursors to the Dropkick Murphys. Like the Dropkicks, Forced Reality's version of Oi! is a tighter, more traditional, rock-n-roll sound than sloppier British Oi! bands like Peter & The Test-Tube Babies or Cockney Rejects. Forced Reality's lyrics are a lot more in spirit with the Dropkicks as well. This is American Oi! for American skinheads and the songs are much more about brotherhood and a hard day's work than about politics or senseless beer-fueled destruction. Therefore the album is less an aggro piece than it is a an excellent sing-along album for a late-night at the bar with your crew. Particularly the album's highlight track "15 Pints (And I'm Still Standing)" which is without question Forced Reality's finest moment.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Exploited - Horror Epics

Year: 1985
Genre: UK Punk

Highlight Tracks: "No More Idols", "Don't Forget The Chaos", "Race Against Time"
Weak Tracks: "Down Below"

Horror Epics is a great album that doesn't get the credit it deserves. The Exploited have a very strong early catalog and this album at the extreme end of their heyday gets glossed over as their transition from punk to thrash. But that's not what it is. Horror Epics is a masterfully produced punk rock album; I know that seem like an oxymoron but hear me out.

First of all, musicianship has never been the Exploited's strong point. They've always done a passable job but their passion has always made up for their lack of skill. Not so on Horror Epics where they turn the traditional punk three chord progression on its head and focus on drums and bass like never before. This is by far the most musically mature album the Exploited ever generated.

Which gets me to the production of the album. The drums are mixed out of control on this album. Especially on the newly remastered edition. They are mixed way up front and almost eclipse the guitar as the star of the show. Take the title track and "Dangerous Visions" as exhibit A and B on that count your honors. When the drums aren't wrecking your world the bass steps up in the mix to destroy everything you know about punk rock bass playing. The two elements combine to make Horror Epics a rhythmic monster of an album.

That doesn't mean that the guitars or vocals are slouching. The guitars play like humming saw blades in a 2x4 factory from beginning to end. Maybe one could argue that they are tuned for metal over punk but to my ear it just comes across as a variation on the Exploited's original style rather than a departure from it. Wattie Buchan's vocals sound as howling pissed as ever. The one significant change to his vocal style on this album is that he occasionally steps back off the mic to let the music takeover for longer stretches than on previous albums. This raises the impact of his lyrics by spotlighting them and gives the musicians a chance to impress like never before.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Depeche Mode - Violator

Year: 1990
Genre: Post-Modern Underground

Highlight Tracks: "Enjoy The Silence", "Waiting For The Night", "Policy of Truth"

Does anyone remember Dave Kendall and his show Post-Modern MTV? It was aired on weeknights at 130am in the late 80's and early 90's and introduced a ton of great underground music to the nation. It was a reduced version of 120 Minutes which would air Sunday nights. Kendall was a dorky British bloke but he had wicked music taste. His show 120 Minutes would go on to become the launchpad for the 'alternative' music explosion after a few short years and he would be replaced as host by someone much grungier. While I have no problem with the grunge/alternative explosion, I always did prefer Post-Modern MTV because it never strayed from the music it covered and it went off the air rather than change with the times. Because of that it remains a perfect artifact for the music and time it represented.

I was introduced to a ton of bands on Post-Modern MTV and back in those pre-car-ownership, pre-internet days I had no access to genre resources like All Music Guide or even an underground record shop. So my solution when referring to these bands was to lump all them all together and call them 'post-modern underground'. A genre of my own devising that probably confused more people than it helped whenever I name-dropped it. After all these years I still consider the bands I found on that show to be in that special personalized genre. So since this is my music website, and I make the rules, I'm going to resurrect the genre name and use it first on this write-up.

I saw a Depeche Mode video on the first episode of Post-Modern MTV that I watched and then subsequently on just about every episode after. Kendall frigging loved Depeche Mode and soon after seeing his show so did I. To me they are the quintessential post-modern underground band.

Violator is a masterpiece of songcraft, electronic production, and atmosphere. In Depeche Mode lore it is rivaled only by Music for the Masses for best album. The two albums represent Depeche Mode at the height of their powers. Violator focuses on a minimalist electronic sound that is epic in its simplicity. Every electronic sound is isolated and amplified for maximum effect. This makes for a very clean sound that lets you really hear every single note. This is a success of the album that I think is often overlooked. The production zeros in on every note with laser clarity. There is never any noise or cross-chatter. Each note stands out and each note is perfect.

The production makes Violator one of the best electronic albums of all time. Building on this foundation of great, ground-breaking music the band then up the ante by injecting the album with a great emotional arc. Gore's lyrics and Gahan's vocals combine to take on the highs and lows of addiction, failed relationships, letting yourself down, hitting rock bottom, isolation, and fooling yourself into thinking you've worked through your problems. Emotionally it is a devastating album. But at the heart of it all you feel the narrator is a decent human being. The listener feels the narrator's pain and empathizes with him. The listener even roots for him to pull through his trials and tribulations. That kind of interaction with the listener makes Violator a phenomenal album experience.

Individually every song is extremely strong except for possibly "Blue Dress" which is necessary to wrap up the relationship sub-plot of the album but isn't really an exciting song in itself. What makes the other songs so excellent on their own is that each one is almost an archetype for the mood it represents. So if you want to feel the rush of the narrator's highs simply put on "World In My Eyes" or "Personal Jesus" and let fly. They make for great songs in the concert hall or the club. And if you're feeling vunerable, depressed, or strung-out then you are in luck because there are a plethora of songs here to comiserate with.

Finally "Enjoy The Silence" is one of the greatest songs ever written. It contains the emotional gamut of the album with a message of self-imposed isolation. It can be interpreted a hundred different ways but to me the song is really about knowing when you've got it good and getting the hell out while you still can. Reaching a moment of happiness or peace and escaping from the assault of society to preserve that moment for as long as you can.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Charlatans UK - Simpatico.

Year: 2006
Genre: Britpop

Highlight Tracks: "Blackened Blue Eyes", "City Of The Dead", "When The Lights Go Out In London"
Weak Tracks: "Glory Glory"

This is an extremely strong outing from britpop veterans (and my personal favs) The Charlatans UK. Over the course of their 18 year career they have never put out a weak album; not even when they were tinkering with their trademark sound. Simpatico. is definitely one of their tinker albums and it works swimmingly.

The album blasts out of the gate with the only traditional britpop numbers to be found here. "Blackened Blue Eyes" is a terrific Charlatans single that gets the listener bobbing along while Tim Burgess belts out lyrics that are dark and ambiguous. "NYC (There's No Need To Stop)" is a great late night sing-along anthem for the endless party that is the illusion of New York City.

With their two barn-burners out of the way the band slow it down for the rest of the album. This is the Charlatans like you've never heard them before. With a slower tempo the band explore their craft by building a series of songs that dazzle in their rhythm and sonics. The majority of the album falls somewhere between two-tone ska and The Clash in influence but never completely crosses the line into those previously perfected territories. The Charlatans walk a tight-rope between inspiration and imitation like seasoned acrobats by adding their own unique twist the whole time.

Simpatico. is a very atmospheric album but deceptively so. If you slightly modify the volume in the upward direction the album becomes a great foot-stomper with its deep bass lines and unstoppable percussion. This album has got cool rhythm to spare. The keyboards and piano playing are front and center once again but in the form of more direct piano compositions rather than as a rhythm instrument as on some of their previous albums.

Tim Burgess' vocals are pitch perfect on every track on Simpatico. He has always been a competent front man, but I think that on this album he has found a perfect middle-space between the many directions he has taken his vocal style over the years. Now as a slightly older performer he has the mastery to dip into each of those past styles when needed without letting any one eclipse his excellent natural singing voice.

"City of the Dead" is my favorite track on the album. The name is a nod to The Clash while it sounds like it would be right at home next to the Specials' "Ghost Town" or Madness' "Night Boat to Cairo". It is an incredibly different kind of song for The Charlatans to be playing but somehow they make it sound current and completely natural. It is the most exciting song on their best album in years.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Blondie - Autoamerican

Year: 1980
Genre: New Wave

Highlight Tracks: "Angels on the Balcony", "Do The Dark", "Rapture"
Weak Tracks: "Here's Looking At You", "Follow Me", "Faces"

This is an uneven album. A full quarter of its tracks end up on the "weak" list due to silly style choices. The rest of the album works but sounds like it is from a bunch of separate recording sessions with different producers and guest musicians. As an album I don't think it really works or flows. It sounds too confused.

It opens with the epic instrumental track " Europa" that makes you think you are settling in for a Blondie concept album. The track borders on musical science fiction. The disco-inflected "Live It Up" is a good track but brings the listener back to normal Blondie territory rather quickly. The illusion of a concept album is then completely shattered by the 1920's style of "Here's Looking At You"; an awful stylistic misstep that is only saved by Debbie Harry's unrelenting charisma.

The middle section is the album's saving grace. This strong core of five songs are classic Blondie and a joy to listen to. "The Tide is High" is one of Blondie's enduring hits with its Caribbean horns and lazy summer daze tempo. "Angels on the Balcony" opens with a weird Devo-esque prelude but then turns on the pop charm with its dreamy vocals and new wave instrumentation. I think this song is the best example of Blondie as a band on Autoamerican. "Go Through It" and "Do The Dark" are both strong Blondie toe-tappers that deserve to be spotlighted since they are usually lost to obscurity by being on one of their lesser albums. "Do The Dark" in particular should be resurrected to show all the Goldfrapp fans how it's really done.

"Rapture" is my favorite Blondie song. The music is crazy good and Debbie Harry's vocals and sex appeal are out of control. The song's first section alone would stand as one of Blondie's strongest offerings. The addition of the early hip-hop tribute on the song's tail-end is pure genius. It shows how tiny the NYC music world was back in the swirling chaos of the late 70's but also how fun it must have been. The lyrics of Debbie's "rap" are insane nonsense as she plays around with the 'new style' emerging from the NYC playground battles between the Sugar Hill Gang and The Furious Five. It is such a weird thing for this model-looking-but-punk-at-heart girl to do. It is even more bizarre that the song works so well. "Rapture" is a classic tune.

The four songs that close the album swing drastically from fun to atrocious. "Faces" and "Follow Me" are just terrible songs with Debbie Harry singing torch-style over snore-inducing music. Maybe these two songs are Blondie's nod to Broadway; if that's the case then there are some things that even my musically open mind can't stomach. "T-Birds" and "Walk Like Me" however are both decent new wave tunes that keep the album's second half from completely plunging into a self-indulgent audition for Cats.

Monday, June 18, 2007

African Head Charge - Great Vintage Volume I

Year: 1989
Genre: Dub

Highlight Tracks: "Beriberi", "Family Doctoring", "Hole in the Roof"

This first volume of Great Vintage collects the best tracks off the first two albums by African Head Charge (My Life In A Hole In The Ground and Environmental Studies). The series was produced by Adrian Sherwood for his On-U Sound record label.

Dub music is some of the best background music there is and the style of dub showcased on Sherwood's On-U Sound label is my favorite kind. Sherwood is an uber-producer who adds a spacey, electronic element to traditional dub to form a sort of industrial-dub. I have always felt that dub music is a direct ancestor of electronica and this African Head Charge volume provides a lot of evidence for that.

I don't know how dub musicians get the ideas for their music. Their music is almost alien in its use of bizarre sounds and super-complex percussion. The song structures are densely layered, with new elements being added in when you least expect them. All of these dub trademarks are reflected in trippy ambient electronica. The major difference is that the music here is being made organically rather than by machines. A fact that I find mind-blowing.

Through the use of production and recording tricks African Head Charge make drums, guitars, bass, and keyboards sound like instruments from another planet. Which is what I have always liked most about dub; the fact that it sounds so damn strange.

The two albums represented on this collection display two different aspects of African Head Charge.

The first seven songs sound a lot more cling-clang. Almost as if the music was being made with recycled junk. The pots and pans sound is enhanced by reverb mutated tribal chants and nature sounds filtered through blown boom-box speakers. A great example of what I mean is found on the track "Hole in the Roof" where rain sounds trickle over a percussive jam that sounds like it is coming from down the street while warbling buzzsaws echo over a faded-out horn section. The combined effect sounds like an orchestra made with broken instruments and yet somehow the song works beautifully.

The second seven songs benefit from much better production values and focus much more heavily on horns than the first batch did. The use of horns here ranges from traditional (almost slow ska) to the extremely bizarre. The genius of dub is what is done to alter trad instruments and what African Head Charge does with their horn section is incredible. Take for example the song "Beriberi" on which they apply an echo effect to the tail end of a repeated saxophone warble; it goes 0 to 60, from soothing to unsettling, in the blink of an eye. Another neat trick AHC pulls is cutting and looping distorted horns so that we only hear the tone-heavy middle of a horn blurt or the chopped off end of a trumpet blast being used to enhance the beat.

The press on African Head Charge usually focuses on their unique approach to percussion, which along with bass are the traditional centerpiece of dub music, but what makes them so exciting to me are the odd extra sounds they discover with their effect-laden horns and junk-pile instrumentation.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Satellite Eclectica DJ

For any readers in the Washington DC area - the above is a flyer for my DJ night with my partner Chris Diamond - it's tonight at Rock and Roll Hotel - come out and join us!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

OST - Desperate Hours - David Mansfield

Year: 1990
Genre: Original Soundtrack

Highlight Tracks: "Too Many Memories", "Albert Pursued", "The Chase"
Weak Tracks: "Dumping the Body"

I wish I had a scanner so I could show you the back cover of this album. The front cover is almost serene, a man in a suit standing in front of a nice house. Turn the case over (as most are want to do after putting a CD in) and you are met by the bloody image of actor David Morse standing in a stream as he is torn to shreds by hail of bullets. It is a startling contrast of images that matches the music as soon as the CD begins playing. Even if you have never seen the movie Desperate Hours, the music from it evokes tension and conflict.

The score is mostly comprised of a hard-working string section, eerie low-toned woodwinds, and a bombastic brass line. Each section of instruments serves a specific purpose. The strings come across as frantic; the villains on the run after a daring jailbreak. The woodwinds are the family that will eventually be taken hostage; a slightly sad theme for a broken home. The brass instruments are the action; exploding in your face they can't be ignored, much like our hero family can't ignore the gang of cons invading their home. Mansfield composes these elements to openly conflict when needed, but he also has them weave in and out of each other to create an atmosphere of menace through the majority of the piece.

While it is hard to separate the film's imagery from the music, the score plays as entertainment in itself. If you have never seen the movie the score is still a very dramatic listen. The score comes across as eerie and full of conflict. For the most part the focus on the woodwinds makes this a relaxing listen, but the expertly crafted layers of conflict could be a bit unsettling to some.

One element of the score that I really enjoy is that after the initial rounds of action early on the album, the score settles into the restrained conflict of its elements. By the end of the score (which is also the climax of the story) the composer chooses to focus on some of the quieter themes rather than blast the listener through the sofa. "Albert Pursued" is a great example of this, featuring drums prominently for the first time to add the element of an FBI SWAT team while maintaining a quiet atmosphere to lend magnitude and emotion to this two-bit thug's final moments.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Various Artists - DIY: The Modern World: UK Punk II (1977-78)

Year: 1993
Genre: UK Punk

NOTE: After I complete a run through of the alphabet each month I will cover a couple of miscellaneous categories. I will write-up one various artists compilation and one film soundtrack.

These days, with their massive box sets, Rhino is a major compilation label but back in the early 90's they put out mostly classical music. They were just getting started dipping their toes into the modern music compilation game. The DIY series was one of their first. It focused on the geographic centers of street level rock music of the 70's and 80's. I love this series because it is great source material for the classic LA/NY/UK punk arguments.

This is the second of two entries in the series that highlights punk from the UK. For those familiar with UK punk there aren't a lot of surprises here other than what bands were left out because of licensing costs. However, the exclusion of some of the genre heavy-weights (like The Clash and The Damned) left room for the inclusion of some of the scene's smaller acts (like The Rezillos or 999). This creates an unusual track list that makes this compilation a fun listen for both punk neophytes and seasoned scene veterans.

This particular entry in the DIY series revisits the UK punk scene by focusing on some of the fringe acts and finds the scene about to split into various subgenres. The beginnings of the Oi!, post-punk, and gothic movements are all hinted at here by the inclusion of acts like Sham 69, Magazine, and Siouxsie & The Banshees among others. There are plenty of classic punk rockers here as well with some staples by The Buzzcocks, Stiff Little Fingers, and The Jam. This is a very well balanced mix of music that shows at least some thought was put into the song order (unlike some other punk compilations).

While my unabashed worship of the music here makes it impossible for me to pick out just a handful of highlight tracks - one real highlight I can point out is the compilation's excellent liner notes. The text follows the second half of 70's UK punk by briefly introducing each band and explaining their place in the punk universe. The text is accompanied by some great B&W photos of the bands in their prime.

For the uninitiated DIY: The Modern World is a great (if slightly skewed) introduction to this amazing music scene. For old hands like myself it makes for a really fun playlist of punk favorites that is better than your run-of-the-mill compilation.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Zen Guerrilla - Trance States In Tongues

Year: 1999
Genre: Noise Rock

Highlight Tracks: "Mod Riot", "Heart Attack", "Preacher's Promise"
Weak Tracks: N/A

As far as I know these guys are the best band to ever come out of the state of Delaware. Yeah, that's right, Delaware. Since when do kick ass rock bands come from Delaware? I mean, Delaware has got to be one of the most boring states in the union. Hell, they even joke about it in Wayne's World. Delaware is basically Pennsylvania's flaccid wang. The whole damn state is a narrow strip of flat farmland with a highway splitting it down the middle. Maybe this music was inspired by the mean streets of Wilmington, Delaware? I've been to Wilmington, the city is basically a bus station, a train station, and eighteen discount cigarette outlets. I can only guess that it was the very boring nature of their homeland that prompted Zen Guerrilla to form; with the mission of getting a record deal and getting the hell out of fucking Delaware. Or maybe it was to shake their sad little tax-free state out of the doldrums? This album could certainly do that.

Trance States in Tongues is a top to bottom rock and roll ass-kicker. This is a noisy, whiskey-soaked, dance on the table-tops party album. It sounds like an insane collision of late-60's garage punk, blues rock (the good kind), and stoner rock. Although I don't know that fans of any one of those genres would particularly enjoy it. This is a bizarre album that some folks will love from its first noisy 'lawn-mower' guitar ignition and others will resist to its final fade out.

If you stripped away all the album's weirdness it might sound fairly typical, but thankfully it is chock full of musical oddity that injects it with an irresistible charisma. The vocals howl at the moon through an array of effects that make it sound like they are echoing back to earth off of the cratered face of that celestial body. The singing never sounds like it is coming from inside the room, almost as if the lead singer is performing outside, drunk in the parking lot, while the band pound away indoors. The music is mixed really clean, even though the individual instruments are twanged, tuned and distorted to put a noisy spin on traditional rock song structure.

The collective sound Zen Guerrilla generates feels huge; like these guys should be rocking apart giant arenas. They go full-throttle on every track in a way that other noise rock bands often shy away from at times. Sometimes the production of other noise rock bands seems to acknowledge that the music is for a smaller audience. Not here. Even though I could never see Trance... appealing to a wide audience (its just too noisy and weird) the album rocks along completely oblivious to its obstacles. These guys just don't seem to give a damn about rock politics and they set out to cut an album for the ages. Which in my opinion they succeeded in doing. This album is one of my favorite rockers.

I just can't believe it came out of Delaware.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Young Marble Giants - Colossal Youth

Year: 1980
Genre: Post-Punk

Highlight Tracks: "Searching for Mr. Right", "N.I.T.A.", "Music for Evenings"
Weak Tracks: "Colossal Youth"

So far 'O', 'Q', and now 'Y' have been the letters with least amount of albums in my collection. I had to dip into my vinyl collection to find a 'Y' band for today and I'm glad I did.

Colossal Youth is a terrific gem of post-punk minimalism from the formative days of the genre. Allison Statton's vocals are the bizarre focal point of this very odd album. Her delivery is almost deadpan but then every once in a while she teases us with a strain of emotion; usually longing or the suppression of longing. Her whole vocal effect brings to mind an attractive woman who has become numb to the relationship game but secretly hopes to have her inner-romantic swept away unexpectedly. It would be heart-breaking if not for the fact that there is also an inflection of fun in Statton's singing that keeps this album out of wrist-slashing territory.

The music that accompanies Statton's voice is an incredible array of minimalist keyboard and guitar tricks set to a drum machine. The music on this album could be printed instructions for post-punk instrument tuning. One of the things that set this album apart from the rest of the pack is the odd pacing of the bass and drum machine. Another is the space between notes. This album isn't crowded with squall, squelch, and noise. The band let their music breath (much like John Cale of The Velvet Underground did) so that each note stands out, highlighted like an escaping prisoner caught in front of the prison wall by a spotlight.

Both elements, voice and music, combine for quite an interesting effect. The album is very minimal and therefore a great relaxing listen. But the mood of it is chameleon-like in that it amplifies whatever mood the listener brings to it. The album can be extremely lonely and sad just as easily as it can be an uplifting and exhilarating musical experience.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

XPQ-21 - Destroy to Create

Year: 1999
Genre: Industrial - Synth

Highlight Tracks: "A Gothic Novel (Body)", "Monster", "Synthesizers"
Weak Tracks: N/A

Combining industrial synth style with classic techno beats Destroy to Create is a great album.

The industrial sounds and techno beats make this a very danceable album while at the same time the synth work here is beautiful enough to put this album on while chilling at home. If Underworld ever cut an industrial album it would probably sound like this. That is probably because Jeyenne, the mastermind behind XPQ-21, spent most of the 90's as a European techno god and he brings his bag of tricks from that genre along with him.

Jeyenne also brings a great vocal style. His german accent adds nicely to his range of dramatic vocals. He often shouts, growls, and mutters before busting out into full-on gothic crooning. Whenever a singer goes the goth route on an industrial album they walk a fine line between drama and farce. Thankfully Jeyenne pulls it off nicely on Destroy to Create.

On this album XPQ-21 is a duo rounded out by a woman called Nicque. When I saw XPQ-21 open for Funker Vogt in 2001 it seemed like she was the one handling all of the music while Jeyenne was singing. On this album I assume they share the programming duties.

The highlight of the album is the programming; especially on the awesome instrumental track "Synthesizers" where XPQ-21 unleash an awe inspiring amount of keyboard and synth layers to bury the listener in sound. At other moments, such as on "Aog", the band slow the tempo down into Kraftwerk territory. The band sound like they are having so much fun on every track that really the entire album is a joy to listen to. The song "Monster" is itself a monster dance track that shows off a range of tempo and techno/industrial musicianship that makes your head spin. Meanwhile the album's single "A Gothic Novel (Body)" is a moody piece of synth brilliance being equal parts atmospheric and danceable.

I really love this album. I'm not the biggest fan of the industrial synth movement but this album really works for me. Probably because it is so much fun to listen to. I often think I would like more industrial synth bands if they would lighten up a bit. Destroy to Create is by no means light fare, but its techno elements do make it more fun to party too than some of the genre's other albums. Where many industrial synth groups pull off fun and beauty on an occasional single or dance-floor hit, XPQ-21 managed to produce an entire album of well-crafted wonders.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

White Zombie - La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Vol. 1

Year: 1992
Genre: Alt. Metal

Highlight Tracks: "Black Sunshine", "Thunder Kiss '65", "I Am Legend"
Weak Tracks: "Starface", "Warp Asylum"

Tired of the usual rummage sales and flea markets we went in search of something different. We heard about the Double Crossbones swap meet from a blind guy selling fake shrunken heads at the '66 yard sale. We followed his directions to the letter: wait til nightfall, drive down past the chicken factory, through the railway switch station, turn left on the dirt road after you pass the rusted out caboose on cinder blocks, drive until you reach a covered wood bridge, park, then walk across.

As we crossed the creaky wood bridge in deep darkness, I could hear small things climbing around on the roof and the sides of the bridge. From the far end of the bridge I could see the flicker of torches and I could hear faint music drifting in. As soon as we emerged on the other side somebody or something grabbed Sally. She screamed and I grabbed one of them. He was a hunched giant wearing a sickly, over-sized, paper-mache skull over his face. He hit me in the stomach with the torch he carried. I crumpled to the ground, wind knocked out of me, beating the flames out of my shirt. Another twisted giant in a straining Luchador mask dragged Sally through the mud by her hair. He carried a torch in his other hand. It cast light onto cages filled with all manner of bizarre mutant creatures and near-nude women wearing rags tattered with age. The skull-faced giant grabbed me by the back of my neck and swung me around. I lost sight of Sally as I was dragged around to face the Double Crossbones swap meet.

Imagine the largest flea market you have ever seen. Now imagine it stretching on for eternity. Tables of junk and sad souls selling from them as far as the eye can see. The horizon blotted out by card tables covered with cheap trash and decades old novelties. The massive used-junk hell was shrouded in gray mist and torches hung from poles to illuminate each table's junk. The skull-faced giant forced my face close to a table, compelling me to examine its wares.

The table was covered in gore: beating organs, shattered bones, curios fashioned out of small animal carcasses, Asian snuff videos, Nazi jewelry, and bottled fetuses in a variety of species (including human).

Each time I tried to turn my head away from the blood and the stink of the table the giant shoved my head back toward it. I looked up to see what manner of ghoul would be selling such horrible items and an empty lawn chair chair met my gaze. Confused I looked at some of the tables nearest me. Behind each sat one or more horrible visage, grinning with greed and desperation. I looked back to the empty chair in front of me. Was this meant to be my station?

Then I heard Sally scream somewhere in the distance. With this I slammed my head back into the skull giant's groin. I heard a crunch and the giant let me go. He crumpled into a 90 degree angle as I leapt to my feet and spun around seeking out Sally's scream.

When a voice commanding me to "Stop" emerged from the darkness. I turned to face the gaping mouth of the old covered bridge. Weird, green demon creatures crawled all over the bridge cover. And a tapping sound echoed from within. The skull giant recovered and grabbed me by both arms, I twisted but couldn't break free. The tapping sound got closer and more familiar.

With horror I looked to the nearest hanging torch. It was a shrunken head set aflame!

I looked back to the bridge just as the darkness parted. Out of the gloom walked the blind man; his cane tapping in front of him, a sack of shrunken heads slung over one shoulder, and a depraved smile on his face!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Veruca Salt - Eight Arms To Hold You

Year: 1997
Genre: Power Pop

Highlight Tracks: "One Last Time", "Benjamin", "Sound of the Bell"
Weak Tracks: "Awesome", "Shutterbug"

I have always felt that Veruca Salt were one of the 'sell-out argument' casualties of the early 90's (along with Jawbox). They were accused of just going indie to get cred after rapidly selling to a major label. As if these bands were part of some grand conspiracy with the major labels; where a major secretly agrees to sign a band but they both decide it would be a wise move to gather the indie scene's support by surreptitiously 'going indie' for a few months to a few years before announcing the deal officially. As if any of these hard-working bands are that devious. Give me a break. I am so glad that the world of music has moved beyond those inane, small-minded days (well it hasn't really, but at least that particular argument has become moot).

On Veruca Salt's first album they sounded a lot like an American version of Elastica and that was a very good thing. On this, their follow-up, they sound like a cross between Elastica and Courtney Love's hard-rocking Hole which (bad pun aside) is a pretty good thing too. The production here is straight-out of the mainstream grunge days, big loud arena guitars and a knee-slapping rhythm section. Sometimes the big-sound production detracts from the album's quieter moments. Such as on "Benjamin" which is a beautiful song but would be even better if it had been produced with a little instrumental subtlety.

On the other hand the production style makes sense since the majority of the album is totally rocking summer music. This is one for blaring from the boombox at the beach. It's an album that gets toes tapping and heads nodding. Which makes it a perfect little bit of pop music.

There aren't a lot of surprises on Eight Arms To Hold You but I don't know that I want any. The hit single "Volcano Girls" is essentially a sequel to their original single, "Seether" and while it rocks out it pretty much transmits to the listener that the band are staying within comfortable territory. Which lets us sit back to enjoy the ride for the rest of the album. Louise Post and Nina Gordon both deliver a great range of vocals swinging between near RRRiot Grrl intensity and beautiful siren song; a range that's displayed nicely on "One Last Time". My favorite song on the album is probably "Sound of the Bell" which features a weirdly haunting keyboard element that adds a new dimension to the band's sexy rock chick sound. Finally, "Earthcrosser" is an epic rock track regardless of the creators' gender. They slow it down on "Earthcrosser" and enter PJ Harvey territory with a little twanged-up guitar before the song gloriously swells up into the stratosphere.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Unsane - Blood Run

Year: 2005
Genre: Noise Rock

Highlight Tracks: "Make Them Prey", "D-Train", "Latch"
Weak Tracks" N/A

Entering in the release date for this entry I found myself almost typing 1995 out of habit. Blood Run is the new millenium return of noise rock stalwarts Unsane but the album feels and sounds like any one of their classic barn-burners from the height of the early 90's scene. Pretty much the only part of the Unsane trademark that has changed in the many years between their break-up and this 2005 reunion album is the amount of blood-splatter on the album cover.

I'm going to see Unsane in concert in a few weeks and after relistening to this album I can hardly wait. They are one of the only bands playing today that are still really cranking out the old-school noise rock sound. The music on Blood Run would almost feel retro if not for its richter-scale disturbing sound. Long guttural screams strain against a wall of teeth-gritting guitar while the rhythm section rumble like air-brakes on a semi seconds before collision.

The whole album experience is like listening to a bombing raid from under a pile of rubble. After a while the hum of the restrained guitars becomes an air raid siren. The bass thumps like slow-motion ack-ack guns while the drums pound like bursting flak. The vocal bombs scream from the heavens to explode on the buildings below. Finally the guitars open up like flames and consume everything in their path.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Talking Heads- Remain In Light

Year: 1980
Genre: Post-Punk

Highlight Tracks: "Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)", "Listening Wind", "The Overload"

As much as I love the memories of my youth, when listening to albums like this I sometimes wish I could trade in my BJ & The Bear afternoons to have been in college during the original Punk/Post-Punk period. Music then was so frigging weird and exciting; you never knew what somebody was going to cook up next.

Take this incredible album by Talking Heads. On Remain In Light they go off the deep end with their Brian Eno collaboration to create an incredibly innovative sound. A perfect fusion of Talking Heads' trademark spastic energy, Eno 70's prog, and world music beats. The perfection is found in the balance of these three elements. The music on Remain In Light sounds like an entirely new genre even today. At times it is almost hard to believe humans made this.

Later the Talking Heads and Byrne in particular would embrace world music to the point where it would detract from their originality, but on Remain In Light they keep those elements in check, using the funky beats as an accent rather than some kind of "Kumbaya" sitting in a circle holding hands malarkey. I find a kindred spirit for this album with The Good, the Bad, and the Queen. Both bands incorporate music highlights from several cultures to create terrific new sounds.

This whole damn album is a highlight track. But if I had to pick a few I'd recommend "Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)" for its awesome Adrian Belew guest guitar and freaky Kraftwerk/Devo electronic noodling. This song builds and builds while Byrne vocally jabs at your ear; the result is a production masterpiece. "The Great Curve" has vocal harmonies that (almost) put Jawbox and The Pixies to shame.

And I am still waiting for Michael Mann to use the double-shot of "Listening Wind" and "The Overload" in one of his movies.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Spectrum - Songs for Owsley

Year: 1996
Genre: Psychedelic

On this excellent EP, equally inspired by 1960's LSD chemist Owsley Stanley and 16th century philosopher/writer Francis Bacon, Spectrum shift away from guitars to focus entirely on making music with vintage keyboards and synthesizers. The odd music they create feels like it occupies two places in time simultaneously. The music could easily be Francis Bacon experimenting with some arcane device in a 1598 laboratory, or a bizarro psychedelic theremin jam in a Hell's Kitchen basement circa 1969. Being created in 1996 the music is neither of these things but the musicianship here is so imaginative and committed to the premise that it feels like anything but mid-90's neo-psychedelica.

There is a great experimental novel by Steven Beard called Digital Leatherette in which an alchemist uses this weird mystic energy tube to view and communicate with different times and places. This album feels like the background music for an imagined night when Owsley and Bacon accidentally tap into that energy tube and communicate back and forth arguing about the nature of the universe.

1. Owsley - Sonic Boom's vocals on this track sound like the demon offspring of a Crash-like fuck session between Jhon Balance and Genesis P-Orridge after the musical head-on collision of Coil and Throbbing Gristle.

2. Liquid Intentions - An instrumental track that sounds like it should be the score for an episode of Doctor Who directed by Stanley Kubrick.

3. Feels Like I'm Slipping Away - This track is the most traditional song on the EP and the closest to Sonic Boom's usual territory. Essentially a drug haze narrative of consciousness slipping away once and for all. Getting so far out you can never come back in. The music these whispered vocals are set too is amazing. It feels like the band are trying to recreate what they imagine slow-motion LSD crash-pads in the 60's were like. The beautiful part is that what they imagine (utilizing modern production techniques) sounds so much cooler than the real thing ever could.

4. Sine Study #1 - Okay with liner notes that are taken directly from the instruction manual of their vintage Synthi Hi Fli 256 Sequencer you have to expect a track like this. It is a six and a half minute tone poem, Spectrum putting their instrument through its paces, and it isn't very interesting in a dramatic musical sense. That said this one would be a nice song to play when you are sweating out a fifth of whiskey in a claustrophobic apartment staring at circuit boards under black lights.

5. The New Atlantis - Vocoder readings of Francis Bacon's writings on imagined Atlantean technology set to synth freak-outs. Ever time I hear this track I think to myself, ' It doesn't get any better than this!'

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Rage Against The Machine - Evil Empire

Year: 1996
Genre: Alternative

Highlight Tracks: "Vietnow", "Revolver", "Down Rodeo"
Weak Tracks: "Roll Right"

Something about this album is off-kilter. Maybe it is Zach de la Rocha's odd rhyme schemes and obscure lyrical references. Or maybe it is the band pushing the envelope in an attempt to make discordant music kick-ass. Most likely it is a combination of both things.

Evil Empire is RATM's weak album. Not to say that it is a bad album, but it definitely suffers in comparison to the rest of their body of work. Mainly because of the off-kilter feeling that prevails over it.

It feels like Tom Morello and Zach de la Rocha were going after different things on this album. The music is phenomenal here but includes a lot of guitar experimentation that undermines the pedal-to-the-metal Rage that we're used to. As interesting as Morello's guitar dissertation is it does not carry the album. The same could be said for de la Rocha's lyric writing. His critiques of society here are equal parts generalization and obscurity so that a populist middle ground is never attained. What this all adds up too is an album that is sonically interesting but never fires on all cylinders as their debut did.

I prefer to look at this album as a step in the band's development that led to the excellent The Battle For Los Angeles on which Morello and de la Rocha finally achieve a synergy between sick guitar innovation and firebrand political lyrics.

Oddly, the songs on Evil Empire work much better individually than they do when listened to as a full album. Each song feels like a mini-epic and is much more enjoyable when seperated out; almost as if Evil Empire is a singles compilation rather than a cohesive album.

My favorite moments on Evil Empire come when RATM tinker with their formula the most. "Vietnow" has a great lumbering tempo, Zach singing his own backing vocals, and a terrific second half where de la Rocha mutters over a rising slow-jam before the song finally explodes into familiar territory with 'Fear is your only god!' repetition. "Revolver" features the one true moment on the album where Morello and de la Rocha have a meeting of the minds. Both begin restrained and then unleash with their respective instruments at the perfect moment. Finally "Down Rodeo" is de la Rocha's vocal showcase where the band take second fiddle to their frontman's pissed off tirade in which he becomes a Pied Piper for the disaffected by trading in his flute for a shotgun.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Q-Burn's Abstract Message - Oeuvre

Year: 1998
Genre: Electronica

Highlight Tracks: "141 Revenge Street", "Flava Lamp", "Pools in Eyes"
Weak Tracks: "Bugeyed Sunglasses"

Ah, the good old days of 90's electronic music. The scene was diversifying so rapidly in the mid-90's that browsing the Foggy Bottom Tower Records' electronica section was akin to taking a wagon-coach into the Wild West. You never knew who or what would catch your eye or your ear to introduce you to an entirely new sub-genre of sound. There were boomtowns of sound developing all over the world and names of DJs and producers would spread like the legendary gunfighters of old.

Back in 1998 I remember hearing vague mutterings out of San Francisco about DJ Q-Bert and the mysterious Invisibl Skratch Piklz, so one afternoon I rode into Tower Records to seek them out. I didn't find any DJ Q-Bert that day but I did stumble upon this little gem in the same section.

While Q-Burn's Abstract Message is a terrible name for a one-man band it does not reflect on the music contained within. Most of the music is nice, big-beat techno in the style of The Crystal Method or The Chemical Brothers. Q-Burn never reached the heights of party or personality that his big-beat compatriots did however. Probably because Q-Burn's Abstract Message is more of an IDM lounge project at heart. While most of the beats on Oeuvre can get you moving the really interesting music is in the quiet stretches and dramatic build-ups like on the tracks "141 Revenge Street" and "Pools in Eyes". These are exciting techno tracks without ever being in your face.

A lot of the music here feels like lounge-chic electronica rather than warehouse rave-up. If big-beat was a resurgence of fun, mindless dance music and IDM was atmospheric, chin-stroking then in actuality Oeuvre falls somewhere in between. Each song has elements of both styles which makes for an interesting album but also one that is hard to place.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Prong - Prove You Wrong

Year: 1991
Genre: Alt. Metal

Highlight Tracks: "Irrelevant Thoughts", "Unconditional"
Weak Tracks: "Prove You Wrong"

Prove You Wrong is a huge developmental step forward for Prong that would pay off in spades on the following albums Cleansing and Rude Awakening.

The lyrics aren't quite there yet but the music is. The album features chunky guitar, fist-in-your-face bass, and ass-kicking drums backing Tommy Victor's guitar squeals. The album is at the border check-point of industrial and metal thanks to the album's tempo that chugs along like the death-machine on the cover of Theodore Sturgeon's Killdozer. It never quite crosses over into industrial metal though because at times Victor seems reluctant to give up on his Headbangers Ball vocal delivery. His cheesy vocals and weak lyrics also prevent Prong from developing their own identity as a band. It wouldn't be til Cleansing that the band and front man Tommy Victor would evolve into their true form.

That said Prove You Wrong has some moments that make it worth listening too. The first two tracks are the highlights of the album. "Irrelevant Thoughts" and "Unconditional" are great examples of what Prong would evolve into in the following years. Listening to them is the aural equivalent of repeatedly punching the front armor of an Abrams Tank. You can't help but curl your hands into fists as the band pounds out these two gems. "Contradictions" is a more traditional metal ballad that borders on cheesy but the excellent slow-tempo work by the band is too good to be ignored.

The entire album gives the impression that Prong were preparing themselves to burst onto the scene with an entirely new sound and direction for heavy metal but that they needed this album to exorcise some of the trappings of traditional 80's metal before they could.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Orb - Orbus Terrarum

Year: 1995
Genre: Electronica

Highlight Tracks: "Montagne D'or (Der Gute Berg)", "Oxbow Lakes"
Weak Track: "Occidental"

Orbus Terrarum is an extremely complex album. It sounds different on every stereo system it is played on. It also sounds different at every level of volume you play it at. This is due to its sophisticated construction featuring an infinity of sound layers weaving in and out of each other in a way that is both mind-boggling and mysterious. The Orb craft albums like sound-alchemists rather than musicians.

This album represents at least three unique listening experiences based on volume.

At low volume the album makes for an excellent ambient experience. It is great to have on while you are trying to drift off to sleep. This is a relatively quiet album with soft edged sound molecules that never jolt or offend the listener's ear. At low volume Orbus Terrarum is absolutely hypnotic.

At medium volume the album is perfect background music. It is funky enough to bring energy to a room while never eclipsing the conversations or creative work being done. This is not a dance album (not in the slightest) but it does feature incredibly complex percussion programming that really comes to the forefront at medium volume.

At higher volumes the album is completely captivating and requires the listener to drop everything they are doing the moment it begins. At this volume the hypnotic ambient elements and complicated percussion combine to support the amplified synth lines and sound washes that were otherwise ignored at lower volume. At higher volumes this album leaves the realm of ambient or background music and becomes an work of electronic art.

I listen to Orbus Terrarum quite frequently when I go to bed but always drift off into weird music inspired dreams before the album ends. Today I gave the album a true listen at full volume and it reminded me of why I love The Orb and electronic music in general so much. The Orb are masters of electronic music and on Orbus Terrarum they are in top form.

There is so much going on here that it is hard to summarize in words. The majority of this album is like tripping on a sonic drug. If it had a physical texture it would be like dipping your hand into a lava lamp or maybe that scene in The Matrix when Neo's body is being consumed by the liquefied mirror. The album also brings to mind far-off lands in the near future, a soundtrack to read George Alec Effinger to. But at the same time it evokes dripping water and steam-punk.

If there is a weak track here it is "Occidental" which stretches out to almost 14 minutes without much cohesiveness. The track features an amazing array of studio trickery but no theme emerges to tie it all together. Technically the track is excellent but as a song it does not really work.

The rest of the album however is perfection. Each song inspires the imagination and confuses the ear as sonic elements emerge out of and dissolve into the thematic soup that is swirling around the room. This album sounds like someone playing the DNA helix as if it were a xylophone.

The track "Oxbow Lakes" begins with a discordant synthesized piano line that submerges into a bass heavy synth extravaganza. The percussive motor of the song dives deeper and deeper as schools of sound-fish swim in darting patterns around gigantic lumbering forms. The piano part reemerges in a warbled form as the song busts through the sea-bed and explores subterranean caverns until emerging into the new world discovered in the following highlight track "Montagne D'or".

"Montagne D'or (Der Gute Berg)" begins sounding like your are listening to a conversation through cracks in a sensory deprivation tank. It makes you feel like you are surrounded by life and yet isolated. The use of muffled vocal samples here is excellent. This loneliness quickly explodes into a sonic masterpiece that is the album's high point. The Orb rarely evoke conflict in their music but when they do, as on this track, it is brilliant. This song sounds like someone turning in on themself to discover their conflicted soul feeding on an imagined universe. It is beautiful music that brings to mind conflict on an external level leading to internal self-destruction.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Nine Inch Nails - The Perfect Drug

Year: 1997
Genre: Industrial - Dance

Highlight Track: "Perfect Drug (Plug Mix)"

What the hell does anyone see in the movie Lost Highway? I mean I know its soundtrack brought Rammstein to America's attention and included this pretty great Nine Inch Nails' song but other than that the movie doesn't have a redeeming quality. Totally Lynch resting on his laurels (but I digress).

I guess Trent Reznor decided to release this EP so that fans could get the song while distancing themselves from that disaster of a film. In usual 90's Reznor brilliance he farmed out the song for several remixes by some of the best in the biz and ended up not even including the original edit of the song on this disc. That was pretty gutsy move on Reznor's part but of course it paid of brilliantly. The Perfect Drug EP is the last of NIN's great remix releases of the 90's. It rounds out the almost 10 year hitting streak of terrific EPs that started with Sin, included the perfection of Fixed, and spun off into a million variations of tracks from The Downward Spiral.

On this EP we get remixes from Meat Beat Manifesto, Plug, Spacetime Continuim, The Orb, and NIN themselves. It makes for a great example of variations on a theme. Each remix explores different directions of the same song in a way that never feels repetitive over the EP's 35 minute runtime.

While all of the remixes are exciting, it is the Plug version (an alias of electronica genius, Luke Vibert) that impresses the most. Vibert somehow manages to speed the song up to drum-n-bass tempo while slowing down its dramatic elements to a point where "The Perfect Drug" is reminiscent of "Something I Can Never Have". It is pure genius how Vibert manages these disparate elements within the same track and the conflict it creates makes for great listening.

Monday, May 21, 2007

MC 900 Ft. Jesus - One Step Ahead Of The Spider

Year: 1994
Genre: Alt. Jazz

Highlight Tracks: "New Moon", "But If You Go", "Buried at Sea"
Weak Tracks: "Tiptoe Through The Inferno"

Sounding like a jazz club poetry reading at the end of the world One Step Ahead Of The Spider feels ground-breaking in retrospect of the trip-hop movement. At the time it came out though it felt just plain weird. Swinging on the pendulum between individual apocaplyptic oracle and slacker idiocy MC's lyrics and attitude make for one very interesting ride

MC 900 Ft. Jesus has a dark yet playful vocal delivery that gives the impression that he is a mischeivous god toying with the lives of his album's protagonists. From its opening rain sound effects you can already tell that it will end badly for the speed-obsessed woman in the epic first track "New Moon". Her tale of twilight car crash is set to an ultra-cool jazz jam that sets the tone for most of the album. However for all the dark numbers MC tries to right the ship by turning out playful tunes like "If I Only Had a Brain" which unfortunately came to be the public face of this fascinating album. That single's whimsy while entertaining doesn't properly represent the level of artistry on display here.

One Step Ahead Of The Spider is an interesting mix of live jazz, simple keyboard playing, and basic electronic elements. The music feels minimal here but its simplicity is deceptive as each song's subdued repetitiveness propels you forward. It's a very chill album that would be great to listen to when barbequing at sunset or sitting on the front stoop drinking beer from a brown paper-bag. This effortlessly cool album deserves to be listened to a lot more frequently.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Lights of Euphoria - Thought Machine

Year: 1995
Genre: Industrial - Dance

Highlight Tracks: "No Tears", "Deal in Sex (Protection Mix)", "Subjection"
Weak Tracks: "Give Me You", "Misery"

Lights of Euphoria is the moniker that Torben Schmidt of Zoth Ommog Records releases his industrial dance music under. Schmidt is a talented dance music programmer and Thought Machine features some great beats from the hey-day of the old school industrial dance clubs.

That said the use of guest vocalists from the across the mid-90's industrial landscape make the album painfully uneven in quality. While the beats and atmospheres sound great on every song the melodramatic singing, of Schmidt's hand-picked guests, often cripples individual songs. Fortunately the album's instrumental tracks make it worthwhile.

Back in the day, when I was knee-deep in the scene, I probably took this album a lot more seriously than I do now. I was a freak for the use of good samples and the use of Pinhead from Hellraiser on "No Tears" and of Evil Dead II on "Subjection" were particular favorites back then. Another trick Schmidt pulls on Thought Machine that I totally geek-out over (to this day) is framing the album with three short interludes; each is centered around one sample and features an eerie programmed atmosphere. These could be considered throw-away tracks but to me they divide the album into sections and add greatly to the drama of the presentation.

Even back in '95 I only considered this album third tier when compared to the rest of the industrial canon. Today the music sounds pretty low-tech (especially after the later 90's Synth explosion) and most of the singing has become unbearable to listen to.

The one vocal track that really works is "Subjection" featuring Claus Larsen of Leather Strip. It is a great industrial dance track even by today's standards.

Along with "Subjection" the saving grace of Thought Machine is its instrumental tracks. Even though they sound dated they are fun to listen to when reminiscing about my old industrial/goth scene days.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Knut - Terraformer

Year: 2004
Genre: Post-Metal

Highlight Tracks: "Solar Flare", "Evian", "Fallujah"

Imagine a wooden Viking ship adorned with low-tech booster rockets and radio arials sticking off of it at crazed angles. A hundred oars stick out of each side, rowing in ghostly unison. The sails made from shiny, 60's-era, Apollo lander tin-foil are full with solar winds.

The Viking ship glides through space passing a giant star that looks like a yellow eye shot-through with loopy strings of blood. Just beyond the star a planet comes into view. The alien continents of its surface pock-marked by giant explosions and mushroom clouds. The Viking captain stands above the forecastle surveying the approaching shore with grim determination. His crew of Viking astronauts, on deck behind him, ready for war.

Then, hidden in the haze of the dying sun, two small interceptor craft appear. The Viking ship banks to starboard as the laser beams of the smaller crafts make the space around it into a net of destruction. A thick energy beam slices into the Viking ship's mid-section. A fountain of wood splinters erupts into space. The shattered planks and slivers floating in the weightless void spin into oblivion as the interceptors rocket through them for the kill.

On deck the warriors curse in their Viking tongue as their ship rides the rough waves of space. As the Captain barks for evasive maneuvers he thinks of how far his immortal crew have come since their earthbound days. Countless planetfall raids on mishaped demons, months of aimless drifting without food or drink, passing through strange vortex and wormhole; challenges all survived. Centuries they have sailed through the stars in search of Valhalla. Perhaps today thay have found it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Jane's Addiction - Ritual De Lo Habitual

Year: 1990
Genre: Alternative

Highlight Tracks: "Obvious", "Three Days", "Classic Girl"
Weak Track: "Been Caught Stealing"

One of the best albums of the 90's by one of the best American rock-n-roll bands of all time.

This album is much more than "Been Caught Stealing" and if you've only ever heard that mega-single then you are really missing out.

It all starts with the ironically-named "Stop" easily one of the most dramatic and entertaining album openers ever. Right away the album is tearing along with towering vocals from Perry Farrell and virtuoso playing by the band (especially guitar-hero Dave Navarro - what happened to that guy?). It is a damn exciting song and if it doesn't get you going then you better check your pulse or more appropriately make sure you have one!

The first half of the album is chock full of high-speed numbers dedicated to the fast and loose rock-n-roll lifestyle. Our journey is narrarated by Farrell's nasal whine and psudeo-butch grunts and groans. Meanwhile the rythmn section conduct high-speed dog-fight stacattos underneath Navarro's warp-speed guitar solos. Brilliant tempo changes abound and when we get to the fourth track "Obvious" we already need a breather. Jane's Addiction slow it down on "Obvious" but they never cease to amaze.

"Obvious" is the first of the album's Nothing's Shocking-style epics. It is a beautifully constructed mid-tempo mega-jam. Farrell's voice becomes another instrument, rather than the usual center-piece, as the band bend the listener's ear around a vortex of sound. If I had to describe the Rocky Mountains to a blind person I would play them this song.

"Been Caught Stealing" (the single heard round the world) is probably the album's most boring track. It is a decent enough summer-time single but it doesn't really show off much of what made Jane's Addiction such a great band. There is little innovation here which is probably why it ended up being so popular. This song blends in with any other trad-rocker of the early 90's. Which makes for a passable song just not that interesting.

"...Stealing" is followed by the album's tent-peg song; the gargantuan "Three Days" is a miracle in music. Nothing I can write here will do it justice, you should probably listen to it for yourself.

Actually the entire second half of Ritual is genius.

"Three Days"
"Then She Did"
"Of Course"
"Classic Girl"

In the future that block of songs should be studied in conservatories and books should be dedicated to lauding the band for arranging them in that order. That inspired song sequence combined with the fiery first-half makes this album a modern classic.

That's about as ringing an endorsement as I've ever mustered. I'd almost feel ashamed for such heavy-handed cheerleading but it really is that damn good.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Inspiral Carpets - Life

Year: 1990
Genre: Madchester

Highlight Tracks: "Commercial Rain", "Weakness", "Sackville"
Weak Tracks: "Sun Don't Shine", "Memories of You"

I feel like I can't properly comment on this album without a vocabulary chock full of Manchester colloquialisms because that's what the album brings to mind: the vibrant and exciting Manchester scene of the late 80's and early 90's. In one month in Manchester you could catch techno-progenitors 808 State at some warehouse then cut across town to catch Inspiral Carpets on the guitar-pop end of the scene (or Happy Mondays or The Charlatans or Stone Roses - take your pick). There was such an awesome proliferation of music going on there no wonder they dubbed it Madchester!

Life crackles with energy and imagination, practically bursting at the seams with ideas. As a debut album it gives the impression that the Inspiral Carpets were going for broke when they recorded it; jamming in two albums worth of quality material as if they thought this was the only chance they'd ever get to cut an album. The result is an album that includes everything and the kitchen sink. A debut that I would call a madball masterpiece of proto-britpop if not for the inclusion of the two weak tracks listed above.

"Memories of You" is weak because it sounds like filler. It feels like the band threw it in to give the listener an unnecessary breather from the blistering first half. Musically the track is okay, but momentum-wise it pulls the chair out from under the otherwise brilliant progression of songs.

"Sun Don't Shine" is just a terrible misfire of a song. It took all of my willpower not to skip over it on today's listen. I hate this song and wish it had been regulated to b-side or better yet 'unreleased' status. I guess the song should have worked since the band pull-off similar ballad numbers on the album's later half and again years later on Revenge of the Goldfish. But no matter how many chances I give it, this song always falls flat. First, they replace the Hammond organ with a cheesy synthesizer line that I can not stand. Then as if that wasn't bad enough the song bogs down in a quagmire of painfully bad lyrics sung with a rare lackluster vocal delivery by Steve Holt. Ugh, moving on.

Thanks to these two tracks the album plays long. Which is a shame because it really is a great example of high-energy British rock and doesn't need those two songs slowing it down.

As I stated earlier the album is overflowing with strong tracks. "Commercial Rain" is a perfect example of what makes Life such an amazing album. Its opening beats drive head first into a wall of distorted Hammond organ then smash through as the bass and guitar open up full-throttle. The song's trademark Madchester jam then wraps around Holt's emerging vocals that manage to sound like the best of the early 80's Romantics. The rest of the album features equally amazing instrumentation and passionate vocals. "Weakness" sums up everything about the band that rocks; being a true party anthem. On the slower side, the single "This Is How It Feels" turned into a genuine hit (and rightfully so) while the album closer "Sackville" is a glimpse into the genius balladry that would come later in the band's career on Revenge of the Goldfish.

Monday, May 14, 2007

HiM - Sworn Eyes

Year: 1999
Genre: Experimental

Highlight Tracks: "Scorn Nothing", "On The Periphery"
Weak Track: "Trace Elements"

This is a very cool album. I almost would call it trip-hop if not for the more abstract stretches. But then again it has a real jazz aspect to it as well. The entire thing is instrumental and feels like a score for an imaginary film. I'm going to go with experimental as its genre because it gives the impression that HiM mastermind Doug Scharin is trying to create something new by experimenting with cross-genre elements; colliding old-school jazz live instruments with hip-hop production and beautiful electronic programming.

From the above paragraph it should be obvious that this is not the lame pop-goth band H.I.M. this is the Chicago improv-scene jam unit of the same name. Featuring members of June of 44 and Tortoise among others, Doug Scharin orchestrates some real indie-cred talent on this 1999 offering.

Each of the five songs feel epic in scale; giving one the sense that each song is meant for its own urban saga. Without vocals, however, this is left completely to the listener's imagination. I would attempt to write some album-inspired fiction here but with one track clocking at 20-minutes and another at 12-minutes, I feel like I'd be writing a novella or screenplay before I did the music any justice.

Suffice it to say, this music has an extremely cool vibe that would inspire one to write some kind of near-future noir setting where 40's nostalgia was all the rage. It's the kind of music that should be playing in the background of one of Deckard's minor cases or in the head of a private eye character in Shadowrun. Especially the album highlight, "Scorn Nothing", which kicks unholy amounts of ass in its own creepy, trumpet-wailing, 'fist fight on a fire-escape' way.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Girls Against Boys - Tropic of Scorpio

Year: 1992
Genre: Noise Rock

Highlight Tracks: "Wow Wow Wow", "Plush",
"Everything I Do Seems To Cost Me $20"

Consider this my official petition to get this album remastered and reissued.

This album is an incredible document in the development of Girls Against Boys as a band. It features "safety's off" machine-gun creativity with the band going in a million directions at once. The songs roll into each other with an unstoppable kinteic energy that takes the listener through its 31-minute run-time in the blink of an eye.

The rythmn section hold the whole ball of energy together; rocking deep bass-lines and scattershot drumming through-out. The bizarre vocal performances add a sense of cool to the whole thing, but also include such fun high-pitched asides that its almost self-deprecating at times. Singer, Scott McCloud, sounds pretty young here but you can catch hints of the wizened, cynic of later albums that he would turn into after a few more bourbons. The production wraps the album in a nice level of fuzzy noise so that even the quiet numbers sound like they have a million things going on at once. GVSB sound like they went into this album open to any and all ideas and they packed as many into it as possible.

The one-two punch of album highlights "Plush" followed by "Everything I Do Seems To Cost Me $20" is worth the price of admission alone. The rest of the album features an amazing array of drenched in cool noise rock that should also be taken seriously. To some the album may come across as unfocused (since GVSB tightened up a lot on later releases) but to me this shotgun blast works like a messy little masterpiece.

As a debut full-length this album showed a ton of promise and Girls Against Boys spent most of the 90's living up to that early potential with a catalog of amazing albums.

Their debut definitely could benefit from a volume boosting remastering as it played kind of low on my stereo and in the car. Such unique and exciting instrumentation deserves to be heard with better sound quality and volume.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Fictional - Fictitious [+]

Year: 2001
Genre: Industrial - Synth

Highlight Tracks: "Blue Lights", "Nightmare", "On Helloween"
Weak Track: "Hangman"

Being the first Industrial-related album on here I feel like I should clarify the genre since there will be a million more. To me Industrial music is based on the beats; strong, driving, repetitive. I break the genre down into three main phases based on the prevelant sound of the phase: Noise (early), Dance (late 80's, early 90's), Synth (late 90's to present). Of course there are obvious ancestors of the later phases in the earlier ones and examples of the earlier phases continue to be made today, but for the most part the phases hold true.

Ficticious being in the Industrial-synth phase don't expect the most profound lyrics here. That said this music is very danceable and when they aren't impressing with their thump-thump, Fictional create some beautiful synth atmospheres. The entire album has a gothic tone with each track dripping in woe and sorrow.

Fictional is a Funker Vogt side-project. The parent band cater to the psuedo-fascist, combat boot dancers of the scene but with Fictional they give a more than competent nod to the scene's children of the night. This makes the album a nice cross-over number appealing to both sides of the Industrial/Goth divide (if that even exists anymore). This appeal generated a true dance-floor hit with the song "Blue Lights" and a reissue by Metropolis records. The reissue features two additional 'live' tracks that I feel detract from the cohesiveness and tone of the album.

For some reason this album (minus the 'live' tracks) makes me think of foot-chases, ornate bridges, and inner-city waterways. Imagine the Liffey in Dublin with the sun blotted out by a biblical swarm of bats, a shadow is cast over the entire city as a doomed couple run from a pack of slavering hell-hounds.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Eugenius - Oomalama

Year: 1992
Genre: Indie-rock

Highlight Tracks: "Here I Go", "I'm The Sun", "Bye Bye"
Weak Track: "Bed-in"

This is a nice, little record from those innocent and oblivious high school years. In the vein of Teenage Fanclub or The Lemonheads, it is inoffensive mix-tape for-a-girl-you-like music. It pretty much sums up being clueless about girls; complete with the highs and lows of having hopeless crushes across the classroom.

This album is chock full of energetic indie-rockers that would be great anthems for any off-beat teen relationship. Songs that have just the right amount of guitar and whimsy for that drive down to the shore, but also have enough hidden damage in the vocals to put a dagger right through your heart after the inevitable break-up. It has a nice 'remember the good times, I want to call her' quality to it.

Beyond those excellent masochistic teen aspects, for the long-haul the album features great, early-90's guitar-pop. This is a sunny, energetic album with just the right off-beat vocal tone to miss the mainstream. This album went nowhere when it hit U.S. shores back in '92, even though it was plugged by Kurt Cobain as one of his favorite bands. This commercial failure may have been due to the fact that Marvel comics sued the band into changing their name from Captain America only after the music press had heralded Captain America as the second-coming of indie-Jesus. A second coming that came to the U.S. disguised as Eugenius (named after the band's primary song-writer, Eugene Kelly).

After the barn-burner opening/title track, the album feels low-key until the sixth song when it takes-off like a rocket. The excellent indie-rocker "Down on Me" begins an incredible run of nine invincible tracks that really put this album on the map. Oomalama is much more interesting than anything The Lemonheads did in the 90's and nearly rivals Teenage Fanclub's classic American debut, Bandwagonesque.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Death In Vegas - The Contino Sessions

Year: 1999
Genre: Electronica

This album is one moody bitch so here goes -

1. Dirge: Asphalt at night, slick with rain. Streetlights reflecting in polished black paint on the body lines of a purring muscle car. She leans against the left-side of the hood looking bored, he grips the steering wheel trying to look tough.

2. Soul Auctioneer: Skin taught over junkie bones. Arm dangles off the gray couch, long cigarette burning down over empty beer cans and a bent spoon. Dull eyes watch ceiling fan theater while the landlord yells through the door. John Peel plays faintly on the radio.

3. Death Threat: Neon lights flicker on dormant robot arms. A digital clock reads early A.M. as a conveyor belt jiggles to life. Swivel joints do the robot as sides of beef roll by on rubber and pins. Buzzsaws cut with indifference. The controller presses buttons in a sealed booth, tired and oblivious to the perfection.

4. Flying: Flags flap in the dull morning wind. Alarm clocks strike city-wide. Coffee gets poured, toast gets bit, papers are read. Ties are tied after shoes. Lips brush cheeks. Front doors bang shut. Elevators descend. Feet skittle down steps. Thousands of routines are repeated and completed. Strangers bob heads in rythmn with commuter train rides or with bizarre synchronicity to each others radios while in traffic jams. From the sky all the moving parts look like art.

5. Aisha: A gas station recedes behind two speeding Harleys. It explodes. Iggy nods at Aisha. They ride into the heart of the blood-red sun.

6. Lever Street: The folds in the sheets are a mountian range, their legs smooth glaciers. They sleep with a small fan blowing back-and-forth under a wind chime. Light from the street filters in through bent blinds on their stacks of books.

7. Aladdin's Story: The boys cruise through the warehouse district looking for fun. A car full of bent smiles and challenges. Junior Murvin croons on the radio. Gentle hooligans on the prowl.

8. Broken Little Sister: She sits on the rooftop in a torn dress, teasing pigeons in cages. Her color blind eyes make the gray sky look green and the gaps between buildings the color of oceans. Satellites fall from the sky all around her.

9. Neptune City: A princess puts on foundation powder while her country goes to war. Clouds of powder drift over the people. Letters from sons and daughters. Exotic images on tee-vee. 'So smart in your uniform.' A last night out with the boys, a weekend leave home, marching bands in their eyes.

'Tell us all about it.'
'Sorry mate, I just want to get twisted.'