and your head is spinning from a loud guitar

thursday at cake shop featured three angsty rock bands. i'm not a big fan of "rock" these days, but each of these have a slightly different take that sets them apart from the post-strokes wave of copycats.

i'd been curious to check out sonoma aero live since finding them on myspace. i did recognize one song i'd streamed off that site. other than that, for some reason, their songs were a little hard to wrap my head around, which is a good sign. they're a solid rock trio that thankfully doesn't adhere to standard rock chords, basslines, or drum beats. and yet, their approach was very direct and straightforward, hitting the kinds of marks indie rock fans like to hear. just when i felt their set was starting to suffer from a bit too much sameness, they changed up with a slower, more melodic song that showed a wider range.

it's a bit difficult to judge a band purely based on their live set. often the most obvious crowd response is to louder, uptempo songs, and a band sometimes tries to accomodate (such as interpol, who never seem to play any of their slower tracks live). i'm not sure if that's what happened here, but i think sonoma aero shows promise nonetheless.

other passengers, on the other hand, have dynamics to burn. whether within songs or from one to the next, they do the quiet/loud thing in a very original way. there are no obvious verses/choruses (although recognizable sections do repeat). i hesitate to damn them with the label "prog rock," because they are nowhere near as pretentious and navel-gazing as the worst of that genre. however, they are a progression in the line of dark-edged rock bands. on this night they were crammed into a space too small for the five of them, and even had berkoy sitting in their midst doing her projections onto a very makeshift screen made of sheets. regardless of the less-than-perfect conditions, they all made it work.

the small space and sound system also affected a place to bury strangers. there were no effects on the drums, and for some reason very little on the vocals as well. being crammed into the smaller space actually made them play faster and move around more. as a result, their show was more raucous and punk-sounding than the one i saw at knitting factory. it was still good, but i prefer the huge reverb/feedback-drenched wall of sound with dark melodies poking through. this was a warmup show for their opening slot sunday at bowery ballroom, which should be a great place to see them.

the title of this post comes from "the low spark of high heeled boys" by traffic.


we got aceeeeid

this week new yorkers had two chances to see kid606, wednesday and friday. bianca, ben, and i chose the wednesday option, mostly because bitshifter is playing at the knitting factory old office on friday. apparently, not a lot of other people made this choice.

with doors at northsix advertised as 8:30 and the show scheduled for 9, i thought my showing up unintentionally late at around 10 would mean i'd miss openers eats tapes. turns out they'd only been on for 15 minutes or so. i assume the time was pushed back to allow more people to show up, but the room was sparsely populated, with the bulk of the crowd sittting on the bleachers (which always remind me of nirvana's "smells like teen spirit" video). i did like eats tapes and their simple four-on-the-floor techno with the requisite bleeps and beats in all the right places. i wasn't blown away but they did an admirable job in an unenviable position. most people there for kid606's manic genre-mashing and breakneck beats might be unimpressed by the duo's fairly straightforward analog worship. at one point they did add a screaming vocalist, who clashed with the otherwise great track. but i appreciate them trying something somewhat out of the ordinary.

knifehandchop took over right away with no break. this was a one-man laptop project. while he didn't have anything in the way of a show, he did bring the beats. he impressively shifted microgenres over the course of the set, calculating which one would take things up a notch. i liked it most when the kick drums were electronic, overloaded, and pounding relentlessly, with acid synths weaving their way in and out in short hook-like phrases. the music was damn good and kept a few brave souls moving a lot. he strangely ended with a track that could have been a new instrumental backing for a new depeche mode song (i mean that as a compliment). it was a nice way to end a good set, and wound us down a bit before the expected assault of kid606.

after a break of several minutes, i recognized miguel depedro walking by us towards the stage. he took his place behind his sticker-plastered laptop, external mixer, tb-303, and moogerfooger and did something unexpected: he opened with a total experimental noise glitchfest. after the inside of our craniums were scraped clean, he did something else i would not have predicted. he actually gave us the "acid set" that was promised to us at the rothko show months ago. i loved that show, because it was very high-energy; he started blasting on high and somehow still kept raising it to another level every minute, keeping the speed and number of samples at an incredibly high rate. however, it wasn't realy much acid in my opinion. this show fulfilled that description. he kicked in the 303 and tweaked his moogerfooger to mind-bending effect. the tempos were much more conducive to dancing steadily and the music was more lush. he still threw in his trademark crazy parts, most notably his totally glitchy, near-unrecognizable cutup of dj rob base & ez rock's "it takes two". i've always hated that song, but kid 606 has a way of taking tracks i don't like and twisting them until i do.

after the show was over, i caught my breath by the merch table where i picked up the new kid 606 CD and one by knifehandchop. miguel depedro wandered over to talk to my friend charles (better known as end.). since we i was nearby, we struck up a conversation.

i found out those of us who took the wednesday option made the right choice. as some may know, this show was originally to be at temple bar. miguel told me that fell through last week and was moved to northsix. then it turned out that friday at southpaw was somehow double-booked, so that show won't be happening. although northsix's spaciousness on wednesday night meant that my advance ticket purchase through ticketweb was unnecessary, i think i got the better deal than those who were waiting until friday.

the title of this post is a paraphrase of a classic acid sample.


excess of sorrow laughs

thanks to gothamist for pointing the way to i am fucking terrified. with all the increasing tension surrounding the nyc subway system, most recently manifesting in the decision to have the NYPD conduct random searches of transit riders' bags, i needed a decidedly non-pc laugh. some of the pieces are hysterically funny. like any contributor-driven content, it varies wildly in cleverness, execution, and taste, but it's definitely worth a look, although it should overall be considered not safe for work viewing.

most of the entries (like the one above) appear to be in reaction to the recent london bombings. a really well-done one is this spoof of the london underground logo. as awful as these events are, nervous, giddy black humor is how some people deal with tragedy. it's better than just sitting around being fucking terrified.

the title of this post is a quote from william blake.


wish you were here

tuesday night at tonic was the kind of local bill both music fans and musicians dream of. put together by fringe benefits, this lineup should be in a textbook on booking under "cohesive".

i had no real idea what to expect from saxon shore, other than the word "ethereal" which was mentioned in some posting online. it turns out they're an instrumental band, who could vaguely be placed under the heading "post-rock" (though i don't know of any post-rock band who actually likes being called that). some people might tell this band to get a vocalist, but that would just get in the way of the guitar melodies, multi-layered effects, and programmed keyboard backing. the cumulative effect ebbs and flows like a soundtrack but reaches the kind of crescendoes only rock instrumentation can provide. unlike some other bands of their kind, they knew when to stretch out and when to pull back, and always locked in perfectly with each other. fans of mono and mogwai should keep an eye out for this band's shows and CDs.

i'd seen the name my best fiend around, and like several others thought at first it was a typo. but there were no mistakes in name or otherwise from this band (aside from the fact that they should have invested in a straplok). they started off very slowly and deliberately, building on programmed percussion with live drums, bass, twangy distorted guitar and keyboards. at first, their music reminded me a bit of calla somewhere between their second and third albums, with vocals in the vein of love and rockets or t. rex. as they continued, the sound became a bit more diverse, while retaining enough focus to show these guys are doing their own thing. the opening and final songs were great, and the set in between held a lot of promise.

one of the elements that could benefit both of the above bands is visuals, especially in the case of saxon shore's instrumentals. my best fiend used very minimal lighting (strings of xmas lights on the stage, almost no overheads) to evoke a nice warm atmosphere but it may have been a bit too dark for the slant of their music. berkoy has been adding great and appropriate imagery to live music for awhile now, getting well-deserved respect from musicians and video artists. her subtly morphing shapes add another layer to the visual stimulation so necessary in a live performance setting.

like the last show i caught at sin-e, berkoy was here making the light dance for other passengers. unlike then however, there were no technical difficulties preventing the full force of her projections from hitting the band and the screen. i was hard pressed to choose which of my shots to post, since so many of them came out really well, revealing the symbiosis of human performance and live video manipulation.

the band started off quietly, but quickly shifted gears into the darkest and hardest show i've seen them do yet. while i was disappointed at the absence of their song "in the belly" (which you can buy on their EP), the new songs made up for it. they played with a fierce intensity that, to my joy, culminated in several minutes of completely haywire, looping waves of noise at room-clearing volume.

almost everyone in the band and audience was completely drained at the end of the set. all three bands got enthusiastic and lengthy applause. this was one of those shows that future fans will wish they had been at.

the title of this post comes from an album by pink floyd.


my new fighting technique is unstoppable

get your war on somehow slithered into my consciousness sometime in 2002. i wish i'd discovered it sooner. in the first months following 9/11, i could have used this kind of caustic humor, the kind that can only come from shock, anger, and disbelief. instead, what we got was a horrendous, watered-down all-star update of the classic song what's going on. no surprise really, as mushy ballads dominated the pop charts during the first gulf war. mainstream culture mellows out in times of great upheaval. it's as though people need a collective artistic seconal drip administered to them 24-7 for the duration of their inability to deal with a stressful world.

david rees takes the opposite approach. he puts all the confusion, rage, hubris, and sadness we experience and witness into a brutal series of comic strips. since the images are all clip art, the characters are all frozen in stasis, as it sometimes feels like we are, watching the horror before us unfold. sometimes the result is much like watching a post-1990 george carlin special; so full of pissed-off, clever diatribes you're left more informed and enraged than anything else. other times, the mix is so over-the-top funny, you just have to stifle your laughter in between quiet mutterings of "i can't believe he just said that". his characters spit out what rational human beings think in the face of irrational world events, but most would never utter out loud.

rees once said in an interview, "what am I going to do now? wait for the next atrocity so I can make a comic about it?" sadly, he doesn't have long to wait and has been churning out strips fairly steadily for the past four years. the subject matter may shift slightly, from afghanistan to iraq to women's rights to the various characters who populate the political spectrum, but he always has something to say, straight from our "shocked and awed" brains.

when i contacted rees about how great i thought his strip was, i also told him he should make a white-on-black t-shirt out of the phrase which his website is an anagram for. within weeks he had them made and on the site for sale and i bought one. i wear it proudly everywhere except neighborhoods where i might be expected to prove its ridiculous claim. those who see the shirt who have never heard of the strip, or its predecessor, most often have the reaction "i don't get it." unfortunately, too many people don't understand the inherent humor in that obnoxious statement, or how often in life we're told something similar which is just as much a fabrication.

the title of this post comes from david rees' website.


lowered expectations

there was a time when "pop" used to simply be short for "popular". what was "popular music" 60 years ago is now called "standards," 50 years ago is called "oldies," 40 years ago is called "classic", and, in an increasingly predictable cycle, 20 years ago is called "this year's trend".

in this same law of diminishing returns, the very meaning of the word "pop" has become as diminutive as its length. it's now looked upon (often rightfully so), as purely cheap, instant gratification. there's something to be said for that once in awhile, but as a steady diet it's more than unsatisfying; it's harmful. in the past, even such pieces of supposedly useless confectionery were crafted with enough care and skill to end up becoming longtime favorites. i don't see this happening in a world where success and failure are measured in incredibly short-sighted increments, such as "i won fifty bucks in the lottery this week" or "the company did well this quarter."

a recent slate article reports "the six major studios...actually took in more money from their movies in the first half of 2005 than they did in the same period in 2004." however, the long-term truth of the matter is that "the regular movie audience has been so decimated over the past 56 years that the habitual weekly adult moviegoer will soon qualify as an endangered species." and this despite the facts laid out in another slate article about rampant overspending on movie advertising. everything is about the short-term, making a big splash, getting to the top ten, and hoping it pays off later.

in a recent popmatters interview, joey goebel, author of torture the artist, assesses that pop culture's "virtues lie in the occasional bursts of creativity and originality that seem to slip through the cracks." i've never found this to be more true than today.

culturewars.org sums up one of john carey's points from his book what good are the arts? by saying, "to be taken right out of one's culture would be to go mad." to me, this implies that "culture" is like its biological namesake, what yogurt is grown from; something naturally evolving and necessary to human beings. this might be true of the majority of human cultures, but most western popular culture seems unnatural by comparison. it exists because of marketing and consumerism, twin beasts which feed on each other with little care for the nutritional value of whatever is being marketed or consumed, just so long as the process is happenning.

the unnatural becoming seemingly natural begins fairly early in the life of the average american. gene van tassel sums up a 1994 article from the journal of instructional psychology, saying that before even entering school, children have learned information "in a natural way without the formal structure and discipline that reside in most schools." in other words, children are pretty much born open-minded. once there, "they learn to pass tests and earn a diploma, but fail to use their education for their personal growth. in addition, they leave school unprepared to cope with the increasing complexity of the world in which they live." basically, the majority of students are dumbed-down as they pass through a restrictive and uninspiring educational system, in order to prepare them for the drudgeries of life. our brains are essentially repeatedly exposed to a series of controlled environments that stifle creative thought.

the exceptions are those who are deemed "creative types"; artists, musicians, writers, and others with a similar approach to expression. even their initial efforts are often dissuaded rather than encouraged. if these people fight hard enough to do what they do, and eventually recognized for their creativity, they're still looked upon differently, almost like society's idiot savants. and still, these people are expected to fall in line in their own way. the assessment that "creativity comes from creative types" is one of at least six myths about creativity. i agree that anyone is "capable of doing some degree of creative work," but we're discouraged from being in that frame of mind from an early age. and by "creative work" i'm not only talking about the "creative types" mentioned above, i mean anything remotely "thinking outside of the box." how sad that even the example i've resorted to using is basically a catchphrase used chiefly in the marketing and advertising fields.

composer sir peter maxwell davies, while perhaps weighing in from a more conservative side than i would normally tend to agree with, makes some good points in his 2005 lecture, will serious music become extinct?. "all of us are being educated to become good, docile consumers, so that we become incapable, or perhaps just unwilling, to question the status quo...pop music has become a big business beyond anything ever imagined in the musical world, playing its part in drugging constructive, creative thinking."

when many pop fans professed not to "understand" the radiohead album kid a, one frequent response was "i guess i'm not smart enough to like it." several music critics attacked it as a pretentious, self-conscious "art move". to these people, the band was previously following a clear musical and popularity trajectory, and this break with convention was immediately suspect. as much as the band has been lauded in some circles, they've also suffered much ridicule and a reduction in sales.

on the other hand, whether they know it or not, people are simultaneously so starved for innovation, they'll take it wherever they can get it. some people are calling the recent r. kelly song and video an "operetta" and heralded as a multimedia event. i honestly applaud r. kelly for trying to do something different, however, i think the chief differences between his mini-opus and most commercial r&b are almost negligible.

it's no wonder people's views and reactions are skewed, with muzak or tightly-formatted pop and adult contemporary stations being piped into many businesses. the vast majority of music that comes at the average person on a daily basis hasn't changed for the past 25 years. the same few rigid definitions of music exist, and anything outside those are a frightening or unknown prospect for most people. music is expected to fulfil the same function as scenery, being fairly enjoyable but essentially unimportant and certainly not requiring any attention or thought.

if a criticism of more unusual or so-called cerebral arts is that it's made for other artists, i think the criticism should be directed at the culture that kills the open-mindedness and creativity inherent (to some degree) in each of us. if people were encouraged to explore their own creativity, they'd have an easier time understanding others' expressions.

the title of this post comes from a classic mad tv series of spoof ads.


like the relentless fury of the pounding waves

i'd heard of a place to bury strangers, but wasn't rushing to check them out purely on the basis of their charmingly morbid name, having been somewhat disappointed by ...and you will know us by the trail of dead at last year's siren festival. i assumed this was yet another indie rock band trying to stand out from the crowd with an unusual name. then i went to their website and found out how wrong i was. the sound that assaulted me was like a dream mixture of the jesus and mary chain, joy division, the sisters of mercy, and early cure. so when bianca emailed asking what was going on friday july 1, i told her this band were playing the knitting factory.

from the moment they took the stage something was different. the lights were kept extremely dark and only red. i can't even recall them counting off or starting to play; one minute there was silence, the next they were sudddenly there, attacking us with a wall of sound that pushed bianca straight to the floor to contemplate the rest of the set from the corner of the room. the distortion was a bit much, making it difficult to tell what the guitarist was actually playing. it simply became a whirlwind of electric razors with harmonics. at times the sound changed abruptly, no doubt with the aid of his own line of effects pedals he builds under the name death by audio. fortunately, the bassist brought an amp cabinet the size of godzilla and just as ferocious. even the drums sounded tweaked, although not as much as on their songs online. in all of this swirling mass of sonic destruction the vocals got pretty much lost, since they were low in pitch and bathed in reverb. in the end, all you could do was submit to the sheer unadulterated dark power of the noise, since the volume and lack of clarity made it difficult to latch onto anything like lyrics or melody, other than the tuneful basslines. i hope this band starts hiring their own soundman and getting better soundchecks. i have the feeling if we could actually hear what they were singing and make out a few more details they would be truly amazing. until then, i'm happy to go see them just to get bludgeoned by their instrumentation.

after the show, since we still, incredibly, had our eardrums intact (napkins in the ears, always a good idea), we decided to drop by the bunker at subtonic. this has had mixed results on other nights of the week, but the bunker is usually dead on and tonight was no exception. djs spinoza, movement, klevervice, and guest dj derek plaslaiko of ghostly international were spinning. i'm not sure who was on just after 2am, but the music was incredible, as were the visuals (see above). the sounds were hard, electronic, and danceable, familiar yet nothing i'd ever heard before. if the records were artists on ghostly, i can see i'm going to have to pick up some of their releases.

the title of this post comes from an obscure film.