Wednesday, June 21, 2006


I felt like having a whinge about the demise of Top of the Pops, but I'd just be putting on airs. I've only ever seen one episode in my life—this one [YouTube], which tweaked my 11-year-old mind, no doubt. I can't claim that I grew up with it. Still, its cancellation is a sign of something else, something definitely worth a whinge.

It's a given that fewer people care about music anymore. Music is just data, stripped of mystique, to be copied, experienced, and deleted. Anyone who does give a damn what goes in their ears can pursue their interests to the narrowest of any possible niche. A Slipknot fan of average intelligence and resources can work backwards through Slayer, Maiden, and Sabbath and back again through The Dillinger Escape Plan, Melt Banana, SUNN O))) and, having plowed through history and dismissed everything as "old hat," end up amassing an exhaustive collection of Sri Lankan Tamilcore jazz-grind...all in a couple of months. The notion of a single forum for exposing all "pop" music, such as TOTP, is outdated. Not even a whole television channel presenting the breadth of popular music can keep viewers. MuchMusic and MTV mainly air reality shows, because we're all celebrities now. Everyone's a pop star, and we can all buy products that the stars enjoy and join their world of make believe.

People are more interested in gadgetry these days. The corporations have better control over that stuff. People can't just make their own iPods or flatscreen TVs the same way they can rip and burn the new Keane CD. Hardware has cachet. That's why A&B Sound downtown has cleared out all the music from their main floor and replaced it with flash gear for the home. If you're after that new Tool album with the 3D glasses (can't download those!), you'll have to wade through the TVs and digital cameras, round the corner, and take the escalator upstairs. That's where you'll find the art...out of sight, out of mind.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Status Quo Beat Me Up!
On Coronation Street last Sunday, Chesney came running up to Les: "Les, it's the Quo!" Les's favourite band were a mere few doors down, quaffing pints in the Rovers (under the eye of their road manager Ralph Brown, nearly reprising his role as Danny in Withnail & I). Les wasn't having any of it. He wouldn't believe it even when Chesney took off with Les's jean jacket and returned it marked with Francis Rossi's and Rick Parfitt's autographs. Eventually Les got with the plot—too late—as the band got in their van to leave. Our ginger-haired hero gathered up his Status Quo LPs and took chase, catching up and yelling at them through the van window. He couldn't keep up, though, and the van rounded the corner and disappeared...only to circle the block and stop in front of Les. His elation at seeing his heroes return was short-lived, as Rossi and Parfitt jumped out of the van and beat the snot out their biggest fan. Seems that sometime in the '80s, Les jumped on stage at a Quo gig and accosted Rossi with enough gusto to put the guitarist in a permanent neck brace. "This is for 20 years of pain!" Rossi yelled, fist connecting with Les's face.

So yeah—best episode of Coronation Street ever.

When I'd recovered sufficiently I took a walk up to Neptoon Records to flip through their bargain bin. They've always got something worth having for $2.00. I found a copy of On the Level, an album that got a lot of screen time that morning, sitting atop Les's pile of vinyl. And it's great. You can't not like Status Quo. They're friendlier than Nazareth, not as self-obsessed and macho as Thin Lizzy while rocking just as hard as either. On the Level has some real stompers, like "Little Lady," "Down Down" (#1 in the UK), and a roaring version of Chuck Berry's "Bye Bye Johnny." Full-tilt Brit-boogie at its finest.

The aftermath of the Les-battering incident saw Les and Cilla plotting to sue the band for assault and injury, so I'm predicting more Quo on Corrie very soon, probably in some kind of settlement scenario where the band play a free gig and plug their new greatest hits collection. Wahey!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Today The Guardian pokes at death metal's purulent underbelly and discovers an artform that both sexes can enjoy. It's true—everyone looks good in a Dying Fetus shirt.

It got me thinking that it's been a while since I was blown away by an unadulterated death metal album. I wanted to like the new Decapitated record, but the constant ultra-triggered double kick drums pretty much ruined it for me. Augury's Concealed really impressed me, although I haven't had many opportunities to spin it since picking it up at their show a couple months ago. Before that I'd have to go back to last year and Bolt Thrower's magnificently crustified comeback Those Once Loyal and the mindblowing Atheist reissues for some old-school death metal satisfaction.

Anyone got any new-school recommendations that are gonna make me forget about Pierced From Within or Here in After?

Monday, June 12, 2006

So it seems that Norway's Borknagar, cosmic black metallers of some renown, have an acoustic album in the works. Sounds like a good idea to me, and I'm looking forward to hearing their swirling compositions presented in a less bombastic format. Besides, their last couple releases, Empiricism and Epic, were quite samey, and giving their sound an experimental overhaul could be exactly what they need.

Going acoustic sometimes seems like a desperate gambit for a creatively spent band, but I'm sure Borknagar aren't aiming to simply remake some "hits," giving them a radio-friendly sheen for the 18-to-35 drivetime audience. The few one-off "major departure" releases from their heavy metal peers have been credible. I thought Opeth's toned-down prog move, Damnation, was a spectacular success, while Green Carnation's The Acoustic Verses from earlier this year was a very enjoyable release.

Green Carnation are probably best known for their 60-minute concept song/album, Light of Day, Day of Darkness, an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink production that hit a number of a moods while never losing its flow or sounding anything less than grandiose. After that album, they retreated to shorter, more rocking material on Blessing In Disguise and The Quiet Offspring, before unplugging for their latest album, a project to celebrate Green Carnation's 15th year of existence. I talked to guitarist Tchort (who's been involved with Emperor, Carpathian Forest, and the ultra-heavy Blood Red Throne over the years) for Unrestrained! #30. Here's some stuff I had to whittle out of the finished article.

Do you think you'll perform any of these songs from The Acoustic Verses in electric versions? Do you think they'll change in the coming years?

I think Kjetil [Nordhus, vocals] mentioned that his song "Maybe?" was a song he originally wrote that for the full band, but then he made a different version for this album. So that one maybe will be presented later on as a full band version. But I can easily see us doing these songs during a full band live set, maybe in the middle of the set, take everything down and play some acoustic songs before continuing. We’ve been thinking a lot about how to do this in the future because we started doing a lot of acoustic shows as well. We did a couple acoustic shows in Finland with really, really good response as well. A lot of the other material like Blessing in Disguise and also stuff from The Quiet Offspring works really well in acoustic form. So it’s possible to do both separate, but it’s also possible for us to do it combined. You never know.

Do you still think about The Quiet Offspring? Will you be still going on the road to promote it?

We do play a lot from The Quiet Offspring, and we never played as many shows as we do right now. We never set up a tour for The Quiet Offspring. We did a European tour for Blessing in Disguise and that was the first tour we ever did. We were supposed to do a European tour in January and early February, but it seems our keyboard player has double booked himself with another band. I think it’s going to be split up to do long weekend shows in different countries. We do promote both The Quiet Offspring and the EP [The Burden is Mine...Alone]and the new album in every forthcoming show. We have four albums and a back catalogue that we need to promote. For example, Light of Day, Day of Darkness, people don’t want to hear a small portion of it, they want to hear the whole thing and then you end up having a three-hour setlist. That’s not always easy to work out either, so...

That's almost a special event kind of thing, isn't it?

It is. It requires a lot of equipment and so on and it’s always a big problem to bring on flights. The keyboard for this Canadian trip [to Toronto's Day of the Equinox Festival last October, where they played the entire Light of Day...] weighed 60 kilos that was 70% more than the maximum weight that Air Canada would allow, and that was just for one piece. So it was a big problem fighting at the airport just to bring it into Canada or get it out of Norway and bring it back again.

This is the first album you’ve done with your new production company, Sublife Productions. Why did you form Sublife?

Because I think that I will have different goals within the next few years. In previous years it’s been touring especially with Carpathian Forest, whom I also play with, and then there’s Blood Red Throne, whom I also tour with, and then there’s Green Carnation, whom I also tour with. I have a son at home and it’s not that easy anymore to go on the road and have 200 travel days a year, so basically I’m trying to see a little ahead, and I see myself cutting down on touring. I need to do something at home that still can be possible to combine with touring, and having a regular job doesn’t let you combine that. So I decided to form this company together with Kjetil our vocalist and basically do what I’ve been doing for the last five years, and that’s working as a booking agent/management/recording label for my other bands. Kjetil's also in Trail of Tears and another band called Chain Collector. So it’s basically doing the same thing we’ve been doing these past years but now under a specific name and just making it an official company.

Is it a way of controlling your career instead of leaving it in other people's hands?

Not really, because I don’t have problems…I have been working with a lot of great labels like The End Records, so I don’t have any problems leaving some of that responsibility with others. But it’s basically just having something to go back to when you don’t go on the road as much as you used to.

What other kinds of acts are you interested in working with and possibly signing?

We decided to go with a very local aim, meaning that we feel that bands from our area [Kristiansand] have great quality and a lot of potential, but it’s usually bands from Bergen or Oslo that people abroad know about. All the bands that you hear about in foreign magazines are Oslo bands or sometimes Bergen-located bands, but we feel that the bands where we come from have just as much potential and maybe even a greater quality to them, and we decided to focus on our own bands and tried to push some of the local bands. So you’ll be hearing from some local bands in the future and I think they have a great potential to get somewhere, of course depending a lot on the work that we do.

Monday, June 05, 2006

I had planned to go see Nomeansno and Removal on Saturday night, but I learned once again that there's a crucial difference between "have plans" and "have tickets." The show had sold out by the time I tried to score some on Saturday morning. Oh well. I made the rounds of the stores downtown and bought the new Celtic Frost album, along with PJ Harvey's Please Leave Quietly DVD.

With the show a no-go, I stayed in and watched Blue Velvet for the first time in years. David Lynch loves music and odd sounds in general, which is one of the reasons I like his movies. From a musical angle, Blue Velvet's an important movie because it was the first time Lynch worked with Angelo Badalamenti and Julee Cruise (who got involved because Lynch wanted a song with a similar atmosphere to This Mortal Coil's "Song to the Siren," to which he couldn't get the rights).

It's cool how he'll bring a film to a halt so one of the characters can sing an entire song. Blue Velvet seems almost entirely driven by music. Isabella Rosellini sings the title track and Dean Stockwell lip-synchs "In Dreams". In Wild at Heart, Nicholas Cage/Sailor hijacks a Powermad gig to croon "Love Me" for Laura Dern. Eraserhead has "Heaven (the Lady in the Radiator song)" and Twin Peaks has my all-time favourite Lynch musical moment—I think I've written about it here before—James, Maddy, and Donna's home-fi session in episode 9.

Watching that Wild at Heart scene with Powermad again, it's funny to notice that Sailor's Elvis-style martial arts dancefloor moves match exactly what I've seen in the pit at all-ages hardcore shows over the last few years.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

If you don't like puppets and puppetry, you might be dead inside. Come on—the Muppets? Thunderbirds? Casey and Finnegan? Meet the Feebles? There's even a Mule puppet, a sock augmented with frizzy hair and a miniature jeansuit that Super Robertson made for skits at the Supper Show. When it's off-duty, resting at home, Super's daughter likes to gnaw on its eyes, so it's clear I'm a hit with the kids.

A few weeks ago, fancylady came back from Happy Bats with this movie called Strings. I think we intended to get Capote or Walk the Line, but Truman and Johnny would have to wait. There were puppets to watch. Above all else, Strings is beautiful to look at. The sets are unbelievable, and the puppets are incredibly expressive, especially considering their faces are static except for moving eyelids. They have a universal, timeless quality. The storyline is serviceable, with the most inspired element being the self-awareness of the puppets. They know they are animated by strings, and this is the foundation of their spirituality/mythology. The movie also carries a nice message about the interconnectedness of all living things, which, set against the plot's wartime backdrop, says a lot about the times we're a-livin' in. Insert your allegorical interpretation here.

In November 1969, puppets walked on the moon...sort of. I've been reading Destination Moon—The Apollo Missions in the Astronauts' Own Words, a book I got from the bargain table at Crapters a couple weeks ago. During their first EVA, the Apollo 12 astronauts were supposed to set up a fancy new colour TV camera. Unfortunately it caught a bright reflection off the Lunar Module (or directly from the sun, by some accounts), and burned out while Alan Bean was setting it up. With no pictures available, the TV networks rushed to find other visuals to convey the astronauts' activities on the lunar surface. According to the book, NBC "had contracted a puppeteer to create Apollo marionettes for simulations. They had a small lunar surface mockup, and soon two tiny puppets, strings clearly visible, were bouncing their way across the lunar surface." They say if you can remember the '60s you weren't really there...but who could ever forget that?