Trading Post °1: Axe to Vox
This is the first installment of The Trading Post, what hopefully becomes an ongoing series in which I trade albums with fellow writer friends and then we proceed to dance about the architecture with which we’re presented. This project stems from the many discussions through which it became undeniably clear that my musical tastes are vastly different than most of my literary friends; I thought it would be fun and enlightening for us to both share what we love with while hearing new music we might not otherwise encounter. Though there will likely be a decent amount of hating on stuff (from myself at least), that’s not the point at all. Rather, much like my encounter Lynne Tillman’s novel American Genius: A Comedy, I appreciate wrestling with work with which I don’t have an immediate affinity and then trying to understand why I might hate it so much while also recognizing important qualities such a work may possess. Having said all that, these aren’t going to be deep analyses, either, merely thoughtful reactions or something along those lines. I guess we’ll see what happens and that’s part of the fun!
For this first installment, Seth Graves decided on a simple trade based on vocals and guitar. He gave me albums by Why?, Danielson and Destroyer. In return I made him listen to albums by Gorguts, Krallice and Vektor. We’ll start with Seth’s responses because I flipped an imaginary coin and won the toss. Follow us after the jump!
GORGUTS – Obscura (1998)
Double pedal kick drum bystander to a very large gathering of a motorcycle gang vocalist sounds old or perhaps tall definitely bearded some war intonation follows atonal patterns very mathy guitarwork sounds more like eight pedals perhaps the drummer has an extra leg the guitar labor is repetitious with minor changes between verses sounds like moving up a whole tone scale and back down for the bridge pause in the singing followed by more open-mouth elongated singing the build follows a more classical I am about ten minutes into this album and I have yet to discernment easier stretching space invaders strings much like Kingdom Shore atonal “Bullets”
This solo is pretty technically incredible. Alternatively, it sounds like the singer is yelling “what is your favorite position” over and over again on this track.
“Nostalgia” has a killer halfway-mark breakdown. Then I can only make out the word “misery.” Trip-el-et, trip-el-et, trip-el-et-in-a-trip-el-et. Tetris execution. But again it goes back to how little this is different from classical music—waiting for and understanding the point of execution.
Attempted translation of “The Art of Sombre Ecstacy”:
Here the passage rules in your asshole. Got to go. We are just trying to (riff) make a big pancake for you (riff). Was I the first to say aloud: “That’s a ride!” Pissing off the Froyos! MOTOROIIIIIIIIIIIL! (total gnarly awesomeness, followed by) First, floss the freedom. Acrostic for re-ups, we all know. Charlie, George Bob! Charlie Bob! (then some sweet guitar bridge and a mad solo) I am rad with the wine! Women! And Wine! With a horn. Yeah(hhhhh)! Great, you arrived in pajamas. We all rise, bozo. Ride, we ride. In Pujols, we ride. All the laws here have cried. Was I friends to Seamus? Was I nice? I realize I’m sad-eyed. I didn’t know.
I am thinking of seamless sports, the kinds of transitions in these songs. Soccer. Hockey.
It’s pretty amazing how much of this follows a kind of classical sense of tension and release, small arcs encompassed by larger arcs, etc etc.
Do dinosaurs like metal?
I feel like I might understand much more about metal after listening to “Clouded.” I’m really feeling a since of, what?, beauty? In the second half of this piece? And it’s in 6/8 time, right? There are probably so many structural nods here that I do not understand, i.e. the grandfathered structure of a hip-hop album. But how would a metal fan explain the lack of singing? Okay that statement is probably offensive in and of itself.
Poetry is often problematically insular—speaking only to other poets. Is it that metal could be perceived from the inexperienced ear as the same way? Is that a criticism a metal fan would prescribe? What was that about “crushed children”? Despite the advertising, I don’t know if I am really feeling the subtleties of the body. But I do crave nachos. Hardly haunted. Am I supposed to be being reminded of my lack of complacency toward life? Taco Bell, specifically, actually. (Ear pause, a walk) Drive-thru. It takes a while to really appreciate the variance of this drummer, but for this genre this guy seems to have a very creative approach. He could be overdoing it more. I said that before “Rapturous Grief” came on. Bass solo. Who is more metal: Newt or Romney? Franco or Gosling? Newt. Gosling. “Rapturous Grief”: 2:25, great. Harmony. Harmony. Harmony Korine? Probably not. Why does metal sometimes make me sleepy? Labor commentary. Spinach craving. Woah: a little groove going on in “La Vie Est?” Unexpected. Some borrowing of classical verse happening in this piece. But I’m not getting my finger on the work. Possibly the Rachmaninoff commonly referred to as “Bells of Moscow”? I hate guns. The guitars on “Illuminatus” sound great, but the singer sounds a little bit related to Jarjar Binks. I know it’s very hard and works the diaphragm just as my horn would. “Faceless Ones” has a very hardcore-like intro to it, more technical. More melodic than previous tracks. A “single”? The talent of the guitars seems most easily discernable in this song. The melodic solo of “Sweet Silence.” No evil. Beethoven ending + skulls rattling down a hallway.
KRALLICE – Diotima (2011)
Opens unexpectedly melodic. Tonal, pyramidal harmonies. Looping and distortion—the multi-track just says that much more about Gorguts’ talent. Yeah. Here we go. Vocals are doing more for me than Gorguts, but it could also be a production factor. Mixing here is definitely different—black metal vs. death metal. Do I even hear some major chords in there? Indeed. This is much further away from classical and jazz that characterized my listen of Gorguts. Maybe more like a big band mentality—pre-arranged melodic structure. The strive is for precision and complicated harmonies. Clearer lead guitar—this could be a Jupiter to Gorgut’s Mercury. I am going to try speeding up but pitch eq-ing Interpol and see if the guitars would sound anything like this (except not as technical or talented, clearly). Drums are heavier on the cymbals with less constant destruction of the double bass pedals. Really doing a spacewalk on those single notes, lead guitar. Tremolo tremolo tremolo like’s it’s a Shakespearean balcony call. Closer to grind, but seemingly more vested in the \m/-ness.
“The Clearing.” Is he crying? Sounds like screaming over a lost baby. The song could encompass a river basket trip. The end of this song sounds like it could score a long action scene in XXX. Very regular throughout “Diotima.” Triplet city. I think I can see the sunrise from this spaceship orbiting the Earth.
Attempted translation of “Litany of Regrets”:
Won’t eat bacon! What washed the oil? Nightstand of joy. Getting warm in the summer hurr. The wise man poos on the boys. Says fuck you. The glue gun of winter’s glee. The idiot who wears a chain over the oats. And he knows that the memory is vulture-head. For the batteries of the wizzers. May we all banana. I want you to pay. I’m not going to gain on your ass. Yumma gaaayyy boyyy. Like me in Kyoto. Ready eager 9th Street. The hate to say “the talking cow.” The talking cow really hurts. He’s out of touch until we started little. ON THE MAYO. You read a painting that knows about art in a spiderweb. Who’s wood am I on tonight? Have two choice. Hey now where’s that mother ape? Mustard rage! The islands for you pianos. Pulsing radio! Your whores, in gay shorts. My vagina will shout! (Big bridge) You dirty Houdini! Do you realize who you’re dealing with? The man is a rich-fuzzy. Who is that with the AIDS? He knows, or something more. I satirize Dali hats. Actually, no. Your whoring is impulsive. For the batteries of the periphery. May we hum triangular. For this shirt I pay! My mom will probably believe this. I love doing heroin in East LA. Like any other. Why are you Eddy Heart Strings? Your ears are shitting doggy poo. Walking walking cavities. Oh, shells die to the eggs talking riddles, or the quail and yam majors from Kosovo with spiderwebs. Edgy, hey dude? The father’s son whose dad has fled the thrones. Who’s dad has nine recycle bins? Because their eyes recycle. Recycle. With our elves. And so become immortal.
Less impressed but more entertained. I want to listen to this album with a kaleidoscope.
VEKTOR – Outer Isolation (2011)
Opening lulls me into a likely false sense of security. I first listened to this on a train into DC, and I felt like I was going to have a heart attack. And I may have—I just started running and my heart rate gets really high. I can imagine a whole crew of giant green glowing alien beetles playing this song on a supernatural stage with a burning planet behind them. Then again two harmonizing guitars might more massive mosquitos or possibly a hummingbirds. (Wing-incited tremolo?) I can hear the lyrics, which is new. The lyrics are surprisingly direct and political (welcome to the human race?) and, well, maybe it’s just me and the bug thing, but a little space alien ethos. There is a song called “Venus Project.” I would give these guys Venus.
Like that human blood cell similar ride at Disney World malfunctioning and going ten times as fast. Cosmic cortex? Hey, I’m a space-brain, too! This kind of metal is closest to my conception of what 90s metal was. I suppose that is because of Metallica and Slayer. But I feel like this genre may have been ruined by the casual and unexperienced listener—before more listen—by that power band Dragonforce.
The lead singer sings like the most likely of these three bands to refer to me as “dude.” The drums, though a bit out of pocket Grohl sounding, are somewhere between the other two bands on overbearing double pedal. Appreciated use of the hat. The bassist is mad.
“Touches this”? Touches what? Look man, I like my political falsehoods and lies.
So the breakdown I’m feeling is Gorguts to free jazz and some classical, Krallice to big band and other classical, Vektor to the blues and more closely connected to a mainstream vein of rock history.
Attempted translation of “Tetrastructural Minds”:
(Awesome bass opener) Run away to reality. Who am I to sit and tease? Get in the car with the retro blaster. Shout at me, little herring! Suspended entities are honest. I don’t know what he says. Suffering succotash, I’m going black. I’ll leave things dark, in LA. Slippery Judas has a silent ‘gasm. Hardly any sight. He’s a ray of light. He pees on his yard, as the walls just realized. Beautiful realization of touching hero-boy’s whiskeys. There here eternity is way cool. Pretend to remember me. What side is love? One or the other is gay. What-dude-ever: we are really the same. I dare you to shit on this. Once you’re elected, you live in LA. Someone reads in black. I need a coffee, and I need you. Retain any echoes. Won’t you read my Zen and teas? Using somebody’s P.A. so we have batteries. Emily likes the sound of our rock songs and its conclusion. So many decisions. So many coats to hug. Resolution! (Mad solo. Then awkward Bowie on Venus slow part. Then a little bit of Final Fantasy soundtrack sound. Then back to rock out with your cock out.) Life is great. When we are young, we mate with the daughters of the sun. Time is an ill-advised imp to repay. Shades of….GREY!!!!! Morrissey on dot coms. Horace any day. We are mummy trolls of life. Celine Dion is two shoes away. Super sexual minds! We work silly to reproduce in time! I told you: Excel! It’s a chart deep inside! I mean it, son! Believe in me! AH!
////\\\\////\\\\////\\\\//// SWITCH! \\\\////\\\\////\\\\////\\\\
WHY? – Elephant Eyelash (2005)
About a decade ago, midway through college and still extending tentacles towards the underground music world’s ever-odder dark corners, an indescribable hip-hop-ish record fell into the collectively grubby hands of my small cluster of friends. This record was cLOUDDEAD’s self-titled singles compilation. We’d all known Doseone from the Deep Puddle Dynamics collaboration a couple years earlier so cLOUDDEAD seemed a natural extension of the aesthetic he’d cultivated. The other guy in this group, Why?, had a similarly odd flow and rhymes steeped in surrealism which made the partnership work real well. They were complementary, yet just different enough to be distinguishable.
Fast forward a few years and hip-hop was almost completely absent from my listening habits. I didn’t (and mostly still don’t) know what any of the Anticon, Mush, Rhymesayers or Def Jux artists had been up doing. One thing I did know was that Why? had started dabbling in “indie rock” (a term I hate, but for which I have no immediate alternative), though I hadn’t heard any of his more current work.
Well, I’ll state here for the record I don’t think I missed much. Nearly everything I loved about cLOUDDEAD is absent from this incarnation of Why?, though a good deal of that comes down to the fact that Odd Nosdam isn’t producing this stuff anymore and I loved his production in that outfit. There are also obvious translation failures, as I don’t think Why?’s affected delivery works outside of a dark surrealist ambient hip-hop tableau. He has a limited range and despite the fact that I enjoy some of the instrumentals on Elephant Eye Lash, his vocals are pushed so far up in the mix that it feels like some mopey asshole narrating a silent film for you. I will admit that this record gets much better toward the end, where the songs feel more fully developed/realized.
Nevertheless, what I keep coming back to and what kills the whole enterprise is the cloying wink-wink-trying-too-hard-weirdness of Why?’s delivery. It’s too bad because that was a key element of cLOUDDEAD’s attraction and grip, whereas here the earnest oddballery works against itself. In his longing for sincere expression he has loopholed his own set, or found some paradoxical incompleteness theorum for art that works the same as in mathematics: “There will always be at least one sincere, yet ironic, statement.” (I know, I know, Kurt Gödel and Bertrand Russell are both rolling in their graves right now.) A great example of this phenomenon can be found in the track “Light Leaves” where the hopeful instrumentation is diminished by the overly cutesy vocal affectation, as if, instead of staking his claim as a man courageous in feeling, Why? makes the choice to remain the stunted-growth adolescent. The irony is that the only reason to make such a choice is a misguided attempt to sound sincere.
For some comparison I checked out Why?’s more recent record, Alopecia, and found myself immediately drawn towards it’s more heavily hip-hop inflected tracks. I’m still trying to figure out why I think his voice, his flow, his delivery, his attitude all make more sense in this milieu (could very well be as simple as that’s what I originally associate him with), but everything I dislike about his forays into a twee form of toothless indie rock washes away when he turns to beats with a hint of darkness. I think I want his quirky snark, not his quirky sincerity. This might be the reason “Act Five” from EE works so well when earlier material on that album falls flat (the inverse can be found in examples like “These Few Presidents”, one of the weaker, non-hip-hop tracks on Alopecia). There’s also more heart and depth in his Dickinson-ian slant of the line “All of the people who taught me card tricks are dying” than anything else I hear on that album. Peeling back a little more, the dig of the rake feels more honest. What’s the difference between honesty and sincerity? Can someone be dishonestly sincere? I don’t know, seems like it, but I do know for sure that someone can be sincerely ironic. At least I can have an appreciation for that. You can take the kid out of the early-’90s, but you can’t take the early ‘90s out of her mental development. “Act Five” also might possess the best production on the whole album, too, which is nice.
On the whole I wouldn’t say this is a “bad” album or anything like that. It’s basically just too grating (and peppy in places) for me to really get into, despite some otherwise interesting music, and that’s really the only aspect I could get butthurt about. Of course, this is all may be a long-winded way of asking, “So what’s Doseone been up to lately?”
DANIELSON – Ships (2006)
This “report” may be a little iffy in places. I tried, I really tried, but I couldn’t, I just couldn’t listen to this more than one time. My notes are spotty and insufficient. There was no alternative. At least now I have sounds to associate with this name, so that if anyone ever asks me if I like Danielson I can respond very negatively. Anyway, here are my “notes”:
– Sounds like a children’s show for adults. It’s very upbeat. There’s a lot of texture, like Zappa-esque, which is pretty cool, though thousands of times more annoying (And what I think annoys me is that I love Zappa, but I imagine [and would love to be proven wrong] that people who like this record don’t like Zappa and that’s super fucked up).
– Oh god, it’s this song! “Bloodbook on the Half Shell” was on an unlabeled mix cd that co-workers occasionally put on at the bookstore where I was once employed. There were a number of terrible songs on that mix (like Devendra Banhart) but this was one of the songs that I hated more than anything. Fuck this song, it’s a lobotomizer of the highest order.
– This is pretty much everything I hate about contemporary “indie”-pop-whatever and I never want to listen to this record ever again after it finishes playing.
– Oh god this song (“Sitting Ducks”) was on that work mix, too! FUUUUUUUUCK. “Listen to how weird I am, aren’t I the weirdest?!” No, you’re a grown-ass Christian man (which to me is actually weird, but in a totally different way) who sings puerile songs that sound like some five-year old’s idealized heaven with harp- and bell-playing angels on puffy clouds.
– The saddest thing about this whole record (and there are a lot of them) is that if it weren’t all the frilly affectations I might actually like more parts of it. “Kids Pushing Kids”, for instance, has a memorable melody that’s a little dark with a noticeable toe-tap push. But once again the trilly yelp just pisses all over everything. (ed. note – I just watched this video and I take back anything good I say here.)
– So many people want to sing that have no business singing whatsoever (I’ve written about this extensively regarding metal albums, so it’s not a quirk confined to specific genres). At least most grimy rock and metal bands figured that shit out and worked it to their advantage. Danielson possesses (maybe obviously, given that this family was apparently raised in some insular Christian commune setting) none of that sort of self-awareness or any comprehension of how to work within a set of design limitations. Some might consider this a variant on “outsider art” and I’d agree with that, even though it’s not as overtly bizarre as something like Jandek. Still, this album grates on me in so many different ways that I’m willing to forgo developing a deeper appreciation for the things it does well.
DESTROYER – Destroyer’s Rubies (2006)
This is a name I’ve long seen on show listings around the city and immediately disliked because, given the bands it was billed alongside, it was such a painfully obvious misnomer. Once again I demonstrate that I’m a talented judge of bookcovers, as no sonic destruction whatsoever occurs on this record. That’s not to say there aren’t parts that rock, but coming from someone who mostly listens to metal these days, what constitutes “destruction” here is much more in the tradition of power pop or electric folk mixed with ‘70s glam. To continue a theme and link Destroyer with the above two artists, I basically can’t get down with Dan Bejar’s vocal style and that mars the whole enterprise for me. I’ve never been into either Bob Dylan or T-Rex and there’s something in Bejar’s warbly lilt that reminds me of both. My loss maybe as even the occasional tropical guitar or Old Western saloon piano or Bachrach-esque lounge passages have their own peculiar groove and charm. One notable and praiseworthy aspect of the album is how the opener, “Rubies”, demonstrates what’s to come the rest of the way, like a nine minute prologue that lays out the themes and textures to follow on the journey.
At its best, Destroyer is reminiscent of late-period Dinosaur Jr, when it was basically J Mascis writing and performing everything. While I have an affinity for that era Dino (as it was the first I’d heard growing up, before I got their heavier, original power trio records), most of the rough edges had long since been sanded down and J gone a bit soft. As a backhanded compliment, the worst Rubies offers up is nice aural wallpaper with some guy singing over it. If someone put it on at a party I wouldn’t mind, but I also probably wouldn’t be paying much attention to it. Bejar’s voice (and it’s prominence in the mix) is what demands attention and I don’t care enough to give it to him.
As much as I can point out any of Destroyer’s faults, this really isn’t so bad and I actually kind of wish I liked it more. I’d definitely like it more as an instrumental album or at the very least a different vocalist because I can get into the tunes to the point where even the vocal melodies are at least interesting. Of these three albums (well, two, since I’m deleting Danielson from my iTunes) this is probably the one I’ll come back to and see how it stands up to further scrutiny, see how it settles into itself. Though it’s not something I’d listen to regularly and I probably wouldn’t go see Destroyer live, I can understand the attraction and they’re a solid band.