Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Fancylady picked up this book while in Edmonton for her TV thing on the Labour Day weekend. It's crazy compulsive reading; the kind of book that grabs you right away. For me "right away" meant page 4, where 13-year-old Liza Normal, our protagonist, says to her mother, "I ate a plate of dicks again, Mom," after failing an audition for a TV commercial. I want to call the book a picaresque, but I'm not sure it exactly fits that definition. The novel plots Liza's floundering course as she tries to become a star despite having no idea how to apply what little talent she has. Cintra Wilson is scary cool and scary smart, and clearly knows the seamy underbelly of showbiz and the souless people who dwell there. I got the sense that many names had been changed to protect the guilty.

When I finished it on the bus today, the last name in the acknowledgements brought me up short: "the late, great Kevin Gilbert." The Kevin Gilbert, the songwriting genius behind The Shaming of the True (which I had listed as one of the great post-1990 progressive rock albums)? I thought about it, and the connection made sense. Both Wilson and Gilbert's work paints broad strokes of cynicism and disgust mixed with humour and a good deal of tempered with "what can I do; it's all I know" resignation about the milieu of money, fame, and massive, misguided talent that they've written about.

This is quite beautiful: Cintra Wilson remembers Kevin Gilbert.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I'm having a heavy evening jumping back and forth between the BraveBoard and Myspace. Tim from Evil Legend Records has his mitts on Toronto's Blood Ceremony, who are looning around in a Pentagram/Witchcraft/Burning Saviours proto-doom haze. It took about 20 seconds of "Children of the Future" for me to almost soil myself. Brilliant, and I can't wait until Tim puts their album out.

The Energizer called me up earlier and weighed in with Danava, from Portland and signed to Kemado Records. The album comes out on Halloween, the perfect time to hurl yourself into a bonfire of fuzzed-out riffage, electronic effects, and (hail!) vocals that actually add melody and expression to the songs. These guys are touring with Witchcraft in October and playing Seattle on a Monday night, which kinda scuppers any quick trip down south to catch them without missing work. Hearing this band almost makes up for losing Portland doom heroes YOB last year.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Dysrhythmia—Barriers and Passages (Relapse)
I thought Pretest, this number-crunching instrumental trio's debut for Relapse, was a bit drab, but this follow-up triumphs over it in all aspects. I don't know whether the catalyst was their new bassist, Colin Marston (also of Behold...the Arctopus) or the switch to producer Martin Bisi (who captures the action in near-pornographic detail), but they've really ramped it up here. Like Don Caballero, they're working with guitar/bass/drums in the Mule-approved tech-punk-avant-prog manner. Their playing is more ensemble-based, though, with the emphasis on punishingly tight unison passages. No instrument is emphasized over the others—the guitar spazzes out, the bass grinds away, and the drums snap-crackle-pop. Opening track "Pulsar" is a moody overture to introduce "Appeared at First," where we get a true picture of the 36-minute assault on restraint and musical politeness that awaits. The rest of the album rains down in a storm of jagged grooves and micro-sections, pieced together carefully enough to avoid the unmusical rut-digging to which lesser bands with equally advanced chops might succumb. For every "Seal/Breaker/Void"—the album's centerpiece that fuses punk/noise/postrock/black metal (!)—there's a "Kamma Niyama," which could almost be a TV theme tune, given its wickedly abrasive take on the type of hooky melodicism that Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet peddled. The dissonant guitar drones of "Sleep Decayer" are what Bisi's old clients Sonic Youth might sound like with a less sleepy rhythm section, while "Luminous" offers a calming ambient antidote—just guitars tolling random notes amidst echo and gentle feedback. "Will the Spirit Prevail" races to the album's finish with more breakneck action. Dysrhythmia are smashing old barriers, blasting new passages, and making towering art out of the splinters and the rubble.

Friday, September 15, 2006

I'll bring you the show, little girl...

Posting YouTube vids is the last refuge of a scoundrel, but man, check out the Scorps! Whose idea was it to put Klaus on a lower riser than the rest of the band?
This one goes out to South Burnaby.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Don Caballero – World Class Listening Problem (Relapse)

Pittsburgh instrumental trio Don Caballero have been around since the early '90s, when the term "math rock" came to describe the kind of blues-free, proggy, King Crimsonic, heavy-non-metal sounds that a handful of bands (usually with a single degree of separation from Steve Albini) pursued. It was basically music made by white guys with lots of time on their hands for an audience of likeminded nerds. I latched onto this style but only ever found a handful of bands and LPs to pick up at the time. The style never died out, though, and with bands like Botch (RIP), The Wayward, and Dysrythmia steering the style towards hardcore, all-out prog, metal and/or jazz fusion, the time is right for Don Caballero to jump back into the fray with a new lineup and new album—their fifth full-length and first for Relapse.

I’d describe Don Cab’s current sound as “tense.” The instruments come together, diverge, and come together again, building often complex songs out of unison and dischord. As always, founding member Damon Che’s drums are the lead instrument. His style is massive and commanding—rolling and roiling over, under and all around whatever the rest of the band is playing. The guitars on the opening track, “mmmmm acting, I love me some good acting,” alternately squall and thud along with the rhythm section. The song also makes space for a percussion breakdown, then tightly wound sections in 5 and 3, before laying out for a loosely structured ending with layers of looped guitars. “Sure we had knives around” uses more guitar looping without become repetitive, rapidly moving from section to section during its five minutes. “And and and, he lowered the twin down” rocks hard & skronky for its entire length, as does the title track. At times the band takes a more melodic, conventionally structured turn, as on the sunny, rollicking “Palm trees in the fecking Bahamas” and “Railroad cancellation,” an easygoing tune that benefits from not being in a hurry to go anywhere. While the overall feel of the music is tense, there are a few relaxing stretches along the way. With a guitarist who manages to sound like two, a drummer who plays like three, and a bassist who wisely stays out of the way and finds his own space to work in, Don Caballero are sounding really good at the moment, and World Class Listening Problem is a powerful comeback album.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I went into battle with my old musical nemesis, Power Metal, last night at the Croatian Cultural Centre. Not just any variety of Power Metal, but DragonForce, the mightiest, speediest, floofiest, most flighty, nonsensical power metal band in creation. DragonForce have become a big deal in the last few months, and the show was sold out. Amazing what a few YouTube videos and strategically placed MP3s can do for a band's notoriety.

I was expecting the two opening bands to provide the evening's musical highlights, and they did. Horse the Band are a strange outfit, given to rhythmic fits and starts and odd keyboard sounds. They were breaking in a new drummer, who took a lot of teasing on his fourth show as a Horseman. Although I heard a couple "You fucking suck"s from the crowd, the band were well received, with comments from the lead singer like "This song's about stabbing your best friend with scissors in the eyeball" getting some laughs.

All That Remains augment their American deathcore with a lot of twin-guitar flash. My heart sank during the first song when the singer did the standard gruff verse/melodic chorus trick (repeated on many of their subsequent songs), but he did it without sapping any intensity, and the rest of the band ensured that the bottom didn't completely drop out of the songs when the transition occurred. Their set was gritty and impressive, and even had room for a solo spot for guitarist Oli Herbert.

The crowd was pumped for the headliners, with "DragonForce! DragonForce!" chants erupting every few minutes, as the temperature inside the venue rose to sweaty new highs. The lights went down and Slayer's "Reign In Blood" began playing at full PA volume as an onstage timer began counting down the four minutes to the gig's proper start. Unfortunately, that was the last good song I'd hear all night. It quickly became apparent that their high-speed barrage was on the sloppy side. Their drummer in particular had a hard time sustaining a blast beat for any length of time. By the fourth song, after a dozen whammy bar pulls, liberal exchanges of shredding, and heroically melodic choruses, their bag of tricks was just about empty. I even counted a couple truck driver's gear changes in there (a device I can't really fault any band for using, seeing as my favourite modern-day power metal album, Falconer's Grime vs. Grandeur is littered with them).

No denying that DF do their best to make sure everyone has a good time, and expend superhuman amounts of energy doing what they do. I had sweat running down my back just watching them in that giant sauna. I only wish the songs were as impressive as the band's energy and the audience's adulation. When the band left the stage to take a breather before the inevitable encore with inevitably another soundalike song, I took off to get some fresh air myself.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Chaosbeard joins the Difficult Music list o' links. Paul applies a musicianly POV to his metal discussion—check out his recent post on Opeth and "The Part" we all love so damn much from the song "Deliverance." Killer stuff.

Paul also plays in Toronto's Burn to Black, whose music was featured in Metal: A Headbanger's Journey (Sam Dunn, BtB's bassist, co-directed the film), and who are signed to Adrian Bromley's Urgent Music imprint. Their new album is out later this month. They mix thrash and death with a good dose of technicality—enough to keep things interesting, but not to the extent that song structure cannot be discerned and heads cannot bang.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

I used to pick up four or five metal magazines every month, but now I'm down to two. Much as I don't like the idea that the Web is killing hard copy mags, it's made an impact in my case. Ever since I joined the Brave Board (an invaluable forum for gauging which new releases are bunk and which are worthy), my magazine intake has dropped. I quit buying Brave Words and Bloody Knuckles (after 10 years it had become repetitive, and there's a frustrating lack of editorial presence and any perspective apart from the immediate present) and Metal Maniacs (a mag I'll always respect for its convenience-store accessibility and grassroots charm, but it remains an eyesore), while still picking up Terrorizer and the new kid on the chopping block, Decibel.

Decibel's pretty hot right now, with a good bunch of writers (especially Nick Terry, Adrian Begrand, and U!'s own Kevi-Metal) and a snarky attitude that consistently cracks me up. Their "Hall of Fame" features are indispensible and they're not afraid to zoom in on some of the more unsavoury aspects of metal culture, such as fascism and homophobia, that other zines steer clear of. If I can fault the mag, it's for the reviews section, which is tainted by get-to-the-point smartassery along the lines of "this band has a funny name, so let me spend half the review constructing a half-baked joke around it."

Terrorizer isn't quite the trailblazing, tastemaking publication it was under Nick Terry's guidance, but it's hanging in there. It still looks great, and the scope of music they cover is just right for me. The "Extreme Music–No Boundaries" tagline is still in effect. Featuring Diamanda Galas or Michael Gira in the same context as any given evil Euro-metal act only makes sense. I notice they've started a Classic Albums feature in the same vein as Decibel's Hall of Fame. I don't mind, though; I can digest unlimited amounts of that sort of fodder.

Joe Stannard interviews Strapping Young Lad in the issue of Terrorizer I bought today. Devin Townsend went through a bad patch while doing press for the new album (The New Black), hinting that he was fed up with the band and the lifestyle, and that this might be the final SYL release. His misgivings have sure made for great copy:

"Everybody's got such a hard-on for touring, too. All these bands are like, 'You know what I'd really like to do, man? I'd really like to get into a 40-foot steel tube, with fifteen men, drink beer and watch The Simpsons! For ten months! That would be great. Then for the one hour a day we'll go up there and sweat and pretend that it matters to our life personally that we can pretend that we're rock stars.'"

Or how about:
"If I could pay my rent by making music for me, my friends and a couple of people that I know here and there, man, I would do it."

That strikes a chord.

Stannard also reviews the new Circulus album Clocks Are Like People, which reminded me how great their previous album was. Sure they're twee, but that's their reason to exist. Who else, beside Ritchie Blackmore, would even dare? Acid-folk wasn't the hit with the kids that it should have been in 1972 (Marc Bolan had to plug in and go glam to make a buck, remember), so it's up to Circulus to take it over the top in 2006. I'm pulling for them.