MIKE PATTON’S SF FAVORITES / COFFEE WITH WILL OLDHAM ROCK-’N’-ROLL CULTURE FOR THE MODERN MUSIC FANATIC Issue 40
MELVINS GETTING FREAKYPUKEY WITH MR. BUNGLE BASSIST TREVOR DUNN
RIDING RT. 66 AN EDITOR’S MOTORCYCLE TRAVELOGUE
BEHIND-THESCENES SHOTS OF HARDCORE’S MOST EXCITING REUNION
LIVING THE THUGXWIFE ADVICE FROM A TATTOOED TUMBLR STAR
MY STYLE FLYING LOTUS’S SIMPLE, SUAVE ATTIRE
LIFE AFTER HIATUS
CONVERGE SALEM’S METALCORE VETS SEND HOME THE GUESTS
DIRTY PROJECTORS DISCOVERY IN SECLUSION
TIME WAITS FOR NO ANIMAL: AFTER 13 YEARS APART, THE ICONIC QUARTET RECONVENES, “KEEPS ON ROWING”
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31 Dirty Projectors Borne from front-man David Longstreth’s time in a remote home in upstate New York, the new Dirty Projectors album achieves discovery in seclusion, exploring a world that’s fully gridded.
Photo by Noah Kalina
SOUNDGARDEN As far back as its earliest releases, the iconic Seattle quartet demonstrated the command of space that would come to define its legacy. Now, after reuniting in 2010, the band once again evokes a variety of spaces and dimensions on King Animal.
REFUSED Our favorite Swedish hardcore group announced one of the year’s most anticipated reunions, giving The Shape of Punk to Come its rightful live treatment. Take a peek behind the scenes with photographer Robin Laananen.
CONVERGE Following a release that loaded up on guest stars, Salem’s metalcore vets send their friends home for the explosive All We Love We Leave Behind, another album of high-speed riffs and gut-wrenching emotion.
(the) MELVINS As if writing with Lustmord and Jello Biafra wasn’t enough, the Melvins’ Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover recently joined forces with famed Mr. Bungle bassist Trevor Dunn to form “Melvins Lite.” We chatted with King Buzzo about the band’s (latest) new direction.
SQUAREPUSHER Like an alien AV experience, Squarepusher’s new luminescent setup flashes monochromatic LED patterns on a pair of large screens and a custommade mask. The trailblazing bassist / electronic musician takes us inside his dream- and synesthesia-inspired visuals.
BLOC PARTY Disproving the rumors of its demise, Britain’s Bloc Party has returned from Kele Okereke’s solo jaunt with a rawer, more aggressive, rock-based take on its indie sound.
FANG ISLAND Anthemic rock quintet Fang Island described its self-titled debut as “the sound of everyone high-fiving everyone.” Its sophomore effort builds on the theme, with enough hooks to hang the audience’s denim jackets.
P.O.S Stefon Alexander has maintained operations as a multiinstrumentalist by day and rap artist by night. His latest as P.O.S reflects his 360-degree perspective of both music and the world we live in, offering an “anarchist dance party” in the process.
18 Flying Lotus Just like his music, electronic producer Flying Lotus lets his style speak for itself. Photo tag-team JUCO nabbed him for a look at his simple yet suave attire.
Photo by JUCO
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Liisa Jordan: firstname.lastname@example.org Shannon Painter: email@example.com ----A one-year subscription to ALARM Magazine is US $48. Visit our website at www.alarm-magazine.com or send a check or money order to: ALARM Press 205 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 3200 Chicago, IL 60601 P 312.386.7932 F 312.276.8085 firstname.lastname@example.org ALARM Magazine (ISSN 1555-8819) is published bimonthly by ALARM Press at 205 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 3200, Chicago, IL, 60601. Periodicals postage is PENDING at Chicago, IL, and additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address corrections to ALARM Magazine at 205 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 3200, Chicago, IL, 60601 © 2012 ALARM Magazine. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is strictly prohibited. ALARM MAGAZINE is a trademark of ALARM Press, LLC.
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR If you want to do what you want to do, you need to do two things: Know what you want to do. Do it. Good luck with that. Most people never make it to step two, which one would think would be the harder of the steps. If you know what you want, get at it. Don’t take it for granted. This is the 40th issue of ALARM Magazine, a project that I started as a student 17 years ago. I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to do ALARM for so long. But really, what I should be thankful for is that I want to do anything at all—that there is something I like doing. And honestly, that’s what matters. All you need to do is figure out what you want and keep doing it. For better or worse, it’s rarely the best talents that succeed—it’s the people that keep showing up. Perseverance is what you need; talent is what you want. Photo by Tim Cadiente
Over the past two years, I’ve struggled to figure out how to get the magazine back in print, and, honestly, I’m not sure I’ve found a real solution to that yet. Contrary to what the media says about itself (a suicidal stance that I completely do not understand), we are at a high point of media. There are so many great writers working now—prolific and talented storytellers, aspiring and promising journalists. I can read so much good, thoughtful stuff, easier than I ever have before. And most of those people creating the stories are working from rocky, cobbled-together financial situations. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. The hustle to sell magazines and sell ads is, well, soul crushing. But the opportunity it’s created also is appealing. Look at the range and scope of artists that our small, independent magazine is about to cover and cover well. What we, as media, lack is confidence in what we do. We think we’re failing. We think we’re not as influential as a 15-year-old with a zillion Twitter followers. We’re worried about pointless bullshit like “page views” and “uniques.” Well, what the media world needs to do is take a few pointers from the artists inside this issue—to be uncompromising in our craft, to have confidence in our craft, and to focus on nothing but it. Readers will come, influence will come, just like fans have come to musicians playing some pretty farout-there stuff. Twenty years ago, no one ever thought Converge would go anywhere. No one. Trust me. I was there. But they not only stuck to it—they reinvested in every album, pushed and pulled and earned every note. And they’ve earned their craft, earned their audience, and are still working for more. I love music, and I love the simultaneously independent and hectic culture that surrounds it, the destructive habits balanced with the supportive ones. It’s a culture that I’ve built my small, weird world around, and I want to stay immersed in it the only way I know how: day by day. I refuse to leave it. I know what I want to do, and everyday I try to figure out how to do it. This issue celebrates that. ALARM never left, but it’s great to be back in our original magazine form. I hope you’ll have us. That’s it. Let’s not overthink it. Do you know what you want to do? Then go do it. Then write me about it. ----Chris Force, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief email@example.com
meet a tattooed tumblr “cewebrit y” and a roller-derby all-star, chat with Moonrise Kingdom ’s music supervisor, and read what we learned on route 66
ALBUM ART See Dimitri Drjuchin’s “bright, mystical eye candy” for Father John Misty on Page 13
shortcuts MERCH TABLE
Positive Force: More than a Witness
Metalocalypse: Season 4
(Adult Swim / Cartoon Network) -Grab the fourth season of Adult Swim’s Metalocalypse, featuring more epic adventures of the virtual death-metal band Dethklok. In this season, Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil and Ben Shepard, Dweezil Zappa, Janeane Garofalo, Andy Richter, and many more join in the metal madness.
(PM Press) -Chronicling the 25-year span of DC-based activist community Positive Force, this documentary uses archival footage, live performances, and interviews (including supporters Ian MacKaye and Ted Leo) to expose the collective’s influence on punk politics.
SIX SONGS OF DESPERATION 1
Those Poor Bastards: “With Hell So Near”
Text by Meaghann Korbel and Megan Dawson
(Universal) -Wes Anderson’s latest tells the storybook romance of two 12-year-olds who, after falling in love at first sight, plan a getaway on the island of New Penzance. Composer Benjamin Britten’s opera Noye’s Fludde, which Anderson performed as a child, plays a special plot-building role.
(Seminal Films) -During the 2008 Beijing Olympics—in a time and place of intense government censorship—director Shaun Jefford takes us into the underground world of Chinese punk, which is wrought with rebellion and anger.
How Music Works (McSweeney’s)
Grinderman: “No-Pussy Blues”
Tim Fite: “For-Closure”
Queen: “Bohemian Rhapsody”
Jeff Bridges & Bernie Glassman:
The Dude and the Zen Master New York Drawings (Blue Rider)
(Drawn and Quarterly)
Actor Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski) and Zen comrade Bernie Glassman zero in on Zen’s application to the average dude’s life and to doing good in the world. Bridges also lends his artistry to the collaborative text with a number of original illustrations.
Following the critically beloved Shortcomings and the personalized Scenes from an Impending Wedding, contemporary cartoonist and veteran New Yorker illustrator Adrian Tomine brings the Big Apple to life with a complete collection of covers, comics, and illustrations for the esteemed publication.
Text by Megan Dawson
(Lorber Films) -Corinna Belz assembles an intimate documentary that follows 80-year-old German painter Gerhard Richter as he meticulously scrapes and strokes towards abstract perfection.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: “Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere?”
The Faint: “Desperate Guys”
Gerhard Richter Painting
Talking Heads songwriter and multi-instrumentalist David Byrne delineates the physical, historical, and social stratospheres of music in his latest text, drawing on his own prolific career and experiences to analyze music’s evolution and future.
MERCH TABLE shortcutS
alarm’s holiday GIFT gUIDE The holidays are about giving—letting people know how much you care (personalized mixtape) or how much you don’t (socks). To show your loved ones how awesome you think they are, here’s a little list of goodies that will make them even more awesome. TEXT BY meaghann korbel photo by Samantha Simmons
Spark Digital condenser mic by Blue Microphones, $200 (bluemic.com) Conquest boots by Keds, $100 (keds.com)
19twenty fitted baseball cap by New Era, $30 (neweracap.com)
SYNC by 50 wireless headphones by SMS Audio, $400 (smsby50.com)
New Wayfarer sunglasses in matte black by Ray-Ban, $125 (ray-ban.com)
Living the ThugXWife with Tattooed Tumblr Ceweb Britny Jo SPOIL HER, FOLLOW HER, DROOL OVER HER PHOTOS, BUT DON’T ASK HER ABOUT HER TATTOOS. WE DID ANYWAY.
“It began with my mantra: I’m a weed-smoking white girl, and I really fucking like being naked.” Clearly, photo blogger Britny Jo knows the recipe for success. The 26-year-old Canadian turned LA transplant has amassed more than 100,000 Tumblr and Instagram followers in only four months, due in no small part to the second half of that mantra.
Do you feel a responsibility toward your followers? No. I appreciate that people are interested and follow me, but they follow me because they like who I am. Why should I change? The same goes for my tattoos. I’m not a person who puts meaning behind her tattoos. If there is something I like, I will get it. One day, I decided that I wanted to get a deer skull tattooed on my chest. My fiancé, who has done most of my tattoos, has a crazy-long list of everything I want to have done. What advice would you give someone looking to get his or her first tattoo? If you are indecisive or change your mind a lot, wait at least until your early 20s. I’m not against teens getting tattoos, but when I was a teenager, I wanted to get a full sleeve of Care Bears and ponies—thank god I didn’t! Picking the right artist is important. What’s important to keep in mind while researching?
Look through the artist’s portfolio. Make sure you like everything! It’s their best work. If there is one piece you do not like, move on. You want to get a feel for their personal style. Once you have picked an artist, take their advice, not your friend’s. Get it where you want it, not where someone says it will hurt less. We noticed that your back is a blank slate. Is there a part of your body that you will not tattoo? Is there a stopping point?
Under the handle ThugXWife, Britny Jo posts candid pictures of herself, including many full-frontal nudes—but it’s her detailed, neotraditional tattoos and “no-fucks-given” attitude that keep many followers entranced. Although revealing, the photos are not pornographic—instead paying tribute to regret, love, and spontaneity. Here’s her advice on when to get a tattoo, what to look for, and what not to ask friends.
I worked as a counter girl at a tattoo parlor in Canada, and it is amazing how ignorant a lot of the people who came in are. The first question they would ask is “how much does a tattoo cost?” To which I would respond, “How much does a bag of groceries cost?”
Photos by Matthew James and Dannie DeBruin at Matthew James Photographers
I have very specific plans for my back. Once I have my tramp stamp removed, I want to have my fiancé create a nautical scene for my entire back. There is no stopping point. I have plans for everywhere on my body, including my hairline. The only places I don’t really want done are the bottoms of my feet, but that could change. —lauren carroll
Jim Gaffigan, Eugene Mirman, and Hannibal Buress—or, more recently, you might have spotted his mind-bending cover for Fear Fun, the debut album from Father John Misty (shown left).
Getting inked by French tattoo artist Xoïl is akin to being a human canvas: his graphic, two-toned tattoos, coined “Photoshop style,” are distinguishable across continents with their impossibly finite detail, texture, and progressive concepts. Located 45 minutes from Geneva, Switzerland, his studio Needles Side in Thononles-Bains is by appointment only.
Mediums: Acrylic on canvas, Adobe Illustrator, guitar strings Favorite bands: Dinosaur Jr., Lungfish, Bob Dylan, Fugazi, Superchunk, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix Favorite artists: Ralph Steadman, Daniel Higgs, Francis Bacon, Daniel Clowes, R. Crumb, Chester Brown Does your Russian heritage influence your art? The iconic/religious look of my work is very influenced by Russian icon art. We had a few of them at our house when I was growing up, so it was kind of woven into me as an early art appreciator. But everything influences me and comes out in my art in some form.
Born in Moscow, NYC-based painter and illustrator Dimitri Drjuchin creates bright, mystical eye candy that reads like a riddle. You may recognize his surrealist work from gig posters for comics Marc Maron,
Mix a “Lola” with Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum brand ambassador Ashley Miller text by Scott Morrow Photos by Jon Shaft
Driving from gig to gig, playing mixologist, giving away free booze—week after week, it can get exhausting. Somehow, Ashley Miller and her Sailor Jerry cohorts muster the strength to enliven parties everywhere. Here’s her fall favorite, the Lola.
Drink of choice:
2 parts Sailor Jerry Rum 1 part sweet vermouth 2 dashes Angostura bitters Combine in glass over ice; garnish with an orange
shortcuts gear & games
Specimen Horn Amp Clarity meets efficiency with this Specimen apparatus, the Horn Amp. The speaker/amp duo combines an eight-watt, single-ended circuit capable of accommodating a guitar, banjo, violin, or harmonica with a 24-inch horn speaker that delivers defined, unsuppressed sound. Bonus: the Horn Amp’s retro-luxe appearance creates a conversation piece worthy of displaying. —megan dawson
Verellen Meatsmoke preamp pedal On a quest for a more explosive sound at a less perilous price, Helms Alee guitarist Ben Verellen designed the Meatsmoke preamp, made to compress robust tone into a single rack-mountable amplifier. Encased in thickset steel that’s ideal for relentless abuse, the Meatsmoke packs 200 more watts than its sister Skyhammer preamp and runs directly into a DAW, mixing board, or tape machine. —megan dawson
After a five-year hiatus, the Halo franchise finally returns with its newest installment and follow-up to the mammothly successful Halo 3. Resurrected by 343 Industries, the game promises relevant connections with previous Halo installments, challenges that go beyond the predictable first-person shooting scenarios, and invigorating, high-quality sound, most of which was organically recorded using fire, ice, water, and even homemade explosives. —megan dawson
Nintendo amps up its first-generation Wii this season with the Wii U console. Easing into a more modern concept with a part-touch-screen, part-classic-Nintendo controller, the six-inch GamePad has a camera and built-in microphone (likely designed with Nintendo’s new social network in mind) that will allow users to video chat. The screen also allows gamers to continue to play games without delay once the TV set is shut off, appeasing frustrated wives, girlfriends, and moms around the world. —megan dawson
Riding Route 66 on the Triumph America
After three days of desert debauchery (thank you, Coachella), I decided to ride back from California to Chicago via Route 66. Here’s what I figured out. I rode alone. The desert is hot as fuck; by noon it was over 100 degrees. I trust my bike but packed a dozen frozen water bottles anyway. Dying from heat in the desert is not on my top-ten list of ways to go. Whoever designed wind farms didn’t give a fuck about bikers. They will try to blow you off the road. Avoid. I was excited to see Joshua Tree. You know what I thought by the time I got there? It was more hot-as-fuck desert. I kept moving. Everywhere I stopped, people wanted to talk. Old-timers especially, reminiscing about their old Triumphs. Seeing those
geezers’ eyes light up was one of the best parts of the trips. Arizona is amazing. Don’t die without having gone there. If possible, stop by Oatman for the wild donkeys and rows of bad-ass bikers eating ice-cream cones and posting to Instagram. Ghost towns are real—and creepy. The town of Two Guns sounds a lot cooler than it is. Texas is a huge, mysterious place, littered with animals, ranchers, and enormous spaces. Everything was big and kinda plunked down wherever. Sixty-Six in Oklahoma is beautiful. Bright green fields and little ponds and trees everywhere. It was one of my favorite patches of road—long, pretty, and quiet.
TEXT AND PHOTOS BY CHRIS FORCE
About the bike I rode a 2007 Triumph America with Triumph saddlebags and a Saddlemen tunnel bag. It was a perfect luggage setup, with just enough room and easy enough to pop off the tunnel bag at night. It also acts like a decent back rest. I test rode a pre-production Garmin Zumo GPS, which I liked a lot in the more urban areas. It was easy to use while riding, even with gloves on. I also rode with a Scala Rider headset, which was handy for making calls while riding, but I mainly used it to listen to music via Bluetooth on my iPhone.
Everything looks pretty shitty in Kansas. I had never been to St. Louis. It reminded me of Hartford, Connecticut—kind of pointless and sad. I ate at a Quizno’s and wanted to kill myself. It rained like crazy when I pulled home into Chicago. A nice “welcome back.”
shortcuts FILM & TV
Flooded Kingdom For Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, music supervisor Randall Poster hops aboard Benjamin Britten’s barge
Left: Album artwork for the Moonrise Kingdom soundtrack. Above: The cast of Moonrise Kingdom; director Wes Anderson.
When not battling restrictive copyright laws, being overruled by directors, or dealing with last-minute changes in post-production, music supervisor Randall Poster has what we all just assume to be a dream job: selecting and coordinating songs to use in film and television production. In reality, it might not be like being a “professional mixtape-maker” all the time, but the challenges also seem like part of the fun—particularly when matching tunes to the charms and idiosyncrasies of directors like Wes Anderson. Here Poster provides a little insight to his work on Anderson’s latest, Moonrise Kingdom, whose plot grew from the director’s childhood performance of the opera Noye’s Fludde (“Noah’s Flood” by composer Benjamin Britten).
JOHNNY CASH: the complete columbia album collection There are diehard collections and then there are diehard collections. A mind-blowing 63disc box set, The Complete Columbia Album Collection is the latter, collecting 59 separate albums from “The Man in Black,” including soundtracks, live albums, and other rarities. Each disc comes packaged with its original LP artwork (now shrunk to CD size), and an accompanying booklet provides the full list of credits and release info for each album.
For Moonrise Kingdom, how much easier, harder, or different was it to start with the large opera piece?
ing effect that would have on the storytelling. It’s the process that is so interesting.
Any time that there’s a strong impulse or direction, it gives a project momentum on the music side, and that’s always beneficial to the film and the process. In working with Wes, it’s not unusual for there to be a musical seed that evolves over the course of a process.
You can really alter the perception of a character or a sequence or a moment by changing the music, and as the pieces of the puzzle come together, it’s one of the points of the process that’s really the most flexible. You can very easily look at a sequence with 10 different pieces of music without any great physical effort, just with a bit of mental determination and a decent musical palette.
What has been the most interesting or unusual part of selecting music for Wes Anderson? It’s interesting when Wes has a musical idea that we try to follow. [For] The Darjeeling Limited, I was in Calcutta gathering Indian film music. Or for what we did with Seu Jorge and David Bowie in The Life Aquatic, it was a process of discovery in figuring out how these things were going to sound in Portuguese and how Wes was going to utilize them in the film, and what overarch-
How often are you denied permission to use something? Almost never, and I never give up. In terms of meeting Wes, it was my oath to him that I would do everything possible to get every piece of music that we wanted for a movie. And I try to serve all the other directors that I work with in the same way.
SKATE & SURF
WINDY CITY ROLLERS all-star sargentina text by Megan Dawson PORTRAIT by Thia Penta action photo by Gil Leora
If you think of dudes and disco music when you think of roller skates, think again. Tough chicks are sweeping the nation with roller derby, a contact sport on skates that is more gladiator than glamorous—and they like it that way. We caught up with Chicago’s Alisa “Sargentina” DePedro, Windy City Rollers all-star. The hard-hitter took off her helmet and pads to talk about hangover scrimmages and thigh circumference. What’s the most bad-ass part of roller derby? Knowing that strong is beautiful. Comparing thigh circumference to see whose thigh is bigger. Going against the social norms to create our own goals for our bodies. Watching the sport we love grow and become truly international. What music gets you amped up before a bout? “Fat Bottomed Girls” by Queen. How did you derive your nickname, “Sargentina”? “Sarge” was a nickname from childhood, and my family is from Argentina. I thought it was a great fit to bring them both together. What’s your post-bout cocktail of choice? PBR tall boys and a shot of Jamo. How do you and the team celebrate a victory? We usually have what’s called a “hangover scrimmage” the next day against the same team, so we celebrate quickly and then get some sleep so we can be victorious again the next day. If we are lucky enough to have the next day off, we’ll coordinate an outfit and win the after-party too. In San Francisco last year, we all wore mom jeans and big bangs and entered the after-party en masse as the Midwest Moms.
MY STYLE: FLYING LOTUS Photos by JUCO
Left: J. Crew Vintage Oxford long-sleeve shirt, $70 (jcrew.com); G-Star Raw jeans, $140+ (g-star.com); Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses, $145+ (ray-ban.com)
Just like his music, electronic producer Flying Lotus lets his style speak for itself. Pairing plain tees and button-down long-sleeves with denim jeans—and, apparently, never without some sweet shades—Steven Ellison keeps it simple yet suave. —mEAGHANN KORBEL
Below: Mossimo T-shirt, $10 (target.com); Ray-Ban Cats 5000 sunglasses, $135+ (ray-ban.com)
NO JOURNALISTS ALLOWED
FATHER J0HN MISTY & POOR MOON Eavesdropping on a pair of multitalented, Fleet Foxes-affiliated songwriters
P.O.S An anarchist dance party with Doomtree’s “Plain Ole Stef”
ith an ear for diversity and a
mind for critical thought, Stefon Alexander—better known as rapper P.O.S—has maintained operations as a multi-instrumentalist by day and rap artist by night. The early-30-something is a man whose DIY/punk upbringing aligns him more with Ian MacKaye than Kanye West, and that’s reflected in his many and assorted rock-band roles, including his current gig as keyboardist/vocalist for Marijuana Deathsquads.
INTRO BY Michael Danaher / Photo by Chona Kasinger
After playing in such acts as Pedro the Lion and Crystal Skulls, Poor Moon’s Christian Wargo and Casey Wescott found themselves as part of Seattle minstrels Fleet Foxes. Fellow talent Joshua Tillman—formerly known as J. Tillman—too became part of that equation, and the three partook in the band’s troubadour-ish tales and lovelorn harmonies. But while Wargo and Wescott began a classically folk-based side project called Poor Moon, Tillman decided to leave Fleet Foxes all together, beginning a new chapter as Father John Misty. Here Tillman and Wargo talk about evolving as songwriters, playing what you play versus playing what you like, and not singing like a sad wizard. Joshua Tillman: I remember walking into your closet room on Capitol Hill [in
Seattle] and seeing the complete Beatles songbook there. That was a really indelible image. I, at the time, recognized this huge chasm between the music that I was playing and the music that I liked, and those two things took a long time to intersect. Christian Wargo: Whenever I would get stuck or bored with my set of chords, I would go in and Paul [McCartney] would teach me a new chord or sequence of chords. You only need a handful to get yourself going and recognize how a change in a song works and why it’s so satisfying, and delay the gratification with these other chords and then drop this one in there. JT: It’s that deliberate-writing thing that I didn’t come into until recently. I don’t know that I could actually write a J. Tillman song anymore. Once you rip that membrane and you don’t believe in yourself as that person anymore, it’s almost impossible to go back to that. CW: [When I wrote the song “Clouds Below”] I kind of channeled what I perceived
Neil Young would do, and I literally took on the character of his voice. I will do that, even jokingly, if I’m stuck while writing. The lyrics sound less corny if you sing it with Neil Young’s voice. JT: I’m constantly ad-libbing songs in different genres and making words rhyme.
There was some weird little switch that flipped where I was like, “If I make the lyrics good and de-cheesify them a little bit while they’re still humorous…” That realization was like, “Dude, you have a big voice. Why are you singing like a sad wizard? That’s not what comes out of you when you are just singing in the moment or singing for fun.”
ISSUE 40 ISSUE 40
But no matter the project, Alexander continues to reinvent himself with each release. His latest as P.O.S, We Don’t Even Live Here, is a testament to his 360-degree perspective of both music and the world we live in. Here he discusses what has changed in his life as well as the new album’s danceable vibe and anti-capitalist theme. Is your life different on a personal level since you released Never Better in 2009? It really is—completely, actually. I think in the time between finishing Never Better, hitting the road to tour, and sitting down to start this one, my views on the way the world works are entirely different. I was
The many sides of stef When Stefon Alexander isn’t performing under the alias P.O.S, he keeps busy with an assortment of other projects, including his Minnesota rap collective Doomtree, the freak-out futurepunk group Marijuana Deathsquads (borne from hardcore band Building Better Bombs), and contributions to the Gayngs megacollaboration (founded by Deathsquads bandmate Ryan Olson). Overwhelmed? Here are a few selections from his discography to stay up to speed.
TEXT By Noah Davis Photo by Kelly Loverud
pretty mad, and I was looking to get everybody mad with me. And I feel like I spent a lot of my music-making career doing that, trying to point out what’s going on, what’s up with the world. Since then, I am a lot less about trying to get people to vote or think about politics and [instead] get people to go and make themselves happy. Go make your life work. Everyone is aware that everything sucks; everyone is aware that even the best things
Building Better Bombs Freak Out Squares (Init, 2007)
are still horrible and bad. With capitalism, everyone is kind of working for the enemy even if they don’t want to, at all times. What inspired the change in your new material and production, which are more danceable? I feel like with every record, I try to make some sort of change. I used to really rely on erratic, punk-rock-sounding beats to distinguish myself. Around the Audition
P.O.S Never Better (Rhymesayers, 2009)
Marijuana Deathsquads Crazy Master (Totally Gross National Product, 2011)
days, that’s what I felt like I had to do, so I could make these excellent aggressive beats and make it sound like hip hop and not rap rock. But I’m not trying to be that forever. I’ve been able to put a little bit of every kind of song that I know how to make on every record. This time I just tried to do it without guitars, distinctly. I feel like I didn’t lose any personality. I feel like if anything, it’s just a little bit sharper and easier to listen to. CONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE
No Kings (Doomtree, 2011)
Relayted (Jagjaguwar, 2012)
“Everybody is getting ripped off at all times.” —P.O.S What themes do you explore on We Don’t Even Live Here? The record is about recognizing that the world is a rigged place, and figuring out your own way to spin that into your favor. There are things that you’re supposed to do and things that you aren’t supposed to do. But the world that we live in is not necessarily framed like that if you [look at] big business and capitalism. You’re not supposed to steal from a store, but the goods from the store are produced in a world that is horribly irresponsible and is stealing the world from others, so you might as well steal from the store. Everybody is getting ripped off at all times. And even if you’re not getting ripped off, the production that is behind all of our favorite things is violently destructive everywhere. So what I mean when I say “we don’t even live here” is trying as hard as you can to remove yourself from a system that we all can kind of recognize is crumbling at the edges, where the infrastructure hasn’t worked—where the free market is punishing more people than it’s helping. And it’s a matter of, in a way that isn’t cornball, Rage Against the Machine, early-90s “Fight the Power”…how do we make ourselves happy without having to gobble bath salt all day long and work at a garbage job? It’s like an anarchy dance party! Does being in a rock band give you a different perspective that most rap artists don’t have? Yeah, maybe. I think that’s always what I’ve been into: upbeat rhythms. There can be only so many four-on-the-floor loops and rap beats that I can listen to before I’m bored out of my fucking mind, you know? That’s the biggest problem with rap: shit just gets boring, man! 22
THE BIG RIFF
JES STEINEGER OF COALESCE 1:39–2:07 of “Through Sparrows I Rest” from OXEP (Relapse) Straight C# tuning This riff was sort of a hard sell when I first brought it in during the OXEP writing sessions; it just felt a little too ’70s to the guys, I think. Once we worked with it for a while, though, it really felt right for the EP. [Bassist] Nathan Ellis’s first remark when he heard it was “oh no, Jes’s got ‘the bends’ again.” I love the feeling of bending chords in a riff, but it’s always a train wreck live because it’s so hard to match the guitar and bass. Like most Coalesce riffs (maybe even all of them), this one gets quite butchered live because of me overextending that bend.
text by John Dugan Photo by Christopher Häring
BLOC PARTY New frontiers, life after hiatus, and a return to Bloc rocking
umors of Bloc Party’s demise circulated after it concluded touring on Intimacy in 2009. Frontman Kele Okereke released an electronic solo album
in 2010 and hinted in interviews that he might have been replaced in the band. So it’s all the more surprising that the band returned in 2012 with Four, a rawer, more aggressive, rock-based take on the band’s energetic indie sound that also features a more confident, crooning Okereke. We caught up with the singer/guitarist to talk
about new frontiers, making Four, and dropping fiction into interviews. How did you repair the relationship with the band to the point where you were comfortable making a new album? That part was surprisingly easy. For all the
SOLO ON THE SIDE In 2010, Bloc Party front-man Kele Okereke released The Boxer, his solo and largely electronic debut, during a hiatus from the band. In many ways, he notes, the Kele album and subsequent EP recharged his figurative batteries, resulting in a refueled and resurgent Party. The new Bloc Party song “Truth,” on which you sing in an R&B style, could have been on your solo album with a different arrangement. Did making those albums change how you approach songwriting?
After spending six months in NYC to finish a book, Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke spent six more living as a Bohemian among the anxiety-ridden locals. Because his written stories were informed by conversations and observations, the lyrics to Four became much more spontaneous.
problems we have as a band, songwriting has always been something we’ve done quite easily, quite instinctively. We knew that within seconds of playing together in a room that we had to make a record now. The way we were playing had to find some kind of expression, had to come out. That sort of stuff, writing music, has always been pretty easy. Is getting back to basics part of the story of what you are doing on Four?
I don’t know if it was getting back to basics. I think we wanted to try a lean, stripped-back approach. In all of our history as a band, we’ve never done anything like that. All of our records, Silent Alarm and Weekend in the City and Intimacy, were all records that were quite studio-based records that we had to learn and take out on the road. We’ve never made a stripped-back record, and that was part of the appeal of this—doing something we’ve never done before. Originally, you were reacting to the sub-Coldplay trend in Britpop. Are you still reacting against that or commenting on what you’ve done before? To be honest, I think you are right. When we started, the focus was on the energy, and our songs needed to sound like they were alive. When we were writing Silent Alarm, every British guitar band sounded like some guy with an acoustic guitar, and it was kind of boring. I think this record is definitely a reaction to the sounds of our previous records and the sounds of the solo record that I made in 2010. If we make another record, I’ve got no idea what it would sound like, but I know it won’t sound anything like Four. It can’t; it would be pointless to repeat ourselves. One of the new songs, “Coliseum,” has a bluesy feel and metallic vibe. Are genres one of the new frontiers for the band?
Yeah, I think the way I’ve changed as a musician, songwriter, and singer, having done a solo project, [is] not so much in the recording but in the touring—not playing the guitar and just being a singer and focusing on my voice as a solo instrument. It definitely changed how I view the act of singing. I definitely feel more competent as a singer, [and] that has led into Four. It’s funny that you say R&B styling; I didn’t think anyone was going to notice that, but that’s what I was going for. I was trying to croon.
Yes—all the musicians in the band enjoying pushing themselves and exploring other styles. One of the few bands that we all collectively like is that British guitar band called Blur, which had a schizophrenic approach to songwriting. It was sort of like they were pushing themselves to explore aspects of punk or classic ’60s songwriting— even elements of classical music in some later songs. They seemed to be unafraid to try new things, and that takes a certain amount of skill as a musician, to play a competent blues break or jazz fill. It’s something that the inner quote-unquote musician in us likes to explore. It’s something that we’ve got to do more of, for sure.
How did that time making The Boxer affect where you are now?
I’ve just been doing promo weeks in Berlin, Paris, and Brussels, [and] I haven’t really lied at all because the journalists have seemed really engaged with the music. They are asking questions that make me think differently about what we have created. The job of the interviewer is important because it helps you frame and contextualize what you are doing. I’ve always valued the interview process. So when you speak to journalists and they’re not ready and they’ve just got questions from looking at your Wikipedia page, yeah, it’s a little dispiriting, and I have a tendency to make stuff up. It makes it more interesting because you feel like you haven’t been answering the same question for seven years in a row.
I think it was absolutely the best thing I could have done as a musician. It completely woke me up again. Being able to travel the world by myself and do my own thing, yeah, it completely woke me up. I would definitely like to make my own music again. PortraiT by Sarah Piantadosi
A BOHEMIAN IN RAT-RACE, USA
You are known for dropping fictional nuggets in your interviews. Are you still doing that?
HEIGHT FIVE-SEVEN text by Michael Nolledo Photo by Raquel Olivo
LA-based crate-digger Logan Melissa is a minority within a minority—a female among diehard vinyl collectors. An MF Doom and Madlib super-fan, she chronicles her impressive hip-hop, soul, jazz, and funk finds at HeightFiveSeven.com while showing off a personal style that includes two-piece bikinis and sundresses. What advantages and disadvantages do you have as a crate-digging lady? My breasts get in the way of me reaching forward. I have weak arms, and carrying a big stack weighs me down. Otherwise, there are no real disadvantages—it’s great! Plus…look, mom: I’m in a magazine! Do you ever try to match your outfits to the records you’re covering? Ha, no. Sometimes I’ll try to make my clothes thematically similar like the “Oxnard Stars” shirt I wore when I took photos for a post about Vanilla Fudge. (Oxnard, California, is the hometown of Madlib, who sampled Vanilla Fudge for a Lootpack record.) What are your digging habits? Cyberdigging is for the soulless, so I keep it strictly real world. I’m not so much into obscurity as I am into finding a really great deal on something. Ninety-ninecent bins are where I hang out. You don’t need to spend a lot to amass a supertight collection. What are the five most coveted records in your collection? The records I value the most have a life-experience component that makes them meaningful. I value my parents’ original Beach Boys and Parliament records, and a copy of this bluegrass album Old and in the Way. I have an original pressing of [Eazy-E’s] Eazy-Duz-It. But my rarest record is probably Rasputin’s Stash. ISSUE 40
TEXT By John Taylor Photo by Marshall Franklin Long
coffee with... Will Oldham / Bonnie “Prince” Billy
ill Oldham loves coffee. Will Oldham loves coffee so much that he has his own Kona Rose (Bonnie Billy) Coffee blend available through Drag City. Bonnie “Prince” Billy himself gives us the scoop on his favorite pairings and guilty pleasures.
How do you take your coffee? “Filter coffee”: black. Espresso either as a macchiato or with cinnamon, honey, and a splash of cream. What goes best with the Kona Rose Bonny Billy Blend? Deep breaths and morning wood sunk deep into fleshy wetness. Or a good weeding session, by which I mean out in the yard. What’s your favorite shop and city for coffee? If I can’t be drinking Bonny Billy Blend straight from Kona Rose / Drag City, I’d go to Quills or Sunergos in Louisville and get a macchiato. Or I’d go to Ipsento in Chicago and get an “Ipsento,” which has coconut milk, honey, and cayenne pepper in it. Do you have any coffee-shop guilty pleasures? I don’t know if this counts, but before singing I prefer to have an espresso with a shot of grappa or sambuca in it. If I can’t get that, then instant coffee with whiskey in it is great. Also, I pretty much like any coffee supplied in-room at hotels, motels, and B&Bs around the world. Decaf: sensible or blasphemous? Retarded.
Brother Ali The Minneapolis MC on home occupation and “user-friendly” activism
hortly after recording his sixth LP, Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color, Rhymesayers MC Brother Ali began working with the Minnesota offshoot of the Occupy Our Homes movement, dedicated to preventing families from being wrongfully evicted. He made quick headlines too: in June, he was arrested along with 12 others for trespassing while trying to prevent an eviction. Now Ali talks with ALARM to discuss his motivations for getting active as well as the relationship between his music and social causes.
schoolteachers, moms and doctors, chaining themselves and putting themselves physically in harm’s way, defending homes of black, brown, and white people, and red people and yellow people. That touched my heart, man. I’ve never seen anything like that in my lifetime. So I got involved and started interviewing homeowners and making my own videos, and tweeting, and inviting my fans to come out. I’m kind of making it my business to make this activism a little more userfriendly to people who don’t come from activist culture. I myself don’t come from that culture [of ] traditional activism.
What made you join this movement?
What was it like seeing the words from your songs become reality?
I saw white, middle-class, middle-aged
There’s always been a message to the music,
INTERVIEW By Meaghann Korbel
TEXT By Meaghann Korbel Photo by Lance Mercer
and I’ve always invited people to see themselves in other people the way I was taught to do. But...making music alone was no longer satisfying my sense of indebtedness that I have to myself and the community and the world. In my spiritual WE AIN’T LEAVIN’ community, Formed in solidarity with the Muslim the Occupy movement community of 2011, Occupy Our that I’m a Homes seeks to prevent the wrongful evictions of part of in homeowners stemming Minneapofrom the predatory lis, there’s lending practices and a long burst housing bubble of the late-2000s financial tradition crisis. Brother Ali has of feeding since joined the cause. people and advocating for people. I helped start a food program when I was 19. I worked full time at the mosque…I taught and things like that, but in terms of actually getting people together to exert some kind of power and control over our own destiny, [activism] just became necessary. I understand that you had finished recording the new LP by the time you began getting active. The thoughts on this album came during the Arab Springtime, when I made my pilgrimage to Mecca in late 2010. [The pilgrimage] had a lot to do with this new kind of awakening inside of me. [With] the thoughts I was having, and the kind of direction I was going in, it was perfect. But I think a lot of people were in that similar kind of place. A lot of us who really put our hope in the people we elected—all I know is that leaving it up to [the President] and a few other elected officials isn’t going to be enough. The common people have to really demand, in a nonviolent and forceful way, dignity and respect for the common people.
BRENT AMAKER & THE RODEO When you’re on the road as much as Brent Amaker, you’re bound to see some unusual things. And when your typical show includes burlesque dancers and “whiskey baptisms,” things can get downright weird. Here the country-western front-man shares a few stories about travelling with The Rodeo.
What’s your wildest and/ or weirdest backstage/tour experience? Most of our backstage tour stories involve some sort of unexpected disaster, like when we were playing the beer garden at Monsters of Rock in Europe. I had an urgent need to use the facilities and was completely unaware that the band had taken the stage. It’s not uncommon for them to start the show without me, because I normally make an entrance following some instrumental music. But this time the guys were stuck playing two chords for 15 minutes while I took a load off. The band kept the music going while Ben Strehle (rhythm guitar) ran off stage to hunt me down. But before he could find me, I realized what I had done. I’m not sure the band has forgiven me for that one yet. What’s the strangest or least conventional venue that you’ve played? It’s hard to choose between this swanky hair salon we played in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and a maximum-security prison in Antwerp, Belgium. Both were very strange. But because I’ve been inside a hair salon before, this one’s gotta go to the prison. Following our set, the warden hosted dinner and inmates served us steak. Once our stomachs were full, we were given a private tour of the place. The warden was very proud of his collection of vintage prison-movie posters (most of which were lesbian exploitation films). Who the hell puts prison-movie posters up in a maximum-security prison? And they were everywhere. The guards took our passports when we entered the prison gates; I was happy to get mine back and get the hell out of there. How many naughty bits have you seen in your day? I don’t keep count, but enough to know quality product when I see it. Less than John Stagliano, I suppose. More than Kermit the Frog.
TEXT By Bobby Markos Photo by Dan Raymond
another “sick” creation: getting freaky-pukey with mr. bungle bassist trevor dunn
wenty-one studio full-lengths could
spell one thing: redundancy. But The Melvins, whose back catalog reads like the Library of Congress, has recognized and conquered this plague with two tools in hand: reinvention and unpredictable match-ups. As if writing with Lustmord and Jello Biafra wasn’t enough, Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover recently joined forces with famed Mr. Bungle bassist Trevor Dunn to form “Melvins Lite.” The trio’s first effort, Freak Puke, has it all: bowed and plucked upright bass, metal riffs, classicrock flourishes, pick harmonics, punishing drums, and Osborne’s distinct vocal delivery. And to bring it to the masses, the band undertook an ambitious fall tour of the 50 United States plus Washington, DC, in 51 days. We chatted with King Buzzo about the band’s (latest) new direction. What spurred the collaboration with Trevor Dunn? We felt sorry for Trevor—that was the main thing. [Laughs] No, I thought it would be a good idea to do something with a standup bass player; we’ve never done anything like that before. We really did it traditionally. It’s straight mic-ed standup bass. And he’s such a great player that I knew we could do something cool. How does the dynamic compare to working with the guys in Big Business? It’s a completely different animal. We managed to make it work in the confines of what we’re doing. It still sounds like us, but it’s totally different. The Melvins would sound like The Melvins even if we were playing ukulele. Do you think there will be future Melvins Lite albums? I hope so. I want to do as much as we 28
can—whatever makes sense. I’d love to do a combo of both bands at once: Melvins Heavyweight. Did you and Dale go into this session with specific ideas in mind? Or was it just jamming with Trevor? I wanted to make sure we focused really heavily on how it sounded. I wanted to make sure the standup bass stood out a tremendous amount. That’s pretty much what our focus was, to utilize that instrument as much as possible. It’s the first thing you hear on the record.
Was it hard to put together in the studio? The guy we record with (engineer Toshi Kasai) is a genius. He thought about it a lot before we did it, and he put together some great mic-ed bass. Part of this was working with great people. If you play with good players, you’re halfway there. How does the support of your record label, Ipecac, play a role in this? They trust us, and they were extremely excited about this new album. I don’t think they were surprised that it’s good,
TEXT By Saby Reyes-Kulkarni Photos by David Milne
51 in 51 Not ones to back down from The Flaming Lips’ world-record challenges, The Melvins spent September and October trying to become Guinness World Records holders for touring all 50 United States (plus DC) in 51 days.
Squarepusher Bending minds and blending senses with the electro/bass maestro’s new A.V. experience
but I think they’re surprised that it is as good as it is. They knew it would be cool. I’m really happy with it. Do you have any more writing planned for this year? We have a lot of work planned for this year. And we have a lot of things that we’ve recorded that are going to come out that no one knows about yet. So it’s going to be a good year—before the world ends at the end of the year.
n his latest album, Ufabulum, trailblazing bassist / electronic musician Squarepusher (neé Tom Jenkinson) abandoned live instruments in favor of a strictly digital approach. But beyond the music—a mix of pulsing beats and breaks, squelches, bass rumbles, and familiar Squarepusher melodies—Jenkinson’s accompanying live show has stolen headlines. Like a joint alien transmission and multimedia art show, the luminescent setup flashes monochromatic LED patterns on a pair of large screens and a custom-made mask. Here Jenkinson takes us inside his dream- and synesthesiainspired visuals. How much did you have visuals in mind while you were making the music on Ufabulum? Often I experience an imaginative effect from music—and have done for all my life. The music will bring about anything from a sensation of color to an ISSUE 40
I generally introduce rules on any session—whether that session is an album session that incorporates lots of different pieces of music or one single piece of music. For example, for Music is Rotted One Note, one of my rules was that there was to be no sequencing whatsoever—no MIDI, no samplers. Arbitrary though they are, rules always turn out to be quite useful. You’re not playing bass this time around, but if you designed an LED display for the bass, it would probably make Bootsy Collins’ eyes pop out. [Laughs] Well, that’s a lovely idea. There’s plenty of ideas being batted around. I’m particularly keen on the LED helmet because it brings the presentation around to a mental image. It’s like a quantized view into my mind’s eye. I’m also trying to develop polyrhythmic implications from the way the visuals are happening alongside the music. If you imagine playing one beat with the sound, and the next beat comes with the picture, finding some sort of polyrhythmic contrast between what’s happening visually and what’s happening rhythmically.
arrangement of simple shapes to a narrative through time. With this project, I was trying to focus in and represent some of those images. More often than not, they’re abstract rather than referring to “real” situations. How much did the visuals inform and shape the rest of the music that you came up with? That was also part of the investigation, to see whether pictures would feed back into musical information. I must say, though, that the link for me going in that direction is a lot weaker. When I look at objects, they don’t tend to evoke sound for me in the way that sound evokes images. But still, I was keen to see if anything would happen. I think that there’s a lot of room for further investigation.
synesthesia and squarepusher In our book Chromatic: The Crossroads of Color and Music, ALARM examined artists who have merged the aforementioned mediums in striking fashions, including musicians and composers who experience synesthesia, the involuntary commingling of senses. Squarepusher, who experiences a form of chromesthesia (seeing color from tone), has reflected this, whether intentionally or not, in his recent cover art.
Some of the imagery for this music, like your previous work, was inspired by dreams. Dreams are hard to translate to LED displays. It sounds like you’re making use of the limits of that format. Possibly. There was a deliberate attempt to rule out the parameters that were available. For this, I’ve been largely operating in monochrome. So the color aspect of this hasn’t really been investigated. There are certain motives for that, one of which was a very practical one, which was to try to cut down the available options at any given point in the recording and image-making process so I wouldn’t be getting lost in a sea of options.
Ufabulum (Warp, 2012)
Shobaleader One: d’Demonstrator (Warp, 2010)
Also, this particular medium offers its greatest intensity in black and white, when you display 100-percent white on these backflow screens giving all they can possibly give in terms of the output of the amount of light and brightness. But there’s a whole lot further I can go. How much do these limits apply to the sonics as well?
Numbers Lucent EP
Just a Souvenir
TEXT By Michael Hilleary Photos by Noah Kalina
Dirty Projectors INVOKING EXPLORERS OF OLD, SONGWRITER DAVID LONGSTRETH ACHIEVES DISCOVERY IN SECLUSION
ave Longstreth has behind his band’s breakthrough 2009
one hell of a view. Slumping his lanky frame in a plush leather chair, the Dirty Projectors front-man has been given a room in Brooklyn’s Wythe Hotel that has a massive floor-to-ceiling window, displaying the island of Manhattan in stunning panorama. The funny thing, as Longstreth points out, is that the accommodations are a bit superfluous. “I live just a couple blocks that way,” he notes.
album Bitte Orca, Longstreth hid himself away, renting a house in upstate New York for the sole purpose of writing and recording new songs. Narrowed from more than 50 demos to 12 final tracks, the resultant Swing Lo Magellan is Longstreth’s attempt at concentrated songcraft. “This album, for me, is just about the songs,” he says, “this idea of a verse and a chorus and lyrics and melody.”
Despite the junketed overkill of the meeting place, Longstreth can attest that time away from home can really clear one’s head for answers. Last year after touring
We toured a ton on Bitte Orca, particularly in 2010, when we did a lot of festival runs and I’d wind up back in New York for an odd amount of time. And it’s not the most
What prompted you to write and record the songs where you did?
relaxing place to return to, so we started spending a little time upstate. It just seemed like a cool place. How long did you stay? About 10 months. Was it difficult being alone for such a prolonged period of time? For some reason, I imagine you thriving in that type of environment. I did in this situation, yeah. I think one of the [reasons] why I wanted to do it was [because] my freshman year of college, I didn’t really have—I hated college. I didn’t have many friends or people that I wanted to befriend, so I just spent a ton of time alone. And I wrote songs and recorded constantly. It was a moment when I really started to develop a personal approach to music, a personal language. So I wanted to do that again. I wanted to incubate a bit. I’d be up there for four or five days at a time, and I’d come back down, my friends would be here, and we’d go out. But it was amazing to just be able to dip all the way inside your mind and then come out.
“An unfinished room is a great place to write songs, where there’s this idea that it’s not done yet.” — David Longstreth So what’s the dynamic like when you get the rest of the band onboard? It’s different every time. Every batch of songs is its own character, so it’s new all the time. It’s funny when you start rehearsing things because different instruments need to be practiced in different ways. The singing requires a totally different act of practicing than the rhythmsection stuff. It’s a process. A number of your past works center on a larger concept. Is that so for this album? Well, an album like Rise Above is organized around this idea of rewriting from damaged memory. The Getty Address is like this weird narrative about a teenage Don Henley in a dreamscape post-apocalyptic America. And it was easy, for those, to think in album-length terms. Getting super into Dylan and, honestly, Lil’ Wayne made me start to think about a song being 32
its own universe, and taking that entire world and putting it into one song and doing it again and again. Why did you choose Swing Lo Magellan as the album title? I like the idea of the album having a presiding spirit. I love John Wesley Harding by Bob Dylan, and I love how the spirit of John Wesley Harding abides in that collection of songs. One of the things that started to unify these songs was the feeling that maybe Ferdinand Magellan might be a figure that hangs over all of them, this idea of navigating something that can be mapped, or the idea of what it is to explore in a world that’s fully gridded. What sticks out the most from your residency in the house? Just writing music, recording all the time. It was a great time to obsess over songs,
MOUNTAINS AND MOONSHINE To concentrate on writing his band’s new album, Dirty Projectors’ David Longstreth headed for the remote mountains of northern New York, where he lived in the “weird, ramshackle frame” of an ex-bootlegger’s abode.
how they’re made and what they can mean, what you can do with a song. [The house] was kind of weird. It was built by bootleggers in the early part of the last century. It was kind of like this weird, ramshackle frame, and it’s in a part of the mountains where it’s so steep and rocky that people couldn’t really farm. The house is in this weird, little hollow, and apparently, up and down this little hollow, everybody was just a moonshiner, a bootlegger. The local legend was that the house was abandoned in the middle of the night. And the house was like that for 30 or 40 years before this guy bought it and started fixing it up. But then he never really finished it. It turns out that an unfinished room is a great place to write songs, where there’s this idea that it’s not done yet.
QUEENS OF ROCK
TERI GENDER BENDER Born and raised in Denver by Mexican and Spanish parents, Teresa Suaréz (known professionally as Teri Gender Bender) has, like many, a bicultural identity. Her garage-punk band Le Butcherettes—which began in Guadalajara, Mexico—is a product of that identity, particularly the differences in gender expectations that she has witnessed between the North American neighbors. Though Suaréz has toned down her stage show from the days of using bloody aprons and severed pig heads (she’s vegetarian, actually) as anti-sexism symbols, it still brims with the fuck-you defiance of a bad-ass feminist rocker. She’s aware that her sex and gender have brought “superficial pros and moralistically damaging cons,” as she puts it, but she’ll use any means necessary to elbow her way into the rock-and-roll boys’ club.
Le Butcherettes LOCATION:
“I am not bothered that my legs have somewhat helped me get shows in Mexico,” Suaréz says. “I would like to think that my hard work at music, composing, [and] being a better person has affected my career. Funny enough, I know more men who try harder at using their sex appeal than women. Ricky Martin, anyone?”
Los Angeles, CA GENRE:
Garage punk INSTRUMENTS:
Guitar, keyboard, vocals
Suaréz’s parents originally fled Mexico after surviving a pair of kidnapping attempts. When her father later passed away in the States due to a heart attack, her family moved back to Mexico, where she formed Le Butcherettes as a reaction to the culture gap. The band has since relocated to Los Angeles and gone through lineup transformations, including the addition of Omar Rodriguez Lopez on bass, but it retains the impassioned attitudes that Suaréz, still only 23, formed in her youth.
__ TEXT by Scott Morrow Photo by Shelby Duncan
“There are so many flaws ingrained in our culture,” Suaréz says. “I was unhappy with Mexican politics and old customs that would insult my intelligence... so getting a shocking response from the people at the venues was what I was subconsciously looking for, even though I was against it. Nowadays I just like to look people straight into their eyes—and get an honest response.”
Felix Martin explains the 14-string guitar TEXT By Felix Martin / Photos by Olivia Jaffe
» WHEN I started playing guitar, I wasn’t very exposed to fingerstyle techniques. It was difficult for me to get, and it was really a pain to watch all of my friends playing all of the classical tunes, tangos, and blues using finger style. So I imagined myself playing all of those styles of music, but without using finger style. The first idea that came to mind was using a piano approach on a standard guitar (also known as touch style or two-handed tapping technique). After a few months of practicing exercises that allowed me to gain strength and independence on both hands, I started to arrange all of the tunes that my friends used to play, but with tapping. It was quite a challenge, but it helped me in the long run to develop my current technique. After a few years of tapping on a single guitar, I started to experiment with two guitars at the same time. It was a bit uncomfortable because you can’t see both necks very well, and the tone from the guitars was sometimes different. I felt like I needed an instrument that would fit better with my style of playing, and the result was the 14-string guitar. The 14-string guitar is basically two equal seven-string guitars in one wide neck. Both necks include the same guitar pickups, same tone, and same tuning (B-E-A-D-G-B-E). Yet what makes this instrument unique is the techniques that I use when I play, such as two chords at the same time, slap-and-tapping, melodies combined with two hands, power chords on both necks, etc. There are infinite possibilities when having two guitars with the same sound, using different outputs for each. »
MARTIN’S MUSICAL INFLUENCES
Planet X: Live from Oz
Spastic Ink: Ink Compatible
Charlie Parker: Yardbird Suite: The Ultimate Collection
Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool
Alex Machacek f. Terry Bozzio: (Sic)
Panzerballett: Starke Stücke
Ensamble Gurrufío: Gurrufío en Vivo
Sometimes I use Velcro on the second neck so I only have open strings available on the first.
Use Velcro to mute (or dampen) strings
The guitar Two equal seven-string guitars in one wide neck
Tinker with tone
Practice technique and independence Piano style
Low action on strings Get low...and get light
Arrange tunes for tapping Play to your strengths
do the same exercizes you did for developing technique on a regular six-string guitar (chromatics, scales, etc.). For independence, try practicing different rhythms (or note values) on each hand. Start very simple.
this will allow you to tap in a smoother and easier way, but it is not 100% necessary. You can also adapt your tapping technique on your current instrument without modifying it. I personally use low action and .008-gauge strings.
this is the most important tip. When arranging songs using your own creativity, you will discover your uniqueness on your instrument.
Experiment You are your only limitation Like I said before, there are millions of possibilities when having two guitars with the same sound and when having different outputs to use different processors on each of the necks. Enjoy!
GodCity with Kurt Ballou of Converge TEXT By Jeff Terich / Photos by Simon Simard
Had Kurt Ballou never been laid off in 1998, GodCity Studios might never have been established. The Converge guitarist and noted metal/hardcore producer and engineer was working as a biomedical engineer during his band’s early days when his project was canceled, leaving him with a dilemma: accept a new position with the same company, or take a severance package? Ballou opted for the latter, and he used his compensation to set up the beginnings of the highly sought studio in Salem, Massachusetts. GodCity has been the origin point of dozens of albums from metal’s heaviest hitters in the past 14 years, from High on Fire to Trap Them, Torche, and Kvelertak. It’s stacked with homemade instruments, a wall of amps, a modular mixing console, reel-to-reel tape,
and a PC equipped with ProTools. During this visit to Salem, Ballou gave us some insight into his equipment, lessons learned over the years, and what he’s been able to apply to his own music. You’ve built some of your own guitars. Do you have a specific goal in mind when you’re working on custom equipment? A lot of it is just the fun and reward of actually making something. If I wanted a new bed frame, I could have bought one. But I wanted to buy some hardwood and a router and make my own. A lot has to do with that, just working with your hands. I started making guitars for friends—they started asking advice for putting together their own guitars out of different parts you
Don’t fear the beard: guitarist/engineer Kurt Ballou will make you feel right at home at GodCity, from the production to the pooches.
can order. But I started getting into the nitty-gritty kind of specs like fret wire, the scale of the neck, that kind of stuff. So I thought, “A lot of this stuff I can do myself,” and started to do my own body shapes. So it’s kind of a fun project for me. I’ve learned a lot about building guitars and the types of woods and types of electronics—what works and doesn’t. And it’s also nice to be able to source material from local suppliers. What’s your favorite effects pedal here? Probably a FoxRox Octron2. It’s this really cool octave fuzz pedal that tracks really well. It’s great for solos, even though I don’t do a lot of solos. It’s a solo machine. What one piece of equipment could you not do without?
A HARDCORE WHO’S-WHO Since opening shop in the late 1990s, Kurt Ballou’s GodCity has recorded a staggering amount of great heavy bands, from High on Fire to Torche, Trap Them, Kvelertak, Genghis Tron, Misery Index, Disfear, Isis, Cave In, and (of course) Converge.
Nothing, really—they’re all just tools, basically. I could make a record in another studio and it would be fine. As long as your tools are of reasonably good quality, a lot of it is splitting hairs. A lot of things sound similar, but as long as you have professional equipment, it will come out good. I can say that I wouldn’t be able to capture a certain sound without such and such pedal. But they’re all just tools. How has your engineering and production work affected your career with Converge? I think they’re kind of related to each other. It’s part of the process for me. Everything you can do that’s musical and can expand your understanding of how your role fits into the scope of the ensemble is going to benefit your ensemble. I’ve had to listen to thousands of songs on repeat, and now I think I have a better understanding of what’s more captivating in a song, so I’m a lot more song oriented now and less riff oriented. I’ve become more aware of what it’s like to be a fan than a consumer through recording. If people are going to spend hardearned money, I want to make sure I’m putting out something of value.
Hydra Head Records TEXT By Bobby Markos / Photos by Nathanael Turner and Faith Coloccia
clockwise from top left: mark thompson with attie the dog, mark with torche’s giant orange head, james o’mara
While most adolescents were making undergraduate plans, Aaron Turner was laying the groundwork for what would become one of the most important chapters in hardcore history. Hydra Head Industries was born as a distribution company in 1993, released its first seven-inch (the influential Vent demo) in 1995, and proceeded to give bands such as Cave In, Botch, Coalesce, Pelican, and many others a home. Nineteen years later, Turner—a vet of Isis, Old Man Gloom, Split Cranium, and others—is just as active, and he recently spoke to ALARM about what makes his label tick. What inspired you to start a distro at such a young age? As soon as I discovered the underground network and music of hardcore/punk, and realized it was something in which I could be a direct participant,
I felt immediately compelled to do something. I grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where there wasn’t much youth culture to speak of—very little in the way of shows—and as such, the discovery of this vast system of labels/zines/bands, etc. was a huge revelation for me. I wanted to play music, be in a band, but couldn’t find the right people to play with, so the next logical steps for me were to do a zine, a distro, and then eventually a label. The distro thing served two purposes for me: I could get records cheaply that weren’t available in my area, and I could provide the same opportunity for others. It was really just a gateway to starting the label and an important part of figuring out how to do things and establish contacts. What was the biggest adjustment in turning Hydra Head into a full-time label? ISSUE 40
dra Head—we grew up too fast and got a bit ahead of ourselves. We couldn’t see the temporary nature of some of what was happening and, as a result, took it for granted, which of course is never a good thing. That hubris left us flat on our ass scrambling to recover for quite some time after the boom. In a lot of ways, we’re back where we were when we started working with Cave In, scrambling to figure out how to keep the ball rolling and simultaneously meet our lofty ideals. What active bands (HH or otherwise) really excite you? There’s too many to adequately catalog, but here’s a few that spring to mind. I’ll stick to non-HHR bands and artists: Oren Ambarchi, Ilsa, Converge, Daniel Menche, Deathspell Omega, The Bug, William Fowler Collins, Horseback, The Melvins, Jon Mueller, Oranssi Pazuzu, Thou, Keiji Haino, Profetus, Blut Aus Nord, Richard Skelton, Craft, Lasse Marhaug, Tragedy, Kevin Drumm, Mika Vainio… Where do you see the label going from here?
Los Angeles, CA, and Seattle, WA Year founded: 1993 Employees: 5 Genres served: Plenty Current # of recording artists:
13 Lifetime total of recording artists:
It happened so gradually that there really wasn’t much of discernible division between when it was part time to when it became full time. I think the biggest stumbling block along the way has been trying to figure out how to turn a passion for releasing records into a viable, sustainable business. In some ways, we’re still struggling with this. We love music, we love fancy packaging, we love helping bands do what they do— sadly, those loves don’t always mesh well with being a functional entity that can pay bills and keep things moving along. What does Cave In’s amazing career arc (to RCA and back) say about Hydra Head? In a certain way, Cave In and Hydra Head grew in tandem from the late ’90s into the early ’00s, with both entities expanding in some unforeseen and perhaps unintended ways. The growth was very positive for the most part; I think we had opportunities to reach well beyond the borders we’d originally imagined for ourselves, and were able to make our passion into our living, at least for a period of time. The underground realm we inhabited experienced a surge of which we were a small part, and it certainly was exciting to see it all unfold. In some other ways, though, this growth presented pitfalls that later tripped up both Cave In and Hy-
At this point, I’d be happy to just keep goBest-selling ing, to be able to keep releasing records. album: Eugene S. Robinson’s It’d be nice if we got to work with some of Fight: Everything You Ever our other favorite artists that we haven’t Wanted to Know About had the chance to yet (see above list for Ass-Kicking but Were some references), and to find a greater deAfraid You’d Get Your Ass gree of stability than we have right now. Kicked for Asking 2xCD With that said, I feel lucky that we’ve Website: been able to go as far as we have, and evhydrahead.com erything else that happens beyond this point will be an added bonus. I’d also like to encounter some unexpected twists and turns along the way—anything that becomes too predictable has a tendency to stagnate, so further adventures of any kind are welcome.
left side: andrew cox below: aaron turner at the seattle office
SAN FRANCISCO, CA With specialty coffee shops, artisanal cocktail bars, and the highest number of restaurants per capita in the USA—not to mention a great music scene—San Francisco practices a refined hedonism for fun-loving foodies. Make sure to hit these places by the Bay.
Text by CONNIE HWONG
THE FILLMORE Japantown
For nearly 45 years, San Francisco’s historic Fillmore has hosted artists across the rock spectrum, including many psychedelic notables of the 1960s. It’s still a great room with its own quirky traditions: fresh apples are always available to any concert-goer with a fruit craving, and the venue commissions artists to create unique posters (distributed for free at the end of the night) for sold-old shows.
RETRO ROCK-’N’-ROLL LODGING
PHOENIX HOTEL LUNCH WITH A LAP DANCE
Anchored on one of the ’Loin’s grimier corners, Phoenix touts itself as the crash-pad of choice for rock bands staying in town, due to its proximity to venues like the Great American Music Hall and the Hemlock Tavern and its free parking. And if the bus- and van-packed lot is any indication, the lightly revamped, ’50s-era motel actually hosts its fair share of rock dudes. Just remember: those pillows that you drunkenly hurled into the pool will end up on your bill.
This topless bar comes with a free lunch buffet. The lunch crowd ranges from Midwestern housewives to start-up nerds to bros, but it’s a great, friendly spot. Be forewarned: the ATM in here wallops a $20 “convenience fee.”
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FOR WARM BEER & COLD WOMEN
ZEITGEIST Mission District
Known for surly staff and an ear-searing jukebox catalog, Zeitgeist has evolved from a biker bar to a bicyclist beer garden. A few years ago, it finally dumped the porta-potties out back and installed real bathrooms, but the service remains delightfully gruff. There’s a killer selection of local beers, all drinks are served by the pint, and the greasy grill actually serves Niman Ranch-raised beef, grilled cheese, and veggie burgers.
A VIRTUAL (OR LITERAL?) WAREHOUSE OF MUSIC
AMOEBA RECORDS Upper Haight
GET UP CLOSE AND REALLY PERSONAL
bottom of the hill Potrero Hill
One of the best small music venues in town, Bottom of the Hill has an interior that emanates a junk-shop / Fiddler on the Roof aesthetic, a stage that can barely fit a three-piece, and a solid sound system. It has welcomed the likes of Mastodon, Bad Religion, Green Day, Andrew WK, and many more— both before and after they blew up.
EAT THE MOST CONVINCING FAKE MEAT EVER
GOLDEN ERA Tenderloin
Sure, it’s run by cult members who promote “the Supreme Master Ching Hai”—but at least it’s a cuddly, green-friendly cult that loves animals. This Vietnamese restaurant isn’t open very late and is closed on Tuesdays, but its dishes—noodle soups, stir fries, clay pots—feature some of the most uncannily realistic faux meats, including shrimp that are distressingly shaped and dyed to approximate their crustacean counterparts.
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This cavernous store (a former bowling alley, actually) is a Haight Street institution with vast selections of every genre under the sun, and an impressive roster of in-store performances. The no-frills interior reveals aisles packed with CDs, vinyl, DVDs, and the occasional VHS cassette— and imported rarities are a specialty.
mike patton’s sF favorites Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, Fantômas, Tomahawk, John Zorn’s Moonchild, Peeping Tom, solo albums, film scores, a million guest appearances—vocalist and composer Mike Patton’s credits are a mile long, and all extremely different from one another. His tastes in food, culture, and obscure hangouts are just as diverse. PORTRAIT by Bryan Sheffield
In addition to my favorite hotspots in San Francisco listed below, I’m frothing with anticipation for a new place in Oakland that one of my favorite chefs is opening, called Duende (468 19th St. in Oakland). Going to be one of the best! ALARM 38
5/22/10 12:44 PM
Food Tekka Japanese Restaurant (Inner Richmond) Of any place I’ve been outside of Japan, this reminds me the most about being there. It only seats about seven or eight people, tops. It’s like someone’s living room. There’s no sign—just a little window. I used to go right when it opened because it’s really hard to get into, and I remember once knocking on the door and seeing the guy sleeping on the floor. So he wakes up and turns the lights on, and we went in. I’m actually conflicted about telling people about this place.
Tonga Room (Nob Hill) This is the first place I bring people that are visiting. It doesn’t have anything to do with San Francisco, but we don’t have Disneyland here, and this reminds me of the Tiki Room. I can’t believe it’s still open. It’s like an oasis. I’ve always wanted to play a concert there.
La Ciccia (Noe Valley) The name means a lot of things; it’s slang for meat and fat. This is a Sardinian spot, totally family owned, where the husband cooks and the wife is the hostess. What I would get there is this thing called bottarga— dried fish eggs that they grate like Parmesan cheese over pasta. Also, their wine list is incredible. For the size and cost, it’s top shelf. It warrants five stars.
Philz Coffee (Mission District) I’m glad they’ve franchised out a little bit. If you’re an addict like me, you’ve got to trust your pusher.
Fields Book Store (Nob Hill) This specialized bookstore has been there 20, maybe 30 years. They pretty much only deal with occult stuff. It borders on the hippie thing, which is a total bummer, but it’s balanced enough that you can find cool stuff. It has the biggest Crowley section I’ve seen. They’ve got some really great special editions.
La Taqueria (Mission District) It’s the first place I go when I get back from a tour and the last place I go before I leave.
Robotspeak Paxton Gate (Mission District) I’ve bought a few crazy things in there; the last thing was some animal parts. I love the way Paxton Gate is dressed up as a natural history depot. It’s the most elegant place you can buy stuff like that.
(Lower Haight) If you’re a musician that’s into any type of computer gadgetry, this is the place to go. They were one of the first retailers to carry this instrument I just got called the Tenori-on. It looks like a cross between an Etch-A-Sketch and Battleship, and it makes music.
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LIFE ON THE ROAD
REFUSED Text by Scott Morrow Photos by Robin Laananen When Swedish hardcore group Refused released The Shape of Punk to Come: A Chimerical Bombination in 12 Bursts in 1998, the quartet was in trouble. The band, from the university town of Umeå in northern Sweden, had poured its heart into its final creation—a forward-thinking hardcore hybrid that needed time for listeners to catch up to it. The album was as much an assault on capitalist philosophy as it was a striking stylistic evolution, and it did its best to advance hardcore in the way that its titular influence, Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come, did with jazz. But the band wasn’t around for the belated accolades. Amid internal strife, Refused split up during a short tour of the Eastern USA in early October of ’98—before the new album even hit stores here. Little did the members know that the magnum opus, released by Burning Heart Records and distributed by Epitaph Records, would spread like musical contagion around the world. Though different members worked on a few projects together over the past 14 years—including singer Dennis Lyxzén and drummer David Sandström in hardcore-punk band AC4 and everyone but Lyxzén in Text—the music world was rightfully shocked by the 2012 reunion that give The Shape of Punk to Come its rightful live treatment. Here’s a look at the band, live and behind the scenes, touring North America and Europe earlier this year.
CONTINUED ON PAGE 49
LIFE ON THE ROAD
LIFE ON THE ROAD
Downtime? No wild after-parties for these guys. Hanging out, laying low, and rehearsing keeps Refused fully charged and prepared for the next nightâ€™s spirited performance.
LIFE ON THE ROAD
From Coachella to small clubs, Refused’s reunion has been as powerful as its final album—with the band expending every ounce of energy and singer Dennis Lyxzén (pictured below) going for max air at every show.
LIFE ON THE ROAD
“Can I scream?” Fourteen years off might make some bands rusty or wither some vocal pipes, but with a number of other projects over the years, the members of Refused have remained as tight as ever—and are especially grateful to play to crowds bigger than they ever imagined. 48
LIFE ON THE ROAD
“The funny thing about this band is that we’re still, 14 years on, true to the hardcorepunk culture that fostered us, thoroughly unimpressed with the ancient rock-’n’-roll tradition of after-show parties with cool people hanging around. Our core audience is not ‘cool,’ and neither are we. A few beers, a glass of champagne or two, a slice of pizza, and then we’re off to bed. Our crew admonishes us from time to time: ‘Come on, let loose a little. You’re supposed to be a rock band for god’s sake!’ But to us, the show is the party; that is the main event, and if you have energy left for partying when the last chord is struck, you just haven’t done your job properly. We feel this credo has never been more vividly expressed than in these intimate shots by our good friend and tour manager Robin Laananen (who most likely doesn’t mind being deprived of emergency phone calls at four in the morning, urging her to come fish one of us out of the Hudson or something).”
ALARM STAFF INVENTORY
SEVEN SONGS FOR A ROAD TRIP to ANYWHERE 1
Anywhere: “Anywhere” from Anywhere (ATP)
Metallica: “Wherever I May Roam” from Metallica (Elektra)
Killer Mike: “Anywhere but Here” from RAP Music (Williams Street)
The Magnetic Fields: “I’d Go Anywhere with Hugh” from Love at the Bottom of the Sea (Merge)
The Replacements: “Anywhere’s Better than Here” from All for Nothing / Nothing for Nothing (Warner Bros.)
Tom Waits: “Anywhere I Lay My Head” from Rain Dogs (Island)
End: “Ruin Anyone Anywhere Anything” from The Sounds of Disaster (Ipecac)
– David Sandström ISSUE 40
FANG ISLAND: LAUGHTER, POSITIVITY, AND TOURING JAPAN TEXT By Noah Davis Photos by Drew Reynolds
ang Island is laughing. Fang island
is constantly laughing. Jason Bartell and Chris Georges, the two primary songwriters for the Brooklyn-by-wayof-Rhode Island outfit, are sitting in the Greenpoint bar where they played their first show in New York. They sip Brooklyn Lagers on a muggy evening while wearing nearly identical jean jackets. The duo is discussing whether drummer Marc St. Sauveur would don the “Denim Daddy” attire on stage, ultimately deciding that he would refuse. Bartell and Georges giggle at the thought. The infectious enthusiasm is not an act. Fang Island described its self-titled debut as “the sound of everyone high-fiving everyone”—a statement that is simultaneously accurate and destined to lead profiles for the duration on the band’s existence. The band’s sophomore effort, Major, builds on the theme. It features more singing than the first album, which was chock full of melodies, riffs, and melodic ISSUE 40
riffs. But the DNA here is similar: free and fun, with enough hooks to hang the audience’s denim jackets. Everyone is still high-fiving everyone; now there are just more people watching. The recording sessions for Major took extra consideration for how the songs would transition to a live set. Fang Island, which started as a class project at the Rhode Island School of Design, had only played a few shows when it went into the studio to make its eponymous debut. As a result, the band had difficulty bringing the ideas on the album to the stage. The Major sessions were different. “We still tend to take a maximum-capacity approach rather than a minimalist one,” Bartell says, “but we learned that we had to play the songs live.”
“There is sadness to overwhelming joy. If you push it far enough, you end up there. That’s usually when the best hooks come out.” —JASON BARTELL The new album sounds like summer, with a mix of bouncy piano, soaring synths, fuzzed guitars, and sing-alongs. Opener “Kindergarten” leads the listener to a happy place, and the rest of the 11 tracks keep him or her there. Positivity comes easily for Fang Island, a group based on friendship, but adding depth to that emotion is more difficult than one might think. “It’s easy to do happy,” Bartell says. “It’s hard to do one notch past that. We try to push the sonic positivity of it so far that it becomes kind of sad again. It’s bittersweet. There is sadness to overwhelming joy. If you push it far enough, you end up there. That’s usually when the best hooks come out.” The New Hampshire native laughs at the absurdity of the explanation. Really, he and the boys just want to play. If people show up, wonderful. If not—well, whatever. Fang Island had few expectations for the 2010 debut, and the two songwriters sound genuinely flattered when they recall the first reviews. Positive sentiment
know your priorities Goals for Fang Island’s new album are, in order: worldwide positivity; worldwide acceptance of the guitar again; earning a trip to Japan. “That is our biggest hope,” guitarist Jason Bartell says seriously of the last one.
trickled in slowly. Bartell bought five copies of the issue of Skyscraper that featured his band. They were touring when Pitchfork gave Fang Island an 8.3 and slapped a “Best New Music” tag on the record. It was a wonderful endorsement, although it didn’t change all that much. “The night before we got that review, we were playing a show on the way to South by Southwest, and zero people were in the audience,” Georges says. “The next night, there were three or four.” But they kept playing and kept touring—eventually landing opening slots for Stone Temple Pilots and The Flaming Lips—and returned home to work on Major. Goals for the latest album are, in order: worldwide positivity; worldwide acceptance of the guitar again; earning a trip to Japan. “That is our biggest hope,” Bartell says seriously of the last one. Fang Island would be happy—no, ecstatic—if music got the band to the Far East. This is not the most ambitious of goals, but it’s realistic for the sonic landscape of 2012. “There’s no hope of us ever making money, at least not in the way you used to,” says Bartell, who works as an artist assistant when he’s not touring. (Georges is about to begin a job as a “manny,” which is another story entirely.) “At least that’s a total non-issue. It levels the playing field in terms of what you’re trying to get out of it. You almost have to be doing it for love at that point.” And they are. Whatever happens— album sales, strong reviews, trips to Japan—happens. Fang Island floats on. “I always wanted to be in a band, but I didn’t really ever think I’d be in one,” one friend says. “Me neither,” the other adds. “But it turns out that it’s pretty easy. You just need some friends and a guitar.” They both laugh.
riff resolution Due to Converge’s dedication to songcraft, some of the band’s shortest tracks take the longest to write. “We try to resolve songs,” says vocalist Jacob Bannon, “not just stack riffs on top of each other.”
CONVERGE: SALEM’S METALCORE VETS SEND HOME THE GUESTS FOR AN EXPLOSIVE NEW ALBUM TEXT By Jeff Terich Photos by Thomas Sweertvaegher and Reid Haithcock
eing one of the most
consistently devastating and innovative hardcore bands on the planet doesn’t come easy. In fact, it requires countless hours of hard work, a highly disciplined work ethic, and a level of stamina that even the youngest punks in the game can’t always muster.
Epitaph, is every bit the frenetic, necksnapping metalcore monster that two decades of aggressive precedent could have promised it to be. Yet even when sticking to some of the band’s shortest, most explosive hardcore throw-downs, front-man Jacob Bannon explains, there’s a dedication to craft and perfection that’s not always apparent to the casual listener.
“There are some songs that come together on any album in an hour or two, and some For nearly 20 years, Salem, Massachutake two years,” Bannon says. “And some setts-based metalcore titan Converge has of those songs that take a year are only continually pushed its intense sound to a minute-and-a-half long. But we try to new and progressively head-spinning resolve songs, not just stack riffs on top of extremes, hammering out 90-second each other. explosions of speed and energy on one track, while delving into a gut-wrenching mixture of emotion and melody the next. “We put a lot into writing and recording,” he continues. “There’s a lot of refinement. Though expectations are best left wide There’s a lot of attention paid to detail. open when approaching a new album And a lot of people may miss that because from the group, two things remain constant: it’ll never be half-assed, and it most we sound like a lot of noise to them.” certainly won’t be boring. Recorded three years after Axe to Fall, its 2009 predecessor, All We Love We Leave All We Love We Leave Behind, Converge’s Behind presents a back-to-basics sort of eighth full-length album and fourth for ISSUE 40
approach for Converge, in a few ways. The latest effort only features a handful of Axe to Fall’s left-field genre diversions like the Tom Waits-style dark blues of “Cruel Bloom,” and it doesn’t feature any guest artists, a rule that the band made when entering the studio this time. “One of the main things we wanted to do with this record is to have no guests at all,” Bannon says. “With Axe to Fall, we had a lot of friends who played on the record, and a lot of people misinterpreted that. Just because someone from Cave In or Entombed plays on a song doesn’t mean it’s not our song. And it ended up becoming a fairly large record. [The new album] is just the four of us.” Indeed, Bannon, guitarist Kurt Ballou, drummer Ben Koller, and bassist Nate Newton make quite the racket without any outside help. Though their latest boasts its share of brief, down-tuned hardcore sprints, it nonetheless runs a wide range of material, lack of folk-blues tunes notwithstanding. All We Love… begins with “Aimless Arrow,” easily the catchiest, most melodic Converge album opener to date, with post-hardcore riffs underscoring an impassioned vocal performance by Bannon. And it closes with “Predatory Glow,” a more slowly moving sludge beast that stands in stark contrast to where the record begins. In the remaining 12 tracks, the group explores the space between these poles, reflecting a mix of influences that the band’s individual members bring to the table. “I think it’s just part of our collective character in the band at this point,” Bannon says. “We all have different tastes and what we like to see in music. And we like to see the evolution of the four of us as a unit. We like to have certain things reflected in our songs. I never see our band as being one-dimensional. Even in our first records when we were kids, we had some of that, allowed our songs to breathe. And I think we’ve just grown out from there. “Even in the ’80s and ’90s, every metal band—like Testament—had power ballads. And we’ve never done that. But things like that were so blatantly produced, like a conscious decision to have this marketable song. We’ve never looked at it that way. We just want to make records that
are a listenable 45-minute piece. If it’s all go all the time, it’s going to get old.” For Converge, there’s no specific template to what goes into the band’s music. But in order for a song to make it onto an album, according to Bannon, it has to elicit something beyond an aesthetic appeal. “We don’t release a song unless we feel it’s good—it’s moving for us, it’s technically interesting to play,” he says. “And as our own critics and listeners, we put out what we want to hear from our band. I think it’s our best playing on this record. Some records you’re happy with them or you want to change, because you’re never content. It’s a very emotional album. It’s a very intense album. All albums are personal.” For the amount of work and dedication that the four members of Converge put into their music, their collective efforts don’t end there. Ballou runs his own
“It’s a very emotional album. It’s a very intense album. All albums are personal.” —JACOB BANNON studio in Salem, called GodCity, where he has produced records for a long list of clients ranging from High on Fire to Kvelertak. Newton and Koller each play in other bands such as Doomriders and All Pigs Must Die, respectively. Bannon, meanwhile, owns and operates independent record label Deathwish Inc. and works in graphic design, having created album covers for dozens of bands. It’s a lot to juggle, especially for a band as busy as Converge. For all its ups and downs, however, Bannon doesn’t predict a slowdown anytime soon. “It’s definitely difficult, but I don’t think I have a choice at this point,” he says. “This is the world I made for myself. I wanted to make something that provided for a variety of people to create a healthy working environment. I had to make a sacrifice, and my biggest sacrifice is time. I have to pay every bill that comes in and exist just like anyone else. That hustle is motivating to me. And in some ways, I enjoy it for sure. “But I don’t see any other way of doing it.”
“We try to resolve songs, not just s riffs on top of each other.”
“It’s a very emotional album. It’s a very intense album. All albums are personal.”
“I have to pay every bill that comes and exist just like anyone else. Tha hustle is motivating to me. And in some ways, I enjoy it. But I don’t se any other way of doing it.”
s in at
TIME WAITS FOR NO ANIMAL After 13 years apart, the iconic quartet reconvenes, “keeps on rowing”
text by saby reyes-kulkarni PORTRAITS by MICHAEL LAVINE LIVE PHOTO by DON VAN CLEAVE
s far back as its earliest releases—spare, low-budget affairs that straddled postpunk, metal, and sludge— Soundgarden demonstrated the command of space that would come to define its legacy.
As the iconic Seattle quartet’s career progressed, it sharpened the immediacy and force that made its early work so bracing, even as the seeds of its psychedelic tendencies came into full bloom. Each album would prove more expansive and ambitious than its predecessor, and by Badmotorfinger in 1991, Soundgarden had brought an almost topographic vision to its music. Now, after reuniting in 2010, the band once again evokes a variety of spaces and dimensions on King Animal, its first album in more than 16 years.
“When you’re recording,” says guitarist Kim Thayil, discussing the album’s production strategy, “you’re simulating the room that the band is in—specifically, that the drums are in. You kind of fill in the bass and guitars around that.” “There’s the actual room,” he adds, “but there’s also the implied room.” A one-time philosophy student, Thayil (pronounced THIGH-yill) comes off not unlike a music professor lecturing a class of studio interns. Production, he insinuates, is largely responsible for the carried-away sensation you experience when listening to music in your actual room.
tomorrow begat tomorrow Continuity and flow are recurrent themes on King Animal, Soundgarden’s first album in 16 years.
Of course, it’s safe to wager that the majority of Soundgarden’s fans now do their listening in different rooms than they did during the band’s heyday. As such, it’s fitting that King Animal abounds with references to continuity and flow. The first words that front-man Chris
Cornell sings on the album are “You can’t go home / no, I swear you never can.” The rest of the song, an up-tempo riff-rocker titled “Been Away Too Long,” contains lines that listeners will no doubt attribute to the quartet’s separation. And, though Cornell maintains that the song has nothing to do with the separation or reunion, lines like “You can walk a million miles and get nowhere / I got nowhere to go ever since I came back” and “this place has a special kind of fallen-apart” nonetheless imply the distance—physical, temporal, emotional—that band and listener alike have traveled since Soundgarden’s 1997 breakup. During the anthemic, fist-pumping chorus of “Been Away Too Long,” Cornell even shows some (perhaps tongue-in-cheek) ambivalence, intentionally contradicting himself with the line “I only ever really wanted a break / though I never really wanted to stay.” Elsewhere, the themes of time, water, collapse, and renewal all crop up again and again. One river runs dry, for example, while another demands steadfast paddling as a matter of life and death. Several times Cornell sings of uncertainty, unexpected outcomes, and going with the flow when you don’t quite know where you’re going. Not too long ago, no one—presumably not even in the band itself—could have foreseen the existence of this album. Well into 2009, Cornell—at the time promoting his electro-pop Timbaland collaboration Scream—insisted that a reunion with his former bandmates was unlikely, and that he was reluctant to risk tarnishing the legacy they had forged together. Then, as if out of nowhere, Cornell issued a vague but enticing tweet just after midnight on January 1, 2010. Four months of silence ensued before Soundgarden finally took the stage again for a homecoming show in Seattle. The band would go on to headline Lollapalooza that year and, by the following year, hit the road in earnest and begin work on what was to become King Animal. So how did we get here? “Well,” Thayil responds, “it’s not like we plan on the girl or guy we end up falling in love with. If you have a significant relationship currently, was that your target? I said in my head that I
“I SAID IN MY HEAD THAT I HAD NO INTEREST IN PLAYING WITH SOUNDGARDEN AGAIN. NOT THAT I DIDN’T LOVE THE GUYS, BUT I JUST FELT THAT CREATIVELY, IT WASN’T WHERE I WAS GOING OR WANTED TO BE. BUT LIFE IS FUCKIN’ SURPRISING. THERE ARE TOO MANY CONTINGENCIES YOU CAN’T ANTICIPATE OR PLAN FOR.” —KIM THAYIL
had no interest in playing with Soundgarden again, that’s for sure. Not that I didn’t love the guys, but I just felt that creatively, it wasn’t where I was going or wanted to be. But life is fuckin’ surprising. There are too many contingencies you can’t anticipate or plan for. I know a number of friends who’ve broken up with their girlfriends or wives and then, surprisingly, a few months to a few years down the road, they’re back together again.” Cornell is more direct, summarily dispelling any mystery surrounding the reunion: the four members of Soundgarden’s classic lineup—which includes drummer Matt Cameron and was rounded out in 1990 by the key addition of bassist Ben Shepherd—convened in order to reactivate the group’s business affairs. From there, Cornell stresses, the decision to make new music together arose naturally. “Even in that very first meeting,” he says, “where we got together and started talking about re-launching a website and starting our fan club again and creating T-shirts and reissues and all that, it started with ‘Are we interested in [playing again]?’ And then ‘Okay, well, how and what and where and when?’ Then a whole bunch of different notions started coming up: ‘How much do we want to do, and how far do we want to go with this?’” “Of course,” he adds, “it also had to hinge on ‘Is it going to be fun?’ and ‘Do we feel like we’re going to be good?’” Both Cornell and Thayil recount a scene where the creative flow was triggered almost by accident, after which the ideas came pouring quickly, with the same ease as they had in the past. “We were prob-
ably rehearsing [old material],” Cornell muses, “and someone started playing something new, and then we ended up spending the next two hours working on the new idea instead. It just kind of happens—somebody starts playing something and someone else follows it, and the next thing you know, there’s a song there. And once you have one song, it’s really a short walk to having ten of them.” “We had way more than enough ideas,” he continues. “If anything, our problem is usually that we don’t tend to have songs that we feel are leftover. That’s how Superunknown ended up with 15 songs and Down on the Upside has 16—which were too many, but everybody felt close to everything, and we didn’t really agree on what songs to take off. I see us as sort of there now. We don’t have as many songs, but we could. We would probably have twice as many if we didn’t have tour breaks.” As usual, each member contributed material to the new album, while various members wrote in pairs and other combinations in addition to jamming as a whole band. Every member, Thayil says, typically writes on guitar. “That,” he chuckles, “can sometimes make my job a little bit more difficult.” For his part, Thayil remained more active after the breakup than outside appearances would indicate. “I had ideas and played all the time,” he says. “But I definitely kept it to a minimum professionally. I was not interested in dealing with lawyers, managers, and record companies. I’d had my fill with the business aspect of the industry, which was really killing the creative side for me.”
King Animal arrives on almost three years’ worth of suspense—to say nothing of the previous 13. Since the first public rumblings of a reunion, Soundgarden has arguably proven that it can still summon the density, dexterity, and versatility required to tackle its back catalog in a live setting. But, aside from some modern guitar and vocal additions to the Badmotorfinger leftover “Black Rain,” the only glimpse of new material arrived earlier this year in the form of “Live to Rise,” the band’s contribution to the Avengers soundtrack. If the slick, blockbuster-friendly character of “Live to Rise” (which does not appear on King Animal) casts doubt over Soundgarden’s current direction, the album, though it’s filled with hooks, rarely delves into overt pop along the same lines. Meanwhile, Cornell at least brushes past the elephant in the room right off the bat. As motorboat-engine guitars propel “Been Away Too Long” into its second verse, he sings, “No one knows where the edge of the knife is.” Whether intentionally or not, Cornell pinpoints the question that looms over all reunions—and, of course, that listeners will look to this album to answer: can this band find its edge again? Whatever conclusion you draw, you can safely expect King Animal to surprise you. Yes, familiar Soundgarden hallmarks recur throughout: Thayil’s searing wah-wah solos, Eastern-tinged psychedelia reminiscent of Shepherdpenned tunes like “Head Down” and “Half,” the chiming guitar chord that bursts and leaves sparkling traces in the open air of songs dating back to “Entering” in 1987, etc. Nonetheless, the band delivers curveballs that would have
been unthinkable in the past, even in the broadened scope of its later albums. And no matter how well these moves work for you, it’s hard not to see them as compelling for their audacity alone. “Black Saturday,” for example, starts out as if it’s headed down the same ballad-rock path as Temple of the Dog, Cornell’s 1991 collaboration with Cameron and members of Pearl Jam. But the song advances in a spider-like sidestep; every time you try to fix on its stylistic position, it ends up somewhere else. It eventually settles on something akin to jazz as the chorus is overtaken by dissonant horns. It may sound like a distant cousin to the brassdriven Badmotorfinger deep cut “Drawing Flies,” but the attitude of the two songs couldn’t be further apart. In a contrasting vein, “Rowing” combines space-rock dirge with the traditional “field holler”/ work-song vocal style originally developed by African-American slave laborers on plantations, fishing boats, and elsewhere. In fact, for much of King Animal, Cornell adopts the R&Binspired croon that has typified his work away from Soundgarden. He employs it to hypnotic effect on “Rowing,” with its
memorable refrain “Don’t know where I’m goin’ / I just keep on rowin’ / gotta keep on rowin’ / gotta row.” During its initial period of activity from 1984 to 1997, Soundgarden cast an aura of aloof, at times even hostile, impenetrability. In the studio, producers such as Terry Date and Michael Beinhorn found it difficult to cut through the band’s resolve. “We’ve co-produced all of our records,” says Thayil, who notes that Cameron “took the reins” this time around. “We’ve always had a pretty good understanding of how we wanted to hear our songs recorded and arranged and the kind of sounds we were looking for. Creatively, we haven’t asked too much of producers.” This time around, the band again opted for producer/engineer Adam Kasper (Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, Hater, Seaweed), who has worked in various capacities on the last four Soundgarden albums in a row, starting with Superunknown in 1994 and including the archival Live on I-5 in 2011. “Adam has certainly given more creative input than he did on previous albums,” Thayil says. “I think that’s because we may have asked more.”
On a parallel note, the new album’s subject matter gives a more inclusive impression as well. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to listen to King Animal without contemplating how you’ve related to the artist that made it: the moments in your life that have been marked by that artist’s work, what its music once meant and has come to mean to you in the present, etc. Past Soundgarden albums were engrossing because of their lack of concern for the audience. But today, whatever age may have detracted from the band’s ferocity is offset by creative guile and a shift towards lowered guard. Whereas Soundgarden’s classic work fetishizes mortality, its new material plays on practical truths that apply to everyone: none of us can go back home and find it the same as we left it; none of us knows where we’re going, but it’s imperative that we keep going. If we don’t keep going, as Cornell points out on “Rowing,” we lose our way and die. Up against the relentless march of time, the song reminds us, we are all equal. And when it comes to reconciling our past, present, and future, King Animal leaves us with the distinct impression that we’re all in the same boat after all.
WOLVES IN SPACE: TOURING L.A. WITH MODEL / PHOTOGRAPHER / MUSICIAN BABE (AND PART-TIME COSMONAUT) SLOAN WOLF TEXT By Chris Force Photos by Sloan Wolf
was sent to an all-girls boarding school in the English countryside when I was 14,” says photographer Sloan Wolf. “I got in trouble at boarding school—a lot.”
The stunning New York City native seems to be setting us up, so we prod for stories of teen debauchery. Instead, we somehow end up talking about space and her Russian language studies.
“More than anything else, I want to go to space,” she says. “Russia is where you’d likely go as a private passenger into space. And I mean space space—none of this Virgin Galactic, sub-orbital, upper-stratosphere shit (with respect to Sir Branson). And if that dream fails to materialize, when I fall into a deep and hopeless depression, I can wallow in Dostoyevsky written in its original language.” Wolf, who now lives in Los Angeles, recently spent a week shooting for us to document her personal escapades with 35mm film, Polaroids, and a disposable camera. Though it was a fun assignment, there’s always something more fun waiting at home. “I couldn’t wait to go home and play Call of Duty,” she says. “My kill-to-death ratio is getting pretty decent, and I can trash talk the shit out of some 12-year-olds.”
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album profiles: animal collective swans dinosaur jr. judgement day beastwars + short album reviews
Dinosaur Jr. “A band, like many relationships, is a work in progress.” page 74 ISSUE 40
Photo by Atiba
ALBUM PROFILES 1 of 5
ANIMAL COLLECTIVE Centipede Hz (Domino)
hat would it sound like if a band from another planet somehow heard early ’50s and ’60s rock and roll and covered it? This half-serious anecdote is how Animal Collective keyboardist Brian Weitz, better known as his stage name Geologist, frames his band’s ninth studio album, Centipede Hz. For as amusing as it is to imagine extraterrestrials clattering to
The Hollies, Weitz’s rhetorical scenario points to the band’s creative motors at work, and how they manage to obscure influences beyond recognition. Over the course of more than a decade, Animal Collective—which, in addition to Weitz, includes David Portner (Avey Tare), Josh Dibb (Deakin), and Noah Lennox (Panda Bear)—has been all over the sound map. A listen to the band’s discography is an auditory experience that sounds like a big confusion of little details: overdubbed samples, glitchy feedback, ambient drones, bizarre harmonies, unpredictable vocal freak-outs, and genre-fusing weirdness are jarred, shaken, and spilled out on each record. So in following up the critically acclaimed 2009 album Merriweather Post Pavilion, it’s
expected that the collective would do something divergent from Merriweather’s accessible, ambient electronic pop. Centipede Hz is not only the first album to feature all four members since Strawberry Jam (2007), but it’s also the first album since Feels (2005) that has the band writing all together in the same space. “Soon after Merriweather, we knew we wanted to do something live and more visceral,” Weitz says. “And to do that, we had to be in the same room, not on headphones.” Returning to their hometown of Baltimore for three months and jamming in an old barn house on Dibb’s mom’s property, the members describe the sessions as having a workshop air to them. “We started out with a lot of improvisation,” Weitz says, “and those functioned as exercises to explore what sonic palettes
That mood translates to a sharp, metallic quality about the record, as if the electronic elements were run through frayed coil wiring soldered back together. Whereas Merriweather is digitally atmospheric and ambient, Centipede is raw and energetic with distortion and analogue synths. Album opener “Moonjock” assaults with a cacophony of static-drenched drums before moving into splatters of arpeggio melodies and Portner’s vocal runs. “Moonjock” is followed immediately by the even louder but inherently catchy “Today’s Supernatural.” Portner stutters his way into a seesaw of bright electronic textures and rhythmic bongos. His vocals are clear and defined, perpetually wired into the static discharge that energizes the musical landscape. Every song on the album seems fixed in a state of hyper-drive, strung together by odd frequencies and radio broadcast clips. “There are these things called air checks that radio personalities record to showcase their voice to prospective employers,” Weitz says. “If you listen to enough of them, you’ll hear the DJs doing commercials, all the IDs, and sound effects. We grabbed a bunch of those and made our own landscape. Radio sound design was definitely an inspiration for the record. It’s almost its own musique concrete.” As radio frequencies travel out of the Earth’s atmosphere and bounce and refract in space, one has to wonder whether Weitz’s figurative outer-space band isn’t far off. But it’s these peculiar sound choices that enlighten Animal Collective’s signature oddities. If anything, Centipede Hz demonstrates Animal Collective’s shape-shifting sound and staying power, while providing another opportunity to experience its ethereal, near-indefinable musical language in raw form. –Michael Nolledo
ALBUM PROFILES 2 of 5
SWANS The Seer 2xCD (Young God) Photo by Jennifer Church
interested us.” A few months later, the tracking sessions took place at Sonic Ranch in Texas. “I can’t stress how isolating it was,” Weitz adds about the 2,300-acre pecan orchard, which houses the largest residential recording studio in the world. “There were brush fires everywhere that made everything glow orange. It really felt like an expansive, strange alien world.”
he Seer, the new double album that follows Swans’ productive 2010 reunion and studio return, is a space in which to wander in furious mediation—as songwriter Michael Gira puts it, a “total experience.” Dense without losing immediacy, the album stretches over two hours of constantly shifting aural landscapes. This is a work to be enjoyed second by second, losing your mind to its deceptive repetitions.
“A lot of our songs are single chords, so you have to really develop the nuance,” Gira explains, hinting at the complex tonality of the album. Working within these boundaries, Swans sculpts the resonance of each sound into a complex and beautiful musical architecture. Overtones and sub-harmonics work subtle changes in a living soundscape that takes shape on the edges of each song. In composing, Gira says that he “thought of people rather than instruments,” leading to a
number of guest musicians that include Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker of Low; Seth Olinsky, Miles Seaton, and Dana Janssen of Akron/Family; Caleb Mulkerin and Colleen Kinsella of Big Blood; Sean Mackowiak (Grasshopper) of Mercury Rev; and Ben Frost, whose ambient sound work provides the introduction to “A Piece of the Sky.” “A Piece of the Sky” also features a collage of exmember Jarboe’s “pure vocal tones,” something that Gira says he feels blessed to be able to include in the music again. As for Sparhawk and Parker of Low, who toured with Swans during the 1990s, Gira admits that he couldn’t resist the opportunity to use their harmonies on the album’s first song, “Lunacy.” “They sound like prairie gospel, really incredibly beautiful,” he notes. Their singing adds a haunting depth and a dynamic interplay between harmony and dissonance that continues throughout the work. A pop singer, on the other hand, is an unlikely companion to the lineup, but memories of Willie Nelson brought Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs to the band when Gira heard her rendition of “Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.” “Her voice has a compassionate earthy quality…when she’s not screaming,” Gira says. Even more notably, however, three tracks— “The Seer,” “A Piece of the Sky,” and “The
Apostate”—have epic durations, eclipsing 74 minutes when combined. They are, simply, a realm unto themselves. Because Gira prefers to work by instinct and “let mistakes happen,” to create a “thread that leads to something new,” he has created progressive movements of sound, traveling through ideas that gather around Thor Harris and Phil Puelo’s steadfast percussion. Condensing melodic and rhythmic hints, the shorter songs serve to highlight and develop themes that are found in the longer pieces. The vibrant, interchanging sounds of “The Seer” coalesce in the haunting twostep of “The Seer Returns,” and “93 Ave. B Blues” comes on like a Tibetan Bon exorcism ritual, horns and chanting wails purging the psyche of unwanted influences. Throughout the double album, the music moves between evocation and exorcism, as melodies create visions that are reassembled and broken down through walls of rhythm and discordance. In his press notes, Gira states that The Seer is just “one frame in a reel” and that the band’s fall tours already contain a number of new, unrecorded pieces. As a result, concertgoers will continue to experience Swans as a living entity—one whose newest work already is a luminescent highlight in its extensive and diverse discography. –David Metcalfe
ALBUM PROFILES 3 of 5
JUDGEMENT DAY Polar Shift (Minus Head)
rmed with simply a violin, cello, and drum kit, Judgement Day began its existence with one goal in mind: to make metal and other types of nontraditional rock music using unconventional instruments.
The trio, comprised of brothers Anton (violin) and Lewis Patzner (cello) and drummer Jon Bush, actually got its start in performing acoustically on the street. As its heavy-metal ambitions came into focus, however, the band’s sound was modified by electricity,
effects, and experimentation. Peacocks / Pink Monsters, Judgement Day’s last full-length, exemplified the band’s far-reaching capabilities. Polar Shift, meanwhile, is just that—a step in the opposite direction, abandoning all bells and whistles and embracing raw, organic sounds. “We just thought that for at least one record,” Anton says, “it would be cool to show people exactly what we’re doing. It’s totally out, honest, and in the open.”
Photo by Josh Band
The trio retreated to the Patzner family’s cabin— The Barn, in Sea Ranch, California—to compose and produce the newest effort. With the help of engineer Riki Feldman, the group took advantage of the cabin’s large, wooden rooms and acoustics. Yet despite the focus on un-augmented strings, the album has a very percussive feel and an extremely wide range. Some moments, like the introduction to “The Jump,” make use of the
contrast between Bush’s plastic-bucket drum and the racing, harmonized strings. “Rednek Rumble,” which follows, then showcases a more “traditional” sound with old-time string-band undertones. Later, “Prelude in D Minor” is a brief but beautiful string duet, acting as a standalone intro for the chamberrock “Darmok.” Judgement Day left much of the “experimentation” this time to the writing process, which includes non-routine methods. (The closing track, “Altair,” was originally composed on acoustic guitars and then translated to violin and cello.) Likewise, there’s no true creative lead—each brother took turns brining in finished material, and both wrote new material around Bush.
methods, which I think helps encourage creativity. Judgement Day has given me a career as a versatile cellist, because the cello is a versatile instrument and Judgement Day is an outlet that allows me to display what it’s capable of.” Still harkening a bit to its metallic side, the darker segments of the album are reminiscent of full-on arpeggio sweeps and layered heavymetal choruses. But even then, the album speaks to the band’s songwriting depth, with much of it underpinned by classical training and music theory. No matter its output, Judgement Day seems to content to challenge itself and leave no stone unturned—while taking us along for the ride. –Bobby Markos
“We have no one way of writing music for this band,” Lewis says. “We use different
4 of 5
DINOSAUR JR. I Bet on Sky (Jagjaguwar) formula are still pretty much intact.” The Dinosaur magic that made records like Bug essentials to the American skate rebel remains—the band always sounds like more than the sum of its parts and unlike much that has come along since.
hen punk hit in the 1970s, it was popular to call the prog rockers and stadium-filling FM-radio vets “dinosaurs” for their size and presumed extinction. That only made it more fun for J. Mascis and his pals to dub their thunderously loud Amherst, Massachusetts, trio Dinosaur in the mid-’80s (it added the Jr. on its second album) to confuse things a bit more. The band dealt in volume and aggression learned in hardcore act Deep Wound, but guitarist Mascis’s laconic and numb musings and bassist Lou Barlow’s emotional wail were another planet removed from typical punk spit and anger, and Mascis’s graceful, dense guitar solos showed more than a passing knowledge of classic-rock chops. The band has always been a unique balance of aggression and cuddle—snot and bedroom blues—and few of today’s indie rockers ever think to combine both.
As drummer Murph points out, the band, like many since, harnessed boredom in its early days—but also the college town’s fertile airwaves and bookstores, where Mascis first heard and read about punk and oi! music. “Northampton is a unique scene,” Murph says. “Really, it was J and his basement where everything started. It was more a reaction to the area and a sense of needing to play elsewhere that got us out. We were banned from most of the clubs in those days for being too loud. We then started playing in Boston and New York, and that’s when things started to happen.” The third album since the original trio of Mascis, Barlow, and Murph reformed in 2005, I Bet on Sky is also the band’s tenth studio album since its self-titled debut in 1985. It also marks a high point in terms of productivity for both Mascis and Barlow: Mascis just released a solo album on Sub Pop in 2011, and Barlow has just revived Sebadoh as a live and recording entity. Surprisingly, these grunge predecessors are as relevant as ever—both their jangly rock and hardcore-derived throb are fundamental to the indie landscape these days. “Compared to Bug, we have a better sense of how we work together and the process it takes to play together and record,” Murph says. “The chemistry and the
But I Bet on Sky, perhaps more than other recent Dinosaur efforts, benefits from varied rhythms and arrangements. The staccato punctuation on “Watch the Corners” makes the tune. Boogie-rock riffs and punk tempos liven up the jangle rocker “Pierce the Morning Rain.” And “Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know” might have echoes of past Dinosaur hits, but its Mellotronlike keyboards set it far apart. Meanwhile, Barlow, who fronts Sebadoh, leads a pair of tracks that further the variety: “Recognition,” with stomping proto-metal interludes as well as folk-jam passages, and “Rude,” which nails a Kiwi underground-pop sound with fuzz bass and incisive wit. In terms of process, the band works much like a hybrid of a bicoastal pro outfit—with Mascis sending Barlow and Murph his demos to flesh out at Barlow’s LA home base, before reconvening at a studio and re-recording the tunes mostly live to magnetic tape. Mascis, ever a perfectionist despite his nonchalant manner, demands many live takes (often more than 20, according to Barlow’s Twitter feeds from the session) before settling on a keeper. Throughout the record, the players’ command of their instruments is apparent—including Murph’s precise thump and Mascis’s inspired soloing—all perhaps a result of that search for a near-perfect take. The band’s more recent professionalism hasn’t compromised its art, as the romance of three Minor Threat fans wailing in a Massachusetts basement is somehow held together. “Playing together now is not as taxing as it was back in the day,” Murph notes. “We’ve also gotten better at our craft, which makes playing together more rewarding. A band, like many relationships, is a work in progress.” –John Dugan
Photo by Brantley Gutierrez
ALBUM PROFILES 5 of 5
Photo by Lisa Predko
TOO HOT FOR HTTP
Scott Morrow is ALARM’s music editor. Patrick Hajduch is a very important lawyer. In each issue, they debate the merits of a different album. Visit alarm-magazine.com to read more.
BEASTWARS s/t (Destroy) Morrow: Hailing from New Zealand, Beastwars is a four-piece stoner/ sludgemetal outfit that specializes in down-tuned guitars, deep grooves, and gruff wailing. The group, which released this self-titled maiden opus at home in 2011, remains unsigned for now. But after hearing this disc, which finally is getting distribution in the USA (via EMI), it’s only a matter of time before an indie label picks up the band. (Hello, Tee Pee?)
The music isn’t Earth-shattering, but it’s a fist-pumping, head-banging good time— part Unsane, part old-school Soundgarden, and part High on Fire. Hajduch: There is a major, major grunge influence at work here. “Lake of Fire” sounds a whole lot like a burlier “School” by Nirvana. The way the vocals interact with these huge riffs carries a definite Pacific Northwest influence. There’s also something about the riffs that reminds me of Undertow-era Tool but with more of a classic-metal gallop to them. I’m definitely shocked at how little exposure this band has gotten. This is a really solid stoner-metal album that should appeal to everybody who even slightly likes this kind of thing. Morrow: Now we know where grungy metal went to mature: across the ocean to the Pacific Southeast. Being from New Zealand probably doesn’t help for touring,
as it must be a pain just to get to Australia (which in itself is a pain in the ass for touring). But the Internet allows for fantastic discoveries, so hopefully they’ll latch on somewhere soon. At least New Zealand, unlike our fabulous country, gives some rock bands money to tour. As for the quality—absolutely. The album blows away a lot of the mediocre stonermetal releases that are undeservedly lauded. If only those other bands adopted Beastwars’ mantra to “obey the riff.” Hajduch: Readers, please track down and pick up this album. It’s solid from start to finish, and you will bang your heads; it’s that simple. In conclusion, I’m proud of Scott and me for making it through this review without a reference to Lord of the Rings—except for this one, which doesn’t count. Morrow: Or Transformers! This one counts, though.
Marco Benevento: TigerFace (Royal Potato Family)
The opening two tracks of jam/jazz keyboardist Marco Benevento’s latest record may come as a surprise to those expecting the purely instrumental, pianodriven arrangements that have populated his previous releases. Bubbling synths and danceable rhythms underpin the repeated refrains of Rubblebucket vocalist Kalmia Traver on “Limbs of a Pine,” while an undulating bass line and harpsichord back the singer on lead single “This is How it Goes.” Benevento’s playful pop sensibility remains intact, but the songs mark a striking departure from his older output. The remainder of the album finds Benevento traversing more familiar territory, pounding away at his amplified acoustic piano, accompanied by the likes of Tortoise’s John McEntire and Mike Gordon of Phish. Strong, repetitious melodies are laid atop drums and bass, often supplemented with strings or one of the composer’s circuit-bent toys. –Zach Long
The Casket Lottery: Real Fear
After a five-year run as a full-time band from 1998 to 2003, Kansas City indierock trio The Casket Lottery was able to look back on three standout full-lengths and a handful of EPs. Come 2006, the perpetually underrated band had adopted the same attitude as fellow Kansas City notable Coalesce—which shares The Casket Lottery’s Nathan Ellis and Nathan Richardson—by lying low and working on other projects, but never officially breaking up. Flash forward to 2012 and The Casket Lottery has magically reappeared with two more members—Brent Windler on second guitar and Nick Siegel on keys—and a new full-length album, Real Fear. Siegel, in particular, adds a new layer with his minor-key melodies. The songs are as well written and catchy as ever—all in the band’s morose but hopeful and slightly vengeful
tone. Dynamics have always played a part in The Casket Lottery, with tension building to release numerous times over the course of an album and sing-along-ready lyrics built into its multiple-vocalist approach. Real Fear is just as dynamic, if not more so, and that’s as the band only begins to refine its new sound. –Dave Hofer
Clark: Fantasm Planes (Warp) Electronic dance music (EDM) is just the latest musical trend numbing the rhythmically minded. Even artier synth-based acts such as Beach House have gravitated in recent years toward beats that are steady, persistent, and put-you-to-sleep metronomic. Clark subscribes to an electronic sound that takes all the best bits of EDM and filters them through a composer’s mind—IDM (“intelligent dance music”), as it’s called. Clark’s recent EP, Fantasm Planes, is like a conjoined twin to this year’s Iradelphic LP, except somewhat slighter in frame and more likely to be found at the club (dragging Ira along, to her dismay). The six-song EP takes “Henderson Wrench,” “Com Touch,” and “Secret” from Iradelphic and explores alternative versions to each, the dials twisting until everything’s a little more blown out, a little more aggressive. The other three tracks are new but are similarly produced: Clark’s buckling melodies on ecstasy and Jack-and-Cokes. The deep bass beats are persistent but interestingly used, with enough complexity and one-off sections to make the moment in “Com Re-Touch / Pocket for Jack” where a straight beat comes in—sounding truly like a metronome—all the more surprising. –Timothy A. Schuler
Dark Dark Dark: Who Needs Who (Supply & Demand) It’s true that breakups can be a catalyst to endearing music. Much like it sounds, Dark Dark Dark’s Who Needs Who carries a heavy heart, written during the
parting of singer/pianist Nona Marie Invie and bandmate/multi-instrumentalist Marshall LaCount. And though challenging under the circumstances, each member manages to translate mixed emotions into a musical synergy that’s deeply private and revealing. Who Needs Who shows the group not only maturing as a band, but also as long-time friends rediscovering common ground with one another. Perhaps it’s the piano-driven chamber folk or the wistful lyrics that make the music seem interlocked with deeper meaning, but even at the surface, this Minneapolis-based collective confronts emotional intensity with immediate poise and clarity. Like its past albums, Who Needs Who revolves around the husky vocals of Invie. Her somber piano playing and lingering vocal melodies create an undeniable bond as the record takes shape, retreating now and then to take refuge behind layers of instrumentation. For a band that has toured quite a bit, this new record sounds well travelled, less rooted in daydreaming whimsy than in everyday experiences. This might be most apparent in “Without You,” with its breezy, Parisian-style accordion, but it also shows itself lyrically on pieces like “Meet in the Dark” and “Patsy Cline”—well-rounded compositions containing some of the record’s most harrowing, personal performances. –Michael Nolledo
Efterklang: Piramida (4AD)
Efterklang can hear dead people, or so it seems. Perhaps that’s why the Danish postrock ensemble visited Pyramiden—a ghost town on the Arctic Norwegian island of Spitsbergen—to create its new album of similar name. At the abandoned Russian settlement, its members wandered a landscape of streams and mountains, recording the sounds of seabirds, footfall, and rushing wind. In the studio, they added the ethereal vocals of a choir and the chime-like peals of a glass-bottle collection. Whether or not these sounds are messages from another realm, they summon haunting melodies and shiver-inducing rhythms. It makes perfect sense, considering that “efterklang” means remembrance and reverberation. The album resonates with hints of the year 2000, re-imagined in a contemporary context
of globalization and the rampant spread of EDM. This was the year that Radiohead released Kid A; it also was the year that Efterklang formed, right after three childhood friends moved to Copenhagen from a tiny Scandinavian island. Piramida seems like a soundtrack for Kid A’s cover art, whose jagged, icy mountains pierce a midnight sky. This scene looks much like Pyramiden itself, and Piramida also teems with Kid A-like sonics: unconventional song structures, computerized sound effects, and an emphasis on texture. On the whole, singer Casper Clausen’s vocals are warmer than Thom Yorke’s, even when they break into a chilling falsetto on “Sedna.” Organic elements are more prevalent as well. Footsteps converge with meditative piano chords, sprightly bells, and atmospheric, Peter Gabriel-style vocals in “Dreams Today,” which melts into the ether before “Between the Walls.” The penultimate track then unleashes a spate of syncopated fuzz, electronic harps, and poignant lyrics that could lure listeners almost anywhere, even near the North Pole. –Jessica Steinhoff
Ephel Duath: On Death and Cosmos (Agonia) Within the tradition of fantasy literature, JRR Tolkein’s Mordor sits somewhere in the borderlands of a dark fantasy world, and just beyond Mordor is what Tolkein’s elves call Ephel Duath—the Mountains of Shadow. Summoning the energy, pathos, and subtle sense of irony culled from these psychic borderlands, progressive-metal veteran Davide Tiso and his Ephel Duath project have conjured yet another potent—if not abbreviated—entry in their increasingly elaborate curriculum mortis. Clocking in at 20 minutes, this three-track EP evinces the best of Ephel Duath’s avant-informed gloom, though it foregoes the melodic vocalizations and complex instrumentations used on albums like Rephormula (2002) and The Painter’s Palette (2003). As the directness of its title suggests, On Death and Cosmos opts for a more intense and aggressive approach. It doesn’t leave much room for reckoning, but that seems to be the point. It’s an intermission for a fated expedition—Into Thin Air, Italian style. The EP precipitates two forthcoming fulllength albums that also will be released by Poland’s Agonia Records. Though the EP embellishes on sonic themes established on Through My Dog’s Eyes (2009), Ephel Duath’s damn-near-all-star lineup now includes Karyn Crisis (Crisis) on vocals and Steve DiGiorgio (Death, Testament) on bass.
Drummer Marco Minnemann (Necrophagist, Kreator), who played with the band from 2008 to 2009, also rejoined Tiso in 2011. “Black Prism,” the first, longest, and strongest track, sets the pace for the short record. After a short, introductory guitar arpeggio, Crisis growls, “Alive between layers of perception / I’m neither here nor there.” On—or between— death and cosmos. –Benjamin van Loon
Family Band: Grace & Lies (No
Grace & Lies, the second album from husband-and-wife team Family Band, paints a picture of small-scale yearning and despair that shuttles between hypnotic and unexpectedly hard-edged. Described as a study in light and shadow by the artists, Lies mixes aural beauty with a sense of mystery and menace. Though not a huge departure from the duo’s selfreleased debut, Miller Path, this sophomore effort strikes its own moody yet expansive tone. Smooth alto vocals float over fuzzed-out guitars (and the occasional dulcimer), and as the album progresses, this newer sound of dark, atmospheric rock mixes with Family Band’s folksy roots. With the undercurrent of smoky-voiced sadness, it’s an experience that will leave you melancholy and wanting more. –Mallory Gevaert
the Turkish percussion and Middle Eastern woodwinds on “Glitter Days” to the Mexican banda, ska, and salsa on “Ex-Millionaire Mambo,” disparate influences blend seamlessly from track to track, all layered beneath Ashley’s distinctive snarl. –Meaghann Korbel
Flying Lotus: Until the Quiet Comes (Warp) Originally sharpening his teeth with bumper music for Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, electronic producer Flying Lotus garnered notoriety that bolstered the success of his 2006 debut, 1983. Now with four full-length albums, seven EPs, and countless singles and collaborations, it’s clear that, in retrospect, Steven Ellison has skills that only can be inherited, not taught. Until the Quiet Comes capitalizes on the “chillwave” trend sweeping the lo-fi playlists, though it’s all served up with a healthy admixture of jazz samples, electronic textures, and hazy, glitchy, fuzzed-out beats (a FlyLo signature). You can play Quiet straight through without knowing where one track ends and another starts—perfect for a sunset road trip or midnight drive. A few tracks, such as “Me Yesterday//Corded” and “Putty Boy Strut,” have a hard time taking off, but the collaborative tracks (featuring Thom Yorke, Erykah Badu, Laura Darlington of The Long Lost, and more) play strong, steady, and smooth. –Benjamin van Loon
Firewater: International Orange! (Bloodshot) Firewater’s Tod Ashley is what you might call a compulsive traveler. Having left his career and Brooklyn home to explore life in Calcutta, Bangkok, and Europe, it’s no surprise that he’d front a band self-described as “world punk.” By taking his roots in punk and incorporating elements of jazz and folk as well as Eastern European traditions, Ashley and company have sought to create sonic harmony in a world in flux. International Orange! was recorded in Istanbul and Tel Aviv during the Arab Spring. With revolution as a backdrop, the album expresses his own frustrations on tracks like the punk anthem “A Little Revolution” and the growling “Dead Man’s Boots,” meditating on conflict while combining cultures through sound. From
Guano Padano: 2 (Ipecac) With the intercontinental mix of Italian trio Guano Padano, one could take the easy way out, calling it the bastard child of Ennio Morricone, Dick Dale, and Calexico. The truth is something more muddied, something broader yet less mashed-up. Led by guitarist Alessandro Stefana, 2 steeps in the traditions of Italian-western cinema— specifically, the Italian sonic interpretation of Americana—and applies surf rock and 1950s and ’60s rock ’n’ roll to the music of America’s south and southwest. Bits of gypsy, jazz, and oriental styles also dot the landscape, as each song is a journey to a new land. Most songs, in fact, are referentially named.
“Lynch” channels the legendary filmmaker’s soundtracks, notably the dark, smoky sounds of Angelo Badalamenti. “Miss Chan,” featuring guitar virtuoso Marc Ribot on a slithering solo, mimics the Eastern koto from Stefana’s “banjolin.” And the spy-thriller sounds of “Prairie Fire” make masterful use of Ipecac label head Mike Patton. Yet Stefana is a master himself, traversing swaths of well-reverberated terrain with his banjo, electric and acoustic guitars, lap-steel guitar, and piano. By the time the album closes, the listener is well aware of his range, but a cover of Santo & Johnny Farina’s classic “Sleep Walk” is an apt conclusion to a dreamy, cinematic journey. –Scott Morrow
How to Dress Well: Total Loss (Acephale)
In 2009, songwriter and producer Tom Krell infiltrated web space from Brooklyn to Berlin with a set of digital EPs under the pseudonym How to Dress Well. Just a year later, the one-man outfit debuted his first studio album, Love Remains, which established Krell as a forerunner in experimental R&B. Recorded in part in Brooklyn, Chicago, Nashville, and London while Krell worked towards earning a graduate degree in philosophy, Total Loss captures what he describes as a period of loss and depravity in his life. As on Love Remains, Krell utilizes electronic and ambient sounds to produce detail-rich compositions, channeling the aforementioned distress into multilayered, ethereal arrangements interlaced with high-pitched, resonant vocals. Hip-hop and neo-soul influences appear as well, but no matter the outside influence, Total Loss offers a unique and wistful indulgence. – Megan Dawson
Indian Handcrafts: Civil Disobedience for Losers (Sargent House) If one is company, two is an all-out riot. That’s the reigning message championed by this newest effort from Indian Handcrafts, the Ontario-based duo of Brandyn James Aikins (drums) and Daniel Brandon Allen (guitar).
With a decade of collaboration between them, Aikins and Allen teamed up in 2010 with one simple goal: to make some fucking noise. They self-released their first, self-titled Indian Handcrafts album in 2011, soon signing to Sargent House, where they joined the ranks of other noise-rock behemoths—an influence that’s honed and refined on Civil Disobedience for Losers. At 40 minutes, this 11-track onslaught shows that you don’t need a brigade to have an arsenal. Engineered by Toshi Kasai (Tool, Melvins, Big Business), Civil Disobedience is heavy on the homage, making connections with other power duos like Big Business and Death from Above 1979, though the duo owes much of its sound (and philosophy) to The Melvins, even down to the process—the overdubs for the album were recorded in The Melvins’ rehearsal space. Whereas tracks like “Worm in My Stomach” and “Coming Home” recapitulate and subvert classic rock-’n’-roll structures, “Centauri Teenage Riot” and “Truck Mouth” blend together to form one giant, doped-out jam, relentless in its energy. Two is all you need. –Benjamin van Loon
Jerseyband: Forever Hammer When we last heard from “lungcore” septet Jerseyband, the NYC ensemble had self-released Beast Wedding, a monster of mutated metal that conjoined Meshuggah-like “djent” with unwieldy horn-formed power chords. Though elements of jazz have appeared on past albums, they’ve been fleeting. More commonly, the horns have been de-facto mathmetal riffs, circling and looping in complex sequences. The Forever Hammer EP, however, is book-ended by “Tosm” and “Not Hammer,” a pair of tracks that are more overt in jazz influence—at least of the skronky variety. Each ends with wailing, free-jazz sax solos, and “Not Hammer” in particular is the most improvised that we’ve heard a Jerseyband horn. “Together Forever” is even heavier on the brass, leaving the guitar, bass, and drums to
play minor (and mostly undistorted) roles, but it still only falls partially under jazz. As horns stab in syncopation and the clean-channel guitar builds the tension, the song transforms to full djent metal with a horn accenting atop. Bafflingly enough, Jerseyband remains without a label—perhaps too brassy for the metal labels, too heavy for the jazz labels. Forever Hammer might not be the best start for the uninitiated, but it’s still a mammoth piece of space debris, hurtling with ever-increasing speed. Grab it or get out of the way. –Scott Morrow
JJ Doom: Key to the Kuffs (Lex) In February, producer/rapper Jneiro Jarel and masked wordsmith MF Doom announced a collaborative album under the name JJ Doom, teasing us with “Banished” as well as a string of contributors such as Blur/Gorillaz front-man Damon Albarn, Portishead’s Beth Gibbons, and Jarel’s old Willie Isz partner, Khujo Goodie. In August, the wait was over, as Key to the Kuffs finally got its release on Lex. The album offers everything you’d expect: Doom’s intricate, hyper-literate rhymes on top of Jarel’s future-retro sound. And Doom, naturally, doesn’t hold back: On “GMO,” he seethes about his frustration with the food industry, as Gibbons’ ghostly vocals hover throughout. Meanwhile, on “Banished,” he declares, “enough’s enough,” rapping about a dog-eatdog world with lightning-fast delivery. Recorded in Doom’s hometown of London, tracks like “Guv’nor” and “Rhymin’ Slang” ooze with British cultural references. And though JJ remained stateside, his futuristic hip-hop production holds a kinship with many of England’s risk-taking electronic artists. (The high-profile cameos don’t hurt the UK vibe either.) –Meaghann Korbel
Kid Koala: 12-Bit Blues (Ninja Tune) Canadian DJ/turntablist Eric San, better known as Kid Koala, has long been known for his eclectic collection of samples. Cartoon TV specials, old comedy sketches, bodily functions—you name it and he has chopped,
scratched, or spliced it into his work. Now, for his latest studio album, he takes on the blues. With the aid of an E-mu SP-1200 sampler—an old bit of machinery but one that is new to Mr. Koala—the fast-fingered one twists and folds old blues recordings onto themselves, foregoing sequencing software to perform the tracks in real time (and later add cuts over the top). Many moments feel like cover songs with stutters and scratches, but the tunes really are more like down-on-their-luck Frankenstein’s Monsters, blended together with San’s dexterity. 12-Bit Blues isn’t all bluesy, though. Next to the cooing vocal samples, down-and-dirty guitars, and harmonicas are funky horn cuts, jazzy piano lines, and chirping electronics. It may not be the most obvious direction for a DJ, but for Kid Koala, it’s just the latest genre on which he’s left his distinctive mark. –Meaghann Korbel
The Locust: Molecular Genetics from the Gold Standard Labs (Anti-) Somebody got newwavey B-movie camp in with my grindcore. Somebody got grindcore in with my new-wavey B-movie camp! No matter one’s perspective, The Locust is a band so unique and without peer that listeners are hard pressed to forget their first experience. Take a grindcore/ power-violence base and add sci-fi synths, brilliant costumes, and humorous/asinine song titles (often in questionable taste), and boom: The Locust. The group, though not broken up, is criminally inactive, so the best that we can get at the moment is this reissue compilation of material from its days on Gold Standard Labs (which is its own sadly departed underground institution). Collected from its earliest EPs and seven-inches as well as its self-titled “full-length,” the material here is nearly all “classic” Locust—nearly every song is grindy and less than a minute long—with basically only the two-and-a-half minute, purely electronic “Flight of the Wounded Locust” offering a glimpse of the well-rounded direction to come. There’s also plenty of sneaky-good musicianship amid the alien sounds, blast beats, and anguished, blood-curdling screams. Whether you’re too young to know, missed the band the first time, or want to finish your Locust collection, get this now. –Scott Morrow
Lymbyc Systym: Symbolyst (Western Vinyl)
Despite spending much of the past three years on separate continents, brothers Jared and Michael Bell have written and recorded their third full-length as Lymbyc System— a feat that’s made at least a bit easier thanks to 20 years of playing together. And somehow, Symbolyst is among the duo’s most accomplished to date, with harmonies as rich and melodies as infectious as ever. The album’s opener, “Prairie School,” begins with a bubbling, arpeggiated melody, gradually escalating beneath layers of bassy and whirring synth lines. “Falling Together” is packed with twists and turns: opening with synthesized moodiness, it soon breaks into driving hip-hop beats and pop flourishes prior to a twinkling piano passage. And that’s only by its halfway mark. Sweeping strings make a few appearances later in the album, and though Symbolyst in general isn’t a drastic change, it provides a poppier aesthetic, still as reliant on gorgeous melodies but moving away from a slightly more post-rock style. And it manages to live up to its title’s reference to the Symbolists—a late 19th Century arts movement—who, like Lymbyc Systym, attempt to convey universal truths through metaphor. The duo does so now, perhaps, better than ever. –Meaghann Korbel
Matmos: The Ganzfeld EP (Thrill Jockey)
You’re in a chair, wearing headphones, with white noise hissing fuzzily at you from either side. Pingpong balls have been scissored in half and set over your eyes, with a purplish light beaming at you from just inches away. You can’t see. You are told that the experiment will last 30 minutes. It may not work. This is a typical ganzfeld setup, “ganzfeld” being a German phrase that roughly means “entire world” as well as the name of a new EP by Baltimore-based experimenters Matmos. For parapsychologists, a ganzfeld experiment is used to test extrasensory perception, or ESP. For MC Schmidt and Drew Daniel, the twoman team running the Matmos show, the goal was to communicate the concept of the next Matmos album. (The EP is a prelude to a fulllength that uses the same method.) Anything
spoken or hummed or described by the test subjects became part of the music. So what does it sound like? It depends on the track, of which there are only three. “Just Waves” is the song that takes the experiment most seriously. A small roster of vocalists, including Schmidt and Daniel as well as Dan Deacon, Dirty Projectors’ Angel Deradoorian, and Fovea Hex’s Clodagh Simonds, speaksing excerpts from the purportedly telepathic transcript. The track begins with a monotone male voice, joined by a female, and then someone else, and so on, eventually joined by synths and organ, and occasionally merging into harmonies as the recitations settle into a trance-like chant. “Very Large Green Triangles” is more accessible, a three-and-a-half-minute electronic piece with dense strings and a pulsing dance beat. As a collection of songs, The Ganzfeld EP requires a unique brand of curiosity. As an idea, it’s brilliant. The full-length will be an even weirder blend of danceable esoterica. We can feel it. –Timothy A. Schuler
Menomena: Moms (Barsuk) At the beginning of 2012, when multiinstrumentalist/cosinger Brent Knopf left quirk-rock trio Menomena, the future of the Portland band felt uncertain. Knopf’s tenor perfectly complemented Justin Harris’s and Danny Seim’s vocals, and his guitar work helped structure Menomena songs into hook-ridden frameworks. But within just the first few minutes of Moms, the first Menomena release as a two-piece, it’s quite clear that Menomena will be just fine. For the most part, the classic Menomena tropes remain: Seim’s sporadic and intricate drumming, Harris’s swelling saxophone and bass lines, and a swarm of slow-burning strings, sprinkling keys, and hazy harmonies. Even the unconventional guitar work is in place, making it almost feel like Knopf never left. There’s seldom a hiccup or misstep, with standout tracks like “Pique,” “Baton,” and “Skintercourse,” among others, serving as stepping stones through a lagoon of sweltering rock-outs and bipolar dirges. Rather than patching up the holes left by Knopf with collaborations or guest appearances, Harris and Seim (music collaborators since high school) filled them by their own intuition. Moms feels like a new start, as the duo tries out new ideas, both musically and lyrically, that Menomena never really delved into before. They toy with instruments like flute and cello,
further layering every track, and both Harris’s and Seim’s lyrics (the two singers alternate lead-vocal duties on each song) feel more immediate and intimate than ever, with songs exploring themes of strained relationships, tragedy, and loss. Moms should’ve been the sound of a band unraveling—a machine struggling to operate after losing a key apparatus. Instead, it is arguably Menomena’s best effort to date, as Harris and Seim have learned how to adapt to the situation and improve upon it. To say that Moms is another Menomena album is misleading. It’s much more than that. –Michael Danaher
Metz: s/t (Sub Pop) Western Ontario rock trio Metz has been a well-kept secret of the Great White North for a few years now, and with a recent “sign on the dotted line” with Sub Pop, those in the dark may finally see the light. From the opening tom hits of “Headache,” listeners will notice the larger-than-life production of this 11-song battering ram. The guitar and bass tones are thick and reminiscent of a time in the ’90s when Big Muff pedals were essential. And though it’s one upbeat tune after another, the album is packed with heavy riffs that show just how powerful the trio can sound, shaking the ground loose beneath the listener. On top of that demolished earth, vocals are distant and frantic, adding to the already-panicked urgency that’s set by the instruments. More than 25 years after it launched, Sub Pop appears to be reaching back to its roots by adding this present-day post-punk phenomenon. –Bobby Markos
Murder by Death: Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon (Bloodshot) With its sixth full-length album, Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon, Murder by Death has further defined its particular brand of alt-country. The recording is the band’s first for Bloodshot Records, but it marks another notable
occasion: the writing contributions of multiinstrumentalist Scott Brackett (previously of Okkervil River and Shearwater), whose work on piano, trumpet, accordion, and backing vocals provide new musical details throughout. In general, though, the band’s material is as well constructed and fully realized as ever, bridging country-western styles with punk- and chamber-rock sensibilities. From percussive and bass-anchored songs to others driven by piano and guitar riffs, Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon tells as much of a musical story as a lyrical one. And that’s no small feat, as singer Adam Turla maintains an Old West lyrical tone while ranging his vocals from a Johnny Cash baritone to a high croon and even a spiteful hiss. Befitting the album (and its new label), Turla’s words about loss, lies, and loneliness are delivered with a cinematic beauty that recalls moonlit nights and warm whisky. –Megan Dawson
Nachtmystium: Silencing Machine (Century Media) Silencing Machine, Nachtmystium’s sixth full-length album, re-embraces the traditional Norwegian black-metal sound of its early efforts. The band’s first recordings were Darkthrone covers at heart, but by the time of Instinct: Decay in 2006, it had traded minimalism for riff salads and more textured songs. The Black Meddle series, consisting of Assassins (2008) and Addicts (2010), was purposefully experimental, drawing comparisons to Pink Floyd and Ministry. Now Nachtmystium takes the lessons learned from experimentation and applies them to the conventional black-metal language of moveable minor chords and tremolo picking. The songs have reverted to simplicity as Nachtmystium has aged, and the convoluted structures of Instinct: Decay are gone. Instead, Silencing Machine relies on repetition and classic manipulations of tension and release. The traces of the band’s forays into progressive rock can be heard in the delays and flangers that coat many of the leads, and these textures
work with the already transcendental droning of black metal to create mind-warping effects. The high, whiney leads on “Reduced to Ashes” recall both Inquisition’s Magnificent Glorification of Lucifer and Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express. Silencing Machine is a welcome step in Nachtmystium’s maturation process, as more overt surface-level meddling has been integrated into cohesive songs. This album is one step closer to a vision that will transcend the “experimental” label. –Todd Nief
No Spill Blood: Street Meat
In Erle C. Kenton’s 1932 film version of The Island of Dr. Moreau, Dr. Moreau asks the Sayer of the Law, “What is the law?” The Sayer of the Law answers, “Not to spill blood—that is the law.” The Sayer then asks the beasts, “Are we not men?” The beasts repeat the question in unison, as if testing its uncertainty: “Are we not men?” Vivisected from experimental and noise-rock champions Adebisi Shank, Elk, Magic Pockets, and others, No Spill Blood gives a definite answer to the Sayer’s animus: no, we are not men; we are beasts. And if this inaugural 28-minute, 6-track EP is any indication, the law of the beasts reigns supreme. Based in Dublin, Ireland, No Spill Blood was covertly formed by Matt Hedigan, Lar Kaye, and Ruadhan O’Meara in the winter of 2011. Hedigan keeps his bass guitar low and loud on the register for Street Meat. This adds a jarring, dissonant, Melvins-like depth to the album, coming to the fore on the fully instrumental “Junior,” where its aggressiveness makes you want to throw a fist through a shop window or bite into a raw flank steak. O’Meara’s synths add both atmosphere and a cosmic, progressive element to the album, which is visually reflected in Sonny Kay’s pseudo-psychotropic cover art. Without the synthesized textures, No Spill Blood might run the risk of falling flat as another noise-rock duo, but aided by O’Meara’s algebra, the band pulls off in three what other bands hardly can
do with five—and this is only an EP. We are not men, No Spill Blood says. We are beasts, and you—you are street meat. –Benjamin van Loon
classic American millennial. “Go Dancing” tells a story similar to Miranda July’s The Future: a young couple feels old and unhappy, and Serengeti’s hopeful refrain, “we’ll go dancing; believe me this time,” is unconvincing.
Comets on Fire—which remains on hiatus—the new Six Organs of Admittance is a force of raging psychedelia. And by winding down with the slow-jam beauty of “Visions (From Io),” Ascent leaves the listener ready to repeat the journey. –David Metcalfe
Ty Segall: Twins (Drag City) On last year’s Goodbye Bread, garage-rock singer-songwriter Ty Segall displayed a newfound sense of maturity—most notably on “Comfortable Home (A True Story),” in which he announced the rather adult decision to invest in some real estate. Now the San Francisco wunderkind prematurely grapples with his own mortality on his newest solo release. “Took 22 years to die / 22 years to lose to my mind,” he laments amid the grinding guitars of “Ghost,” imagining himself as a specter who haunts the California coast. It’s heavy stuff—musically and lyrically—especially from a guy who used to sing about girlfriends and Coca-Cola. These morbid sentiments don’t pervade the entirety of Twins, the rest of which casts Segall as a young lover awash in Beatles-indebted melodies filtered through thick, grimy distortions a là Big Business or Lightning Bolt. And he hasn’t entirely abandoned lean, fist-pumping rockers like “You’re the Doctor,” but either way, Segall truly shines when he embraces his gifts as a singer-songwriter. Paired with a female vocalist on the John Lennon-esque “The Hill” or harmonizing atop the gentle acoustic strum of “Gold on the Shore,” his songcraft is as adept as ever, even when it’s not blowing out speakers. A fitting finale to his trifecta of releases this year, Twins finds Segall not so much settling down as settling in. –Zach Long
Serengeti: C.A.R. (Anticon) “CAR.” What is that exactly? Chicago MC Serengeti makes a case that it’s all about a funk-fueled vibe under enough scratching to require a daily supply of new vinyl. With the help of Anticon producers Jel and Odd Nosdam, Serengeti (born in Chicago as David Cohn) has released the latest in his double-digit hip-hop discography. Though there’s a “classic” feel to the programmed beats and horn blips, CAR is also classic Serengeti, full of self-deprecation, disappointment, and worry, which is definitely
Known for unordinary instrumentation (at a recent hometown show, the MC rapped over a cello and melodica), Serengeti blends styles across CAR, with tracks built on samples that range from buzzy, machinistic loops to acoustic guitar. The latter sneaks onto the album in the last track for a surprising finale. “Uncle Traum” is innocuous, good for a vista or two, but if a listener picks up the pieces of the rapper’s quiet one-liners, a tragic tale unfolds. This is the surprising power of Serengeti’s style. Without bravado, rap can seem empty, but the MC’s monotone delivery and love of the mundane has a way of sneaking up on a listener and has a poetry all its own. –Timothy A. Schuler
Six Organs of Admittance: Ascent (Drag City) An undulating, tripped-out space opera, Ascent is the latest from guitarist Ben Chasny’s psych-folk project Six Organs of Admittance—here joined for an electric, full-band lineup by his Comets on Fire bandmates. From the start, Chasny’s guitar comes alive with candescent color, invoking the avant psych-geist without pastiche. Rolling lines of finger play provide atmospheric breaks, and reflective pieces like “Your Ghost” prove that, despite the special guests, his softer sensibilities are undamaged. But make no mistake: the main focus here is the roar and reason of electric guitar. Anchored in rock beats, the album moves hypnotic melodies into cascading crescendos, with Chasny’s voice closing the circle; his fragile, sardonic delivery provides a path through the shifting soundscape. “Waswasa” opens the album with a raw energy that quickly redirects to sway—from swagger into roaring, abstract planes of amped-up guitar on “Close to the Sky.” “They Called You Near” then takes the listener on a tour de trance, from drone to rhythmic repetition.
Tin Hat: The Rain is a Handsome Animal (New Amsterdam) Originally known as Tin Hat Trio, the San Francisco-based chamber-folk collective Tin Hat is back with its first studio album since 2007. Following the live Foreign Legion from 2010, The Rain is a Handsome Animal is another new adventure—a 17-song exploration of the modernist work of EE Cummings, with each member offering his or her own interpretation. In recent years, clarinetist Ben Goldberg has played a pronounced role in the group’s sound, and here his nimble melodies find the right balance of restraint and action. Long-time Tin Hat fans, however, will be delighted to hear an expanded vocal role of violinist Carla Kihlstedt. Though she has sung on previous albums, this is the first that places Kihlstedt’s breathy croon at the fore—no longer making room for contributions from vocal legends such as Willie Nelson, Tom Waits, and Mike Patton. Anyone expecting Cummings’s words to translate directly into the songs—a là Rufus Wainwright with Shakespeare’s sonnets—will be mistaken. The jazzy “So Shy Shy Shy” is a direct recitation of the poem, but Kihlstedt’s voice dances around like Cummings’ words do on the page, a melodic interpretation of the poet’s own reading. Other songs are less direct in the musicians’ approach to his work. “Grapefruit” is entirely instrumental, featuring Rob Reich’s somber accordion later accompanied by a weeping violin, aimed more at capturing a certain quality of Cummings’s poems rather than any particular work. –Meaghann Korbel
Six Organs last utilized this lineup when touring in 2002 for the release of Dark Noontide. A reconfigured version of “A Thousand Birds,” now “One Thousand Birds,” acts as a bridge between now and then. The song’s transformation, however, is a pristine rebirth, and without the lyrical hooks, it would be difficult to recognize the two as the same piece. Much like
q&a By Deborah Jian Lee Photos by Seth Olenick
Kurt Braunohler Puppy,” “Lie to a Child,” “Dong Swap,” and “Who Can Slap Gabe the Hardest?” you’ll wish that you could compete for an alien probing too. Are all of your comedy friends buttering you up to get on Bunk? I think comedy people butter up by silently resenting. Just kidding. Everyone that I’ve talked to has been a big fan of the show, other than Internet commenters who really don’t like it. But they don’t seem to like anything. Do you have a dream guest? Bill Murray. Let’s say you run into him. What’s your elevator pitch? “Please do my show.” And then I start crying. How much of the show is improv versus scripted? It’s almost entirely improvised. What do people win?
urt Braunohler looks like the enthusiastic dad next door teetering on the edge of sanity. And it’s all intentional—he wants to creep you out. His is the deranged humor reminiscent of long-time comedy partner Kristen Schaal; in a blink, normalcy segues to unhinged comic surprises. This summer, Braunohler launched an anti-game show on IFC called Bunk, where fellow comedians compete in inane challenges to win…nothing, essentially. But with categories such as “Shame That
You can win anything from being probed by an alien to dental work to being awarded a birthday. Eugene Mirman won his own perfume essence called Eugene. What kind of persona recalibration takes place when you transition from standup comedian to game-show host? I like being creepy and dark when hosting Bunk. I like the idea of exploitation of power that I think a lot of game-show hosts probably have. They have a similar celebrity of politicians or actors. But really, they’re hosting a game that adults play. It’s this thing that should be least celebrated, yet these people are totally famous.
Bunk’s poor-bastard producer by scott morrow Kurt Braunohler’s dark-comedy persona as host of IFC’s Bunk is at its best when chatting with on-air producer Gabe, who gets slapped by contestants, invited to a party simply for designated-driver duties, and used as a beauty-product guinea pig. Here’s one particularly apt exchange. __ Kurt: Gabe, I had an amazing date with your sister last night. Gabe: What? How do you know my sister, Kurt? K: Oh, I got her number off the emergencycontact list. G: Kurt, those numbers are for emergencies only, you know. K: Oh, yeah. It was an emergency, all right. I really needed to fuck your sister.
Tell me more about this creepy stage persona. Is there anyone from real life you try to channel? Oh no, it’s me. I’m actually just channeling me. Following your partnership with Kristen Schaal, have you developed any new comedy crushes? Brad Neely. I once hung out with Brad at the Magic Castle in LA, and I had such a comedy crush on him that I tried to impress him by doing a “magic trick” where I swallowed a quarter. Everyone was just creeped out and thought I was a weirdo. You actually swallowed the quarter? Yeah, I did. I was like, “Here it goes!” And I threw it in my mouth. They clapped, and I was like, “Where’d it go?” And they were like, “Did you just swallow that, you fucking weirdo?”
Your mom taught you not to pass on a great deal, right? ___
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