Wednesday, December 30, 2009


OK, here 'tis: my year-end list. It was supposed to be a Top Ten, obviously, but there were so many great albums released this year that my top four slots wound up being ties. So...

1. Mastodon
Crack the Skye (Reprise)
Blue Record (Relapse)
2009 was Georgia's year. Atlanta-based Mastodon released a prog-metal epic that holds its own with the most ambitious hard rock of the '70s, combining lyrics that told the most bizarre, convoluted story (it involves astral traveling, the Russian monk Rasputin and more) since Genesis's The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. The music was brilliant, too -- less assaultive than earlier efforts, but just as awesome. No wonder they played the whole album on tour this year. Meanwhile, their friends in Savannah's Baroness issued a sophomore full-length that displayed a rare combination of ambition and restraint, building on the successes of 2007's Red Album without feeling pressured to go as prog as Mastodon, or get heavier for heaviness's sake. Blue Record is unashamedly beautiful.

2. Marduk
Wormwood (Regain)
Funeral Mist
Maranatha (Norma Evangelium Diaboli)
In 2004, Marduk hired Daniel "Mortuus" Olsson as its new frontman, and this year the band released its greatest studio work to date. This is not a coincidence. Like its predecessor, 2007's Rom 5:12, Wormwood builds on the blasting black metal of the group's 1990s catalogue with complex songwriting and more thoughtful lyrics. The same qualities were also present on Mortuus's second solo album, the breathtaking, thoroughly blasphemous (yet deeply philosophical) Maranatha, released under the name Funeral Mist.

3. Born of Osiris
A Higher Place (Sumerian)
Existence is Futile (Relapse)
It was a great year for young bands, too. Revocation's second album, following a self-released 2008 CD, blended technical thrash and shredding guitar solos with addictive riffage worthy of Lamb of God. Born of Osiris, while more unrelenting, is also more progressive, stacking keyboard solos atop complex guitar interplay and raw-throated deathcore vocals.

4. Job for a Cowboy
Ruination (Metal Blade)
Breathing the Fire (Prosthetic)
Job for a Cowboy overcame derision from purer-than-thou metal bloggers and message-board trolls to release a genuinely ferocious death-metal album that, from its blitzkrieg opener to its death-march closing title track, proved they were far more than a MySpace sensation. These Arizonans are serious comers, with chops and riff-carving skills to spare, and in years to come, they'll be a band to beat. Skeletonwitch's second full-length mixed thrash guitars with black-metal vocals and death metal's pummeling force, and their live shows are rapidly becoming a must-see.

5. Immortal
All Shall Fall (Nuclear Blast)
These Scandinavian black-metallers get ridiculed for their excessively Kiss-like corpse paint and pro-wrestling poses in promo pics, but one listen to this astonishing comeback album, their first release since 2002, will call a halt to any and all snickering. The production gives them the epic power they've always sought, while the songs are some of their most aggressive, and yet an extreme-metal way. If your ideal weekend is spent wandering amid snowdrifts, furiously headbanging, you've got a brand-new life soundtrack.

6. Sunn O)))
Monoliths & Dimensions (Southern Lord)
Long legendary in the hipster underground and with art critics, Sunn O)))'s live shows are astonishing, physical experiences, the sheer volume and ultra-low frequencies caressing and punishing the audience. But the band's never really made a studio masterwork until now. Bringing in guests ranging from jazz trombone legend Julian Priester to a full female vocal choir, Sun O))) has assembled a four-track, hour-long epic that's a journey from peak to peak, with no weak moments and some passages of staggering beauty. Is this metal in the traditional sense? No. But it's as heavy as a planet.

7. Converge
Axe to Fall (Epitaph)
People are still calling these Massachusetts-based noise-rockers a hardcore band, even though their jagged, dissonant songs have more in common with Unsane than Sick of It All. And on their latest album, they expand their pool of influences to include Disfear (whose last album was produced by Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou) and Tom Waits. So what the hell do we call them now? For the moment, "awesome" will have to do.

8. Heaven & Hell
The Devil You Know (Rhino)
The Ronnie James Dio-fronted version of Black Sabbath released its first album since 1992 this year, and it's exactly as doom-haunted and world-crushing as should be expected from guys in their late fifties and older who've been making this kind of music since ... well, since Tony Iommi invented it. Lyrics straight out of the Old Testament paired up with drums like the gates of Hell slamming shut on your head, and riffs that carve the very earth into majestic sculptures.

9. Slayer
World Painted Blood (Sony)
Another gang of old dudes shows the kids how it's done. Slayer wrote the majority of this album in the studio, and the result is a loose, punk-like set of tracks that offer raw, energized performances (Tom Araya sounds almost breathless at times) built around some of their best riffs since the early '90s. The production, by Gregg Fidelman, echoes that of Metallica's similarly organic-but-still-crushing Death Magnetic, minus the mastering issues that marred that otherwise excellent release. The covers collection Undisputed Attitude aside, Slayer's never made a truly bad album, but this one is easily in their top five.

10. Megadeth
Endgame (Roadrunner)
Dave Mustaine's latest iteration of his high-tech thrash band is possibly the best since Marty Friedman left; new guitarist Chris Broderick, formerly of Nevermore, is a shredding machine, firing off squiggling leads left, right and center. Hell, this album opens with a two-minute instrumental that's nothing but a platform for solos. Fortunately, there are songs here, too, from "Head Crusher," which lives up to its title, to the drag-racing anthem "1,320'." Even the token ballad and Mustaine's batshit political rants can't sink this one.


The next time I have new reviews up at AMG, it'll be 2010, so here's eight to finish off 2009.

Arsis, A Celebration of Guilt
Arsis, United in Regret
Tonino Carotone, Ciao Mortali
Necrophagist, Onset of Putrefaction
Neuraxis, Truth Beyond...
Neuraxis, Truth Beyond/Imagery/A Passage Into Forlorn
Neuraxis, Trilateral Progression
Neuraxis, Live Progression

Sunday, December 27, 2009


I just got an email announcing the winners (not the whole list, just the #1s) of the 2009 Village Voice Jazz Critics' Poll (full results to be published in this week's issue), and I'm not at all surprised to see Vijay Iyer's Historicity take the prize. It's a very good album, and there's been a massive congealing of critical warmth around it for much of the year.

I didn't vote for it, though. Here are the albums I did vote for:

Bill Dixon, Tapestries For Small Orchestra (Firehouse 12)
David S. Ware Quartet, Live In Vilnius (NoBusiness)
Joe Morris, Wildlife (AUM Fidelity)
Wadada Leo Smith & Jack DeJohnette, America (Tzadik)
Steve Lehman Octet, Travail, Transformation & Flow (Pi)
NEW, Newtoons (Bo’ Weavil)
Chris Potter, Ultrahang (ArtistShare)
Derek Bailey & Steve Noble, Out Of The Past (Ping Pong)
Wayne Escoffery, Uptown (Posi-Tone)
Tyshawn Sorey, Koan (482 Music)

Saturday, December 26, 2009


I keep seeing this Wal-Mart commercial with two dudes in parkas, gloves etc. rooting around in trash cans and recycling bins outside a snow-covered suburban home. The one asks the other, "What are you looking for?" and his buddy replies, "A hairbrush for a Barbie," or something like that, whereupon the questioner gives the answerer a look of hopelessness. It was only on about the third viewing of this creepy two-character drama that I figured out they were supposed to be hapless dumb-dads (as seen in 1000 commercials, sitcoms etc. over the decades) who'd thrown away vital parts of their kids' presents. When I first watched it, I (and my wife) immediately thought they were homeless, reduced to digging through other people's trash for presents to give their own kids. And either way, what the hell does it have to do with shopping at Wal-Mart?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009


These aren't lists I compiled, just lists on which my work appears. All Music Guide has put together year-end roundups by genre, and since I wrote literally scores of reviews for them this year, a bunch of stuff I wrote up wound up on some of their lists. So here are the links.

AllMusic's Favorite Metal Albums of 2009 (I reviewed six of these: Baroness, Converge, Funeral Mist, Immortal, Katatonia and Keelhaul)

AllMusic's Favorite Latin Albums of 2009 (I reviewed six of these, too: Los Amigos Invisibles, CéU, La Oreja de Van Gogh, Paulina Rubio, Los Tigres del Norte and the compilation Sí, Para Usted: The Funky Beats of Revolutionary Cuba, Vol. 2)

AllMusic's Favorite Reissues of 2009 (I only reviewed one thing on this list - the John Coltrane box Side Steps)

AllMusic's Favorite Jazz Albums of 2009 (again, only one thing of mine on this list: Wadada Leo Smith & Jack DeJohnette's America)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Since I'd already turned in a Top Ten for the Village Voice Jazz Critics' Poll, and a Top Ten Metal Albums of 2009 to Village Voice Media (which will show up on the Voice's blog, as well as the blogs of numerous other VVM papers across the U.S.A.), I decided to make my primary Pazz & Jop ballot all-Latin. Here's what I submitted (in alphabetical order, 10 points each):

Bebe, Y.
Bomba Esteréo, Blow Up
Don Omar, iDon
Girl in a Coma, Trio B.C. (there's only one Spanish-language song on the album, but they're Mexican-Americans)
Graciela Beltran, Reina de la Banda
Natalia Lafourcade, Hu Hu Hu
Paulina Rubio, Gran City Pop
Los Tigres del Norte, La Granja
Various Artists, Sí, Para Usted: The Funky Beats of Revolutionary Cuba, Vol. 2
Wisin y Yandel, La Revolución


Check out this cover:

Now look closely at everyone's feet. Does it look to you like they moved Teddy Riley up an inch or two, floating in the air, to seem taller relative to his two bandmates? 'Cause that's how it looks to me. Maybe it's an optical illusion like one of those "which of these lines is longer" puzzles you see online, where the answer is that both lines are the same size. But I don't think so.

Monday, December 14, 2009


10 new reviews up at AMG; check 'em out!

Circle, Triumph
Elis, Catharsis
Wayne Escoffery, Uptown
Hellmouth, Destroy Everything, Worship Nothing
Impetuous Ritual, Relentless Execution of Ceremonial Excrescence
Megasus, Megasus
Mudvayne, Mudvayne
Ramming Speed, Brainwreck
Various Artists, Africa Boogaloo - The Latinization of West Africa
Various Artists, Psychedelic Super Piotr

Thursday, December 10, 2009


[From the Cleveland Scene.]

In recent years, French black metal has earned a stellar reputation within the global metal community thanks to adventurous bands like Deathspell Omega, Blut Aus Nord, Antaeus and Spektr. These groups, working anonymously and refusing interview requests, make complex, philosophically rigorous music that expands the parameters of the genre in almost every respect: Songs are long and multi-part; the usual buzzsaw guitars and pummeling drums are supplemented by industrial/gothic atmospheres; and the lyrics forgo rote Satanism in favor of in-depth questioning of the religious impulse. A five-piece black-metal band from Paris, Merrimack does none of these things. The band's three albums (2002's Ashes Of Purification, 2006's Of Entropy and Life Denial, and this year's Grey Rigorism) offer primitivist black metal that will be familiar to anyone who's heard older albums by Mayhem, Darkthrone or Marduk — the latter of whom Merrimack are currently supporting on tour. And unlike some newer black-metal bands that have abandoned the black-and-white "corpse paint" that has marked the genre since its early-'90s explosion, they appear in leather and spikes, fully painted up. Since this is Merrimack's first trip to the U.S., we asked them what they thought about America's position in the black-metal scene. Singer Jan "Terrorizt" Desaegher provided some surprisingly funny and pleasant responses.

What are your impressions of America? Is it everything you were expecting?
We didn't expect anything special, to be honest. The Western world is the Western world. It's not that different from Europe, except that the people are fatter and the cars are bigger. Nothing too exciting. We have enjoyed some places so far, like the Northeast, Montreal and Austin. The rest has been rather disappointing. But we're right in the middle of [the tour], and many places remain to be discovered and conquered.

Black metal seems connected to pre-Christian or early Christian ritual and philosophy, which makes it a natural outgrowth of European countries where history goes back a long way. Do you think black metal can flourish in a country as young as the U.S.?
I don't know if I really agree with your statement. If you're referring to all these pagan bands who miserably try to get connected to the invincible cult of black metal and its abominable aura of discomfort, disgust and danger, then I have to clearly disagree. Black metal is attuned to the darkest side of spirituality. Period. Nations don't matter much when it comes to black metal. Good bands can come from all over the world: France, Sweden, France, Sweden or even France. It doesn't matter.

This is your first U.S. tour. How have audiences been treating you?
Generally, the response has been very good. Some audiences were really violent and motivated. Some others were sadly a lot more lazy. But be sure, every city visited has been submitted and conquered.

Black metal has been undergoing a lot of changes in recent years, particularly in France with bands like Deathspell Omega, Blut Aus Nord and others. Yet Merrimack remains committed to a more primitive, older-style sound. Why is that, and what is your opinion of the changes in the black-metal scene, both in France and worldwide?
Black metal, like any artistic movement, is bound to evolve. There's nothing wrong with this. We've added some new elements to our music on our latest album, and more will probably come. We respect bands who dare to evolve, with the ability of doing it right. Let me tell you, they're not numerous.

Some of the bands you're touring with, like Black Anvil, play black metal but don't maintain the visual style. How important is corpse paint in 2009, and what is Merrimack's feeling about it generally?
We stick to it; we're traditionalists. It's up to every band to see for themselves. We won't despise a band just because they don't wear corpse paint. This would be far too superficial. As long as the right aura is conveyed, there's no reason to complain.

Sunday, December 06, 2009


I saw him do the trick in the clip live in New York many years ago. Unfortunately, if his current show (see illustration below) comes to NYC (and I have no doubt it will) I will probably not get to see it. Such is life.

Friday, December 04, 2009


The print version of Jazziz is a quarterly now, but they're putting out online editions in between. The newest one is here, and the cover story is mine. The interface is a little weird, on my laptop at least; I can zoom in on a page but not scroll up and down to read the story. Just in case others are having the same problem, here's the text of the piece.


Sonny Rollins is the definition of a living legend. A professional musician practically since the bebop era, he made his recorded debut in 1948, backing vocalist Babs Gonzalez. Over the last six decades, he’s seen every major movement in jazz come and go, from the hard bop ’50s when he recorded such landmark albums as Saxophone Colossus, Tenor Madness, Freedom Suite, Way Out West and the two volumes of Live At The Village Vanguard, to the avant-garde of the ’60s, which he explored on Our Man In Jazz and East Broadway Run Down, and the fusion which marked some of his ’70s releases for the Milestone label, and the post-bop classicism/modernism that has marked his output since the ’80s.

Rollins has frequently served as a bridge between musical schools of thought and between generations, as when he recorded with Don Cherry and Henry Grimes in 1962 and 1963, the same year that he made an album with Coleman Hawkins. In more recent years, his band has included veterans like bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Al Foster, alongside younger men like pianist Stephen Scott and guitarist Bobby Broom. In many ways, from his saxophone style – which encompasses melodicism, a deep sense of swing and the blues, and an openness to the avant-garde – to his skill at combining players and picking repertoire, Sonny Rollins is a prism through which all of modern jazz can be seen and heard.

This interview was conducted on September 1, 2009, just over a week before Rollins’ 79th birthday and shortly before he was due to begin his latest string of live dates.

Are you surprised to be one of the last men standing from your generation of jazz players?
Well, I’m not entirely surprised. Human beings never know the deepest secrets of the universe. We don’t know about life or death, when it comes, when it doesn’t come, but during my lifetime, there was a period when I stopped doing detrimental habits to my body. I got on health foods, I began exercising, I stopped smoking, stopped using drugs, lifted weights and so on and so forth. So I consciously made an effort during my life to respect my body, so am I surprised I’m the last one? Maybe, but in another sense I made a conscious effort to respect my body.

Do you miss playing with some of those guys, or is there a different kind of satisfaction in leading a band of younger musicians?
Well, of course, I was so fortunate to play with a lot of the real giants of music, and was really blessed beyond belief, and I still think about these people. I was very close to them, so I just have to think about them and it’s as if we’re together playing again. So there’s a certain metaphysical connection that I maintain with a lot of these people, like channeling them in a sense. But on the other hand, I still have a lot of music that I haven’t completed in my own path, so I’m still practicing every day, studying, writing, and playing with younger musicians. And they’re not as great as people I’ve played with, no, but I don’t really think of it as a comparison.

When I saw you play a few years ago, you had Bob Cranshaw and Al Foster, who were older guys, but you also had Stephen Scott on piano, who was a younger guy. So it was kind of a mix of generations.
Yeah. I like to have – younger people are good, because they have a lot of energy usually, and they don’t have as many…if you have an older musician who’s been around a while, he’s going to want more comforts on the road and so on. Which he deserves. But younger musicians are more amenable to coming out and playing and traveling without getting tired and all this kind of stuff. So as long as the musician is capable, he’s got to have some qualification to play with me, it’s fine. I’m glad to play with young guys. I’m happy, because as I said, they’ve got a lot of energy where some of the older guys have earned the right not to be always be that gung ho. Though that doesn’t apply to me, because I’m always gung ho. Some musicians feel they’ve reached a certain point and they’re still into their music, but they’re not eager beavers. Now, I’m a guy who’s an eager beaver even though I’m a veteran musician. But some of my colleagues near my age aren’t, necessarily. They know their work, they come and do it and they’re very skilled, and that’s it. I’m not like that. I’m a guy that knows that I have certain things I’m trying to accomplish and I’m steadily changing trying to improve myself trying to get to this lost chord, so to speak, which I’m searching for.

When you’ve been playing as long as you have, there can be a temptation to fall back on favorite phrases, which you don’t seem to do. How do you avoid that?
Well, one way I avoid it is that I’m not that skilled a musician to be able to – you know, it takes a certain skill to be able to play the same way every night. That takes skill. And I don’t have that skill, I can’t play the same thing every night. So it’s just my lot in life that I’m going to change, and what I play isn’t going to be the same. I’ve experienced times in my life where, I remember one time I got off the bandstand many years ago, and I heard this woman telling her boyfriend, “I didn’t like that. All I liked about him was when he played Way Out West,” this album that I’d made. So people want you to sort of repeat what you’ve done. And there’s a temptation – a legitimate one – to do something that people will like. You’ve endeared yourself to them by this music. But I have to suffer the blows of my erstwhile fans because I can’t play the same thing all the time, and at that time I was consciously trying to go in a different direction, and actually today some many years later I’m still doing that. I’m hearing new music that I’m trying to grasp. And it’s not what I played before, you know?

You experimented with avant-garde forms a little bit at the beginning of the 1960s, but never went as far into it as John Coltrane did. What made you decide that wasn’t the path for you?
[Laughs] Well, actually you hit on the exact period that I was giving you an example from. That was when I was playing with that group, with Don Cherry and Billy Higgins. That was the same period. This is another curse, maybe, but I’m a person that, I’m a very eclectic musician and I hear different things, I like lots of different kinds of music, and I’m not always on one path straight ahead, I’m just amassing a lot of information. Throughout my career that’s what I’ve been doing. I’m fortunate I’m still here to have amassed the information that I have, and it’s coalescing now into something where I see the light at the end of the tunnel. But even back then I might have been examining styles or different movements of the music, but I wasn’t sure that I wanna stay right here, you know what I mean? So that’s why I didn’t sort of follow one path at that point.

Yeah, because there was Our Man In Jazz, which I love, and East Broadway Run Down was another one that was pretty out there, but then you moved back into more traditional forms and shorter songs.
More traditional, exactly. And I did something around that time that was a little – I was also examining that movement in jazz. I didn’t leave it in dismay or disgust or anything, I really absorbed much of what was happening at that time that I could absorb and that appealed to me, and it’s part of what I do now. I might play some conventional songs, and of course the solos are always different all the time and they include a lot of this information from the ’60s that you’re talking about. I’m getting something together – my whole point, what I want to do, my whole plan, hopefully my destiny, is to absorb all these things that I’ve done all these years in music and be able to put them into a coherent style or form and play. That’s what I’m aiming for. It will include everything I am. Because I’m not just avant-garde, I’m not just straight ahead, I’m not just sentimental, I’m all of these things. And I’m trying to get them together, because they’re part of me. That’s what I want to portray in a coherent style.

It’s interesting to me that you were listening to guys like Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp and Pharoah Sanders at the time, because the impression I get is that a lot of older players really rejected that movement at the time, and seem to have seen free jazz as a threat to what they were doing.
Well, I guess that shows what type of musician I am or where my scope is. I know that when Ornette Coleman first came to New York and created the sensation that he did, a lot of the critics were surprised to learn – a lot of them learned very recently – that I used to practice with Ornette in California, before he came to New York. They were very surprised to know that. It didn’t fit their conventional wisdom of who they thought Sonny Rollins was supposed to be. And quite recently, with the passing of the drummer Rashied Ali, who used to play with Coltrane? Rashied and I played together. He was in my band for a while. A lot of people didn’t know that. A lot of guys who think they know Sonny Rollins, his career and style and output and stuff like that, they were surprised that Rashied Ali and I played together. So this is sort of the ignorance of conventional wisdom.

You seem to be a very melodic improviser. Can you tell me how you go about constructing a solo, and is there a point where you kind of get out of yourself while playing?
Well, you’ve touched on two things there. The melodic player – I guess I grew up listening to melody. I love melody. My first impressions musically were Fats Waller, he used to sing a lot as well as doing other fantastic things, and I grew up in the age of the movies. So we used to go to the movies every week and we’d see these Hollywood productions with these musical scores. I remember very early on seeing Swing Time with Astaire and Rogers, and the music by one of my all time favorites, Jerome Kern. I remember those melodies very well – they stick with me, and I just love melody. I had an older brother who played classical violin and an older sister who played the piano and stuff like that, but I got a lot from the movies. I always liked melody. So that’s where that comes from. As far as my out of body, that gets into something else that might be beyond the scope of this conversation. A woman is writing a book about people that studied yoga, and I’m one of the subjects. And for my part of the book, I had to sort of recount my life when I studied yoga, and I remember that I used to be able to float. I would be meditating and my spirit or my soul, my mind, whatever you want to call it, would float up to the ceiling and sort of float around. I mean it was an exhilarating experience. So there’s a lot of ways to leave your body. But when I’m playing, I leave my body in the sense that when I’m really in the middle of a solo, I try to forget all the things I’ve learned about the music, I try to forget where I’m at, the audience, everything. Be oblivious to everything. So I leave my body in that sense, and the music is playing me. I’m not standing up there thinking, ‘Lemme play this next, and I’ll play this after that.’ I’m not doing that at all. I’m just there, and the music is playing through me, so to speak.

You seem to have a tremendous library of standards committed to memory. How many songs do you rehearse with the band before starting a tour, and how much does the set change from night to night?
Since I have such a tremendous, humungous repertoire of material I’ve done over the years, I really can’t have that all available to me with any band during any set of performances. So what we do, I have a set list of maybe – and this depends on the fact that I have some guys in the band that have been there a while. I have Cranshaw, so I can go back. So I have maybe twelve songs that the band is doing currently, and I try to work on those. They come whatever I think of at the time, I have no standardized setlist. It’s whatever I think of at the moment. I like to have more than that, because sometimes I might think of a song we haven’t played in a long time, but I have to restrict myself to that because it’s just impractical to have a group of six musicians who know my whole career of 50 years plus. So I’m restricted to maybe 12 or 15 songs that I can call whenever I get ready to go onstage, and have them know it. Musicians don’t necessarily like being surprised by a tune, so I try to be aware of that.

Do you have a vision for what Road Shows, Vol. 2 will be? Will you release complete shows in the future, or continue to pick individual songs from multiple performances?
I’m not certain. I tried to pick Volume 1 from performances without delving too deeply into the archives because I don’t like listening to myself, so I didn’t want to go too deeply. I just picked something that was fairly accessible, I didn’t have to listen to a whole bunch of stuff. In the future, if there is a complete performance, a whole concert, that might be the way we might go. I’m not sure how it’s going to go. I’m not sure what Volume 2 will entail, actually.

And are you planning to go back into the studio soon?
Yes, I want to go into the studio as soon as my schedule is over this December. I’d like to go into the studio and start on a new project.


I got my invite to vote in this year's Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll today. I've already submitted a Top Ten for the paper's annual Jazz Critics' Poll, plus a list of the Top Ten Metal Albums of 2009 that'll be syndicated throughout the Village Voice Media chain, and now I've gotta come up with a third list? Really not at all sure how this one's gonna break down, but here's the pool of albums I'm pulling from:

The Answer - Everyday Demons (The End)
Baroness – Blue Record (Relapse)
Bebe – Y. (EMI)
Bomba Estéreo – Blow Up (Nacional)
Gui Boratto - Take My Breath Away (Kompakt)
Born Of Osiris – A Higher Place (Sumerian)
Cannibal Corpse - Evisceration Plague (Metal Blade)
Chickenfoot – s/t (Redline)
Converge – Axe to Fall (Epitaph)
Don Omar – iDon (Machete Music)
Franz Ferdinand - Tonight: Franz Ferdinand (Domino)
Funeral Mist - Maranatha (Norma Evangelium Diaboli)
The Gates Of Slumber – Hymns of Blood and Thunder (Rise Above)
Girl In A Coma – Trio B.C. (Blackheart)
Graciela Beltran – Reina de la Banda (Fonovisa)
Greymachine – Disconnected (Hydra Head)
Ayumi Hamasaki - Next Level (Label)
Heaven And Hell – The Devil You Know (Rhino)
Immortal – All Shall Fall (Nuclear Blast)
Isis – Wavering Radiant (Ipecac)
Job For A Cowboy – Ruination (Metal Blade)
Judas Priest – A Touch of Evil – Live (Epic)
Katatonia – Night is the New Day (Peaceville)
Khanate - Clean Hands Go Foul (Hydra Head)
King Midas Sound – Waiting for You (Hyperdub)
Natalia Lafourcade – Hu Hu Hu (Sony)
Lamb of God – Wrath (Epic)
Los Tigres Del Norte – La Granja (Fonovisa)
Marduk – Wormwood (Regain)
Mastodon – Crack the Skye (Reprise)
Megadeth – Endgame (Roadrunner)
Obscura - Cosmogenesis (Relapse)
Orthodox – Sentencia (Alone)
Revocation – Existence is Futile (Relapse)
Rick Ross – Deeper Than Rap (Def Jam)
Paulina Rubio - Gran City Pop (EMI)
Skeletonwitch – Breathing the Fire (Prosthetic)
Slayer – World Painted Blood (American/Sony)
Suffocation – Blood Oath (Nuclear Blast)
Sunn O))) – Monoliths & Dimensions (Southern Lord)
UA – ATTA (Jetstar)
Vader – Necropolis (Nuclear Blast)
V/A – 5 (Hyperdub)
V/A – An Anthology Of Chinese Experimental Music 1992-2008 (Sub Rosa)
V/A – Ghana Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds & Ghanaian Blues 1968-81 (Soundway)
V/A – Sí, Para Usted: The Funky Beats of Revolutionary Cuba, Vol. 2 (Waxing Deep)
V/A – Swedish Death Metal (Prophecy Productions)
Warbringer – Waking Into Nightmares (Century Media)
Wino - Punctuated Equilibrium (Southern Lord)
Wisin y Yandel – La Revolución (Sony)
Wolf - Ravenous (Metal Blade)

Thursday, December 03, 2009


Whether you're a Nick Cave fan, someone who hates his work, or someone like me, who pays almost no attention to the dude and can generally take or leave his stuff (I don't think I've listened to a whole song of his in over 15 years, though I liked the movie The Proposition well enough), this scathing essay is well worth reading. This is criticism done right - plenty of evidence is marshaled, and it's witty without pretending wit is enough.

Some killer lines:

"The notion that Cave is being ‘ironic’ has been used to excuse many of his worst indulgences, up to and including his pimp’s moustache. It is simply not true."

"It’s his transformation into an antipodean Elvis Costello – growing old, mild and respectably bourgeois along with his audience – that really makes me mad. Not because I believe that Cave has sold out or betrayed his musical talent – he had precious little to begin with – but because the deference paid to him and to his work grows in inverse proportion to its increasing mediocrity, to its juvenile silliness and self-parody."

"As vocalists [Cave and Kylie Minogue] match each other for emotional blandness, though Cave is certainly the more tone-deaf of the two, and the music is a syrup of over-processed strings – an ersatz folk arrangement. The accompanying video, which appears to have been filmed with a generous smear of Vaseline on the lens, presents the viewer with the unedifying spectacle of Cave fondling Minogue’s breasts and thighs as she lies in a shallow pool of water, a snake curling its way between her legs."

Go read the whole thing. It's a good one.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


From the SF Weekly:

Though the members of Marduk have been heroes on the Scandinavian black metal scene since forming in 1990, the band hasn't done a full U.S. tour since 2001. Now is the perfect time to see the group, though, as its latest album, Wormwood, is its best ever. Combining the blast beats and furious guitars of earlier discs Nightwing and Panzer Division Marduk with the compositional complexity and lyrical sophistication of frontman Mortuus's side project, Funeral Mist, the group is at a creative peak. And live, Marduk is ferocious, hitting the crowd with a mix of classic songs and new material that's unrelenting and savage, yet disciplined. (Mortuus drinks blood from a horn at the same point in the set every night.) Black metal doesn't always come off live, but Marduk delivers the goods.

From the St. Louis Riverfront Times: It's sort of sad that old-school band names — i.e., Paul Revere and the Raiders, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers — have gone out of style. Why? Well, because after umpteen lineup changes, which have left the band with exactly one founding member, Dave Mustaine and the Megadeths kinda has a nice ring to it. Here's the thing, though: This is the best Megadeth lineup of the 21st century. New guitarist Chris Broderick is a shredding machine, and the album the band's promoting, Endgame, is the best one it's released in over fifteen years. The songs are terrific, the playing is breathtaking, and Megadeth just seems newly energized. So don't miss this tour, 'cause there's no guarantee Mustaine won't have fired everybody by this time next year.

From the Cleveland Scene: The best band on a tour that hits Peabody’s tonight probably won’t even perform. Hypocrisy, a long-running death-metal band led by legendary producer Peter Tägtgren, has been forced to sit idle because its frontman can’t enter the U.S., though his bandmates are already here. It’s a shame, because Hypocrisy’s catalog is solid, and touring guitarist Alexi Laiho can be counted on to deliver shred-tastic solos on demand. Fortunately, the headliners, pagan metal act Ensiferum, rock the crowd quite capably with their polka-thrash drinking anthems. Kataklysm singer Maurizio Iacono’s side project Ex Deo (which also had to miss some dates because of visa issues) plays death metal with lyrics about ancient Rome, which is sort of cool. And Blackguard is one of the “pirate metal” bands that are sprouting up like weeds lately.


Ten new reviews up at

American Sixgun, The Devil in Your Bones
Brown Jenkins, Death Obsession
Sonny Burgess & The Legendary Pacers, Gijon Stomp!
Dark Funeral, Angelus Exuro Pro Eternus
Erik Deutsch, Hush Money
La Oreja de Van Gogh, Nuestra Casa a la Izquierda del Tiempo
Priestess, Prior to the Fire
Tyshawn Sorey, Koan
Squash Bowels, Grindvirus
The Year Of Our Lord, Dead to You

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Here's 53 more short-form write-ups of things I listened to in November and the latter half of October. You're welcome.

Jesse Elder, The Winding Shell: earnest, assiduous, utterly passionless. The jazz equivalent of a New Yorker short story, or a term paper.

V/A, Can You Dig It?: 2CD blaxploitation soundtrack comp on Soul Jazz, packaged with a 100-page book and Pam Grier on the cover. A must.

V/A, Freedom, Rhythm & Sound: this month's other Soul Jazz comp, this one devoted to revolutionary free jazz. AEOC, A. Shepp, Sun Ra, etc.

McCoy Tyner, Tender Moments: Could it be? A better nonet session than Andrew Hill's Passing Ships? Maybe; PS doesn't have Lee Morgan.

Morbid Angel, Gateways To Annihilation: Crushingly heavy, like Swans with blast beats & guitar solos. Perfect rainy day death metal.

Hatebreed, For The Lions: A covers album, proving that they can learn and play good songs, they just can't WRITE any.

V/A, The Harmonic Series: A Compilation Of Musical Works In Just Intonation: Does what it says on the package. Mmm, droney.

Danzig, s/t: Guess we'll never see an ATP-style reunion (John Christ, where art thou?). But 21 years later, this still kicks so much ass.

Nazareth, Hair Of The Dog: Since Jay-Z killed Autotune, that means we can bring back the '70s-style talk box, right? Great, thanks!

Borbetomagus, Snuff Jazz: Reissued with two bonus tracks a year or so back, 'cause the public was clamoring for more. Skrrrrrrrronk!!!

Electric Wizard, Supercoven: When Jus Osborn shrieks the title phrase, it's almost like he's woken from his stupor for a second.

Bill Dixon, Vade Mecum II: Dixon + more than one bassist always = awesome. Perfect autumn music.

Nicki Minaj, Sucka Free: Lil Wayne protege straddles the line between inspired and annoying more capably than her patron has in years.

Bill Dixon, November 1981: See earlier comments re Dixon and multiple bassists.

Supersilent, 9: Three Norwegians with Hammond organs form a Tangerine Dream tribute band, focusing on Zeit and Atem.

Whipping Boy, Subcreature: The Fucked Years 1981-1983: Primitive but adorably earnest hardcore from that cranky Oxbow guy.

Afgrund, Vid Helvetets Grindar: Thrashy grind from a bunch of really, really pissed-off Swedes.

Oppressor, Solstice Of Oppression: 1994 debut CD by a decent tech-death band from Chicago. I heard their second CD (of 3), 1996's Agony, when it was new but lost track of them by the following year. I did get to see them live once, though. Between songs, the vocalist spoke in a somewhat high-pitched barely post-adolescent voice with a flat Midwestern accent, and he said things like, "Hey guys, we're Oppressor from Chicago, how's it going? This is a song off our new album; it's called [assumes ultra-guttural Death Metal Voice] I AM DARKNESS" [song begins]. It's that kind of hilarious awesomeness that keeps me coming back to death metal.

Throwdown, Deathless: Still blatantly imitating Pantera, they're now ripping off Down and Mudvayne too. Progress?

Black Army Jacket, 222: Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrind.

Suffocation, The Close Of A Chapter: Live In Quebec City: Close your eyes and you can picture vocalist Frank Mullen doing spirit fingers.

Miles Davis, The Complete On The Corner Sessions, Disc 3: Nasty guitars abound, but it's the keyboards on this set that are truly insane.

The Gates Of Slumber, Suffer No Guilt: Killin' power metal/biker doom. No idea how any Wino fan can complain about this guy's vocals.

Gama Bomb, Tales From The Grave In Space: High-speed retro thrash with piercing power metal-y vocals. Worth every penny I paid.

Chickenfoot, s/t: A supergroup, just like Them Crooked Vultures. Except, you know, good.

Fred Anderson, Staying In The Game: Chi saxman's phrasing, tone identifiable within 10 seconds. Telling his albums apart - not as easy.

The Black Dahlia Murder, Deflorate: Terrible cover, terrible title, forgettable songs. Some ace guitar solos, though.

Wadada Leo Smith, Spiritual Dimensions: 2CD set, 1 acoustic, 1 very much not. Kicking off a marathon of this uniquely awesome player.

Listening to more Wadada Leo Smith. Now it's Luminous Axis - The Caravans Of Winter And Summer on Tzadik. Trumpet + laptop(s). Excellent.

Rihanna, Rated R: Grace Jones's Warm Leatherette turns 30 next year. This album, OTOH, won't be remembered 30 minutes after it ends.

La Oreja de Van Gogh, Nuestra Casa a la Izquierda del Tiempo: Re-recordings of old songs w/orchestra and new lead vocalist.

Isis, Live V: A 2006 UK run-through of Oceanic in its entirety. It's gotten trippier, less heavy over time. Kinda works, I guess.

Thin Lizzy, Are You Ready?: Live DVD, filmed in '81. Includes exactly 1 song from Renegade, the album they were touring to promote.

Metallica, Live in the '80s: 4LP boot. Go ahead, tell me Hetfield's vocals were better in the old days. Any :30 of this proves you wrong.

W.A.S.P., Inside The Electric Circus: I like the first 2 LPs, but always ignored this one. My mistake. Includes a solid Uriah Heep cover.

American Sixgun, The Devil In Your Bones: Rawk 'n' roll on metalcore label Eulogy from kids too young to remember Junkyard.

Suicide, Live 1977-1978: Most maddening/awesome box since the Fun House Sessions. Nothing'll make your eyeball twitch like live Suicide.

Stray From The Path, Make Your Own History: like a teenaged Unsane with Zack de la Rocha up front, if that was a good thing.

Revocation, Existence Is Futile: Not as long as there are baby metal bands this fucking awesome, it's not. (Sorry, couldn't not do it.)

Dark Funeral, Angelus Exuro pro Eternus: So boring and clichéd, so utterly generic I can't even think of something snarky to say about it.

Point Blank, Point Blank: Texas heavy blues-rawk from '76. Pre-MTV ZZ Top crossed w/Molly Hatchet. Guaranteed never to make any NPR lists.

Sonny Burgess, The Arkansas Wild Man: Sun rockabilly w/a trumpet player. Earns its title better than almost any other CD I can think of.

Squash Bowels, Grindvirus: This has songs called "Abhorrently Stinking Rich Man" and "Shit Oneself." Do I love it? How could anyone not?

Die Like A Dog, Aoyama Crows: Unstoppable grooves meet exquisitely controlled skronk. Saturday afternoon bounce-off-the-walls music.

Norah Jones, The Fall: I'm sure she's a nice person, but this is the most enervated, inessential non-black metal disc I've heard all year.

Circle, Rakennus: crazed trance-metal freakouts with bonus blues harmonica. Recorded live somewhere, sometime.

Elf, Trying To Burn The Sun: Ronnie James Dio trying to be Ronnie Van Zant, with a pretty kick-ass boogie band behind him.

Kousokuya, 1st: Like Fushitsusha, if Fushitsusha was a rock band.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Broken Arrow: Roaring stoner-doom riffs; half-assed choruses; endless one-chord solos. Perversely awesome.

Acid Mothers Temple etc., Live In Japan: a double-drummer lineup from 2001. Guitars more Sonic Youth than Frank Marino, but crash 'n' boom aplenty.

Wayne Escoffery, Uptown: sax/guitar/organ/drums groove-jazz action. Does this "move The Music forward"? No, and I don't give a shit.

The Resurrection Sorrow, Hour Of The Wolf: Churning, sludgy stoner-doom riffage + Rob Zombie impersonator = best NYC metal band of '10?

Ornette Coleman, Beauty Is A Rare Thing, Disc 1 of 6: When in doubt (about anything), listen to Ornette Coleman.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Thanks for the wild turkey and the passenger pigeons, destined to be shit out through wholesome American guts.

Thanks for a continent to despoil and poison.

Thanks for Indians to provide a modicum of challenge and danger.

Thanks for vast herds of bison to kill and skin leaving the carcasses to rot.

Thanks for bounties on wolves and coyotes.

Thanks for the American dream, to vulgarize and to falsify until the bare lies shine through.

Thanks for the KKK.

For nigger-killin' lawmen, feelin' their notches.

For decent church-goin' women, with their mean, pinched, bitter, evil faces.

Thanks for "Kill a Queer for Christ" stickers.

Thanks for laboratory AIDS.

Thanks for Prohibition and the war against drugs.

Thanks for a country where nobody's allowed to mind their own business.

Thanks for a nation of finks.

Yes, thanks for all the memories - all right, let's see your arms!

You always were a headache and you always were a bore.

Thanks for the last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human dreams.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Forever For Hire

Psychobilly bands are nothing if not productive. Detroit's Koffin Kats got started in 2003, and they've already released four albums prior to this one. That's a lot of songs about death, cars, babes and rock 'n' roll, so it's important to have something unique that separates you from the pack. The Kats definitely have that--unfortunately, it's bassist/singer Vic Victor's voice. He's got this pompous, portentous thing going that puts him somewhere between the Damned's Dave Vanian and Danny Elfman in his Oingo Boingo days. That kind of overwrought delivery can work sometimes, like on the group's most aggressive, straight-ahead material or the hard-swinging ballad "Her Name Was Rock And Roll," but when the group downshifts into a grinding, almost metallic riff on "Saw My Friend Explode Today" (a schizoid song that also features ska-style chords on the verses) it becomes off-putting.

Victor's crooning isn't the band's only trick, of course; they throw some doo-wop harmonies into the intro of "The Final Day," Oi!-style gang shouts turn up on several tracks, and instrumentally they occasionally stretch into a roots-rock sound that will appeal to fans of Social Distortion or Girl In A Coma. Ultimately, psychobilly is all about conviction, and all three men are clearly enjoying themselves, so fans of the genre, and maybe the idly curious, will too.


Rated R
Island Def Jam
Rihanna's albums tell a surprising story: beautiful girl leaves Barbados for the big city and discovers her inner Goth. Between her 2005 debut and this fourth album, the Jay-Z protégé and R&B star has gotten pierced and tattooed, and gone from pastel bikinis to fetishy black leather, from a disarming smile to a glare worthy of Grace Jones. Rated R arrives in the wake of Rihanna's widely publicized beating by Chris Brown, and the lyrics are dark (and surprisingly profane) — from "Russian Roulette" to "Stupid in Love," which contains references to "blood on your hands" and the line "Don't talk to me like I'm stupid." Unfortunately, the music and words, often written by others, don't always match. The more minimal, dubstep-like tracks bolster the Rihanna image and brand, but the piano-and-strings ballads are too generic by half. Rated R demonstrates evolution, but she's got further to go yet.


[From the SF Weekly.]

Tough economic times affected all branches of the entertainment industry in 2009, and the live music scene is no exception. In a recent MSN Music online poll of metal fans, 33.3 percent of respondents said they were going to fewer shows, and nearly 15.9 percent said that if they did go out, they were bypassing the merch table. Bands have been playing smaller venues than they might have hit on previous tours, promoters are trying to add value by creating festival-style bills with five or six artists instead of the two- and three-band tours of the past, and ticket prices are dropping, in some cases to an extreme degree. The admission price for the recently reunited Creed's October show in Birmingham, Ala., infamously fell to 75 cents — and still didn't sell out.

Hatebreed frontman Jamey Jasta is hoping to buck the downward trend. His band is currently on the road, headlining one of the year's heaviest tours with support from death-metal legends Cannibal Corpse and Hate Eternal, Boston-based metalcore squad Unearth, and technical whiz kids Born of Osiris. He admits to venue downsizing in a few cities, especially for midweek shows, but he's understandably proud of the lineup he's assembled. "On this tour, there's three headliners in their own right," he says. "We stacked the bill and made sure it was more bang for your buck."

And for two stops — one at the Warfield and one at the Hollywood Palladium — Hatebreed is co-headlining an all-day metalfest, joining forces with Trivium, whose own tour offers support sets by Whitechapel, Chimaira, and Dirge Within. "We've never been able to headline the Warfield on our own, so now we're able to do that, which is a huge accomplishment for us," Jasta says, adding that the idea of joining forces came from positive crowd reactions when Trivium and Hatebreed played together in Las Vegas last month: "We said, 'This works; let's make it a big metalfest and move it to a big venue.'"

This kind of fans-first thinking extends to Hatebreed's physical product. The band released two full-length studio albums this year and a live DVD in 2008. "Everybody said it was a little overambitious, and it was," Jasta admits. The all-covers disc For the Lions, released in May, contains 19 muscled-up versions of classic tracks by bands along the hardcore/thrash/death-metal continuum, including Black Flag, Suicidal Tendencies, the Misfits, Slayer, Sepultura, and Obituary, while Hatebreed's self-titled sixth album of original material arrived in stores only four months later.

Hatebreed is the group's heaviest, most metallic disc to date. For the first time in the band's career, guitar solos appear on multiple tracks, and there's even a shredtastic four-minute instrumental track, "Undiminished." The album follows on the heels of Jasta's 2008 side project, Kingdom of Sorrow, a collaboration with Crowbar and Down guitarist Kirk Windstein. Jasta would like to maintain his group's current level of productivity. "If you look at bands from the '70s and '80s, they did an album every year," he explains. "This whole three years between records is not gonna work. We have tons of songs; we've just always had red tape with the labels, and the drama behind the scenes that kept us from releasing one every year. And now with the downloading, and with kids' attention spans being so short, I think it's better to just keep pumping out music."

Sheer relentlessness may not be a universally applicable business strategy, but it seems to be doing okay for Jasta and company so far.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Can we disband the Cult of Josh Homme already? In terms of tours and releases, the guy keeps busy, sure; but in terms of quality of output, he’s been coasting since Kyuss broke up. Queens of the Stone Age released a moderately interesting debut album, and then got lazier and more self-infatuated with each passing year. And the less said about the Eagles of Death Metal, the better.

This new thing (which we’re of course being told is a real band, not a momentary enthusiasm) is a trio featuring Homme on guitar and vocals, John Paul Jones on bass and keyboards, and Dave Grohl on drums. The presence of Jones is the only thing that elevates this beyond being Vol. 11 of Homme’s jam-and-release “Desert Sessions,” and he’s ill-used.

Paired with a drummer capable of groove (see Disc One of Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti), he’s a monster. And there’s a riff midway through “Reptiles” that nods toward late Zeppelin. But Dave Grohl is not John Bonham; he’s a club-footed caveman, and not in a good way – the garage-metal primitivism of Nirvana was all he was ever really suited for.

Consequently, Jones can’t add much more than his name and some backing vocals and keyboards. As a bassist, he’s mostly limited to echoing Homme’s caveman-trudge riffing, and might not even have been the guitarist’s first pick: from its riff to its high-pitched vocal straight from the Jack Bruce playbook, “Scumbag Blues” sounds like a Cream cover with a little bit of funky organ floating stranded in the left speaker.

The real problem with Them Crooked Vultures, the band and the album, is that 2009’s already seen a much better example (bird-related name and all) of how to do the supergroup thing right – Chickenfoot, the Sammy Hagar/Joe Satriani/Michael Anthony/Chad Smith power quartet. From Hagar’s pumped-up vocals, his most emphatic since Montrose, to Satriani’s restrained yet skillful riffing and solos, to Anthony’s emphatic bass and undiminished-since-Van-Halen vocal harmonies, to Smith’s thunderous – and genuinely funky – drumming, the band’s self-titled debut disc was that rare 21st Century hard rock album that existed outside the pernicious influence of grunge. No ponderous dirges, only adrenaline-fueled party anthems with actual choruses, and a couple of ballads tacked on at the end.

Respect to Homme, Jones and Grohl (plus touring guitarist Alain Johannes, of course) for heading out on the road without a CD to flog, and for getting people to pay to watch and listen to them run through over an hour of entirely new music. But the truth is, Homme’s always been better at writing riffs than songs, and not by much. You can still occasionally stumble across a song by The Firm (Paul Rodgers, Jimmy Page) or The Power Station (Robert Palmer, Tony Thompson, 2/5 of Duran Duran) on the radio. It’s extremely doubtful that Them Crooked Vultures' half-assed first single “New Fang,” or anything else from this album, will have that kind of staying power.

Thursday, November 19, 2009



Throwdown started life as a straight-edge hardcore band, but a few years ago they made a left turn into Pantera-style groove metal. They weren't subtle about it, either; vocalist Dave Peters is a blatant Phil Anselmo imitator, and if the band's guitarist, Mark Choinere, had more talent, you can bet pinch-harmonic-dependent solos would be flying off their albums in every direction. Their new album, Deathless, finds the band working hard to broaden their stylistic parameters. Make no mistake, they haven't given up ripping off Pantera, but now they're ripping off several other bands as well, with "The Blinding Light" and "Serpent Noose" offering reasonably capable imitations of Down's swampy doom, while "Widowed" is an Alice In Chains-esque dirge on which Peters channels Godsmack frontman Sully Erna. On several other tracks, including "Burial At Sea" and album opener "The Scythe," he seems to be trying to be Mudvayne's Chad Gray. Whether all of this is an attempt to get on rock radio or just the manifestation of a collective identity crisis is hard to say. But it makes for a weird, if intermittently enjoyable, listen--it's hard to get into a song when you can't stop thinking about the other song it reminds you of.


Rocker Mom
In This Moment singer juggles parenting and road duties

"There is something to be said for bands that seem really hard to get to, with a mystique," says voluptuous, heavily tattooed frontwoman Maria Brink. "But with the really hard album sales nowadays, that can only be taken so far, I think, because I don't think people give a shit anymore. Buying that CD isn't going to bring them closer to you, because you're not giving them an opportunity to meet you, ever."

For that reason, Brink and her bandmates — guitarists Chris Howorth and Blake Bunzel, bassist Jesse Landry and drummer Jeff Fabb — visit the merch booth nearly every night, to sign and shake hands and make personal connections that they hope will translate to customer loyalty.

"Nowadays, with downloading and everything, if you can personally connect with the fans as much as possible, and try to make them feel like they're part of a family, part of your community, then it touches them and it makes them want to support your band more," says Brink. "I really believe that."

Brink has a number of factors on her side, including her striking looks and Alice-in-Wonderland (if "Wonderland" was the name of an upscale gentlemen's club) stage wardrobe. But even if she took the stage in an oversized hoodie and baggy jeans, the band's brand of contemporary metal would still appeal to its growing fan base.

In This Moment's 2008 album The Dream was a stylistic gamble, shifting from the screaming metalcore of their debut, 2007's Beautiful Tragedy. With the help of producer Kevin Churko (Ozzy Osbourne, Celine Dion), the band embraced radio-friendly hard rock, combining new-wave-like melodies with anthemic choruses, while retaining the guitar crunch that had endeared them to fans on Ozzfest's second stage. The Dream also went further than its predecessor in showcasing Brink's ability to sing, not just scream. The disc was reissued this past summer with several bonus tracks, including a cover of Blondie's disco-era sex anthem "Call Me," confirming the band's ability to combine metal and pop in a manner not heard since the '80s.

The album may be a studio concoction, adding keyboards and layers of Brink's background vocals to its intricately composed songs, but In This Moment are a touring machine. They've played Ozzfest, opened a co-headlining jaunt with Ozzy and Rob Zombie, done the Warped Tour, and gone out on what seems like a dozen smaller bills. They'll play anywhere that'll have 'em — a strategy that got them off the ground in the first place, with a little subterfuge added to the mix.

"Even before we got signed, we said to ourselves that we didn't want to wait around for a label to sign us," says Brink. "We wanted to start getting our name out there. So we made up a fake booking-agent name, and we'd call clubs and say, 'This is such-and-such booking agent. We want to book In This Moment at your club, and this is how much they have to get.'"

And once the gigs were lined up, the members dropped everything and headed out the door — straight lives and day jobs be damned.

"We were like, 'We're just gonna get in the van and go tour.' It was so scary, especially for me, 'cause I had to set it up so that my mom would watch my son while I got into this van and drove around the country and made no money."

That's right: In addition to being a hard-touring rock diva, Maria Brink is a single mother to a teenage boy. And it's not just a matter of bringing him on board the bus; he's got his own life. "When we were on Ozzfest, he came and had fun," she says. "But now he's 16 and he's got a red Camaro and he's captain of the football team. I thought he'd come on Warped Tour, and he was like, 'No way.' He's very independent, he has a girlfriend and he's popular, and his idea of fun is not to be on a tour bus."

That doesn't mean she's leaving him unattended by any means. "I had to take off the football season," she says. "I can't tour [then]. I have to be there for my son's proud moments. Last year, I went to open house at his school; I'll be at open house this year. I give all his teachers my e-mail address, so if his grades are slacking or something's going on, they'll call me."

In This Moment's current headlining tour marks the end of the promotional cycle for The Dream. Then it's time for the next move — writing and recording a fresh batch of songs and trying to push their art and their public profile to the next level.

"We've been lucky," says Brink. "But it's a mixture of luck and constantly working like maniacs to get our name out there. You have to constantly brainstorm and constantly work on how to make money, how to stick out from all the millions of bands out there. Why should a magazine want to put us on the cover versus all the millions of other bands? It's constant work."

Truly, a mother's work is never done.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


[From Westword.]

Q&A with Dick Valentine of Electric Six

Electric Six have been bringing the party to the unwary for six albums in as many years, starting with 2003's Fire and leading up to the brand-new Kill. The group's songs combine '80s rock, disco and New Wave into a cranked-up, ultra-catchy sound all its own, with lyrics that mix a David Lee Roth-esque bravado with surreal barrages of imagery revolving around fire, sex, dancing...and air travel. Frontman Dick Valentine comes across like a smarmy cross between Mike Patton and a Baptist preacher, but underneath he's a funny, thoughtful and down-to-earth guy just looking to rock the crowd.

How did you develop the Dick Valentine persona, and what went into that? What are you pulling from?
I'm not pulling from anything. I don't even know that there is a persona. I go up onstage and I have a lot of nervous energy and that comes out. If you're referring to any character I play in the videos, that usually has something to do with a director generally wanting to cast me as some sort of sleazeball.

So despite the fact that you use a stage name, it's not really a carefully assembled act?
That's a popular misconception. I don't really think about myself or what I'm doing that much. I look at it like, basically, 100 years from now, one way or the other, I'll be dead, so it doesn't matter.

Who inspires you as a performer, though?
One time I watched George Michael, and he performed with a choir around him. He was in the middle, and he had his choir kind of surrounding him, singing right back at him, and he would sing at them and then he would go around and around and around. I got dizzy watching it, but I thought, this guy knows what he's doing. This guy is in control. I've kinda strived to be in that situation ever since.

During Van Halen's heyday, David Lee Roth said he wrote his lyrics during commercial breaks while watching TV. What's your writing process?
I jot things down in a notebook when I'm at home or on the road. Other times things just come, like a whole song develops real quick. So it's always good to go back to that notebook and see what you wrote down maybe six months ago and see if it turns into something. That being said, I've heard that Alice Cooper wrote the entire Muscle Of Love album during eight hours of watching television.

I interviewed him last year and he said there are two or three albums he doesn't even remember writing or recording.
Hopefully one day I can be in that category. I think it's a healthy way to be. It's fascinating to turn up at shows and have people know more about you and your music than you do.

In addition to your usual subjects - sex, fire, dancing - you've written three songs now about airports or air travel. Can you explain how and why that became one of your recurring themes?
Topics like fire and sex and dancing are exciting things. They dress up the band and inspire the idea that maybe we might be exciting. So I include air travel in that as well. Since this band has become professional I've probably flown more than I did in the previous 21 years of my life. I just turned 27, and the six years I've been doing this, I've traveled more than I've ever traveled before. Air travel, airports and so forth, it's very exciting, so I would put that in the category with fire and murder.

What's your beef with Ohio? Explain where the song "Escape From Ohio" came from.
Well, it's a long and drawn-out story. I lived there for a while, and it's a state that you're not sure why it isn't part of Pennsylvania. It's got the Kentucky element, it's got the Michigan element, it should be part of other states, but it's allowed to exist on its own. I believe it's like our eighth most populous state, so why are so many people choosing to live there? Then you look at the way it's broken down and it all adds up to what I believe is just a mass suicide waiting to happen.

And you're not concerned that writing a song like that will doom your chances of making it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland?
I've already been there, and I don't think it's anything anyone should aspire to. That said, it was maybe some of the best catering I've ever had. We played a big summer concert series there, where you perform in front of the big pyramid that is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but you know, you walk through there and it's all the predictable shit, big posters of Lenny Kravitz and things like that. It doesn't make you feel good about anything.

You did a cover of Queen's "Radio Gaga" years ago, but you don't really seem like the kind of band that would do ironic cover versions...
We did "Radio Gaga" on the second album. We were under enormous pressure during the first album to put that out, and we didn't want to do it, but then it came to a point where they were like, "This record's not gonna come out unless 'Radio Gaga' is on it," and it was the lead single in the UK. [They said] "This is the way it's gonna be, take it or leave it," so we took it. And predictably, the label said [it was] gonna be the #1 Christmas single and it ended up charting at like #37 or something. We saw it coming from a mile away, and it ended up destroying our chances in the UK of being taken seriously at that point. But we've rebounded, we've put that behind us and we're moving forward.

I don't think it was ever released as a single in the U.S., though, right?
You should YouTube it. The video's actually really good. I stand by the video. But the idea of having to put out your follow-up album and that's the way they choose to market you, like I said, you can see it coming from a mile away, but that's what you have to do unless you wanna have the record shelved and be in fuckin' limbo.

You guys are kind of in a tough position; there's ultra-serious bands and totally vapid bands, but the idea of "serious fun" doesn't have any meaning anymore.
I don't worry about that - in fact, I think it benefits us to stand alone in that regard. We may not be the biggest band in the world, but we do carve out a niche because there aren't a lot of bands like us. So as long as we aren't in vogue, then there'll always be a place for us.

You guys are a band a lot of people could easily misconstrue.
Definitely. We get disregarded in a lot of conversations about what's good or relevant. But I've seen a lot of bands that are included in those conversations and people get tired of them and they get replaced, whereas we might not get a lot of good press, but we certainly have people that come to our shows all the time.

Where do you see the band fitting in Detroit?
Geographically, we fit in, but that's about it.

So you don't think you'll ever open for Bob Seger or play the Gathering Of The Juggalos?
Actually, a long time ago we played with ICP, in '97 I think that was. So we'd be more likely to play with them. Though Bob Seger, I could see that happening. We'll never be playing with Kid Rock, though.


[This is my first piece for the Houston Press other than occasional reprints of things I'd written for other Village Voice Media/New Times papers.]


How much noise do you think two saxophonists and a guitarist can make? Okay, now imagine ten times that. Imagine a screeching, ululating, fuzzed-out roar that reduces your teeth to shards and your internal organs to pulsing red mush. That's the sound of Borbetomagus. That, and much more. An upstate New York trio, Borbetomagus has been blurring the lines between free jazz, electronic noise and sound-as-weapon since the late '70s. The group's albums have titles like Barbed Wire Maggots and Snuff Jazz, and live up to them. The three men involved — saxophonists Jim Sauter and Don Dietrich, and guitarist Donald Miller — have sworn in numerous interviews that when they're at full crank, each man blasting through enough pedals to keep the most gear-happy metal guitarist shredding joyously for weeks, they can't tell who's making what sound. And yet, this is no mere caveman assault. These guys know exactly what they're doing. Masters of their instruments, they synthesize decades of avant-garde technique into unique and utterly personal music-making that combines emotional catharsis and volume-based assault with real beauty. Listen carefully, and you'll recognize a lifetime of thoughtful interaction underpinning their exchanges and collective playing. You've never heard anything like this.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Another fortnight, another 14 AMG reviews. Enjoy!

Arckanum, Fran Marder
Arckanum, Kampen
Arckanum, Kostogher
Borbetomagus, Songs Our Mother Taught Us
Emptyset, Emptyset
Epica, Design Your Universe
Katatonia, Night is the New Day
Mi Loco Tango, Del Diablo y del Angel
Nirvana 2002, Recordings 89-91
Quest For Fire, Quest For Fire
Satan's Host, Power, Purity, Perfection
Supersilent, 9
Throwdown, Deathless

And here's one I submitted but which wasn't used:

The Hunting of the Snark
The international jazz group NYNDK’s initials stand for New York Norway Denmark, the home countries of its co-leaders, saxophonist Ole Mathisen, trombonist Chris Washburne, and pianist Soren Moller. They’re joined on this third release by bassist Per Mathisen and drummer Tony Moreno to perform compositions by Charles Ives, Arne Nordheim, Edvard Grieg, George Perle, Carl Nielsen and Per Nørgård. These are bridged by short (one to three minutes) improvisations named after the various composers. The interaction between the two horns is careful but also loose; in some ways it’s reminiscent of Anthony Braxton’s mid ’70s partnership with George Lewis on albums like Quartet (Dortmund) 1976 and Quintet (Basel) 1977. But there’s of course much more of a classical, chamber-like sensibility at work here, since most of the pieces performed are not jazz-style head-and-solos compositions, but through-composed works – sections of symphonies, and the like. Ultimately, it’s a very beautiful album full of melody and swinging rhythm, with frequent, technically adept bursts of improvisation. Highly recommended.