Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Phazm—Antebellum Death n’ Roll (Omose/The End)
It’s a bold move, naming your sophomore album after your chosen sub-genre. Seeing “death n’ roll” had me expecting an Entombed-style battering, but the “Children of the Grave” shuffle beat and honkin’ harmonica on album opener “How to Become a God” reveals a whole new wrinkle to the sound. These guys really could "play some Skynyrd, man" if they felt like it. Phazm are a weird French quartet (possibly now a trio, according to their website) whom I first noticed on the Osmose video compilation Noisymotions. Their song “Loneliness” featured visuals straight out of a cult Japanese gore flick, with the band members getting impaled and mutilated by sinister women. What’s wrong with being sexy? This new album comes with a DVD on the flip side (unfortunately not pressed on my promo copy), so some additional intense viewing awaits those who pick up the full package. Phazm’s sound here veers more towards the cosmic dissonance of Voivod and Enslaved than towards Entombed. The vocals especially have that catatonic snarl that Voivod’s Snake perfected a few albums into their career. “Hunger” is nearly as loopy as the opening track—not every band would have the nerve to pull off a slide guitar solo overtop blackened blastbeats. After “Black ‘n’ Roll,” another swingin’ number with another outburst of mouth harp, the album occasionally abandons its original premise for tracks like the strange and plodding “So White, So Blue, So Cold,” the sparse and creepy “Damballah,” and “Sabbath,” a jaunty acoustic instrumental. Overall, though, Phazm sticks to their mandate pretty well. This is twisted and heavy, thrill-a-minute stuff, with action-packed songwriting that avoids disorienting the listener with nonsensical technicality. Phazm succeed by knowing how to rock with imagination and grisly bucketloads of style.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Checking out the back cover of the Georgia Straight is a weekly ritual. For years, the paper has run a full-page A&B Sound ad there, where you can find out what's new in this week. It's a glorious 11 x 17 spread of thumbnail album covers and at least a couple substantial lists of newish stuff on sale for dirt cheap.

The ad's gone missing for the last few weeks. It's been replaced by a campaign for some new vapourware Yaletown "residences and Cityhomes"*. I can't find an A&B ad inside the paper either, though this week there's an HMV full-pager on the inside front cover (for the new Norah Jones album).

So is this it? I remember my pal Shawn from Zuckuss [MySpace] assuring me that things were still going strong at A&B. I believed it at the time, but subsequent visits have shown that they just aren't bringing new stuff in. I've had to buy things like The Decemberists' The Crane Wife and Blood Mountain by Mastodon at HMV—not because they were cheaper, but because they were simply in stock. Maybe A&B's well and truly done for. The whole act of buying CDs at a store, or even buying CDs at all, seems kind of quaint nowadays.

Or maybe the Straight's dropping me a hint to quit blowing my cash on music and instead drop my wad on one of those Cityhomes.

*The registration form at the web site has a field saying "I can't wait to..." and offers the choices "Move in" and "Add to my investment portfolio." I love this town!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Louder Than Listenable
The Guardian weighs in on modern CD mastering practices. The infamous Vapor Trails is singled out once again.

My favourite quote: "What might suit Whitehouse or Merzbow might not be right for Norah Jones."

See also this article (Chicago Tribune, via PopMatters), which is not about CD mastering per se, but highlights one of the reasons why bad sound is allowed to thrive these days. “We will integrate an iPod into a home stereo, but why would you want to do that? ... Less than one-tenth of the (music) information is available when you listen.”

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Titan—A Raining Sun of Light and Love For You and You and You (TeePee)
Titan play progressive rock stripped of all niceties and prissiness. While bands like Spock’s Beard and The Flower Kings have done their bit to keep the genre alive, their mega-polished albums and tidy chops obscure the fact that progressive rock was once underground music made on a shoestring by starving, spotty-faced lads. Where’s the scuzz? Where’s the musty cottage intrigue? Where's that creaky, overdriven sound that John Anthony got for Genesis and Van der Graaf Generator during their peak years? Titan have hitched themselves to that spirit and are plowing a wide, fetid swath across the prog landscape with it. The album opens with a short acoustic passage and a verse of warbling vocals before accelerating full-throttle into the song proper (titled "Annals of the Former World"), sounding like Black Sabbath jamming on the heaviest parts of “The Knife” or “The Musical Box.” Charge! The pace picks up and the sound's not a million miles away from the swirling, sustained freakouts that Comets On Fire reveled in on Blue Cathedral. The approach isn't overly mathy, but the band does execute some tricky runs and changeups. The second track recalls ELP at their nastiest (I'm thinking Trilogy-nasty, not Love Beach-nasty) along with the gnarly approach of Tony Williams Lifetime. The digipak sticker also references Mahavishnu, which I didn't hear initially, but it's present on this track for sure. Guitarist Josh Anzano excels with his noisemaking, but really the whole band is almost constantly going for it. They can play, no question. Dan Bates' bass tone alone is a frightening thing, and when combined with Kris D'Agostino's haunted, overdriven organ and Dave Liebowitz's drums, the chaos is beautiful to witness. There's no letup until the second track's spacey, ominous denouement. Track three begins with feedback and what sounds like throat-singing or didgeridoo before rocking out on a Hawkwind kind of feel under a blanket of phase shift. A quick gear change into a frantic 3/4 bulldoze and we're in danger of being ground up beneath the treads. Thankfully that lets up and we can remember how to breathe during the ensuing synth interlude and the segue into the final track, an insistent Can groove against a pulsing synth drone. Titan are a refreshingly rowdy take on '70s prog and its various offshoots—space rock, Kraut rock, and so on. You could probably throw in the entire Vertigo Records catalogue while you're at it. Like Zombi and Guapo, their enthusiasm for the more obscure tangents of the genre, coupled with pure instrumental bluster, has produced an album that pays homage to the past yet sounds cutting edge in this self-conscious and hidebound world.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

When I bump into people I haven't seen for a few years, they often ask if I'm still playing in a band. That's a tough question to answer because I'm doing several "things" right now, but I wouldn't really call them bands. I kind of like it that way. Every time a thing gets to the point where gigs have to be played and studio time is booked, that's when it all goes pear-shaped and I have to step back. It's self-sabotage, I guess.

Now I just mess around every weekend and get frustrated when I have nothing to show for all that banging away. But when I weigh that frustration against the utter shame and deflation of playing live and under the scrutiny of bandmates in the recording studio, I reckon I've got a good thing going right now.

And I've got friends like Greg in Edmonton, who's done up a MySpace page for DCR (stands for Dead City Radio or Dead City Rodents or Dead City Roadway or Dead City Radishes), which is the nearest thing to a band I've done in the last few years. Hearing our stuff this way is a pleasantly validating experience.

So, for everyone who's asked me if I'm on MySpace, there I am. Won't you be our friend?