Demon Queen: Exorcise Tape

When I listen to Tobacco’s work, I’m taken back to the retro-dangerous world of Beck’s Midnite Vultures (1999), with the difference being that Tobacco’s weird forays into plastic-wrapped synthy drug-shimmer and hopeless mall bravado don’t arrive laden with Beck’s by the late nineties well-established reassuring mainstream stardom.  Tobacco remains an unknown quanitity, forever masked with the obscene grin of the BMSR, a fringe character hovering somewhere in the collective unconscious between Jason Voorhees and Aphex Twin.  Where Aphex Twin managed to disappear and make us accept his own face as an uncanny mask, we are forced to wonder whether, in Tobacco’s case, there is anything at all behind the mask we are given in lieu of a face.

On 2013’s Demon Queen: Exorcise Tape, Tobacco’s team up with Tucson rappers Zackey Force Funk and his cohort repositions the messily quantized machine funk of Grandmaster Flash back into the desperate places whence it came.  That sounds to me a lot like the goal of industrial music- to stick your neck out far enough to just touch the void that pop culture was built up to blind us from seeing.  My favorite track from this record is streaming from Soundcloud above, a ditty about a party gone wrong reminiscent of Anti-Pop Consortium’s “Tragic Epilogue”, locating the constant threat of desperate living’s violence shoulder-to-shoulder with escapist weekend dreams.

Chaos, chaos, buzzsaw, joy.

Dear readers,

I am writing to you about an exciting opportunity to listen to the HOTTEST new music in the UNIVERSE.  I am happy to say that I can WHOLEHEARTEDLY without ANY RESERVATIONS recommend to you the music of a peppy Baltimore ensemble performing under the name THE ROOMRUNNER.  Without a doubt, PUMMELING YOUR TINY COCHLEAS with their THERAPEUTIC THUNDERING will TEACH YOUR FUCKING HAIR CELLS WHO’S THE BOSS.  I know, because I once LISTENED TO AN ENTIRE DIGITAL UNDERGROUND CASSETTE TAPE with TONY DANZA.

FRIENDS, you may have wondered, “How many different ways in space can the SPIKES ON A BALL OF NOISE PROTRUDE AT ONCE?”  I have been to the mountain, I have rinsed my mouth with all the brands, I have WATCHED THE WRATH OF KHAN with nothing more than socks on my hands and the power of my AUGMENTED MEMORY.


Did you know that the panopticon is a machine which, whatever use one may wish to put it to, produces HOMOGENEOUS EFFECTS OF POWER?

Please enjoy Roomrunner.


Deerhunter: Monomania

Deehunter’s Monomania will be released May 7, 2013 but, as part of a trend that is making me feel like all my tastes are completely outdated, NPR has it available to stream and listen to online in its “First Listen” section now.

Deerhunter’s last record, Halcyon Digest, is now three years old.  It was a remarkable record, but it’s sound was marked by the fact that, at the time of its release, the two creative poles in the band were clarifying the sound of their respective solo projects.  Lockett Pundt’s Lotus Plaza and Bradford Cox’ Atlas Sound were each to drop definitive records in the wake of Halcyon Digest.  Hearing Lotus Plaza’s Spooky Action at a Distance and Atlas Sound’s Parallax made it seem as though Halcyon Digest were more a collaboration of two side projects than the internally consistent output of one band.  Cox was (monomaniacally?) fixated on the use of looping pedals, and songs like “Fountain Stairs” found their long-form perfection over the course of Pundt’s Spooky Action.

It’s good when a band can mix things up and change expectations, and few groups can pull this off.  Deerhunter did on Halcyon Digest, but gone was the sock-hop gone freakout bad vibe that infused Cryptograms and Microcastle/Weird Era Continued.  Monomania, then,  is a return to form.  Perhaps the record’s title is to some degree a tongue-in-cheek nod to this need to home back in to the familiarity of the band’s screaming swirl of noise, and to those influences that seem to be displayed so ostentatiously on these new songs.  Never had Deerhunter’s debt to the Pixies and Breeders seemed so apparent to this reviewer than on “Dream Captain”, and is it possible that “Leather Jacket II” carries the lipstick traces of Garbage?  The title track has that by-now-trademarked pounding, repetitive feature, be it bridge, chorus, or solo, that marks so many of the most signature Deerhunter tunes (“Nothing Ever Happened”, “Memory Boy” are two good examples) reduced to the barest minimum of performance time.  Indeed, if anyone has seen the band perform “Nothing Ever Happened” more than once over the past several years, they have surely been left with the impression that the band is both playing the song through as quickly as possible out of annoyance over having produced a “hit” that can so readily pigeonhole them for fans and to somehow imbue it with more power, to concentrate the power of that song into a single grammatical flourish.  “Monomania”, the title song, leans more in this latter direction, seemingly only slipping between the open spaces of the verses in order to rage back into the fuzzed-out canyons of sound in the chorus.  There’s also what sounds like the recording of a motorbike engine all over the last half of the song.  That’s pretty cool.

Here you go, all you lost your edge indie rock types.  Deerhunter’s new record on NPR.

Lloyd Cole is Getting Weird on You, Babe

Lloyd Cole, of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions fame (and of fame itself in his own right, I guess), has gotten together with legendary electronic musician Hans Joachim Roedelius and composed an instrumental electronic album.  If you’re a fan of Roedelius’ many collaborations, you won’t be disappointed with this rhythmic and clear-toned chunk of induced hypnosis.  I’m a Cluster and Harmonia fan, myself.  You can listen and buy directly from Cole at his website.

Atom™: HD

Atom™ this week Monday released HD on indefatigably experimental electronic label Raster-Noton.  It’s a 9-track, 40-minute guided meditation on the state of pop music, climaxing with the “Komputerwelt” homage track “Stop (Imperialist Pop)”.  The vapidity and globally enforced sameness of commercialized pop media is the theme the record drives at, so as this RA reviewer so rightly observed, there is obvious irony in the fact that HD was released on the same day as the latest Justin Timberlake soporific. Among other sameness over substance acts name-checked on that track (with the demand they “give us a fucking break”), Timberlake carries the honor of being the name that makes the line rhyme.  It is also ironic that this song’s obvious debt to Kraftwerk seems to indicate that the artist is under the yoke of another irresistible influence even as he decries commercial pop culture’s hegemony.

Third track “I Love U (Like I Love my Drum Machine)” features experimental electronic R&B crooner Jamie Lidell, a performer whose profession consists of recontextualizing a R&B mainstream pop thematically and sonically into the experimental and the underground. (Have a look at his video for “The City” wherein he has a shave outside a liquor store with a pink razor for an example of what I mean. Watching this again, with those brightly colored bottles hovering behind him and the pink ladies’ razor skimming across his face (we must keep up appearances!) I think, what a catchy little critique of urban alienation and domination by consumer kitsch!)  The absolute genius of “I Love U” is revealed as it progresses toward a sample of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech:

“In the words of Martin Luther… (begin sample) I have a dream… (end sample) Now listen to my drum computer.”

By reducing the whole substance of this anti-war and human rights activist’s magnum opus speech to a sound bite before a command to check out how cool he is, this track masterfully exposes exactly what pop does best.  It effects a pleasant, Warhol-esque emptying of meanings wherein the surface, in its vaguest recognizability, is king.  This is the primary theme of tracks “Empty” and “Riding the Void”.  (This idea should go some ways toward explaining the popularity of Girl Talk a few years back, if you’ll pardon the digression.)  The assertion being made is that, in the context of a pop song such as this, there may as well have never been a King or a context in which he originated his speech.  We should also mention that Dr. King is ambiguously, if not erroneously name-checked… Martin Luther wrote the 95 theses that started the protestant reformation.  Martin Luther King gave the “I have a dream” speech. Perhaps this ambivalence is deliberate- after all, if we accept that this record serves as a protest of the hegemony of vapid pop written in the language of vapid pop, then it can’t be a stretch to imagine that Atom™ is, as Martin Luther did in Latin, nailing up his theses in the language of the church.

Don’t Go Away Mad… On Second Thought, I’m not Responsible for Your Feelings, Don’t Lay that Guilt Trip on Me: Coerce You’s Music Picks for 2012

There’s a lot of new music out there, and, tell me if I’m all alone here, as the pages turn in the book of the years I find less and less that provokes that old adrenal response- the one that tells you, “Anything can happen!” when you know there are really something on the order of three things that can happen at any given time. 2012 was a year of revisiting records I didn’t pay enough attention to the first time around, and for deeper listening of everything that I committed to hearing. It was a year for walks through the Machu Picchus, Angkor Wats, and Roanoke colonies of musical trends and scenes, whose rockers and young lovers shag furtively after hours no more, and will not again.

Wow! That was heavy! Let’s talk about some pop music! This is where I was at in the year 2012, what I was listening to, old records and new, in no particular order.

Various Artists: MOJO Magazine’s Power, Corruption & Lies Covered (+ Blue Monday 12″ Revisited, + Bonus Tracks)

Yes, after many a year of dutiful attempts, plucky underdogs Various Artists finally struck gold with this promo collection put together by MOJO magazine. I always had a feeling those guys were destined for big things. Power, Corruption & Lies is occasionally my favorite album of all time, and always my favorite New Order record. There are so many ways this covers record could have gone wrong for a fanboy- In this modern age when everyone with a preference can also function under the misconception that they are a critic, and the critical voice is so often more about its author’s upbringing than about the work tangentially referred to, I was naturally fully prepared to flippantly shit all over this. However, this record actually gave my inner twenty-something a huge, solipsistic boner. Except for the very unfortunate treatment of opening track “Age of Consent” by The Golden Filter, who appear to have decided to take it upon themselves to shit all over this record so fanboys don’t have to, MOJO managed to curate a lovingly faithful take on this greatest of N.O.’s output that flows together as though it were not a collective effort, but one album by one artist, one whose every track bears the unmistakable idiosyncrasy of style of the artist covering it. Fujiya and Miyagi‘s cover of Your Silent Face replaces N.O.’s looseness with calculated meter while sacrificing none of the soul. Excellent Glaswegian synth outliers Errors do a huge, hazy take on The Village that takes you on an aural stroll through a slow, humid dream metropolis.

Red Fang: Murder the Mountains

These guys do a really great heavy seventies southern rock kind of thing, but they don’t wear bell bottoms and their hair isn’t as shiny as the Prell girl’s. They also seem to have a good sense of humor.

Metronomy: The English Riviera

I guess this was nominated for a Mercury Prize in 2011, but I didn’t start listening to it till early, early this year. They were beat out for the Mercury Prize accolade by P.J. Harvey. I didn’t know people actually listened to P.J. Harvey albums; I had always thought they were records the likes of which you had to have at least one casually but deliberately displayed in order to seem discerning.

The English Riviera is very hip, very uncluttered, very musically complicated dance music with very simple slap-bass disco basslines, and I highly recommend it.

Bottomless Pit: Lottery 2005-2012

My favorite band of the last couple of years didn’t release much new material in 2012, but they did release a complete 2-disc discography containing everything from their two full-lengths (’07’s Hammer of the Gods and ’10’s Blood Under the Bridge), all the material from the 2008 EP Congress, as well as three previously unreleased tunes (a fast version of Bridge opener “Winterwind”, and two new ones called “State I’m In” and “Colchis Eagles”). I’m glad they did, because that means I can keep them right here at the top of my best-of list for another year. We got to see them play here in Seattle in the intimate confines of The Sunset, and what ensued was one of the most transcendental show-going experiences I’ve had. The Dire Straits for the end times, Dad Doom, Ten Years After Playing the end of the world. How to describe a band whose songs are as full of nuance and drama as Russian novels? The only other band whose next record I’m waiting on as eagerly is +/-.

Tycho: Dive

I had never heard Tycho before I caught them opening for label boss Matthew Dear at this year’s Decibel Festival Ghostly International showcase. I liken them to Boards of Canada, even down to the projected concert visuals of saturated aerial photography and desert scenes, except with tempos about two to three times as fast and an absolutely killer live drummer forming the heart and soul of the band. The fact that their whole electronic show was taken on the road live also evokes a comparison to Caribou and his last album, Swim. Now that I’ve typed that and see it glowing in phosphor, I guess even those two bands’ record names have a theme in common. This record was jammed deep in my ear canals playing on repeat for the better part of the last three months.

Kindness: World, You Need a Change of Mind

There has been a recent spate of ’90s nostalgia in indie music, wherein those poor bastards who were born into a bathetic, emotionally denuded chart environment dominated by the likes of the Backstreet Boys or even Boyz II Men are pushing us away from the ’80s thing we, as a culture, have been stuck on for so long (arguably because it’s as good as music’s ever gonna get), toward appropriation of the overwrought R&B forms that so oppressed the airwaves up to twenty years ago get emo all over again. Look at any other best-of list this year and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Every cultural moment, however, has its holy fools, its beautiful geniuses—there seem always to be silver linings to dark clouds what oppress us. At this particular nadir of the Kali Yuga, that transcendent alchemist turning sadness into truth and gold is Kindness. They combining mixed-hot minimal house with impassioned R&B apparently influenced by ’90s pop chimera Jesus Jones with some of the funky guitar aesthetic of Heaven 17. Kindness has released a dizzyingly diverse collection of songs that proffer elements of the current d(R)ab ‘n B fad while keeping the musical energy high. My first exposure to World was their reworking of the ‘Mats beautiful paean to human frailty, “The Swingin’ Party”. Digging into the rest of the record revealed that there was much, much more to discover.

Matthew Dear: Beams

Dear is indefatigable. He’s a label boss, a House icon and innovator, and now an electronic pop auteur. He’s one of those tireless figures who personified the music scenes of pre-gentrification New York. What always floors me about his work is his ability to transform his curiosity for new musical genres into a platform for expressing the epic wall-of-awe sort of feeling that dancefloor bliss-seekers seem so to hanker for. He’s a producer who wanted to transform that impression into words via lyrics, producing a double-whammy effect. Every record he comes out with, adhering to the same feeling of mysticism, builds on the impossible high of the last one. More guitar-centered than 2010’s Black City, it nevertheless maintains that rhythmic fingerprint of a past life spent in House music.

Lotus Plaza: Spooky Action at a Distance

This record appeared in the music press and airwaves this year and then disappeared just as quickly, which is a shame, since it’s further evidence of just how much Deerhunter’s groundbreaking sound owes to it’s axeman Lockett Pundt. Certainly, fans could see this after Pundt took front and center singer and songwriter duties on several Halcyon Digest songs, but, though it’s a wonderful set of recordings, that record overall sounded to this reviewer’s ears more like a struggle between two poles of influence diverging from one one another, like an Atlas Sound/Lotus Plaza collaboration, than a unified collection of Deerhunter songs. However you may view that last Deerhunter outing, Pundt’s increased exposure has only led to very good things as regards his side project. Hypnotic, motorik, distant in vocal delivery yet intimate in feel, Distance is the perfect companion to long summer evenings and rainy Northwest winters alike.

Shabazz Palaces: Live at KEXP

I only learned through a chance conversation that this Seattle-based hip-hop act was fronted by Ishmael Butler, frontman for Digable Planets. It makes sense, Digable Planets was there at several formative points in my experience. First was when Reachin’ came out, and then, an eon later (and well after it was released) I picked up a copy of the criminally overlooked Blowout Comb, a record so full of portentous space that the timing itself became another sound in the palate. When I happened to tune in to this performance live on KEXP as it was being broadcast sight unseen, it happened again. There’s something so unhurried, so confident, and so unexpected in the delivery and composition of these songs you immediately know you are hearing art. I can’t speak to their two full-lengths, but this short live set contains as much quietly dangerous energy as a beaker of nitroglycerin.

Errors: Have Some Faith in Magic

This is a lush record that I already wrote about. I fucking love it. They have a new EP out, too.

The British Expeditionary Force: Chapter Two: Constellation Neu

The BEF continue to be a band I hold all others up against. Their second outing is full of more carefully processed and layered vocals and sounds, with some British Sea Power anthemic Brit-rock thrown in for good measure. Constellation Neu was a long time coming and well worth the wait.

Jason Lytle: Dept. of Disappearance

The former Grandaddy frontman returns with a record of Grandaddy-esque themes and sounds done, as much as I continue to love that band, better. The sci-fi, post-apocalyptic hippie thing that Grandaddy was doing doesn’t really seem to reference a world that’s so far away anymore, and accordingly Lytle’s metaphors don’t distance the listener all that much from the frightening sort of surveillance society we’re entering. Laments about political demobilization and strange agencies that disappear people fit in among neo-mountain-man stories of love and loss, all held together by Lytle’s fragile voice and his wonderful sense of acoustics and signal processing.

Autopark: Autopakao

It was this past summer during the EXIT Festival that I first heard Belgrade, Serbia band Autopark. Their newest record, Autopakao, translated as auto-hell, was being promoted by the festival and is still available at the link above for download. Though missing the feedback of a Chavez record, there is something in their arrangements that brings that band immediately to mind, and their fusing of math-rock with the heavy use of synthesizers reminds me of another of my favorite bands, Mew.

See this film: From the Back of the Room

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Amy Oden’s excellent documentary film From the Back of the Room at Seattle’s eclectic and indispensable Northwest Film Forum.  As anyone can read on the film’s website, the “documentary chronicles the past 30 years of female involvement in DIY punk, and has interviews with over 30 women from across the country, ages 17 to 40. Race, gender, sexuality, motherhood, class, and activism”

The film is not only a reminder of the efforts and achievements of women in the arts, it is a reminder that everyone can, if they take on the responsibility, assert their place as valid and respectful progenitors and guardians of culture and of each other, and  anyone can re-politicize art for social benefit.  The pace of our daily lives increases at a cost to our meaningful participation in society.  It is good to be reminded however that we are society.  We can still be the change we want to see.