Saturday, September 29, 2007

Saturday Lazy Music List Post

Copying slacktivist again - First to Float:

  • First - Coal Chamber
  • The First Five Minutes After Death - Coil
  • First Light - Converge
  • First Phase: Moon's Milk - Coil
  • First Phase: Under an Unquiet Skull - Coil
  • Fish & Bird - Tom Waits
  • Fist Fuck - Nine Inch Nails
  • Fistful of Steel - Rage Against the Machine
  • Fitter Happier - Radiohead
  • Five Seconds - Peeping Tom
  • Five to One - The Doors (In no less than five versions)
  • Fix it so the Bruises Don't Show - Mike Patton
  • Flashback - Tomahawk
  • The Fletcher Memorial Home - Pink Floyd
  • Flight of Luminous Insects - Download
  • Flight of the Foo Birds - Count Basie

Songs containing the word fist:
  • Fist Fuck - Nine Inch Nails
  • Fistful of Steel - Rage Against the Machine
  • Clenching the Fists of Dissent - Machine Head
  • Love is a Fist - Mr. Bungle
  • Levez Vos Skinny Fists Comme Antennas to Heaven; Gathering Storm - Godspeed You Black Emporer
  • Stinkfist - Tool
  • Use Your Fist and not Your Mouth - Marilyn Manson

Dammit that was a pretty legendary list of songs until Manson had to come and stuff it up.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Wednesday Night Math Rock Geek Out

Battles
Live at The Gaelic Club, 26th September

The Gaelic Club was about ten times more packed than the last time I was there, which was back in February to see Suffocation, a very, very different band to Battles. The audience in attendance this time around was also ten times less intense and in fact it was probably one of the geekiest crowds I've ever been in.

My Disco

The openers were My Disco, who I saw last year opening for Mogwai and who really impressed me back then. They're a good match for Battles; their mathy but danceable rhythms are quite similar, although My Disco have more of a straight up rock tone compared to Battles' artificial synthiness. They were just as good this time around, almost as much fun as the headliners.

Battles: Featuring shirtless John Stanier

As artificial as their sound is, Battles turned out to be a great live band. With a combination of guitars, keys, crazy noise boxes and of course John Stanier's amazing drumming, they recreate the sound of the album more or less straight up, but with a more loose, aggressive energy, as befits a live concert. The music is highly technically challenging and it was a treat to see them deliver it so skilfully The guitarists liked to show off by fingering their guitars with one hand and playing keys simultaneously with the other. Stanier is a fucking machine, and his kit is given pride of place at centre stage front in order to reflect his importance to the band. Collectively as performers they come across as a bunch of cocky showoffs, but I'm inclined to give them a break. Anyone who does the hard yards in brilliant but underrated bands like Tomahawk or Don Caballero and finally ends up getting recognition for something as imaginative and skilfully impressive as Battles deserves to smugly enjoy all the coke and pussy that's coming their way.

Yes, Stanier's ride cymbal is set absurdly high.

The happy, adrenalising energy of the music was a little wasted on the crowd. Many of the pimply basement dwellers in attendance would probably be too scared to actually move in any way more exaggerated than a rhythmic nod of the head and a polite golf clap between songs for fear of losing indie cred, and even were that not the case, the pokey little Gaelic was packed wall to wall so there was no chance of flailing around like a lunatic, the way the music wanted you to.

Predictably enough, big single 'Atlas' was the highlight of the set.

Here's hoping next time they play in a bigger venue so that we can all flail away.

Upcoming Concerts

  • Yesterday: Battles (post coming tomorrow, or maybe the next day)
  • Early October: Motorhead
  • Late October: Nick Cave/Grinderman; Mammal (again)
  • Early November: Machine Head with Arch Enemy
  • Mid November: Would be Muse, but I'll be in London; Would have been Dillinger Escape Plan with Meshuggah, but they cancelled.
  • January: Rage Against the Machine!
  • March: The rumour has it that this is when Tool are planning to return...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Dread Opens Its Maw

Earth – Hibernaculum

If you like your music slow. Reaaaaaaaaaally sloooooooooooooow, then this album might be for you. Earth have flitted around a few different genres in their eighteen years of existence but they're primarily known as practitioners of doom metal, the somewhat avant garde style that strips metal of all speed and melody and reduces it to mere rhythmic heaviness.

On one of their most recent albums, Hibernaculum, Earth lighten up a little. The distortion is gone and they've rerecorded some of their older, heavy songs in a style that they refer to as 'country', although to my ears I don't hear the relationship, beyond the hint of a twang in the guitars. It's definitely interesting music. The format is drums, bass, two guitars, no vocals and the occasional appearance of an organ, and as I stated above, it's very slow. The rhythm section play less than one note per second, and while the lead guitar is a little more garrulous, it's minimal melodies are still played at a shuffle.

There are only four tracks on this album and they are reasonably lengthy, so I would have expected such sparse music to wear out it's welcome well before the record's end, but surprisingly enough it turns out to be very engaging. Part of this is because of the skilful arrangement, with introduces just the barest amount of melodic development, but mostly it's because of the intense mood of the music. It reminds me a lot of Isis' Panopticon, which had a similar feeling of oppression, heaviness and doom. Isis have a lot more aggression and dynamism; listening to them feels as if the world is ending right now, literally crashing down around you. Earth sounds more like the last (protracted) dying moments as the world is swallowed up by the sun. It might be doomladen but it has a powerful, resigned beauty to it as well. The album art is beautiful too, decorated with artificial looking photographs of nature, in a nice illustration of the album title, and some short but evocative text.

The album also comes with a DVD. There's always a small risk in getting to see the people behind the music, as if the music is that great, the personalities behind it will never turn to be as cool as you imagine they should be. Sometimes they're still cooler than you'd have any right to expect (Opeth, Tool). Sometimes they come across as a little dorky but not so much as to matter while you're listening to their music (Dillinger Escape Plan). But sometimes they're just so aggravating that their obnoxious personality actually impinges on your enjoyment of their music forever after. I sat through the hour long documentary on the Hibernaculum DVD, and I can honestly say without hyperbole that I have never heard such a big bunch of wank in my entire life. Here are a few choice quotes:
“I think that the more complicated music gets, the closer it becomes to just being noise.”
This one's not so bad, but I do have two responses. 1) Tell that to Bach. 2) What's wrong with noise anyway?
“I could take it farther... if I wanted to. I could get into just intonations and all those kind of intonating systems...”
Just... gah... Just shut up!

Next time just stick to the live footage guys.

Hearken to the Sound of Calling

Nightwish – Once

Here's one for the 'things that should be terrible but actually turn out to be awesome' file: Rammstein meets Evanescence. My previous expeditions into the realm of power metal had soured me on the concept, but Nightwish have convinced me that I've done it a disservice.

So this is the idea, take one metal band (with keyboards), add orchestral backing and get a hot chick to sing opera style over the top. (Don't fret if you have an aversion to high pitched warbling, we're talking opera as in Andrew Lloyd Webber here, not Wagner.) It sounds like a recipe for disaster but Nightwish are a testament to the fact that if you're a competent, original songwriter you can make even the most unlikely concept work.

The songs on Once span a fairly diverse range within this setup, beginning with straight up stompy metal anthems that could be written by Rammstein (save for the inclusion of female vocals) and ending with ballads that focus more on the voice and classical elements. Along the way they investigate a variety of musical styles and variations to the side of that path, giving them room to showcase each of the diverse elements that make up their music, from bombastic metal guitar solos and quirky, original pop metal keyboard instrumentals to sad, haunting passages for voice and strings and escapades into different ethnic styles.

I can't help but compare these guys to Dragonforce, up until now my touchstone for all things power metal. While Nightwish's lyrics are rarely explicitly fantastical they do have that kind of a feeling about them, but where Dragonforce come across as embarrassingly juvenile these guys are at least sophisticated enough writers to keep things ambiguous and yes it's still cheesy but at least it's heartfelt, a quality which extends to the music. And that makes a big difference.

The most overtly fantastical Nightwish get on this album is in 'The Siren', which is inspired by The Odyssey, (if it's classical then it's classy!) and it's probably my favourite track on Once. Vocalist Tarja Turunen's (since kicked out of the band for being a primadonna) wordless aria is as beautifully haunting as befits the titular mythological beast. Meanwhile the bass player, Marco Hietala, complements her nicely as he sings Odysseus' part, heartbroken as he realises that he will never see the source of the song calling him. The band complement them with hard, driving metal during the verses and understated ambience during the interludes. It's good stuff, I defy anyone to write it off as being cheesy.

If you get this album make sure it's the bonus track version. I normally dislike it when record companies disrupt the flow of an album with bonus tracks but 'White Night Fantasy' and 'Live to Tell the Tale' are pretty good songs and fit well at the end of the album.

Nightwish are so awesome that they get two embedded videos. Here's their video for 'Nemo':



And here's 'The Siren' from their live DVD:



Fuck it. Lets make it three. Here's them covering Pink Floyd's 'High Hopes'.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

1001 Albums – Number 9

Count Basie – The Complete Atomic Basie

I don't have a whole lot to say about this one. This is another jazz album and I did enjoy listening to it, but it had an unfortunate tendency to blow in one ear and out the other while I did so without leaving much of an impression. I am a little surprised that this should be the case, Basie definitely has a bit more edge than other jazz albums I've heard and enjoyed recently such as Louis Prima or Duke Ellington, which are examples of jazz in it's poppy and sophisticated forms respectively. This album on the other hand brings to mind dimly lit basement bars with names like 'The Jazz Hole' where this band perhaps shares a billing with Bleeding Gums Murphy. It's not dangerous music by any means, but it does have that low down swing that brings to mind the earthier pleasures of life.


Despite the very cool mood the music is a little substanceless from a more serious musical perspective, especially when compared to Ellington, despite having some nice hooks. I could do with something that took the swing of this band and made a bit more dangerous.


Next up, Thelonious Monk! One of the first albums on this list that I'm really looking forward to.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

More Musical Lists

By way of Slacktivist. These make good lazy weekend posts! This week it's 'everyone to everything':
  • Everyone Has a Summer - Lovage
  • Everyone I Went to High School With Is Dead - Mr. Bungle
  • Everything's Ruined - Faith No More
  • Everything Goes to Hell - Tom Waits
  • Everything I've Known - Korn
  • Everything in Its Right Place - Radiohead (three versions, and the first song in five weeks that's also on Fred Clark's list)
  • Everything Keeps Dissolving - Coil (two versions)
  • Everything Must Converge - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
  • Everything You Can Think - Tom Waits
And for the record: 'Heaven' - 9 songs. 'Hell' - 12 songs. I expected much more hell!
'God' - 27. 'Devil' - 9.

Edit: Was too lazy to spell people's names correctly.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Thursday, September 20, 2007

I'll Smash Right Through Your Spotlight

Velvet Revolver – Libertad

Here's a tale of two bands. Velvet Revolver and Audioslave both formed at about the same time. Both were comprised of three former members of one legendary Nineties metal band and the singer from another. Both released d├ębut albums that were decent enough, but nowhere near as good as the music that had propelled them to stardom in their earlier bands.

Wildebeest Asylum Editorial Disavowal
Back in the early days of this blog I rated Velvet Revolver's album Contraband as one of the best releases of the year. In retrospect such a judgement is far too generous. There are some truly great songs on that album ('Slither' and 'Got No Right' come immediately to mind) but they're balanced out by an equal amount of total shite. Given that I gave the same honour to Slipknot's The Subliminal Verses in a year that also saw the release of Isis' Panopticon, Nick Cave's Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus and Dillinger Escape Plan's Miss Machine, I can only conclude that blogger must have been hacked by malevolent terrorists with bad taste in music who subtly changed some of my older posts in order to discredit me. You can all trust me when I say that I have convincing evidence that these terrorists were colluding with Saddam Hussein, which is why The Wildebeest Asylum is invading Iraq.

The sad trajectory of Audioslave's three albums will be familiar to many of us. The simplified version is as follows: OK; terrible; terrible. Velvet Revolver are only up to their second album but so far they're keeping pace with their fellow supergroup.

The album opens promisingly with 'Let It Roll', which infuses the style of their first album with a bluesy, sleazy swagger, and rocks out quite sufficiently. For me Slash's guitar has always been the main reason to listen to either Velvet Revolver or Gunners, and he's still well worth listening to on Libertad, where he's taken a more subdued, less histrionic approach as befits the album's blues influence.

Unfortunately after that encouraging start the band waste no time in wading out into the shallows of mediocrity, and by the midpoint of Libertad they're swimming deep down in the trench of suckiness. It's a pity because most of the songs seem to have potential, they're just spoiled by lacklustre performance and a reliance on generic pop rock hooks, despite the occasional, too brief bridge or solo which provides a trace amount of innovation or passion. Take for example 'American Man', a boring, by the numbers upbeat classic rock track with an unimaginative, grating vocal hook (“Yes I am an American Ma-an...”) that's totally beneath this bands potential, which is suddenly and unexpectedly redeemed by an achingly sad, evocative and uncharacteristically restrained solo by Slash, which lasts for a too brief thirty seconds before returning us to the mediocrity of the chorus.

I saw these guys live a few years back and really enjoyed it. Others who have seen them have not been impressed and Libertad comes with a short live DVD which makes me wonder how objective my enjoyment really was. In the four song set the band give the impression that the audience is just another sea of faces in a darkened room at the end of another long plane flight, and that they're performing more for their own egos and legends than for the people who paid money to come see them.

It's sad really, there's obviously still a bit of musical talent floating around in Velvet Revolver, but it's being wasted as I don't think their hearts are really in it any more...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What I Did On My Weekend

Go Trent Go Edition

Well it felt like it took forever but Trent Reznor and his goons have finally gotten their arses back to Australia to make up for the shows they cancelled last May. According to Trent these were the third and second to last shows for Nine Inch Nails with this lineup and also the last in the format of a rock band. It will remain to be seen just what he has in mind but it did feel a little like the end of an era...

The first concert was at Luna Park, the same venue as the May show, and it's a smaller, more intimate venue than you'd expect from a band of this stature.


White Rose Movement were the openers, brought over specially from London. If you're in to the whole nu-new wave thing they might have been entertaining but I was bored to tears. I have no fondness for bands who stand around on stage looking like fashionably dressed robots who have been programmed to only feel ennui. The singer jumped around a lot but it looked more like he was just going through a mental list of actions to be performed by a rock singer rather than that he was picking up the mike stand and waving it around because he was actually excited. K. actually likes this kind of music and even she said that they were a crap live band.


But lets not dwell on that. Nine Inch Nails' history of poor opening bands is no new topic. For Saturday night I figured it was my opportunity to get up close to the band so I found a good place in the mosh pit, and waited patiently until we heard the martial beat of:


Hyperpower!!!

The Beginning of the End

They opened with the same two songs as last time. And fair enough too. 'Hyperpower' is a pretty good walk on track and 'The Beginning of the End' is a good opener.


The band take the stage for 'The Beginning of the End'

Last
On this tour the band have been playing a lot of oldies that have never seen the light of day until now. This is the only one we got over all three concerts, but I'm glad we did. It's a favourite of mine from back in the old days, and this tour might be my only chance to ever hear it.

I don't go out of my way to take photos of people dissolving into a blissful white light but I do seem to end up with a lot of them.

Sin
March of the Pigs

Something I Can Never Have

Closer

They followed up with a selection of their staples. Much to my satisfaction 'Sin' had the awesome synth intro from the Fragility tour this time around. 'March of the Pigs' was pretty much the same as the last three times I saw it, but I get the impression that Trent really likes watching a moshpit go nuts to a song about how shit moshpits are. His vocals during the extended outro sounded a bit like those on 'Memorabilia', but maybe that's just my imagination. 'Something I Can Never Have' was nice, Trent played a nice extended outro on the piano. As is now standard 'Closer' had bits from '
The Only Time' mixed in as a breakdown. This time with lyrics!


Survivalism

Burn

Gave Up

The moshpit was far rougher this time around (compared to the almost stationary audience back in May). Possibly it's because last time they divided the moshpit into two with a barrier, thereby halving the population of shenanigan causing troublemakers.


Burn!

After these tracks they lowered a big LCD screen over the stage and, as in the previous show, they changed their setup to just three laptops, manned by Alessandro, Trent and Aaron. With the ambient noise from 'Another Version of the Truth' providing an intro, they played a little set of:

Me, I'm Not

The Great Destroyer

Which were both fucking excellent. The last time I'd seen them was the first time they ever played 'Me I'm Not' and this time they had it ironed out a bit better. The crazy noisy outro was really good this time. 'The Great Destroyer' of course has an even crazier, noisier outro, and was incredibly fucking brutal. As an extra for experts they even mixed in samples from 'Happiness in Slavery'!

Me, I'm Not

The visuals on the screen were pretty cool (but abstract, unlike the stuff on the live DVDs) and the screen itself was pretty cool too, it could be turned partially transparent, revealing the band behind it.

I wish we could have had more of these visuals, but I'm glad I've finally seen a proper NIN stage show.

Eraser
Only

The band then hid behind the screen for these two songs (Roger Waters styles!), and they had some nice effects during 'Only' when parts of the projection would turn off, showing a glimpse one or another of the band behind it through the static. As far as the moshpit was concerned 'Only' was one of the highlights of the night, although Sydneysiders apparently still have a lot of trouble jumping in time with the music.


Wish

The Good Soldier

Even though they played this one last time I was thrilled to hear it again. The band seemed to be in a better mood this time so I think the original, melancholy spirit of the song came through better.


Following this Trent made a little speech, introducing the other guys on stage and mentioning each of their other musical projects that they'll be pursuing once he kicks them out of his band. He didn't exactly apologise for cancelling the earlier shows but he did joke that 'It feels like just yesterday that we were playing here...' and that he recognised almost everyone in the audience. He also apparently still hates Billy Corgan. Ten years may be a long time to hold a grudge, but by and large Trent seemed so much happier and more upbeat than the last three times I saw him. Good for him!


No, You Don't

Suck

The Day the World Went Away

This is one of my favourite NIN songs and I'm so glad I finally got to hear it!


Dead Souls

Down in it

A nice surprise to get this one! The band seemed to have a lot of fun playing such a goofy song.


The Hand that Feeds

Head like a hole

And they closed with the standard finishers. “But wait”, cried every munter in the audience, “you forgot something!”, well that's not quite what they said, they actually just chanted “Hurt! Hurt! Hurt! Hurt!” so two minutes later, Trent returned onstage alone and played another very beautiful version of


Hurt

The screen descended and displayed a small starfield behind Trent as he played. As the full band joined him for the final chorus the field expanded, and when the heavy bit kicked in the screen turned transparent and the stage was bathed in yellow light. It lacked the emotional power of May's performance but for the visuals this was definitely the coolest version I've seen. I also noticed how Trent has developed the way he sings this song over the years. He's taken a maudlin tale of crushing depression and turned it into a song of redemption. It was a wonderful way to end the set.


Trent plays 'Hurt'

Despite my sarcastic comments above I don't think Trent is actually firing the rest of the band. I suspect that what's happened is that those guys have toured with him for basically three years straight and now they want to do other things, and Trent is using the opportunity to reassess how he's going to perform live. I'll be sorry to see Josh Freese go, he's a great drummer, though often understated and that suits this band perfectly. Alessandro is also pretty cool, although he too gets overlooked because the nature of his role is to stay in the background, save for one or two moments in the spotlight like the start of 'Sin' or the solo in 'The Hand that Feeds'. I'm not so fond of Aaron North on guitar, he seems to do one thing and do it very well and that's those crazy waily, wobbly solos where he swings his guitar around madly. Those are pretty cool but I don't think he really carries the mellow side of this band very well. Jeordie White ostensibly plays bass but I think his main function is just being Jeordie White, he'll be missed but I'm sure we'll see him lurking around stage right again with some other band in the future.

Sunday's show was at the much larger Hordern Pavilion, where I saw them way back in aught five. K. was hungover and I'd done my time in the moshpit the last night so we decided to sit and watch from the seats, where we could actually see the band. The setlist was similar to Saturday, but with some nice surprises.


Hyperpower

The Beginning of the End

No kidding!


Heresy

Terrible Lie

March of the Pigs

The Frail/The Wretched

We saw the welcome return of 'Heresy' but even though the next three were songs they'd played to death the band went absolutely nuts playing them and they were among the highlights of all three shows.


Closer

Ruiner

Here's another one I didn't expect to hear, and another old favourite that I'm glad I was given a chance to singalong to.


Survivalism

Piggy

Gave Up

I wonder if the smoke machine is there to stop cellphone video bootlegging.

Me, I'm Not
The Great Destroyer

You can't really tell from this photo but the outro of 'The Great Destroyer' is pretty fucking loud, especially if you're right in front of the speakers.

Eraser

At least you can see through Trent's Wall.

Only

"There is no you there is only me"

Wish
The Good Soldier

No, You Don't

Reptile

Trent cracked a few more jokes at this point (“I think I recognise all of you tonight”) and mentioned the rant that he posted on nin.com the last time he was in Australia about high CD prices are here. He asked if the prices had dropped since then, and received a resounding “NO” in response. He then told us that we all knew what to do about it. “Steal away!”


The Day the World Went Away

Hurt

The Hand that Feeds

Starfuckers Inc.

Head like a hole

The band seemed to lack energy for the middle stretch of this concert, I thought the crowd (which was a bit small for the venue) was relatively tepid, especially when compared to the feral aggro of last night and the die hard fans hanging on every note back in May, but they sure pulled it out for the last few songs. 'Hurt' was nothing special when compared to the last two times I heard it (although Trent did add some nice embellishment to the piano parts), but the last three rockers were pretty intense, probably because they seem to be favourites of the band and it was the second to last time they'd have a chance to play it together. 'Starfuckers' in particular was wild. Josh kept cranking the tempo during the outro and by the end I wished I'd joined the moshpit, which looked spectacular.


Well that's all the Nine Inch Nails there is for now. Trent promises to release a new album next year and tour hear again next winter (maybe there'll be New Zealand dates this time), here's hoping that's what happens, but we all know how these promises have worked out in the past!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Death!

Over at Slacktivist Fred Clarke posts an alphabetical selection of tracks taken off his ipod every Friday. He invites the reader to compare their own itunes list, which I often do, even though my music collection bears almost no relation to his. Yesterday he did 'De...'. See his list here. Now look at an excerpt of mine:

  • De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas - Mayhem
  • Dead Cats, Dead Rats - The Doors
  • Dead Friends (Around the Corner) - Einsturzende Neubauten (three versions!)
  • Dead Gardens - Nightwish
  • Dead Goon - Mr. Bungle
  • Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground - The White Stripes
  • Dead Souls - Nine Inch Nails covering Joy Division
  • Dead Star (live) - Muse
  • Deaf as a Bat - The Jesus Lizard
  • Deanna - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
  • Death - Skinny Puppy
  • Death Dealer's Descent - Underworld Soundtrack
  • Death in the Family - Sparta
  • Death is not the End - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
  • Death King - Converge
  • The Death of Passion - Nevermore
  • Death Whispered a Lullaby - Opeth
  • Deathblow - Deftones
  • Debase (Soft Palate) - Aphex Twin remixing Mike Flowers Pops
  • Deceit - Suffocation
That's only half of my 'De...'s, the rest are not really interesting except to note that I have a lot of German songs ('Der ...'). That's 15 songs out of 4362 with titles that begin with the words 'Dead' or 'Death'. The search function tells me that I have 18 songs containing the word 'Dead' and 23 containing 'Death'.

Slightly worried about what this says about me, I tried 'Love' and got 77 matches. Phew! My music collection isn't as morbid as I feared!

'Sex' returns only 8 matches, including three versions of 'Robot Sex' by Mike Patton. 'Fuck' returns 13, including five versions of 'Starfuckers Inc.'.

Lastly, 'Life' returns 19 songs, but that includes 'In Death - Is Life' by Meshuggah. Not sure if that should count!

Friday, September 14, 2007

1001 Albums - Number 8

The Crickets – The “Chirping” Crickets

After sojourning in the realm of jazz for a few albums we're now back in the familiar and comfortable territory of rock and roll. Buddy Holly and his group The Crickets, like Elvis, are clear forerunners to most of the music I listen to and write about here. The production might be super old-timey, with twangy guitars and barber shop style vocal harmonising, but the format and arrangement is really not so different to that of Meshuggah or Sigur Ros. The song 'That'll Be The Day' is found on this album and (assuming you haven't lived your whole life under a rock and don't know it) it gives a pretty good indication of what this band sounds like.

I wasn't looking forward to this one all that much but I have to say I rather like it. Sure the lyrics are pretty conventional (they all revolve around how crap it is to be dumped) and I can't attribute my fondness for this album to plain old 'balls' as I did with Elvis and Louis Prima but I think there's just some good old fashioned solid songwriting and competent performing here. On its own it doesn't make up for Sinatra but I have to say that the old 1001 albums seems to be coming up mostly positive so far.

Next up, Count Basie.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Just Because It Is Not Heavy Does Not Mean It Is Not Evil

Opeth – Lamentations

We've taken a bit of a break from the Opeth love here at the Asylum for a little while, mainly due to my disappointment with Still Life and Morningrise when compared to their later stuff. However I've finally managed to track down a copy of their live DVD, Lamentations, and I'm pleased to report that it's super fucking awesome.

This disc was released following their Deliverance/Damnation tour and contains material only from those two albums and from their preceding release, Blackwater Park. This just happens to be the period where, in my opinion, they were at the height of their ability. (The reason for the limited selection range of tracks included is, I believe, because of legal issues with their former record labels. They have another DVD due out later this year which covers material from an even spread of all their albums.)

The concert opens with the entire Damnation album played front to back, with 'Harvest' off Blackwater Park slotted in near the end for consistency's sake. As I mentioned in my very brief one line review of Damnation, it is a stylistic departure for the band, one where they temporarily put death metal aside completely and pulled out the acoustic guitars, clean vocals and ethnic drums to make a mellow prog rock album. Much to everyone's surprise Opeth fans as a whole, while not numbering Damnation among the best of their albums, gave it decent amount of credit and for the first half of this DVD you'll be treated to the unlikely scenario of a concert hall packed to the brim with greasy haired, black t-shirt wearing metallers standing quietly and respectfully as they listen to a dude strum away on an acoustic guitar.

But fuck if this disc didn't make me even more angry at myself for missing their concert here last year. Their albums are inspired enough but live they deliver still more intensity. The four five (mustn't forget Per tucked away behind the keyboards there!) members of the band may not be showmen like Peeping Tom or Mammal, but they all seem totally absorbed by and in love with the music they're making while onstage. The viewer is treated to many shots of leadman Mikael Akerfeldt looking skyward with eyes shut tight and a blissful look on his face as he busts out another glorious guitar solo. And speaking of Akerfeldt, fuck this guy is awesome! The whole band are brilliant musicians but he in particular astonished me with his talent. Metal vocals in a live context are always likely to disappoint but Akerfeldt's voice is if anything even better than on the albums. His cavernous growls on the heavy tracks are as great as I'd hoped but I was especially stunned by the strength of his clean singing voice during the 'mellow' part of the concert. It probably sounds like I want to marry this guy and have his babies so I will offer one criticism: what's up with that facial hair? Shave it off and then we can talk about the babies.

After they finish playing Damnation the band leave the stage for a break and return to play a totally fucking awesome set laden with the best fucking metal songs ever written; 'Master's Apprentice', 'Deliverance' and 'The Leper Affinity' are all here and would be unquestionably given six stars if my ipod allowed ratings that high. While I was more impressed by the acoustic set (I think maybe because the style was new and fresh to them the band was a little more into it) this stuff is top notch too.

And just when you thought you could turn off the computer and go to bed content in the knowledge that you just watched one of the awesomest DVDs ever, it turns out that there's a documentary on the making of Damnation and Deliverance too! It's probably not essential for anyone who's not a huge music geek and a huge fan of Opeth in particular but for me watching the arrangement and recording processes of the best fucking songwriters in the world is basically the coolest thing ever committed to digital versatile disc. By the time it got round to the footage showing the guitarists recording almost every solo on Deliverance!!! I was pretty much delirious with delight.

Oh Opeth. Don't ever stop being awesome. Here's 'Death Whispered A Lullaby':


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Anniversary

I didn't realise until about ten o'clock, after about half an hour of reading blogs, that today was September 11th. Sure, I knew the date, but I didn't click that it was that anniversary until I suddenly noticed that every political blog in the world was talking about the same thing.

My slowness to notice was probably because every non-political blog in the world was talking about Britney's bad lip syncing and drug fucked demeanour at the MTV video awards.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What I Did On My Weekend

Stanley Kubrick Edition

It was a rainy Friday night and having nothing else to do we put on a movie. I was fairly tired so I struggled to keep my eyes open for the entire running time. If it was any other movie I probably would have just let myself go to sleep, but I had a point to prove, in fact, a veritable unsettled grudge match to win against this film, and now, after multiple failed attempts I have finally watched the entirety of Stanley Kubrick's Lolita.

I've yet to see a Kubrick film which was anything less than brilliant and this is no exception. Based on the infamous novel by Vladimir Nabokov, the titular character is a precocious fourteen year old girl who becomes an object of sexual obsession for her mother's perverted house guest, the unusually named Humbert Humbert.

Making a mainstream movie about a paedophile is a pretty dubious proposition, so it's interesting to see how Kubrick pulled it off. The censors strict demands (this was released in 1962 so they were even worse than nowadays) meant that no such relationship between the main characters could be explicitly stated, so there's plenty of whispering in ears and untranslated but obvious allusions. It's slightly annoying that these constraints can still be placed on a film even though the offensive material is the very heart of the story, but in this case there's no need to be concerned as Kubrick is so skilled that he effortlessly hurdles such obstacles.

Lolita is surprisingly funny for a movie with such a unsavoury premise. Peter Seller's presence as Humbert's rival paedophile Clare Quilty of course guarantees a certain amount of humour, his scene in disguise as the school psychologist is especially good, but there's plenty of other amusing stuff to be found here (all enhanced by the slightly stilted, formal manners of the period the film was made in), such as the horrified look Humbert gets whenever Lolita's mother starts with her desperate sexual advances.

Then on the Saturday night I kept the momentum going and we watched another Kubrick movie that has been on the to watch list for far too long, Barry Lyndon.

This is Kubrick's period drama, following the fortunes of a young Irish man in the 1700s. It's one of his less famous works, partly on the account of the unusual-for-him genre, and partly because it isn't quite up to the standard his other films.

Of course we're talking about one of (if not the) greatest directors of all time here, so it's far from a disappointment. Unlike Lolita it feels much more like a Kubrick film. You've got your static shots of large, almost empty rooms, your unemotional, almost passionless characters and your incredibly slow pace. A pace that, it must be said, doesn't sit well with the movie's three hour running time. We can add to it's failings a general lack of emotional impact or resonance in the story, something that Kubrick normally does very well.

While it may not measure up to the rest of Kubrick's output, Barry Lyndon is still a fine movie. The visual aspects, which is to say the costumes and cinematography, are astoundingly vibrant and beautiful throughout the film, and rightly won an Oscar or two. And as with Lolita there's a lot of humour to be found here, particularly in the dry wit of the narrator:
“A lady who sets her heart on a lad in uniform must be prepared to change lovers pretty quickly or her life will be a sad one. This heart of Lischen's was like many a neighboring town that had been stormed and occupied many times before Barry came to invest it.”
A large part of the reason it doesn't quite sit as well as other Kubrick films is because of the dislikeable nature of our protagonist, Redmond Barry (later renamed Barry Lyndon). At various times during the story he is cowardly, violent, cruel, duplicitous and stupid, but by the end he does earn the begrudging sympathy of the viewer, simply by being more admirable than the society he finds himself in: the mercenary, pompous, vapid European aristocracy. There's a curious parallel with Lolita, where while the titular character begins as a typical empty headed teen, concerned only with selfish, immediate gratification, but becomes the least childish of all the characters in the movie, having been used and abused by the pathetic Humbert, the shallow hedonist Quilty and her petty, bitter mother.

They're both worth watching, but watch Lolita first.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Fuck APEC

I've refrained from saying much about this here because, while it's been a huge inconvenience to everyone in Sydney I don't work in the CBD so I just did my best to ignore it.

I wasn't even tempted to go along to the protests. Sure there between the world leaders gathered here last week there are innumerable numbers of actions and policies that need to be spoken out against, from the war in Iraq to China's human rights abuses to Helen Clark's Electoral Finance Bill, but I'm thoroughly dismissive of the effectiveness of your average cranky liberal protest in this day and age. For a start to effectively communicate a message you need an actual issue that everyone is gathered around. By the time the people concerned about Climate Change, those concerned about Iraq and those concerned about the erosion of civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism get together and bolster their numbers with high school kids who want to act cool, trend followers who just want to protest 'against Bush' and general troublemakers who want a fight with the police, you're left with a directionless rabble with no common purpose and who end up looking like a bunch of smelly, brainless, mungbean munching hippies who are pretty much outraged about everything all of the time.

But while in a taxi on Saturday night I saw something quite different, the Falun Gong protesters gathered outside the university holding a candle light vigil. Their concerted message and peaceful demeanour were an affecting contrast to the usual megaphone enabled histrionics I associate with political protest. This is how it should be done people. I do wonder why they were so far from where anything to do with APEC was taking place. But I suppose that even if they were within viewing distance of the Chinese president he probably wouldn't have noticed anyway, what with the hundreds of thousands of dollars of fireworks being blown up over the city in his honour that night. Sydneysiders love their fireworks but Saturday's display was excessive even by this city's standards.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

It's The Assman!

Seinfeld Season 6

The exceptionally observant, obsessive compulsive and preternaturally gifted among you may have noticed that I've skipped ahead a season with these. There's no particular reason, that's just the way it worked out. This is a hard post to write because I watched these over a period of more than a year and it's hard to remember the first ones, but here we go anyway.

Season six finds Seinfeld in the full bloom of its success, but I must say it's a little weaker than the earlier seasons. Still, even slightly below average Seinfeld is pretty damn funny and there are plenty of moments to be found here that have gone down in TV history, to name a few, the introduction of J. Peterman, eating a chocolate bar with a knife and fork and of course “You know, I don't know the exact pronunciation but I believe it's Menage A Trois.”

And of course Seinfeld is always worthwhile for the perverse enjoyment of watching the unbelievably obnoxious main characters. I was struck this time around by just how nasty and selfish Jerry, George and Elaine act. I can't name a single act of kindness or generosity that any of them perform over the shows entire nine years. The contrast of course is Kramer, who despite being a total fucking headcase is a genuinely kindhearted spirit. Of course it's not in vogue to say anything nice about Michael Richards nowadays, ever since his racist tirade was immortalised on youtube (link NSFW due to offensive language), but I find that I'm still a big fan of the guy. My impression is that rather than giving voice to a heretofore suppressed bigoted streak, he was going for some kind of Lenny Bruce type thing (NSFW for the same reasons...), and trying to get comedy from the outrageous offensiveness. Perhaps so outrageous that he didn't think anyone would take it seriously. The sad way he says “There's still those words... those words...” as he walks off stage in the clip marks a poignant end to what was the career of a uniquely brilliant comedian.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

New Web Comics

And by 'new' I mean 'old but new to me'.

For those of us who admit to the occasional bit of roleplaying: DM of the Rings

For those of us who like stuff that is really funny: Basic Instructions

What I Did In My Weekend

Mammal fucking rock edition


Friday:
  • Became an ordained minister. I can now perform marriages and name children in states of the USA that have not passed laws against bullshit internet religions that make anyone who fills out a form an ordained minister.
  • Had dinner at Bentleys. Still the best damn food I've tasted in Sydney.
  • Had a drink at the Cricketers Arms. I'd stayed out of there until now because of it's reputation as a hipster hangout, but I found that it 's actually full of Irish people, and you can't go wrong drinking with the Irish.
Saturday:
  • Visited the Museum of Modern Art. Didn't get to see a lot of it unfortunately, maybe next time.
  • More on Saturday night in a second.
Sunday:
  • Had breakfast at the NSW Art Gallery (which was pretty good, lovely view of the gardens and the harbour) and had a wander around. It was really great. I liked the modern art but the 19th century paintings totally fascinated me. I've never really been much of a visual arts sort of person but I may have to remedy that with some more visits in the future.
Anyway, the big event of the weekend was Mammal playing at the Annandale on Saturday night. I'd seen these guys at Come Together and they fucking rocked something wicked, so it was time to give them a second look and see how much of my enjoyment the first time I saw them was due to the copious consumption of intoxicating substances.

First up, the opening bands. Furcurve reminded me a hell of a lot of The Murder of Rosa Luxemborg, as they played thrashy hardcore with the spastic rhythms of Converge, but with a vocalist who cooed and minced like Morrisey. They didn't inspire me hugely, but get a half hearted thumbs up for doing something interesting and different and pulling it off well.

Next up were Guns for Glory, who very nearly bored me to death with a long dose of straight up emo. My lovely concert going companion started to get restless and only my confident reassurances that Mammal would make up for it convinced her to stay.


And fortunately they didn't make a liar of me, their set was every bit as energising as the last time I saw them, if not more. I've described them as 'like Rage Against the Machine but upbeat' and I think that's a pretty accurate description. They've got your funk, your metal and your rap and despite sharing Rage's political inclinations they blast their message out with positivity and fun, rather than bitter anger. These guys are a brilliant live act and all four members have that performer's x-factor that grabs your attention and holds it from the second they take the stage. The vocalist especially has the same kind of showmanship that I noted about Mike Patton earlier this year that transfers his energy and enthusiasm straight to the audience. The moshpit was one of the best I've seen in a while, with everyone, jumping, dancing and generally going nuts and having a good time. I've waited too long to go to the Annandale, which has a reputation as one of Sydney's best live venues. One that appears to be justified.


Anyway, brilliant live band. Go see them if you have a chance.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Sunday Lesson

Not drinking to excess: try it and rediscover the mythical 'Sunday'.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

1001 Albums - Number 7

Frank Sinatra – Songs for Swinging Lovers

http://wildebeestasylum.blogspot.com/2006/04/1001-albums-number-1.html
In the wee small hours

The scene is a darkened office, 1954. Frank Sinatra stands before the desk of a fatcat record exec, who is probably puffing on a cigar. “It's a disaster Frank,” he says, “Your morbid opus of despair, In the Wee Small Hours, is responsible for over four hundred suicides in the last month alone. In the news this morning I read that a young girl saw you stop smiling for a split second at your last show and bashed her own head in with a brick.”
“So.. hard... to keep... smiling”, Frank forces out between the gritted teeth of his fixed, rictus grin.
“Don't worry.” Says the executive. “We have a plan...”
And so was born Songs for Swinging Lovers, an album so grotesquely upbeat that the Surgeon General recommends playing four hours of Ren and Stimpy's 'Happy Happy Joy Joy' afterwards in order to bring the listener back down to the grim reality of life on this cold, forsaken earth.

Like In the Wee Small Hours before it, this album is a short collection of lite jazz arrangements so substanceless that they barely impinge on one's consciousness, overlayed by Sinatra's hammy crooning. However this time around the 'emotion' switch has been flicked from 'sad' to 'happy', and instead of the unconvincing moping Frank delivered on the former we get a selection of perky, upbeat tributes to sunshine and puppies. It's really impossible to overstate just how insipid this album is. Here's a selection of lyrics from 'How About You':
I like potato chips, moonlight motor trips, how about you?
I'm mad about good books, can't get my fill
And James Durante's looks give me a thrill

This is a joke right?

The first half hour is hard enough to stomach, but then we get to what is probably (and I honestly say this without a speck of hyperbole) the most offensive song I have heard in my entire life: 'Anything Goes', a heartfelt tribute to puritan conformity. It totally shits me that this is considered by anyone to be good music. I know I often sound like a cynical misanthrope who hates any kind of positive feeling in music or art, but surely I'm not the only one who's horrified by the thought of legions of middle aged, middle class drones tapping their feet contentedly to this soulless nothing-music and nodding in approval at Frank's condemnation of the young people nowadays and their bad language. If we can take comfort in one thing from this song, it's that even back in the Fifties conservatives were sternly disapproving of the ever worsening morals of society, and that
most guys today that women prize today
Are just silly gigolos

You tell 'em Frank! It just goes to show that that attitude is all a bunch of bullshit.

And that's the last I'll be hearing of this guy, at least assuming I remember to delete the songs off my ipod.

Next up, Buddy Holly.