Iowa’s #1 noisecore label (and that’s noisecore in the lo-fi, grind-y, mass-of-distortion sense, as opposed to the proggy Converge sense) — the fine people who saw fit to reissue a bunch of Sockeye stuff a few years ago, much to the gratitude of Sockeye fans — home to such Iowa-based bands as Captain 3 Leg, Grand Old Lady, and Billy Crystal Meth and a whole crazy underground scene around the unlikely hometown of Ottumwa — Mortville Noise has released something quite interesting that’s getting some good responses: a 100-band noise compilation CD. I haven’t heard the thing yet, but even though I haven’t followed the noisecore scene as closely as I did for most of the ’90s, my interest was piqued by some familiar names on it: Agathocles, Nut Screamer, Earwigs, as well as Iowa greats Black Market Fetus and NYC doom crew Batillus. The whole thing sounds really interesting, and Mortville is good people. Check out the promo video if you think you can handle it:
The songwriting team-up of Samuel Locke-Ward and Jason Hennesy at the center of the band Miracles Of God is just one of those few things in the universe that makes total sense. It’s a bit of a pity that they don’t play more shows than they do, but it’s also perfectly understandable given the members’ abundant other projects. The other day Sam announced on his blog that Miracles Of God has booked some shows! They’re in March! None of them are in Des Moines! But it sounds like they’re looking to book more… Anyone want to help me come up with a sweet Des Moines gig for these cats?
Among the pleasant surprises of 2010 were a new studio album by the veteran psychedelic rock band Hawkwind, fortuitously hot on the heels of the 3-way tribute split Hawkwind Triad by Minsk, US Christmas, and Harvestman. While Hawkwind still release live recordings on a pretty regular basis, their last studio outing was five years prior.
Any new Hawkwind album is going to be judged against such classics as Hall Of The Mountain Grill and Warrior On The Edge Of Time, even when the comparison doesn’t really fit. People seem to ignore, willfully even, the progression and changes (inevitable, especially given the notorious lineup changes) that an honest assessment of their 40-year catalog would reveal, even as their commitment to mind-expansion and space exploration stays true to Dave Brock’s vision.
Blood Of The Earth is a very different album to what Hawkwind got up to in the early ’70s, and it’s arguably a better album than a lot of the studio material they came up with later. One thing that caught my ear was what sounds like an influence from the sounds of UK dance rock from Madchester to grebo to big-beat to digital hardcore and things in between. And why not? Hawkwind were pioneers in the use of synthesizers in rock music, and their early “Space Ritual” live shows formed the blueprint for raves. The persistent electronic rhythms on a number of the tracks on Blood Of The Earth are integrated with natural drums to form a foundation on which to build the kind of wild jams we love Hawkwind for, yet always gratefully reigned into a single-digit number of minutes. A generous layer of untamed synthesizer noises is applied over the more uptempo rocking tracks, bringing a sonic density approaching that of Pigface’s Fook/Notes From Thee Underground period, while on the slower numbers the synths take on more of a new-age feel. Flanged guitar licks that sound like ’80s fighter jets peek around all the corners. There are various elements that seem “retro” until you consider that Hawkwind basically invented them in the first place.
The track that is closest to the driving space-rock sound Hawkwind pioneered and that is still most immediately associated with them is the punkish “Wraith,” where the lead vocal (not sure if it’s Brock, or Niall Hone, who has co-writing credit) bears a pleasingly aggressive resemblance to Jaz Coleman of Killing Joke, or alternately (oddly enough), Chris Connelly’s work with Murder Inc. This voice returns later on “Prometheus,” another of the album’s highlights.
If there’s a down spot on the album, it’s when they lack a bit of fire on a remake one of their classic early-’70s songs “You Better Believe It,” and throw in an aimless slow “Maggot Brain”-like jam in the middle of it, seemingly apropos of nothing. But on another revisitation of old material, they rework “Sweet Obsession” from a 1984 Dave Brock solo album to a pounding digital hardcore/Andrew WK beat, capture a bit of the spirit of Hawkwind’s late-’70s period when they began to trade warlike space opera for sci-fi whimsy, add some festive synth-horns, and wind up with another one of the album’s highlights.
Hawkwind have done a [nice](http://092.me) job of combining elements from throughout their history on Blood Of The Earth. It’s not a perfect album, neither is it a “return to form,” but I think it’s greatly underrated.
I’m not sure how qualified I am to comment on rap music. I know if a lyric amuses me and if a beat makes me nod my head and feel good. But I’m not sure whether I’m qualified to comment on what’s a good flow or a sloppy one, or the minutia of what makes a beat cool. I was into rap music for a time in my early teens, which would be late ’80s, after friends turned me on to Run DMC, Kool Moe Dee, Whodini, The Fat Boys, and later on Ice-T, NWA’s first album, and Dr. Dre’s classic The Chronic. I later fell out of it when the gangsta thing transitioned from Ice-T’s gritty, cautionary perspective on the thug life to something a bit harder for me to relate to, and rapping itself seemed to give up skillful use of language in favor of incoherent shouting and posturing. I realize now that there were still rap records being made in those days that I might have liked, but I didn’t hear about them at the time, and my interests moved on to thrash metal, then industrial, then noise, then indie rock.
In the past year certain experiences have turned a little part of my attention back to appreciating rap music again, or at least some of it. One such experience was receiving a formal introduction to the works of Coolzey, and seeing him and his present tour-mate Raashan Ahmad perform live at Vaudeville Mews (Bru Lei and Purple Asteroid Cadillac, also on the bill that night, weren’t half bad either); another was stumbling onto an online debate on the “demise” of hip-hop, a concept I was myself sympathetic to, between a well-known music critic and a couple of little-known rappers. I found the little-known rappers’ commentary so compelling and witty that it piqued my interest in their music, especially upon finding out that their group carried the provocative name Das Racist — which I’m guessing is a reference to the “That’s racist!” Internet meme drawn from Wonder Showzen. The debate’s larger context of race comes up a lot on Das Racists’s lyrics, but in a way that isn’t clear whether it’s meant as serious commentary or lighthearted humor or both. It seems to be referenced early in the album when one of the members of Das Racist (I can’t identify them by their voices since, in a break from standard rap practice, they don’t make a point of constantly shouting their names at you) declares that he’s “sick of arguing with white dudes on the Internet.” Perhaps what makes us willing to listen to an honest, non-self-censored perspective on this subject from these particular guys is what we perceive as their outsider status in relation to it, e.g., who better to comment on America’s black/white racial dichotomy than some ambiguously brown dudes with Hispanic- and Indian-sounding names? I mean yeah, those are races too, but I guess most white people sort of think of them as “other.” They do make a point to openly celebrate their brownness right at the start of the album in the song “Who’s That? Brooown!” But this is another subject I’m underqualified to talk about. I don’t relate to most American mass culture either because it’s all made in big cities on the East and West coasts and I’m from Iowa (“potatoes!”). Also, I’m burned the fuck out on politics as of years ago.
Anyway, there’s more to these guys that one topic. Shut Up, Dude is full of giddy absurdism and wry observations on urban life. The song that Das Racist initially made a splash with, “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell” is on here, and there’s been a lot made of it being some kind of commentary on rampant consumerism. I’m not entirely sure about that myself — much of the lyrics seem to be of a nonsensical or self-deprecating bent — but it’s a great track both for its infectiousness and for being the first time somebody has taken that rather funny phenomena of combination fast-food joints that started popping up a few years ago (I myself have eaten at both a combination Long John Silvers and A & W, and a combination Long John Silvers and KFC where I’m pretty sure they shared a fryer) and made it the central subject of a song. The song seems to center around a story line of two guys who are trying to meet up, each asserting to the other over their cell phones that they are at a particular combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, yet who somehow keep missing each other in the crowd.
Shut Up, Dude, like its follow-up Sit Down, Man, was released as a free download and bills itself as a “mixtape” but I think this classification is probably just a bit of slippery legalism to get around the US’s draconian legal stance on sampling (see Copyright Criminals sometime if you haven’t already). Let’s be real, these are collections of original songs. They’re albums. I have yet to really get cozied up to Sit Down, Man, but Shut Up, Dude is definitely one of my favorite albums of the year. Even though at times it just sounds like they’re free-associating, spitting out anything that sort-of rhymes with no regard for narrative or subject, what I can’t shake about the album is how I have so much darn fun listening to it. There’s a couple of kinda dopey weed-rap bits near the end but even those are delivered with Das Racist’s trademark literate humor over some pretty tasty beats. And I, too, am a fan of the $1 24-ounce cans of Arizona iced tea. I’d been looking for an artist or three to come around and bring the fun back to rap, and these guys delivered.
It’s a rough-mix, unmastered, and I intentionally encoded it in a low-ish bitrate, but I thought it would be [nice](http://092.me) to give folks a little taste of this Fetal Pig record we’ve been working on. You’re welcome!
Dan seemed pretty hyped on this album, but by then I’d already listened to it about a half dozen times and wasn’t quite getting it. It has many fine ingredients for a metal album, to be sure. At any given point the album will remind you of a sludgey Mastodon or Bison BC, built around a relentless procession of big pummeling battle riffs and howling, raspy vocals.
The trouble I had with it was that there is rather a lack of variation, a lack of “moments.” I’ve listened to it nearly ten times now and still the only thing that sticks out for me is the closing 10-minute epic “Day of Rest” for the [nice](http://092.me) hypnotic Neurosis groove it gets going. Otherwise, it’s memorable in the way that being beaten relentlessly for 43 minutes would be: the whole experience itself is memorable, but you’re hard-pressed to recall any specific details. Is it heavy? Hell yeah, but so are a hundred other albums out this year. Moreover, after each listen to Full Of Hell, I felt like I’d just listened to a collection of riffs, rather than a collection of songs.
Tribella is another band that Why Make Clocks shared a local bill with that I quite enjoyed. They’re from Austin but something in their sound says California to me — San Francisco perhaps, or someplace on the West coast but just far enough north to get just a touch of Pacific Northwest melancholy, but not enough to succumb to it.
I might get some flak for this reference, but one thing that comes to mind for me is Don Henley’s 1984 hit “The Boys Of Summer” — ignoring a couple perfectly awful cover versions that have come out in recent years. Keeping in mind that I was nine years old at the time, the spacious tapestry of the guitars on that song, and somewhat also on its album-mate “Sunset Grill,” sounded fresh and exciting to me then, and made those songs sound as if late-summer California sunsets were soaked into all the spaces between the notes; even though I’d never been to California, I felt like I was experiencing them through the music. Tribella have that same type of magic-hour feel, a lot of it coming from Sarah Glynn’s guitar, which sounds like a different painter’s rendering of those same sunsets, and this along with her vocals, just slightly hushed but sure of what they’re saying, do a lot toward making these shimmery, ethereal power-pop gems, wrapped around smart lyrical meditations on relationships both personal and socio-political, feel affectingly poignant.
The title track from Tribella’s earlier EP My Guest List re-appears on Thirteen, and a fine song it is, well deserving of the second shot at ears, even though it’s already beginning to sound like the product of an earlier Tribella. Dana Gerbrecht’s drumming seems to have tightened up on the new stuff, certainly enough to keep a 13/8 meter going throughout the title track with seeming effortlessness, and there are some newly prominent progressive and jazz influences heard in the songs, though still delivered with the same low-key folksy personality they had when I saw them the first time. The electo-fied dance remix of “My Guest List” tacked on the end of the album is unnecessary and a little bit annoying, but that’s about the only negative thing I can think of to say about Thirteen.
Oh right, I forgot, yesterday was the obligatory day to say something about John Lennon and/or Dimebag Darrel. My bad.
Truth is, there’s a number of Beatles songs I like but if you were to ask me the “Beatles or Stones?” [question](http://092.me) I’d have to admit to being insufficiently fanatical about either to warrant [answer](http://092.me)ing. Or just to be funny maybe I’d [answer](http://092.me) “Elvis.” Worse yet, Pantera I actually have had an active dislike for at one time or another. They always just had too much of a meathead vibe for my tastes. They sound like music for jocks lifting weights. Whereas there have been other metal bands making music for Viking warriors fucking up entire villages with battle axes, which do you think is more badass?
If anything though, John Lennon and the Beatles are more important to music and the world in general than Dime and Pantera by like a thousand times. I’m really just echoing something a friend said on Facebook here, but he’s basically right. Then again, it was also Pearl Harbor Day, and Pearl Harbor and WWII beat out the Beatles by the same magnitude, and hardly anybody was talking about that.