Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Top Five albums of 2012. (A race to the bottom.)

I've sort of re-formatted the blog. Made private most of the posts over the last three years. I'd like to keep this thing updated more often with things that actually are pertinent. Or, at least, worth writing down for the dozen or so people that will read it. Since blogging is nothing but an exercise in vanity anyway - Onto baneful tradition of year-end lists: Every year I do them. Compulsively. My friends and I used to make CDRs of our best of. We looked forward to exchanging them more than we looked forward to seeing our families, or their gifts.

 Sadly, those days are well and done.

Now, we are all older and frankly, beaten-down. In this fragile state of overdose, we drift from release to release, record to record, looking for something that will reignite the flame of the passionate music lover. Could it be, we have heard it all? I hope not. I've at least heard a version of everything. The more likely answer is that we've heard enough to know what we like, and we just know what we're looking for. I'm not looking for new things, just new versions, or even better - GOOD versions. I could drone on about how 2012 was the absolute worst year in music in recent memory, but if you've lived it, you know. So, let's all pull the gun from our mouths, and hope 2013 is less abysmal. It couldn't get worse? Could it? The main crime of 2012 is that every record was instantly forgettable. I'm not looking for new ideas or concepts, but well-executed ideas and concepts.

 As it is with musical instruments, cars, and wine - new shit sucks. Old shit rules. I don't want to hear something new, I just want to hear something good. Now that I've taken the piss out of every record that came out this year, I'll highlight five records that didn't make me cringe. These records are genius. Totally memorable, well crafted examples of good music. It sucks that I can't think of 10 good records this year. Really, I guess I can, but what do I care? I don't. These five are the only ones worth noting. Here they are, in no particular order:

Om - Advaitic Songs

 I definitely cannot say enough good things about this record. One thing that drives me crazy is when reviewers (I am amateur-city) mention a band's previous work, as if it has anything to do with how this record is, or when they make a big deal over who "produced" it, as if they were in the recording studio to see what exactly happened. Oh, and hyperbole. It's the worst. The addition of Robert A.A. Lowe to Om is beyond welcome. That dude has been creating gorgeous music with Lichens for years now. It's a shame that he has to join a band like Om to get some due. Lichens is truly a band that needs to be taken seriously. Lowe's contributions are exactly what this band needed. One might argue that things have been looking up for Om since the arrival of drummer Emil Amos and Al Cisneros' continual trek into all things sacred.

 Again, old shit rules, new shit sucks. Om treats the orthodoxy in their lyrics and images with the utmost respect. It's not a gimmick or angle. They're truly tapping into an ancient myth and mystery. God is Good was the name of their last record, but it's more than just a clever phrase. God is good because god is interesting. It cannot be grasped. I'm all for religious music as long as it created reverently. This goes for both sides of the coin. I'm into Satanic mass invocations just as much as Christian orthodox chants, as long as they're sincere. When a band like Om, who by and large are in a secular world, present this glorious look into liturgy and deep history, it's mostly lost on stoner dudes who should "DOPESMOKER" in between songs at Om shows. Deplorable people...

 The world being crafted in Advaitic Songs is harmonically rich with tabla, tamboura and strings in addition to Emil and Al's traditional Om instrumentation. This record is the next logical step from their last record, but I had no idea it would yield such a magical result. Each song, like each sacred liturgy exists on it's own plane. This is real. This is not disposable. This is tapping into ancient themes. It is totally unoriginal, and that's why it's good. It's instantly timeless and refreshing. The melodies in every song are familiar, not as "this is ripping off some riff!" but in the way a scent is familiar. These melodies, like a scent open up the mind to deep memories, sometimes repressed deep within the consciousness of self. This record is not for metal dudes who are into esoteric music, or dudes who think they're into esoteric music. It is really mind-music for the spiritually inclined. That doesn't mean you need to worship Jesus, and if you think so, you're utterly missing the point. This is why we study cosmology. 

These are the sounds of time. These are the sounds of true spirituality. If you're looking to bang your head slowly to a distorted bass riff and primitive drumming, you should probably see the early Om albums. This is such a release bigger than itself. You can only reach this when dealing with certain themes. For me, those themes are religion, power, or sex. This record grabs the first from that list and goes deep into the soul and comes glowing. It's a damn shame it's going to be lumped into metal categories, or be the "experimental" music that metal people listen to. A damned, damned shame. It's too beautiful. And finally, people discuss "production" too much in reviews. Of course most of the time they're referring to engineering, or the sound of a record. Not how the songs were crafted by someone brought in to aid in the writing or arranging process.

 Production is for the band, engineering is for the listener, and you'll find no better engineered record this year. What I love about this record is how the drums shift sonically depending on the song. A real highlight for me is the muted plosive-esque (not EXPLOSIVE, you ass. Plosive) tone to the cymbal crashes in "Gethsemane." I've not heard cymbals sound that well engineered in a long time. They're the seated well in the mix and used to maximum effect. Each of the four songs that contains drums, the drums and cymbals have their own voice. Why did bands stop doing this? The record is credited as such: Recorded by Jay Pellicci. Additional engineering by Brandon Eggleston, Steve Albini, and Salvador Raya. Mastered by John Golden. It's not often you see Albini getting an "additional" credit, and I'm hesitant to credit him for anything specific, but it seems that some of his room mic-ing techniques were used. I could be off base, but I've never heard an Albini record sound like this. Cheers to Jay Pellicci. This is a brilliant record to listen to, and to hear. Well done. John Golden is a mastering legend as well.

Lee Ranaldo - Between the Times and the Tides

The unthinkable happened in 2012. Sonic Youth broke up. I never thought the day would come, and to think that Kim and Thurston are no longer together shakes me to my core. They were the cool couple. I'll make no judgement on their relationship or reason for breakup, as it's clearly none of my business, other than it is sad to see any relationship fall apart, especially having gone through so much together. 

Well, anyfuckingway, Lee Ranaldo put out a solo record. Based on his previous solo output, you'd guess that he was the one keeping SY noisy and experimental as they played with traditional song structure and melody. Um, I guess maybe he was, but according to this record, the guy is a pop genius. I had no idea what to expect. Well, I did. Noise. Tape loops, feedback, etc. I did not expect a well-crafted record of SONGS. Memorable, meaningful SONGS. Not swashes of sound, which I am totally a fan of, but songs. Songs you can sing. Not in a corny way either... just well crafted songs. 

Now these aren't just normal guitar rock, you still have the classic warble of Lee Ranaldo's guitars. The sort-of-in-tune notes that you've come to love from him. It's all traditional structure, but played in a non-traditional way. It totally came from left-field for me. I did not expect Lee Ranaldo to make this record, and when he did, I wasn't sure if I liked it because it was different and shocked me, or if it was good. After months of repeated listenings, it starts to drift. Maybe it isn't as normal as I thought it was? Maybe there is more to the record. It shows as a simple "indie" (whatever that means) record. But there is so much disharmonic beauty and a real fragility to the record that I think totally makes the record. I know nothing of the record other than it's music, and it's tempting to want to fill in the gaps with your mind, but all we have is this record. It's amazing.

Horseback - Half Blood

 This record has been written about dozens of times on year end lists. It truly is that good. However, can we please stop mentioning the "southern rock" influence. Like, what the hell does that even mean? I hear a lot of Fender Rhodes. For the record, that is one of my favorite sounds ever. Up there with thunderstorms, orgasms, and coffee brewing. You know what I hear in Horseback? A circle. The riff or motif that folds in on itself like an ouroborus. This is also one of my favorite sounds. Horseback is really knocking it out of the park for me, I feel like this was a record that was written for MY PERSONAL ENJOYMENT. I rarely feel that way. This record so clearly referenced so many things I deeply love without sounding cheap about it. What is the number one reference I hear? From where does the circular riffing come? Well the best band to ever employ such a technique, and perhaps last true American folk band: (the incomparable, musical perfection) Lungfish. Speaking of...   

Lungfish - A.C.R. 1999

In 1999, Lungfish recorded some songs at A.C.R. studios in Baltimore. They usually recorded with legendary engineer Don Zientara at Inner Ear Studios. For whatever reason, this was abandoned. Six of these songs later appeared on Necrophones in 2000. How sad is 2012? Well, considering that Lungfish is one of the best bands ever, and tough art and music are wide reaching and wonderful, as far as my eyes go, the songs that Lungfish threw away are better than what most folks were coming up with to sell as new. Yikes. But Lungfish is Lungfish. These songs seem leaner, a bit more tough than their Necrophones versions. Rumor has it Dischord has several more unreleased Lungfish albums... unreal. We need those.

 The world needs this. It's not like unreleased Lungfish will change the world, but it will make my world better. The real shame is that 90% of Lungfish fans are just kids who like Dan Higgs' tattoos, and believe me, there is much there to like. He is beyond amazing. I won't even get into the deep mythos he dug into, the guy figured it out. But, painting and music is where he is now. And for a good reason! His songs, along with Asa Osbourne and his lyrics and vocals are peerless. If you don't know Lungfish, that's ok. Just realize that no matter how hard you want them to crash down and give you that big-downbeat-hardrock-band-catharsis that popular music has been giving you for years, you're never going to get it. If you do know that, then enjoy A.C.R. 1999.

Trash Talk - 119

 Notice how the reviews are getting shorter and shorter? It's designed that way. Trash Talk needs no review. They're a hardcore punk band from California. They play pissed off, fast punk. What else do you want? Over-intellectualization? It's punk. It has something to say. Want to know what it is? Go to a show. Read the lyrics. Watch out. TT shows get pretty crazy.

 DRM anno 2012

Also, Neurosis and Aura Noir put out good records this year.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Why text tattoos are bad:

I could not say it any better and have nothing to add other than "bravo."

This is a well done blog post regarding the total crap that is lettering based tattoos. I've always just described them as "utterly tacky," and that is a correct description, but here we have the nuances broken down in technical, but easy to grasp terms.

Read it here.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Top releases of 2011:

The following can be attributed to DAMIANMASTER:

Two-Thousand and Eleven was a great year for music. Coming off a strong holiday quarter in twenty-ten, hopes were high that some that momentum would ram its head into the clinching, puckering, young pink year that would lead us softly into the coming Mayan apocalypse. After all, it couldn't be worse than two-thousand and nine, right?

(The above section of alleged "writing" itself is a parody of the complete and utter hyperbolic nonsense bullshit that has sadly taken over music journalism. Metalsucks, Decibel, Invisible Oranges, I'm looking at you. How about less being funny and cute and use more you know... adjectives? Descriptors? Less inside jokes and ribs at the past? Please? Because I'm going crazy here. I'm no music journalist myself, and this is no attempt to become one, just sharing some thoughts on some great music released in 2011. Hire real writers or GTFO.)

As a rabid music consumer - I'm always digging into the past. Much of what I've listened to this year are records that came out long ago. A lot of it is longtime stuff I've been into, some of it is new-ish to me, or stuff I've given time to - but the list includes: Voivod, Kraftwerk (digging into their first two albums) Aura Noir, The Sisters of Mercy, Christian Death, Brian Eno, Ministry, Coil, etc. Lots of post-punk, goth, and early industrial. That kind of stuff. Also - telling people what you listen to is like is a pissing contest.

Now onto the best of 2011. I've divided my list into two sections in NO PARTICULAR ORDER. No ranking system. Just ten records you should check out and a short precis accompanying each one. One list is metal/punk/hardcore and non-Metal/punk/hardcore. Anyone worth anything is pretty diverse in their musical tastes, so I'm just conforming this list to metal/punk/hardcore since that's what everyone thinks I only listen to anyway.


Midnight - Satanic Royalty

Finally, a full-length from maybe the best thing to come from Ohio since Trent Reznor and Greg Dulli: Midnight. If you like blackened speed metal and you're not hipped to Midnight, you're missing out. We're talking Venom meets Motorhead. Hooks included. Catchy as hell! It's just mean. Multiple songs were stuck in my head after one listen. It's a total party record. If your party is full of drunk, stoned hesher losers doing shitty coke off the coffee table. AKA, my kind of party. (not really) It's also fine to listen to by yourself. We've waited years for a Midnight full length and Athenar has made our wait more than worth it. LUST, FILTH AND SLEEZE!!

Victims - A Dissident

Sweden is weird. They've got Bathory and Refused. But they also have Opeth and Meshuggah, yuck. Playing more from the Refused side of the ball is Victims. A Dissident is their fifth full length and they're still pissed as ever! Sweden also has an amazing history of good crusty, d-beat hardcore. Victims is part Crude SS, Avskum, and Skitsystem but coiled up with this Motorhead-type energy that really didn't exist for Motorhead post-Philthy Animal. Victims is sort of the European version of Tragedy, but a bit more straightforward. I guess this is the most simple release on this list, so I'm struggling to come up with words (I'm no journalist or critic), it's just awesome crusty, d-beat hardcore. Either it's your bag or it's not. When I first heard this record I punched the shit out of my steering wheel.

The Gates of Slumber - The Wretch

I would hate to label this "true doom" record. What does that mean? I get that it's a pretty good descriptor in breaking apart the Sabbath-y/St. Vitus-y doom metal versus the downtuned, low, gutteral vocal doom (which sucks, very few exceptions: Asunder). Gates has ditched the "epic" themes of albums past and have gone a bit more humanist lyrically speaking. It brings a gravitas to the record that most doom bands lack. Songs about Conan and Elric only go so far, and honestly - are really dorky. The sonics on this record alone could earn it a top spot. This is REAL engineering, people. Real guitar tones, real drum tones, great vocal production. We have to go back to the word "true." It's real. Many records are fake sound-replaced these days. The Gates of Slumber are so real that you can't help but feel you're in the same room as the band when you listen to it. Karl's voice and fragile guitar work carry the album. The guitar work is fragile in that it seems as if he is playing on his last breath. And that's totally a good thing! I also give this record 100% credit for proving that music can be heavy and in standard tuning. A pet peeve of mine for sure. I don't dig the downtuning thing generally. Also - when the guitar solo comes in, it's just bass and drums for the rhythm track. No extra guitars. That's so bad ass. Again, it brings a gravitas to this record. This is a serious, serious record. I can feel it. There was no need to present this record or this band as anything other than what it is. Gates seem to be at peace with themselves. On a small note, when I saw Gates live they literally played every song off the new record except for my favorite song, "Castle of the Devil." Understandable, so rectify this by going out and listening to that song over and over again on a rainy day. I know I've done that, multiple times. (This was also snubbed by Decibel mag for their top 40. For shame db! For shame!!!)

Peste Noire - L’Ordure à l’état Pur

La Sale Famine de Valfunde (henceforth referred to as "Famine") is a total asshole. He's a righteous dick in interviews and seems legitimately nuts. Very cool! I actually think Famine is a much smarter guy than he leads on. I've gathered that through the years he's been fucking with his audience just to fuck with them. In fact, I know that that's what he's doing. Want proof? Anyway. This album is a cluster of crazy ideas and some legit, good songwriting intermixed. The weird thing is that it works. It's sort of this twisted walk though Famine's mind. Everything is a joke, but it's all serious. In fact, I think if Famine were a villain, he'd be the Joker. Easily. If you're looking for a proper review of this album good luck. The album makes zero sense. It just resonates with me. Between the French instrumentation, "uum-pah" circus parts, Eurotrash drum machine parts, and Famine's well kvlted out Tom Waits impression, I should be screaming DELETE! But it works. Audrey Sylvain's voice doesn't hurt either. It seems like the first couple of tracks are laced with the weirdness to scare off posers, but as the album progresses it reveals itself in totally unique ways. Famine's command of "black metal" vocabulary and the sonic tools he uses to craft his version of black metal are unique only to him. Disregard his latest skinhead shtick, although I'm sure for him, it's very real. Not that I care either way. Famine is way smarter than he wants you to believe he is. He's giving you hints and having fun with you along the way. It's almost like he wants to be caught, but he's still two steps ahead of you and relishing it. If that doesn't sound like the Joker, I don't know what does.

Arckanum – Helvítismyrkr

I am torn by this record's inclusion on my list. Ultimately, it's more than worthy and needs a spot here. So, here it is. I'll tell you the main reason why it's here. It's good. Really good. Shamaatae (all instruments/vocals) should get a heap of credit here. This is his seventh full-length since 1995 (with a handful of other releases peppered in between then and now) and he's only getting better. He started off pretty well and is constantly improving. This isn't some spot on the list reserved for "consistently good musician" or a pity spot for guy who's a bit under-celebrated. It's a great record! The stupid record label put "For fans of Dissection and Watain" prominently on the cover. Whatever. I have nothing against those two bands, and I know that Arckanum's anti-cosmic Satanism links up with those two bands' set of beliefs (and they're all from Sweden), but Arckanum stands alone. This year was a big change in direction for my musical tastes. Atmosphere has always been the most important thing in music for me. Not "atmosphere" aka, shitty synths in the background of a song, but the true vibe, mood or emotion that was being portrayed. Think about Neurosis for a second. Yeah. That kind of stuff. Amazing. But atmosphere often comes at the expense of songwriting. See: the funeral doom genre. All atmosphere. No songs. Same could be said of grind. (but grind rules though!) Depressive/Suicidal BM? Give. Me. A. Break. It's corny and fake. If these guys were real, they'd be dead. LOL @ Lifelover. They were all depressive and suicidal and then their mainman dies of natural causes in his sleep! HAHAHAAHAHAH!!! Way to commit buddy. That genre is very insincere. How does this relate to Arckanum? Arckanum is the opposite. It's totally sincere. It's real songwriting. Not BS black metal cliche after cliche. It sounds awesome too! I realize that I'm trending pretty well "produced" on this list. And if you know me, a lot of what I've listened to this year is fucked up weird sounding raw demos from odd bands. But there is something to be said about something crafted extremely well. Arckanum is just that. Well-crafted. No musical missteps or faux-pas. And this guy has been making kick-ass album after kick ass album for years now. Give the kid a bone!

Sinister Realm - The Crystal Eye

Here we go... fresh off my diatribe on songwriting, we have another entrant who was awarded entrance based on the strength of songwriting. After all, what else is there? If you're all image and no songs... you're GWAR. I saw GWAR one time, and I don't remember if I said it or my friend Tim said it, but he/me said "Is there band playing right now?" Sinister Realm exudes 100% heavy metal power. Again, I hate to throw around words like "true" or "trad" but Sinister Realm falls under those descriptors. It's a very Iron Maiden record, and no one (other than maybe Nifelheim) loves Iron Maiden more than me. I don't know if Maiden is capable of doing a record like this. It's meat and potatoes metal played in the old way. Even the drum fills sound super '80s! I guess it's an album about astral travel... whatever. That's cool I guess? I guess Iron Maiden already wrote songs about every armed conflict in recorded history (I think that was a Henry Rollins joke!). All I know is that the songs and vocals are top notch. At least the lyrics never broach into overt cheese. Then again, metal is pretty dorky anyway. The point is, Sinister Realm are the real deal. If you think these guys are a bunch of skinny, fashionable kids from Sweden playing "occult metal" just ripping off Mercyful Fate and the first Maiden album, you're wrong. One look at these guys and you'll figure out pretty quick that the blue collar burg of Allenstown, PA doesn't allow for posers in their true metal bands. The attention paid to craft and melody is amazing. From what I understand bassist John Gaffney is responsible for all songs and lyrics... how very Steve Harris of him! Sure, the vocals could be a bit more expressive, but I'm not picky. At least the vocalist Alex Kristof has picked a good thing to do and does it. We can't all be papa Bruce D. Kristof is a bit more Di'Anno now that I think about it. Not a bad thing in my book. Think Di'Anno fronting an updated Powerslave-era Maiden. Doesn't sound too bad does it? This record will grab you by the balls, and if it doesn't, it'll grab you by your ladyparts, and if you've got a Barbie doll crotch, you're Hedwig from Hedwig & the Angry Inch, and that is awesome.

Dolorvotre - Dolorvotre

Dolorvotre is perhaps the best offering from the famed (???) Black Twilight Circle out of California. Ashdautas was probably the most well known band of the BTC before this year, but Volahn (half of Dolorvotre) and his buddies started cranking out a bunch of kick ass music getting them a lot of attention. Arizmenda (of the band Arizmenda, other half of Dolorvotre) is no slouch either, releasing a couple of complex, twisting, weird, anxious records in the past couple of years as well. After a nasty split with Naeth in Ashdautas, Volahn and Arizmenda regrouped as Dolorvotre. Of course there was all that indigenous resistance shtick they picked up along the way. They've embraced their Mayan/Mexica heritage like the Scandinavians embraced their Nordic/Viking heritage and gained a shit-ton of internet fans along the way. Crepusculo Negro (Black Twilight, en espanol) also became demonized because of their somewhat questionable business practices. Orders take (and this is an official term) for-fucking-ever, and communication is also notoriously bad. I've been ordering from them for a while, so I never get the run around too bad. So, good on them. I'm fine. But I know people who are still waiting for shit they've ordered over half a year ago. Maybe longer. Then there was the split between CN and the Rhinocervs crew (Tukaaria/Odz Manouk, etc). Some real baby mama drama type stuff which is big on with the internet kids. Dolorvotre is literally Arizmenda and Volahn. So, musically, it sounds like a mix of Volahn and Arizmenda. It's a dark, twisting, warbling, 8-track-hiss affair. It's actually beautiful in a way. Not like Alcest beautiful, it's too ugly and distant sounding, but there is a sort of winding quality present in all BTC bands that allow the mind to meander along with the guitar. For that matter- a lot of the BTC bands sound the same. I mean, can you tell apart Kallathon and Kuxan Suum? Nevermind, it's good stuff. Let us leave it at that. Dolovortre seems to be the crown jewel of the Crepusculo Negro crown. I saw these guys live and it was amazing. I don't say that a lot, but I was blown away. CN/BTC get away with murder because their music is amazing, but honestly, a lot of it is the same. Granted, that one thing is pretty cool - but if I had to recommend one band for someone, it would be Dolorvotre. It's nice to hear a band embrace a different sonic aesthetic in the black metal palate. Enough Darkthrone clones! There are parts of Dolorvotre that sound like a drugged out Master's Hammer meets Vlad Tepes. Dig it!

High Spirits - Another Night

This is not a cheesy record. This is not corny. Disregard the period-correct, Don Johnson typeface on the layout. This is probably one of the more serious records on the list. In fact, when Chris Black sings about loves lost and the memory of wild nights spent in the city it brings a real, compelling voice to heavy metal that is all but lost. It is so catchy, and so major key that it might turn people off. We shall refer to these people from now on as "posers." This is metal in the old way! It's not all darkness and death, it's true tales of heartache and yearning. This record is a lot more human than it leads on. Of course, it's so infectious and catchy that it bears multiple repeated listens. I think I once listened to it six times in a row. It's only a half-hour long. Each song has a hook that is undeniable. I also think at one point in time, each of the songs on the record was my favorite song on the record. That is to say, we're not sitting on any weak tunes here. Chris Black has brought metal back to it's glory days of good songwriting. Here we go again... yes. I'm harping on songwriting again. Listen, if it was easy, everyone would do it. Certain bands like the Ramones can adhere to a formula and make it work, some bands try to experiment with varying results. I think the true test of a song is that it works across multiple formats. This isn't a perfect analogy and only applies to pop songs, but we live in a pop culture. Any of the songs on the new High Spirits album could be made into hip-hop party jams, slow indie ballads, or dark bluesy acoustic numbers, etc. They're true songs. Lucky for us, Chris Black is a heavy metal warrior, and decided to bring them to us via REAL METAL, not one of the aforementioned genres. This record really represents a jump from the first couple of High Spirits releases. Give it a chance. Thank you Chris. Thank you for High Spirits. We needed that.

Departure Chandelier - The Black Crest of Death, the Gold Wreath of War

New band supposedly featuring members of Ash Pool and Akitsa (ok, it definitely does). This record has a pretty heavy late-period Kristallnacht vibe. The lyrics focus on the "French history of cruelty." Obviously. I love the use of keyboards. Speaking of obviously, it's obviously Dominick Fernow on the keys, fresh off of his bender with Wes in Cold Cave, focusing his synth energies on black metal. It's totally rad. I can hear OT's guitar work from Akitsa. It's a beautiful thing. That distortion is so great. It was a real toss-up between this record or the new Akitsa 7" for this spot, but ultimately, the moving basslines and freaky keys of this release won out. It's fairly short, an intro, two songs, and an outro, but it's cool. I don't actually know if it's year-end list good, but I listened to it so many times I feel like it should be here. It's perfect. Just how a good cassette-length black metal demo should be.

v/a Odour of Dust & Rot (Rhinocervs)

It's a comp. The packaging alone is totally awesome! It came with a pro-pressed zine and a metallic button! I don't even think the zine had any words in in it. Hahaha! It's got a bit of everything form the Crepusculo Negro/Rhinocervs camp. My favorite stuff is the Rhinocervs untitled projects. It's obviously the dudes responsible for Absum and Tukaaria, but that's fine. I like that it's all untitled. This comp is a mixed bag, sonically but everything is pretty solid and certainly in the vein of the Crepusculo Negro / Rhinocervs sound. The Absum and Odz Manouk material is also stark and amazing. The Tukaaria track is also awesome... actually the whole thing is awesome. That's why it's here. I'm not going to waste time describing it. It's typical BTC/Rhinocervs stuff, which is to say it's all just a twisted version of LLN styled black metal. Are you tired of my rambling? I am.

Here's my non-metal list:

Kayo Dot - Stained Glass
Toby Driver never fails to disappoint.

Vatican Shadow / Contrepoison - The Serpent Carries Him Into Paradise
Infectious tunes from unlikely places.

Oxbow - Stone & Towering Edifice
Eugene Robinson shines in the live setting, and an acoustic Oxbox is still more dangerous than most electric rock bands. Also - Fuck Hydra Head for being a bullshit label and ripping people off with this release and the ongoing stream of shit they've been putting out for the past four years.

The Twilight Singers - Dynamite Steps
Greg Dulli. Making it happen. His best since Blackberry Belle.

Bohren & Der Club of Gore - Beilied
Ok, before you cry sellout because one of the songs has vocals, consider that at least it's Mike Patton and at least it's not in English.

Field of Spears - Pale Eulogies
Simply one of the best neo-folk records in recent memory.

Cold Cave - Cherish The Light Years
Man, I really wanted to hate this record as much as their last full length. It's really good though.

Chris Connelly - Artificial Madness
The voice of RevCo, Pigface, Ministry, etc. backed by some of Chicago's finest metalheads. Sounds weird right? It's not. And that's a good thing!

Circle of Ouroborus - Eleven Fingers
Is it metal? Is it post rock? Is it good? Extremely. Lo-fi beauty incarnate.

v/a Around The Dragon's Broken Neck Hangs the Medal of Saint Lazarus (Hospital Productions)
My boss at the record store, who after twenty-five years of doing that is pretty burned out on music. He mostly just listens to old jazz. He tells me he can't wait to get out of the business so he can fall in love with music again. He asked me to make him a copy of this comp after playing it in the store. This is music to move people who have seen it all, heard it all, and are apathetic. It's beyond amazing. Maybe the best compilation of all time.

EDIT: 12/01/2011. The problem with these lists is that you always forget something awesome. The amazing record I forgot to include:

Alberich - Psychology of Love

If you don't know what this is, then you won't like it.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Science of My Sound and Playing Philosophy:

Ok, so this type of post is long overdue and maybe it is for my own satisfaction but I think a small handful of people (Pete DeGraw, Matt Ellis) would read it and find it interesting.

Like all guitarists, ok, well, not all guitarists, I'm obsessed with the my sound. This is commonly referred to as "tone" by those in the know. Unfortunately being in the "know" often means you find yourself surrounded by a bunch of "musicians" who invest more time into investing in true-bypass pedals and pure signal chains rather than actually playing their instrument. Tone. Tone for the guitarist is equivalent to the singer's voice. It is the sound by which we are identified. If you have good tone, and style, (Hendrix, SRV, etc.) just one note can be played and people will know it's you.

Now if you don't know, take my word for it. Millions of hours and pages on forums all around the internet have been dedicated to replicating and dissecting tones. Time probably better spent practicing. I think all guitarists have somewhat of an inferiority complex. I mean, there is always someone out there better than you. It's hard to find a unique voice. But I've found that through the years, it's actually much easier than I thought.

I've primarily been the sole electric guitarist in most of my musical endeavors. (Brothers is a bit of an anomaly for me, in many ways!) As a result, I have had to fulfill both "rhythm" and "lead" roles. But therein lies the first of many problems. Those are traditional roles, and I'm uninterested in being bound by that particular tradition. Music for be, by and large has always been dependent on one key factor: atmosphere. I have a post about my favorite guitarists a little ways back, and they all have atmosphere as their main weapon. I'm not talking about ethereal, spaced out echo flanger phaser fx, I'm talking about attitude and style. As a result, I had become obsessed with the guitar playing of Johnny Marr of the Smiths. His style of "lead rhythm" was exactly what I was looking for. Now, I could get a Rickenbacker, a Fender amp, a compressor and try and cop Johnny Marr licks until the sun goes down, but I'll never get there because I'm not Johnny Marr. I'm also not in a pop band. Nor will I ever be! It's not my style! I'm a hardcore heavy metal noise punk! It's what I do! I can't be something I'm not.

That is the first lesson of the day. Don't be something you're not. Embrace what you are good at and run with it. Now, that is not to say that my playing is all of the buzzsaw Ramones style, I have nuanced abilities, but I'm not going to create a harsh black metal track and then go sit in with a jazz trio, or blues band. Doesn't mean I don't love jazz and blues, I'm just not cut from that cloth. Too many guitarists try and master it all. They end up being "jack of all, ace of none." There are notable exceptions (Alex Skolnick) but for the most part, it's impossible.

Around the turn of the century, I had become metalpunked out! Too much! Overdose! I never stopped loving it, but I expanded my tastes. I got really into ambient electronic and noise. A lot of it started with Aphex Twin and the Warp label, and spiraled into obscurity from there. Just as I had plumbed the depths of metal and punk (or so I had thought) I plumbed the depths of the avant-garde. I found bands like Einstürzende Nubauten that used guitars in a very non-traditional sense. Sure, I had been into Sonic Youth with their altered tunings and textures but the guitar was always still kind of "guitar-y" if that makes sense.

So here I am, obsessed with the sound of noise and ambience, but I have six strings and a slab of wood in my hands. I could go one of two routes. I could invest in a hundred, wild and crazy effects boxes to make my guitar sound like anything but a guitar, or I could figure something else out. Now, I know of a few musicians who make the guitar sound not like a guitar and it is genius (Fennesz, a few others). But I don't want to cop their style. So I have to create my own thing. Or, at least attempt to find my own voice in a sea of unique voices. How? Well, I decided to take my love of heavy metal, hardcore, noise, and punk and mesh it with my favorite style of guitar playing, best exemplified by Johnny Marr. So here I am, alone. A heavy metal Johnny Marr. Bringing jangle into black metal and hardcore, genres best known for their "CHUNK" as opposed to their "sparkle," but dammit, I'm going to try and make this thing work.

And that's just it. It wasn't really a conscious effort to mesh the two, it just happened. Lesson #2: Let it happen. It's not just the name of an MxPx compilation album, its a philosophy. Don't over-think your approach. Let everything soak into you and filter it and process it through your own unique creative person.

That leaves me to the question of tools. How am I going to create these hypothetical sounds in my head. Enter my real-world experience.

I was managing a warehouse for a backline company. When you're providing gear for musicians, you become aware of issues relating to equipment failure and durability. Through years of research and hours of talking with by buddy Pete and our friend John, I realized what was obvious to many before me. The more complex the circuit, the more options, the more "things" a piece of gear offered, the more likely it was to fail. Furthermore, when a piece of equipment does fail, a simple circuit is easily diagnosed and repaired quickly. Now, I am not a wealthy man, so when I invest in a piece of gear as a working musician I have very high expectations. I expect to put it through its paces and have it perform to a high standard consistently. Now that means I'm investing in either new boutique gear, or vintage equipment. The mass production PC board crap found at Guitar Center is not going to cut it. For the beginner or still-discovering-his-path amateur (I'm still an amateur, I just know my path!) Guitar Center has plenty of great gear to guide you, but for the most part, it's crap. Nothing agains Guitar Center, they're just a company. I'm just saying this type of gear is not for cats like myself. So, gear must be simple, effective, durable and sonically pleasing. Unfortunately, affordable does not fit in with those listed requirements, though you are often able to find a diamond in rough piece of gear that meets those requirements for a nice price tag. (Guild Bluesbird,Fulltone pedals, CERTAIN Peavy tweed-style amps, etc.)

Really, you must invest in quality to get quality. I remember the dudes in If He Dies He Dies. A brilliant band. Amazing songs, great sounds! Cool tones! They played on rubbish equipment, but it worked for them. Well, sometimes. I mean, it always sounded cool, somewhat... but sometimes reliability was problematic. I don't want to be that guy who breaks a string on stage and is looking for a guitar. It's embarrassing. It's unprofessional, not that I'm a professional, but I'm not an amateur hobbyist. I take this too seriously! In the backline industry you always send spares of everything. You never know when something is going to fail and you can't NOT have a spare. It's just out of the question. Most of the time when equipment fails there isn't time to break out the toolbox and the soldering iron. It'd be nice in a perfect world, but we're not in a perfect world.

Having learned from this experience, I try and carry spares of whatever I have. Practically speaking, but I digress from the science of my sound. The true purpose of this rant, though this is sort of part of it all. It is my part of my overall encompassing attitude.

How am I to get these ambient, textural sounds that I desire, but have a guitar rig that remains simplistic, reliable and above all- sounding aces. Ok, I love the ambient sounds, but I love guitar too. I don't want to make my guitar sound like something else, I love the sound of six strings and wood. What do I do?

Lesson #3: Embrace your limitations.

I removed all pedals, overdrive, delays, noise gates, etc from my rig and made a simple signal chain. Guitar -> Cable -> Amp. Even within this dead-simple set up the amount of options are nearly endless. What kind of guitar? What kind of strings? Pickups? What kind of internal electronics? What kind of cable? What amp? What tubes? What speaker? What speaker size? configuration? GAH!!! The amount of options in a minimalist set up are dizzying! Somehow though contemplation and just gut-feeling and reaction I decided to pare down my rig to its most basic, pure elements. For me, that's a Gibson Les Paul Custom or Gibson SG, totally stock, or Fender Stratocaster or Telecaster (also stock) into a quality tube amp. Maybe a Marshall, Fender, Vox, or VHT, but something nice. And really, one of my secret amp weapons isn't even tube, it's solid state. So, really, just a good sounding, simple amp. The more simple the better. Preferably something with a single channel where I can manipulate tones based on onboard controls that the guitar provides via pickups, volume and tone controls.

I think we should all bow down before the genius of Brian Eno. Then stand up and slap in his limey face for continuing to produce U2. But his ambient music and approach is totally genius. I was watching a documentary on Brian Eno and he said something that struck me so deeply and profoundly. Eno was being interviewed in his studio and he picked up a Strat and noted that there were three pickup positions, essentially three sound options, and they were all gorgeous sounds. Then he pointed at a keyboard that had many, many options and opined it's uselessness. He said the following and it truly changed my outlook and has been my mantra ever since:

"What you need are fewer possibilities, that are more interesting. It's not more options that you want, it's more useful options." - Brian Eno

That's it. Eno has put into words what I had been struggling to verbalize for years. Granted, he's a pioneer and total genius who has been creating relevant work since before I was born, but- whatever. Eno man. Eno.

You see, he hit the nail directly on the head and hammered it flush to the wood. If you have a few interesting options, by virtue you'll never grow tired of them because they're interesting. In the same way a painting is static in that it doesn't really change - so also can a guitar sound be static but still interesting. You can change the lighting, and environment that a painting is in and that affects how you digest it. The Mona Lisa in the Louvre is one thing, but if you would have seen it in a garage sale would you have looked twice? Maybe, maybe not. Context is everything. The painting will never change. Similar to my guitar sound and structure. But if you provide an interesting sound within a good context, it will never grow old. It will never be un-compelling. Take for example three bands that are brutal. AC/DC, Shellac, and Darkthrone. AC/DC is the sound of pure, driving rock and roll. Relentless in its approach and clean in its execution. The blueprint of rock and roll expanded upon while remaining true the the sonic purity of a guitar, amp, bass, drums, and voices kicking all kinds of rock and roll ass at a loud volume. Shellac is the perhaps the best indie/art rock band ever. Minimalist yet powerful. Every ounce of playing is masterful and plotted out. 100% pure sound. No gimmickry or fakery. Three men playing in a room. Granted two of those men are quite possibly the finest recording engineers in North America so it is bound to sound pretty freaking good, but the musicianship and songwriting is there. Totally. Darkthrone's 2nd through 4th albums are a study in monochromatic metal sound. The sound are a stark and plain as the cover images for those records. Nothing is overdone, nothing is overstated, yet at the same time it is so extreme and cold sounding that it washes over you and something that should be jarring is totally atmospheric and otherworldly. It's strangely relaxing.

Those three bands don't give a damn about you or how they make their music. They just do. They use what they have and they go for it. They are not limited by their instruments, at least not directly. So I have mentioned that I have a certain set of gear that I like to play through, which is nice and helps... but not important. Not that important.

Rule #4: Make it happen.

If you can't make something happen because you don't have a certain piece of gear or set up, you suck. That's all. If you have an army of pedals and you can't make SOMETHING cool happen just plugged in straight, let's say, on an impromptu gig - you're probably a hack who can't write songs. I know that sometimes effects and things are part of what inspires a song, but you know what I mean! If you're reliant on a certain thing to the point where if you remove it from the equation it becomes unrecognizable, this is generally a bad thing. I mean, even if you take the biggest douchebag guitarist of the 90s, Tom Morello and remove his whammy pedal and his wacky effects, you can still tell it's him playing. Even when he doesn't have the context of Rage Against The Machine. Man, remember Audioslave? Ughghh. It was Tom Morello alright, but it was as awful as ever. I digress. So under all these insults, I guess I sort of respect the guy for having his own style.

And what made me type out all this madness? Well, I played a church gig today. I played it with a bunch of kids that were 17. I think one kid was 20. They were all really young and optimistic and my goodness, overplayers. All of them. Lots of drum fills, lots of guitar fills, tons of effects, etc. It was a real experience to kind of help coach them along during the last week. I was humble in my approach but after our performance this Sunday they were all convinced of my ways. Rule #5 is a cliche, but it's true.

Rule #5: Less is more.

In trying to achieve a big sound people too often add. It is counterintuitive. To sound bigger, you should use less gain, not more. Play simply. Simplicity allow the music to open up and breathe and become powerful. It takes on its own dynamics that are built into the song. Now, for this type of church music I do carry two effects. Since I don't write the songs I have to cop parts and sounds that aren't mine. Of course, I do them in MY style, The other guitarist in the band was technically a better guitarist than me. Technically. He could play circles around me, but he did not have what I had... restraint, style, atmosphere, and taste. Now, keep in mind, this kid like 18, and one day when he embraces my ways he'll be a million times the guitarist I am, but for now, he was submissive to my ways. He over played. I showed him the style of the minimalist. Letting the music breathe and speaking slowly with a nice sound. Not harsh gain on a lead sound, or a barrage of fast sweep picking notes, but a musical breath of notes that speaks to the heart of the listener, not the ear of the musician.

I showed them how to dial it back. I asked that they trust me. It was a struggle for them to throw away a majority of their effects and licks, but they did and I think they saw a new world. We really knocked it out of the park. I generally like to have an amp set to a nice dirty rhythm tone with my volume on 7. Then when I need to do a lead or a stand-out part, I'll goose the control up to 10. This works nice for me. But for praise music, I need to pull from a distinct palate - clean and dirty. So I chose to use my Fulltone Fulldrive 2 which has a nice fluid, clear sound. As an additional feature it has a boost channel with a gain control so I can give my solos that searing melodious tone. Since I'm covering a lot of ground, I like having that flexibility of just hitting a switch for a lead tone. And since it is a church, we all know how much praise musicians love U2 and that delay/echo box guitar crap. It does have a nice chimey sound that appeals to me, but I'd opt for a Peter Buck sound over The Edge any day. But, covering Hillsong's fifteen friggin guitar parts played by twenty different players on my own means I need an echo box. My echo box of choice? The Ibanez AD-9 Analog Delay. I used it for a 50s style rockabilly snapback delay. Not some digital U2 style stereo crap. Since I'm playing in a big room I get a bit of that stereo effect from the natural reverberations. This type of music is a bit out of my zone, but I welcome it and embrace it with my style. Less gain, subtle echo and play with my own voice. Although my heavy metal Johnny Marr vibe was distinctly more Johnny Marr than heavy metal today, it was still MY STYLE.

After spending years of trying to find my own voice on guitar, I feel like I'm finally there. There is no more gear-slut, ever changing set-up, pedal-swapping, amp changing for me. I don't' want more options, I want to utilize my few useful options. It has truly opened up my ears and my hands to all kinds of new levels. It was a long journey, but I am here. Speaking of long journey, if you've made it to the end of this, you deserve a beer! I'll buy one for you next time we're out and about. All this thought and pondering and tinkering just to arrive at the bare essentials. It's not for everyone, but it is my way. It's my style.

I think one of the top compliments I have ever been paid was via my buddy Tim Lenger. I was showing him a song I was composing. I think I didn't tell him I was writing it, I just sort of played it while he was near. He laughed and said "Oh man, that's so Damian." He knew just through my style that what I was playing was an original composition. The real kicker is that I was trying to compose an original praise song, but it still came out all punk rock Johnny Marr. The fact that he recognized my style, for better or for worse, lets me know I'm right where I need to be. I will continue to grow on the instrument and expand my playing vocabulary, but it will still be "so Damian." Maybe my style will limit my future successes, but I won't compromise. It is my style, developed on my own. Maybe my style will be the reason behind my future successes. Either way, anytime I pick up a guitar and strum a chord it doesn't feel foreign. It feels like everything is where it should be.

(not proof-read or edited)


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Top 5 Guitar Influences:

In no particular order...

Blixa Bargeld (Einstürzende Neubauten, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds)

Blixa hates guitar. He's said it in many interviews. His playing shows it. He approaches his playing from a uniquely Blixa angle. His stuff with the Bad Seeds is genius because he filled this in-between role of creating the number one thing I love in music... ATMOSPHERE. That is the key to Blixa's guitar work. I don't think he's particularly technically proficient, but his playing speaks volumes more than any flurry of notes or shredding can convey

Johnny Marr (The Smiths, Johnny Marr + The Healers)

Maybe my número uno pick if I had to make one. When Marr plays it's like he's said, you hear the whole record. His style of pseudo-rhythm and simultaneous lead is so marvelous. Growing up I developed a similar style on my own, though I will never compare my playing to the brilliance of Mr. Marr. His playing comes from a desire to make the guitar a fully realized instrument, not some under-utilized one trick pony. Love it. Love it.

Russ Cogdell/Brett Detar (Zao, "Where Blood And Fire Bring Rest" and split EP with Training For Utopia)

You can't split these two, it'd be like splitting up something that shouldn't be split. Lucy and Ricky, Laurel and Hardy, milk and cookies, peanut butter and jelly... wait. Peanut butter is pretty much good on its own. Right from the jar. Well, you can't split up Russ and Brett. It just wouldn't be right. Their playing was dark, atmospheric, catchy and dirty. Their tone was raunchy and real. If you are a fan of heavy music, and don't own "Blood and Fire"... Go and get it. It's so creepy. The entire genre of third rate copycats that the record spawned is beyond awful. Remember, ZAO perfected the dark art in 1997-8. All others have fallen so short. No one gives the Ramones flack for spawning crap pop punk bands of the 90s, so don't hate Zao for the chugga chugga bands of the 2000s.

Matt Fox (Shai Hulud)

Here is a man who makes his own code. Metal + Hardcore = Metalcore. Real metalcore. Not the terrible garbage they sell in malls and all-ages venues around the world, Matt Fox created a real form of fusion music. His style, background and attitude totally hardcore, but his chops- straight from metal. His tastes are diverse, and he champions those in the underground who never got a fair shake. He is a true innovator and a defender of the faith. Oh yeah, he's an amazing guitarist and songwriter as well!!

Steve Albini (Big Black, Rapeman, Shellac)

There are instantly recognizable guitar tones, and then there is Steve Albini. He's not on this list solely because of his killer tone (it's a big part) but also because he's another guitarist who deals in atmosphere and song rather than flash and flair. His playing is always unique yet still lands firmly in the punk rock ways though I've never heard another punk play like him. His playing is like Ron Asheton gone werewolf and possessed with the spirit of PiL and Gang of Four.

Honorable mentions:
Davide Tiso (Ephel Duath)
Jason Martin (Starflyer 59)
Steve Von Till/Scott Kelly (Neurosis)
Niko Wenner (Oxbow)
Tom Wisniewski (MxPx)