Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Big Black-Songs About Fucking

"During the 80s, along with other contemparies such as Sonic Youth and Ministry, Steve Albini’s Big Black were branded ‘Pig***’ music by music critic Robert Christgau. The term gives off a particular dark feel of music that is loud, harsh and most importantly of all, noisy. Big Black sound unique and there is quite a lot of factors that add to why it’s so unique. First point, there is no real drums on here, there is only a drum machine (noted in the liner notes as “Roland” respectively). And my second point is Albini’s special production techniques; he is faithful to the analog way of recording (though in 1987, I’m sure there was no other option), the drums must always sound live which means lots of lovely reverb, the guitars must be filthy raw and the most important trait of an Albini recording is that the vocals are low in the mix. This has helped shaped many albums but most of all and most importantly, Songs About Fucking.

Words cannot describe how violent this album is; the guitars are drenched and drowned with fuzz making it hard to pick out any clear guitar line, the drum machine usually gives off a jack hammer effect and Albini sings with such brutality that it sounds fierce even with the vocals low in the mix. The songs go by fast with most of them not reaching the typical three minute barrier. The songs are packed with controversy fuelling Albini’s desire to offend. Who else could write a song like “Fish Fry” about a man cleaning out his truck after throwing a dead body into a pond from it? And who else would have the balls to cover the Kraftwerk classic “The Model” and possibly make a version that is nearly as good as the original? Big Black are certainly one of a kind and Songs About Fucking is the magnum opus of their career.

What makes the album what it is, is the tight rhythm section from Dave Riley and Roland the drum machine. They provide the basis of the songs with the static, fuzzing guitars obliterating any ounce of silence. A sense of joy tingles up the spine with the jack hammer intro of “L Dopa”, the jumping bass line of “Kitty Empire” or even the balls out approach to the second half of “Power of Independent Trucking”. All the tracks have some sort of special moment to them and it makes each track a worthwhile listen.

Songs About Fucking is a classic, it is influential to many other bands but what stops it from getting top marks is that the second side doesn’t live up to the first side. Even Abini notes: “The best was side one of 'Songs About ***ing'. I was real pleased with the way we did that. We just hopped into the studio, banged all the songs out and hopped out. Didn't take long, didn't cost much, just real smooth. Side two we recorded at a more leisurely pace and I think that hurt us.” The second side has a fair share of astounding songs but none of them live up to the sheer brilliance or intensity of the first side. Any fan of punk music or industrial music will enjoy this a lot. If it’s not the warmth of the sound that sucks you in then it will be the force of it all. Albini has made his best album with this and while projects like Shellac or Rapeman pertain to this sort of sound, it has never beat it."

This is a nasty album in the best way possible. As violent as any album I've heard. Listen to it loud.

Fuck me

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Harvey Milk Assaults Some Has Beens

A Case For Robert Gates

Great article in the Washington Post by former UN Ambassador Nancy Sodberg on the case for keeping Defense Secretary Robert Gates in the next Presidential Cabinet. I'm no fan of George W. Bush by any means but if you're not aware of Gates' contribution to this country, this is an excellent read.

Here's a free piece of advice to President Barack Obama or President John McCain: There's no need to look for a new secretary of defense. You already have the best man in the job.

The Obama campaign in particular seems to have noticed the virtues of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. It's a little head-spinning to see senior Democrats lauding a Bush cabinet officer in the heat of the campaign, but earlier this month, Richard Danzig, the former Navy secretary who has become one of Obama's closest national security aides, said that many of Gates's pragmatic policies at the Pentagon "are things that Senator Obama agrees with and I agree with." Danzig added that Gates could do "even better" if he stayed on the job in an Obama administration.

The case for Gates goes beyond the obvious question of assisting the next president in handling Iraq, which Gates has helped haul back from the brink of total collapse. But he has also been instrumental in launching a sweeping revolution in U.S. national security.

Gates has found space to do so since, with the exception of Vice President Cheney, the hard-liners who populated the first Bush term are now gone. Instead of outspoken ideologues such as Douglas Feith and John Bolton, we now have competent functionaries such as National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley. Even Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who played cheerleader to the addled muscle-flexing policies of the first term, has surrounded herself with career diplomats and is actually listening to them. The administration that didn't do nation-building and wouldn't talk to the "axis of evil" is doing both.

The most important change, however, is that the administration has finally hit on a long-term way to make the United States secure: by promoting prosperity abroad. This doesn't sound like Pentagon business, but Gates has shown a surprising willingness to think creatively. He doesn't get the attention that his abrasive predecessor, Donald H. Rumsfeld, did, but Gates has put forward a national security policy vision that will be far more lasting -- and successful.

In several speeches that haven't received the attention they deserve, Gates has argued that, as he put it on Sept. 29 at the National Defense University, "direct military force will continue to have a role" in the "prolonged, world-wide irregular campaign" against al-Qaeda and other violent extremists. But here's the important part: Gates understands "that over the long term, we cannot kill or capture our way to victory."

Instead, he calls for beefed up U.S. diplomatic and development capabilities. Unlike Cheney and Rumsfeld, who were obsessed with potential great-power competitors such as China, Gates bluntly admits that the "most likely catastrophic threats to our homeland -- for example, an American city poisoned or reduced to rubble by a terrorist attack -- are more likely to emanate from failing states than from aggressor states." His solution to failing states? Help patch them up. Shortly after he took office, Gates argued that the lesson from Iraq and Afghanistan is that "economic development, . . . good governance, providing basic services to the people, training and equipping indigenous military and police forces, strategic communications, and more -- these, along with security, are essential ingredients for long-term success."

Another sign of this revolution came last week with the release of a new Army field manual whose sections on conflict-ridden, fragile states give similar weight to both nation-building and major combat operations. In other words, Gates sees reconstruction and economic development as central parts of the Pentagon's push to make the United States safer from the threats that can lurk inside weak and failing states such as Afghanistan.

He has been quietly putting this approach into action. In a little-noticed move last summer, the Pentagon sent the USS Kearsarge, an amphibious assault ship, on a humanitarian mission to six countries in Latin America. Instead of rushing Marines into battle, the Kearsarge carried more than 500 humanitarian workers, doctors and development experts -- all with the mission, in the words of the ship's commander, of "influencing generations to come." When Hurricane Ike slammed into Haiti in September, the Kearsarge steamed toward the desperate island nation, bearing helicopters and boats to help stem the humanitarian crisis.

The Kearsarge mission shrewdly sought to build on perhaps the best foreign policy moments of Bush's two terms in office: the responses to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan. In both cases, the United States used its might to address a pressing humanitarian crisis -- and in doing so, built up much-needed trust.

In a world in which the United States has endured double-digit declines in its popularity since 2002, such efforts can restore U.S. credibility -- the key missing ingredient for winning the war on terror. This new approach, with its focus on building a more prosperous, less menacing world, works: It delivers tangible results, makes our friends abroad more stable and offers a far more reliable path to keeping the United States safe. It also happens to represent a revolutionary shift in Bush administration thinking about security. And it is being driven by military and Foreign Service officers with no ideological agendas -- including Adm. Michael Mullen, Gen. David H. Petraeus and State Department officials Christopher Hill, William Burns and C. David Welch.

The professionals understand that any deal that might persuade North Korea or Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions must also help those regimes feed their people and feel more secure. They understand that the United States should not have clung to the corrupt regime of Gen. Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan that denied the public the right to choose its own leaders. And they understand that if we want the world to help us fight nuclear proliferation and terrorism, we have to be seen as helping the rest of the world's citizens with their own challenges.

The gap between these two approaches -- between the professionals and the ideologues -- is perhaps starkest on Iraq. Our generals know that the secret of the "surge" wasn't simply putting more U.S. troops on the ground as our coalition partners withdrew. The secret was implementing a new set of tactics, largely drawn from the counterinsurgency manual developed by Petraeus, that focused on the Iraqi people's basic needs.

Petraeus's strategy was honed during his earlier service in Haiti and Bosnia, but his most formative assignment was his 2003 stint as commander of the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul, Iraq. There, he recognized that security depended not only on killing insurgents but also on making sure that the people of Mosul had a chance to improve their quality of life. Petraeus kept asking, "Is life better than it was under Saddam Hussein?" He made great strides in improving the security situation by bettering Iraqis' lives with quick, high-impact construction projects, by employing Iraqis rather than foreign contractors to help build their own country and even jump-starting trade between northern Iraq and Syria.

It's this sort of broad-mindedness that we need -- and that Gates values. Petraeus is Gates's kind of leader; the Pentagon chief likes to quote Gen. George Marshall's description of Dwight D. Eisenhower as the "almost perfect model of a modern commander: part soldier, part diplomat, part administrator." Gates understands that all three aspects are crucial, that for all our core national security problems -- finishing the jobs in Iraq and Afghanistan, stabilizing Pakistan, defeating al-Qaeda, confronting a resurgent Russia and advancing the Middle East peace process -- the secret to success will be improving the basic security of people in the area and giving them more comfortable, hopeful lives. If McCain and Obama understand this as well, they'll ask Gates to stay put. He has served his country well, but his country isn't done with him yet.

I Wish This Photo Was Doctored...

If that doesn't speak volumes, nothing does.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Teenage Filmstars-Star (1992)

"Rumoured to have been recorded by an aggregation of various Teenage Fanclubbers and Bloody Valentiners, this mysterious album had journalists and pop stars from Britain and America fascinated by its sound. Wherever My Bloody Valentine have roared throughout the universe the Teenage Filmstars echo has followed, but not blindly. Where the MBV sound is the well-controlled experiment from the lab, the Teenage Filmstars set their rocket to unknown planets -- what is Star? An alchemist's philosophy stone thrown surreptitiously into space? It was in fact, the work of one Edward Ball, in between label duties for Creation Records and recording for the label. 'The Master Of Brinkmanship,' as one taste maker of the time described him. This reissue features four previously unreleased extra tracks, including an early version of Edward Ball's hit single Love Is Blue"

Required for any MBV fan or shoegaze fan in general.

Lift off!!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Fire on Fire

Fire on Fire is a collaboration between ex-Cerberus Shoal members and Micah Blue Smaldone, a folk guitarist. Members are also in Big Blood, probably one of my 5 favorite bands ever (a post on them should be coming shortly). From ex-Swans/current Angels of Light mainman Michael Gira:

"They used to be the art-punk-prog-chaos collective Cerberus Shoal, but they ditched their electric instruments, went into hiding for a while, and now play all acoustic-stand up bass, mandolin, banjo, harmonium, accordion, acoustic guitar, dobro etc etc, and they all sing and harmonize on the songs. Live, they do it "old school" and just use two mics placed in front of them on the stage, like a bluegrass band. They all live in the same house up in Maine, across from rusting green oil tanks, apparently. To me they sound like a backwoods, fierce, psychedelic Mamas And The Papas or a crazed and joyously vengeful gospel string band. They're great people and I love their music. It's all acoustic, but it's not in the least Fire On Firefolky. More old-timey incantations - American music with excellent words and performed with the honed violence of intent that truly great music requires. They're a total blast live. They just recently played my back porch actually (!!!!) for my wife's birthday and it was one of the best live music experiences I've had in years."

I've collected everything I could find which is their debut 5 song EP, a song from their forthcoming album "The Orchard" and an unreleased track that will probably end up on the album. Highest possible recommendation.

Get it!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Reeks and the Wrecks-Kinfe Hits

"An old drum kit. Homemade amps. A dented old trombone. A bucket and a handful of firecrackers. The Reeks make a sound that is otherworldly. Dark and stumbling, folk-flecked basement blues. A mix of woozy slide guitar, swampy trombone, sparse and erratic percussion, tape hiss, amp buzz, shortwave interference and dark doomy brilliance. Like a ghostly, indie rock New Orleans funeral jazz band or Roland S. Howard fronting the Dead C. Haunting, mesmerizing, gorgeously raucous, dreamily creepy and absolutely unlike anything you have ever heard. For years the Reeks played all up and down the West Coast, basements, back porches, living rooms, pizza parlours, with only a 12" and a battered old suitcase full of hand dubbed cassettes to their name, spreading their warm cloak of pulsing, droning creepy crawly throb over anyone lucky enough to be packed into the same sweaty space. At once jubilant and danceable, but at the same time, dark and lugubrious, ominous and somnabulent. Lovers of weird music couldn't get enough, but eventually, even dyed in the wool indie rockers began to embrace the Reeks, having perhaps found something that still smacked of their beloved indie rock, but was a little darker and a whole lot weirder than they were used to. But by then it was too late. The release of Knife Hits is truly bittersweet. After years of recording and re-recording, mixing and remixing, when Knife Hits was finally ready to be released, and the rest of the world would finally get to hear the Reeks' amazing off kilter avant indie funeral folk, Orion Satushek, Reeks mainman, guitar player, instrument builder and one of the nicest guys ever, was tragically hit and killed by a drunk driver. The personal loss, is indescribable, a deep sting everytime we think about him, his band, his music, his friendship. But the loss to music, to the music community, is immeasurable. Years of playing, and practicing and rocking and sweating in tiny cramped basements and doing with a crappy old drum kit and a couple of homemade amps what most bands can't do with all the equipment in the world is somehow all crammed onto this single disc. These ten songs. The passion, the playfulness, the dark moodiness, the spaced out droniness, the wild sweaty chaos, the sheer joy of making an unholy racket. This record is not only a totally unique chunk of damaged outsider rock brilliance, but it's also a fitting tribute to a friend we will never get over losing. We miss you, Orion." (Taken from Andee's discription on his tUMULt website)

Not much I can say then, huh? Great description, sums it up perfectly. Not quite sure how to feel when I listen to it but I love it and if you dig intriguing sounding stuff, well, what are you waiting for? Needless to say, very highly recommended.

Hit me!

The Daily website

While the description I heard from the founder was atrocious, it's a pretty cool site to get a roundup of columnists from different viewpoints and other quick news tidbits without having to dig through most of the bullshit that gets published by the media. It does seem a tad intelligentsia and the fact that the founder used to write for the New Yorker doesn't help but the fact that the articles aren't littered with pointless details pleases me. Check it out.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Skip James-1931 Sessions

Oooh boy. If any bluesman will make you weep, it's this man right here. His proper studio albums pale in comparison to this gem which any self-respecting music fan should have...not to sound too overbearing or anything. Seriously though, the man was monsterously bitter, bizarre, and most of all, a complete asshole like any bluesman should be. Highest recommendation possible.

I'm so glad

Akira Ishikawa & Count Buffalo-Uganda

"Unbelievable 1972 Japanese underground rarity featuring acid guitar god Kimio Mizutani on planet-bombing wah-wah/distorto form backed by a thunder of African rhythms. Miuztani is best known for killer prog/psych sides like Love Live Life +1 and A Path Through Haze but this features some of the most spirit-flaying six string sorcery he ever laid in stone, over a shrifting back line that feels as cosmos-bound as Billy TK’s all-Maori Powerhouse orchestra or those never-realised Miles/Hendrix third-stone jams. Too fucking much.Highly recommended."

That about says it all. Been listening to it nonstop lately. Aside from the killer guitar and drum work, the bassist is fucking nasty as well. Totally essential.

Take me to Uganda

Beyond the Wizards Sleeve-Ark 1

"we got a big one here! you don't wanna' miss this! richard norris, founding member of the grid, and london's premier dj, producer and remix maestro erol alkan have been releasing music under the beyond the wizard's sleeve moniker since 2007, when their first 12" sold out in a matter of days. then came the second, third and fourth releases, all selling out as soon as they hit the shelves. here is a collection of some of the finest moments from the 4 highly sought after 12's. this is a serious slice of esoteric, eclectic freakbeat weirdness. re-edited nuggets, long lost exotic psychedelia and krauty, disco beats are all mangled into previously unheard shapes. totally exclusive to rough trade, this is simply some of the most vital, mindbending and great music to be heard. do. not. miss." -Rough Trade

This is a ridiculous record that all psych/krautrock/electro fans NEED. Best record I've heard all year.

Want it?