Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Remembering the band i rise with a review of their demo five years after the fact

i rise was a hardcore band from Massachusetts. I forget how I found out about them, I feel like they were playing a show with Verse or something, but whatever the case, I wound up listening to some basement recordings they had on their MySpace page. For being basement recordings, they sounded pretty good, and you could tell that the band was serious and not like anything else going on. I was excited to find a new band that actually had the promise of being decent. They said they would be recording a demo soon and would mail it to you for $3 or something like that, so I sent them my $3 and soon got my CD in the mail, personalized nonetheless. Inside the foldover cover, the singer wrote "Alway [sic] rember [sic] to lick it before you stick it. Remember that my friend Chris! - Nicky" It was surely awkward, but if the man's message was to not be selfish with your sexual partner, then I can get behind that.

More importantly, the demo straight ruled/rules. It's four songs, all killer. Musically, I would put it in that 108/Burn style of midtempo moshy hardcore, with some fast parts. The guitar work and drumming are great. I know they had different people in the band, but whomever played drums here was really good. The singer and one guitar player are brothers and were the only constants, I believe. There are lots of little pinch harmonic squeals thrown in here and there. Many of the guitar lines are kind of metallic, but not in a cheesy way and not really even in an overt way. They're just good. It's all really fresh sounding, especially for when this came out. There really weren't other bands around doing this kind of thing. As for the vocals, they alternate between the 90s hardcore double tracked talked parts (Earth Crisis, Morning Again, Culture, Poison the Well, etc.) and screaming. The lyrics are good too. Two of the songs are about how much he hates religion, but not some juvenile shit about how Jesus sucks or typical punk stuff about how religion is a business. This is more about how religion ruins the world on a personal level and trying to make it through as a thinking person in a thoughtless world. For example - "You call me crazy for my beliefs, or should I say the lack thereof. But you're the one that lives life for death praying second after second to an imaginary figurehead." Or, "Some preach and scream 'the American dream,' and blow up clinics for what they believe. Some kill with bombs strapped to their flesh and truly believe they're different from the rest." The other two songs, I think, are more about broad personal struggles to escape the shittiness of modern life and I guess to just not be/feel confined in what you think or do, and also to live and say what you believe, to do what you believe in.

We played with them once, probably toward the end of them being a band. I think they were a four piece, but still sounded great. They played the song about praying second after second because our friend asked them to. They were cool guys. The guitar player was wearing the Nirvana Sliver shirt, and I think he was playing "On a Plain" while they were setting up, so that scored high marks in my book, obviously.

I'm guessing I got this some time late winter/early spring of 2007, as it was recorded January 22nd, 2007. Whatever the case, when I got it, I listened to it a lot, like every day for a long time. It's really short, so it's easy to listen to several times in a row. I still listen to it. It's my favorite thing they did. They put out a seven inch after this called "Down" that was good, as well as a split with Soul Control. They did an LP, "For Redemption," and I'm pretty sure broke up/broke down soon thereafter.

They still have that MySpace page up, and have an explanation about why they stopped playing. They say that they kept making less money every time they went on tour (as in negative money) and it was burning them out after two and a half years. I think the larger issue is that, unfortunately, there really just wasn't and probably still isn't space for a band like this. It hasn't been "cool" to care about stuff in hardcore for so long now. There will always be a little sub-scene of people who are into political bands or whatever you want to call them, but that shit died out with the masses of hardcore fans at some point in the late 90s. Let's blame Floorpunch. Anyway, it sucks that this is the case. The same thing happened with Verse. That band's last record, Aggression, was fucking sick, but most of the kids who were/are into music that sounds like that and go to shows like that don't want to hear it. They are militantly apathetic, except when it comes to issues of straight edge, Nikes and colored vinyl. i rise existed in a liminal space where they were not explicitly political enough for the political kids and way too political for most hardcore kids. Oh, and I think all of the labels that put out i rise records went under (not because of putting out i rise records, ha), so that makes it hard to be a band. Plus there is the whole issue with MySpace killing DIY shows cause there were way too many bands trying to "tour" and instead of doing any kind of work, they would just send out mass messages to get on shows. Then there were too many shows happening and people got tired of going and people got tired of doing shows for bands that didn't understand or want to understand what DIY was about, viewing "the scene" as some kind of social/economic ladder mixed with the Hollywood Strip hair metal scene of 1985. People are still burned out on doing/going to shows. There also aren't any good bands.

Anyway, thanks i rise. I appreciated you when you were around, and always will.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Crisis of Music Journalism

"Music journalists." "Rock critics." "Music critics."

What do these people even really do?

I was reading an article in the New York Times yesterday on that band Sleigh Bells. They are really bad and corny (see playing in front of a massive American flag on stage while using a Jackson guitar) but that's not the point. Also the issue of hardcore washup hipsters (see the guitar player having been in Poison the Well but "grown up" and moved to Williamsburg from Florida) is not the point. What IS the point is the article itself - what the writer says, how she says it and why I think she says it.

Basically, the concept of music criticism has long since run out of steam. I have felt this for quite some time, but have not been able to articulate it until reading this article. I feel like there are two things going on here. There really hasn’t been anything good or exciting going on in pop or rock music for a long time. Like probably ten years or so. Secondly, rock critics have been trying to make their own niches for many decades at this point. There is really only so much you can say about music that actually makes sense and is grounded in reality. After a while, you get out into esoteric spaceland and start putting your creative writing skills to work without much connection to what is actually on that record. There are a ton of rock and pop critics, with countless more having come since blogs hit big, and they are all in competition with each other. Just as in so many other fields, you have to make yourself stand out. There is a problem here though. A real one.

You see, when you merge the two issues – a lack of interesting music and a glut of critics who ran out of anything original to say a long time ago – you get a whole lot of emptiness. Take this Sleigh Bells article for example. The way this woman writes about them, they just sound like the most interesting band in the world:

FIRST came the recorded sound: drums and riffs, some demonically heavy marching band. Next, a couple of guys with guitars, who immediately started messing with their pedals in the darkened club. Two minutes later there was Alexis Krauss, with ripped jeans and a distinct saunter. She raised her arms as she reached the microphone, the black-haired queen of this stage. White lights exploded behind her, over a wall of Marshall stacks…

Sounds pretty exciting.

The new record is unmistakably Sleigh Bells, with dense but bigger production that puts Ms. Krauss’s voice into sweet relief over Mr. Miller’s dark metal peals. It is even more guitar driven — Mr. Miller discovered a model, the Jackson USA Soloist, that he loves — and more narrative and lyrical, with a crisper focus on arrangements and harmony over beats.

And then you hear it. Not very exciting anymore. It’s actually pretty boring. I don’t mean to single out Sleigh Bells. It’s not like they’re the worst band in the world. There are vast chasms of yawn inducing, download and delete bands. But Sleigh Bells is the impetus for this.

So why is this? Why does the writer speak of the band like this? I argue that she doesn’t have much of a choice. She can’t just say that they’re shit. If you only ever write that bands are garbage, you won’t make it too far in the journalism biz. So you are left writing positively of bands that often are garbage. What do you do? Make things up. Who cares, right? You can’t get fired for exaggeration like you can in fact-based journalism. You take your creative abilities and run with them. Run far. Like a marathon far. I guess part of it is that she is writing for the New York Times, where 95% of the readership doesn’t know a thing about underground music. This a novelty for them.

But this is a really common thing, the overselling and overhyping of music, where everything is so overblown. I read shit like this all the time. The band will sound really great and exciting and like I said above, then I hear it. And I wonder what the hell the author was listening to. I imagine that it’s the same thing, but they have to find something to say about it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Latterman reunions reviews - three shows

This past weekend, I saw Latterman play three times. I'm usually not big on reunions, at all, but these dudes are legit and as much as I know them, are pretty much the same if not more punk than they were five years ago. I used to see them all the time and they and some of their future bands played my house several times when I used to do shows. These shows were ten dollars, with $1000 going to Queer Rock Camp in Olympia, so everything is good there as well.

Thursday, December 1st was at Maxwell's, in Hoboken, New Jersey. Maxwell's is a great venue for shows of the non-basement variety. It's really small, has been around forever and pretty much every band (including Nirvana and Fugazi) has played there. The sound is generally really good. No one who works there has ever hassled me, so I guess they are cool, ha. Anyway, some bands played before Latterman but I only saw a few songs of the one before them and that doesn't matter at all anyway. Latterman went on with really no fanfare around 10:30 and opened with "My Bedroom is Like for Artists Part 2," "Doom! Doom! Doom!" and "This Project Is Stagnant (Get It out of My Face)", as you can see above. They sounded as good as they ever did back in the day. Then they played a few songs from We Are Still Alive, I think five, which answered my questions about who would be playing the guitar that wasn't Phil's - Mike and Brian. Mike played most of the set, and Brian came out (after being paged for a minute) for four of the five We Are Still Alive songs. I think the songs they played from that record, not in order, were "Water Manes at the Block's End," "'I Decided Not to Do Them'," "If Batman Was Real, He Would Have Beaten the Crap out of My Friends," "This Basement Gives Me a Fucking Headache" and "We Work the Night Shift." Then Brian went away and that was the end of him. Following that, they played most of No Matter where We Go, as well as a "new" song, "Our Better Halves," which is the last song they recorded, but never got released until now on a one-song seven inch they were selling at the shows. As for No Matter where We Go, they played every song with words, with the exception of "We're Done For," which is a little perplexing, given the subject matter of the song - the social indoctrination of men into a sexist way of thinking, behaving and living - and that making men aware of this shit was always, at least to me, a big part of what Latterman was about. Oh, and there was only one song from Turn up the Punk, We'll Be Singing - "There's Never a Reason Not to Party." Bummer on that, but they weren't that comfortable playing songs/singing words that they wrote over ten years ago, which I guess I understand, but I promise there's nothing outwardly embarrassing on there! So yeah, they did their set, and included the "encore" song in the set instead of coming out and doing it, which is nice. Encores are pretty lame, unless you are legit about to fall over and need a minute.

The next night was at the First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Had to watch Yo Man Go, but we survived. I guess you could say we were still alive. Anyhow, Latterman played and that was all that mattered. They played the same set. Brian was again nowhere to be found initially. Jeff from Bridge and Tunnel came out and laid down some brutal vocals on "There's Never a Reason Not to Party," as he also did on Sunday, and I would assume Saturday, as he said he would also be at that show. Phil's head (a Peavey 5150 - I remember he used to play this Fender Rock Pro head, at least he's got all tubes now) broke and they switched it out for some Mesa. They were really good again. They had some problems with people stage diving and crowdsurfing. Matt and Phil were calling them out for it, with them being the staunchly anti-stage diving people they are. It was cool. No one was hostile toward the band for it, as least as far as I could tell. It stopped pretty quickly, until the last song, because really, what can they do at that point, stop playing? Probably not. People were definitely more wild than the night before, but no one was really out of hand, especially considering that it was a punk show with a few hundred people and I've seen some people do really, really stupid shit in similar circumstances. So yeah, overall, good time. They definitely played with more energy than the night before, which I suppose is to be expected. These were consecutively the largest shows they had every played, I believe. Oh right. There was some piece of shit with a Hot Topic embroidered patch vest of every band he listens to, as well as one reading "If it has wheels or tits, it's going to give me problems." After Yo Man Go was done, I'm pretty sure I watched a woman who had been standing behind him tell him off for it, at which point he sheepishly looked around and walked out. I didn't see him again.

Skipped Saturday's show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg.

Sunday night was at the Bell House in Brooklyn. It was "sold out" but they definitely don't have a policy of packing the place, which I REALLY enjoy cause you can still move around quite freely at pretty much all times and no one has to be up your ass. So, Latterman played again...and it was the same set, but it was with the most energy I saw out of the three shows. If you closed your eyes and pretended you were in a basement, it was as though nothing had changed. Matt and Phil were still in great voice, Pat was playing hard as fuck, and the music was really tight. No one stagedove and maybe a handful of people crowdsurfed, but not to the extent that anything was said about it. This was the best night out of the three, as far as their performance. Really high energy and fucking spot on. They closed again with "My Bedroom Is Like for Artists," as you can see below. There are other videos of these shows, but I didn't take them, haha. They thanked everyone and each other and hugged and whatnot and that was that. They didn't practice any other songs, so they had nothing else to play, though I guess they could have played a song again, but that would be weird.

Final thoughts - it was good to see them all on stage again, pounding it out. They made the songs from We Are Still Alive sound a lot better to me, as I am not a huge fan of that record. I think the production is strangely stale and sterile sounding, the songs are not that upbeat and the lyrics are kind of bummed. It's just a different Latterman, and it doesn't really sound like Latterman live. There are definitely some great songs on there though, and I will be revisiting it for sure. The first two records sound like the band sounded when they played, and the songs from We Are Still Alive fit in much better live than they do on record. It would have been nice to see them play "The Biggest Sausage Party Ever" or "We're Done For," keeping with the band's decidedly pro-feminist stance. Whatever the case, they played really well and I was happy with the song selection, overall. Would have been nice to see them play some different songs from night to night. Where was Pat's Baltimore Orioles shirt? I definitely didn't feel like they were going through the motions. They all seemed genuinely into it and appreciative of people being there and being able to play again. It was also kind of reassuring and uplifting to see a bunch of people who had been friends for so long and who I know had some really serious issues for a while back together and putting things behind them. It makes me feel a little bit of hope in a world that rarely gives me hope for anything.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

I can't believe the things we say - re: Michele Bachmann

In a Republican debate last night, Michele Bachmann uttered the following:
"The table is being set for worldwide nuclear war against Israel."
Somewhere, someone believed her.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Breaking news: Americans are stupid assholes, re: Herman Cain

The world now knows that Herman Cain is a habitual "sexual harasser," which really just means that he has no respect for women and thinks they should do whatever he wants and have no rights. The evidence is there, replete with multiple five-figure payouts to the unfortunate objects of his, um, affections.

Anyway, as so often comes with election season, Americans have once again demonstrated their breathtaking stupidity and militant ignorance/indignation. In this instance, donors have rewarded the man handsomely for his attacks:
The campaign said Thursday afternoon that it raised some $9 million since Oct. 1, 25% of which came in over the past 10 days — when the accusations of sexual harassment were first reported. That indicates Mr. Cain collected some $2.25 million over the 10 days – putting his fund-raising at the same rate as in October.
Thanks idiots.

All in all, I guess he's really getting that money because he deserves it for being such a great guy and so caring:
This week, Mr. Cain quipped on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live that his fund-raising has improved since he began facing accusations of improper behavior. When host Jimmy Kimmel asked if other candidates should hire people to charge them with sexual harassment, Mr. Cain, said, “If they’re smart they will.”

Review - Nirvana's Nevermind Super Deluxe

I've been meaning to write this for a while but other things have been taking precedence. They still should, but I'm just gonna bust this out real quick so I can stop thinking about it.

So, Nirvana has been my favorite (favorite) band for twenty years at this point. I have everything (not the obsessive Kurt idolatry stuff or total bullshit releases like the self-titled best of or Icon). I own most of their records on vinyl, all original. No "Love Buzz" 7", of course, but you know how that goes. Nevermind is their, or anyone else's, greatest release. Of course, I was psyched out of my mind to hear that Geffen (Universal these days) was doing a four-disc reissue of the record. Well...

God, what a letdown this was. I was anticipating this release for months, looking for news online every day, every damn day, and then I saw the tracklisting - the original record, b-sides that every already has, the Smart Studios tape that EVERYONE already has (and isn't that good) and a live CD that everyone already has. People were hoping it was preliminary. It wasn't. Then I, along with anyone with ears, got REAL bummed when I heard it and realized it was "brickwalled" in the mastering stage, meaning, compressed to hell so everything is the same volume (loud) and it hurts your ears, getting rid of many aural details in the process. Bottom line - the whole thing sounds like shit and gives you a headache, the first two discs in particular.

No doubt, the boombox rehearsal tape and the "Devonshire Mixes" were tantalizing from a distance. The Devonshire Mixes are Butch Vig's early mixes of all the songs, sans "Polly," which was recorded at Smart Studios in 1990, during the session featured on Disc Two. I was really hoping for them to deliver, as Butch's mix of "Breed" on With the Lights Out is KILLER. However, they are kind of all over the place, which I suppose one should expect for rough mixes - some drums are too loud ("Lithium"), some too buried in the mix ("Breed," "Territorial Pissings"), etc. I wanted to love them, but overall I don't. I do prefer the vocals on there, as they actually sound like vocals and not wrapped in plastic, and the bass sounds like a bass. People who are seriously into engineering seem to have problems with the different sounds of the drums. It's nothing I notice though. Also, if you wanna see hardcore Nirvana fans get REALLY pissed off, Google "Sound City Sappy." A final note on this, the outro on Butch's version of "On a Plain" is so weird, in a way that makes me uncomfortable.

In the end, the Boombox tape is definitely the gem here. Much better quality than I was expecting and it has never been circulated in any form anywhere. Really interesting stuff to see the band developing these monster songs in a time that would, in retrospect, be the calm before the storm. It's that much-fabled "last innocence" period.

Now to get at what you receive in exchange for your money - four CDs, a DVD and a hardcover book for $109-$130+, depending where you got (get) it. With the Lights Out is currently around $40 and you get three CDs, a DVD and a softcover book. Both have substantial packaging. With the Lights Out had WAY more unreleased stuff on it, like most of it. All of Disc One and part of Disc Two on the other hand, have been released commercially. Disc Four replicates the DVD, which again, has been available as a high-quality audio bootleg since time immemorial. Plus, all the live b-sides are from this show, so those songs appear three times on the set - what? Anyway, you can buy the Deluxe for $20 and the DVD for $16 or so. What do you miss out on? Not much. Not much.

So what happened? I bought the Super Deluxe and returned it without opening it. I stuck with the regular Deluxe and the DVD. I've probably listened to the Deluxe twice. I will never listen to the first disc again. What a profound disappointment. There are so many alternate takes/mixes/etc. they could have included. Even fucking studio banter. But they didn't. Just mostly a bunch of shit everyone already has, or if they don't, can get in much better quality, particularly the original record (although I have read that stores criminally pulled the original disc from the shelves and replaced it with a single-disc brickwalled shit sound remaster) and the b-sides (all of the singles are readily available online for a pittance - the original packaging and the sound are so much more worthwhile).

I also purchased and returned, unopened, the four-LP vinyl version of the regular deluxe after reading multiple times about how it, too, is brickwalled and sounds utterly horrific. What a shame.

Ah, almost forgot - many people report sync issues with the Blu-ray version of the live show, to the extent that Amazon has instructions up to help customers deal with it. I wouldn't know, as I don't have a Blu-ray player, but given the care Universal didn't put into the rest of it, I don't doubt it.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Fuck Joe Paterno, Gary Schultz, Tim Curley and Graham Spanier

and every other piece of shit at Penn State who was involved with covering up Jerry Sandusky's devotion to sexually assaulting the kids who took part in his personal charity for disadvantaged kids. Send them off to a rape camp where they can get what they've earned.

Fuck them for sweeping this under the metaphorical rug so that their football program could soldier on untarnished. Fuck them for knowing that kids' lives were being ruined, kids who already had it bad, and not doing anything about it. He was raping 10 and 11 year olds. People knew this. They all fucking knew this and ignored it in the name of selfish glory. There's no afterlife, just life until they die. May it be a long series of miserable, agonizing days for all involved.

Addendum: fuck anyone who tries to say that it's not fair to "Joe Pa" for "all he's done for Penn State." IT WOULD NOT MATTER IF HE PAID TO HAVE THE SCHOOL DIPPED IN GOLD AND GAVE EVERY STUDENT A MILLION DOLLARS. He ignored what was going on for his own glory and that of the school. It was all that mattered to him, his staff, and evidently the school's administration.