Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Stream of Consciousness on Nostalgia

Nostalgia is one thing anyone can find solace in. No matter who you are, no matter what your disposition or philosophy is, you will most likely be able to idealize a time in the past (not even necessarily your own) when you find yourself backed into an emotional corner. Those more depressive of us may find ourselves doing this with higher frequency than regular people. I am no exception.

I can often find myself remembering and visualizing, in ludicrously romanticized terms, things in my past... Even times that I hated when they were going on. It's like watching a film version of your life prior - tight editing, only the correct takes used. Artistic cinematography, evocative lighting. The idea that only your imagination controls what exists outside the frame. No problems, no worries, nothing in the focus other than what we're meant to be seeing and feeling. Well-staged and memorable shots that will remain archived like a video collection only I hold the key to. I apply specific combinations of sight, sound, smell, and atmosphere to certain time periods, including ones before I was alive. I will have 'memories' of these periods that are like admiring paintings from afar. Oftentimes when listening to music or playing a videogame or watching a movie from that period I will apply this extra layer of 'atmosphere', as if I were playing or watching or listening to it from that context - that time period and cultural zeitgeist.

The thing about it though is that it can pull us down into a continuing cycle of depression. We can make ourselves feel even more hopeless wishing to go back to the past, and it can hasten the eventual transition to bitter and resentful that most people don't reach until they're old and cranky. Unfortunately, a lot of daydreaming ties in with the same feelings as nostalgia, so it can be hard to avoid...

Album Review: Ministry - "Filth Pig" (1996)

Filth Pig

Psalm 69 comes out. Suddenly, for what seems like five minutes, Ministry becomes one of the biggest bands on the face of the earth for every metalhead and angry alterna-rocker kid who ever watched MTV. Lots of festival-headlining and sold-out arena touring. Soon it became time to give the people a follow-up. What was delivered obviously did not fit the needs of the public, who responded to it with scorn. Personally, I'm not sure what their expectations were, because for a band with as much evolution between albums as Ministry, Filth Pig doesn't seem like much of a leap from Psalm 69. People just don't like change, it seems.

Being one of the most maligned albums in Ministry's catalog, I suppose it's not exactly difficult to see why the fanbase responded so poorly to it. Its sound has become a sort of plodding industrial doom metal, with sinister Black Sabbath riffs and thick, sludgy songwriting and production. No speed solos here. The band had experimented with this to an extent on the previous album with "Scarecrow", now most of the tracks follow a similar format, but with lower tuning. Many fan reviews I have seen criticize the album for a perceived lack of electronics or samples, but they're used just as much as the previous album. They're simply more subtle, spaced-apart, or buried in the deceptively multilayered mix, and they attain a very eerie feel for the careful listener. Basically, where a few of the previous albums said more of something like "sci-fi action sequence", this one groans more to the tune of "depressed crackhouse visit and subsequent overdose scene". Kind of like a more radio-friendly, more-polished and more complexly-mixed industrial Eyehategod, if you will.

Our lineup for tonight includes (of course) Al Jourgensen and Paul Barker as primary songwriters and men-about-town, with Louis Svitek and the ever-trusty Mike Scaccia on guitar and Duane Buford, previously of side project Revolting Cocks, on electronics duties. Longtime drummer Bill Rieflin recorded about half of the album but quit to head for greener pastures (particularly, to play on some incredible Swans albums) and was replaced for the other half with drummer familiar to the Touch & Go scene in the 80's, Rey Washam (previously of noise rock bands Scratch Acid and Rapeman, among others). Considering, like with most Ministry records, you don't really get much of a sense of who did what and where, it's hard to rate the band on individual performances, but Rieflin is excellent as usual in the tracks he plays on, and it's kind of funny and odd that the album pretty much plays directly against Scaccia's strengths as a guitarist, being slow and trudging as opposed to the speedy technical thrash-wank he's known for, but the guitar all sounds good so I suppose it worked out.

There are some very good tracks on here... The first track, "Reload", opens the album with a track whose tempo almost creates the feeling of whiplash compared to the rest of the record. It's a manic, frenzied song that sounds like the score to a Peckinpah gunfight scene on acid. The title track, immediately following, is a crushingly powerful track that should be a doom metal classic. It has an amazing evil riff and a wonderful use of harmonica in one part. "The Fall" is another great slab of doom metal that almost sounds like a Type O Negative song, with a sweet abrasive riff and beautiful piano work. And of course there's the big favorite of the album, the heavy reworking of Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay".

The songs evoke this odd feeling, like visiting a dive bar in a small desert town like a rejected child of Vegas, getting extremely intoxicated, and witnessing (or participating in) an orgy of violent criminal behavior. Like A Clockwork Orange high on heroin in addition to what was in that milk the droogs were drinking. Al Jourgensen's lyrics are at perhaps their most abstract and hopeless, most seeming to be about struggles with addiction or other things of that nature. There's certainly political commentary on here but it's way more subtle than usual with this bunch. One of my favorite things about the album is how, as I said earlier, it's more deeply-layered than people give it credit for being. This is really an album that rewards paying attention. The deep rolling bass and the grinding guitar and the small echoing guitars wailing off to the side and the dim, tinny samples being rhythmically repeated in the background and Al Jourgensen's static-riddled voice scratching the air give the album a very amazing, distinctive atmosphere that's easy to get absolutely sucked into.

Really, I find the story with this album to be tragic... It was so horribly panned, alongside the band's other few successive albums' attempts to try new things, that when Barker jumped ship, Jourgensen felt the need to try and revisit the successful format of Psalm 69, only make it more mainstream sounding... And what's more, that he found success doing that, and so did it again... And again after that... And allowed Ministry's usually-evolving sound to stagnate in mainstream mediocrity. I still love this album... You've got to be more in a certain mood (or state of mind) to get the absolute most out of this album than you would with some of the previous stuff, but it's a great record all the time. And it's better than the whole Bush trilogy.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Album Review: Swans - "Swans" (1982)


So... Well... Here's the first Swans EP. The band who is now known as an innovator in industrial, goth and post-rock music, began life here sounding very similar to its brethren in the New York no-wave scene, such as Sonic Youth and Mars (Thurston Moore was even a guitarist for our Swans at one point early in their lifespan). The main difference here is that there's a more industrial edge to it than most of them... If you want a basic description of how the whole thing sounds, imagine Sonic Youth mixed with Throbbing Gristle, and the bass turned up. Quite amusing here how Michael Gira's voice is fairly high and similar to Thurston Moore's, very much opposite to his gravelly bellows on later material.

For sure, this gives me a great picture of a desperate, strung-out, disenfranchised subculture in pre-Giuliani New York, wandering dark and dangerous streets, navigating filthy alleys, walking through dank apartment buildings looking for their next hit or client or fuck. Voices from all directions, downright evil electronics, disturbed chanted lyrics, sinister thumping basslines, sampled saxophones that make a sound like you just came up snake-eyes, and scraping metallic sheets of guitar noise. Total tension... Absolute heavy atmosphere.

Of the four tracks here, they're all quite good but I think my favorite would probably be "Sensitive Skin". It sounds like a horror film, there's no other way to describe it... Other than maybe like Slint gone evil. But beyond that, it actually anticipates the post-rock stuff the band would be doing years from this point. The rest of the EP has an almost traditional punk rock sound in places, just with some weird post-punk flourishes.

It's a shame that Michael Gira appears to have no love for this EP; outside of being appended to a 1990 reissue of their album Filth, there's no CD release of it - including on the more recent reissues of Filth, which puts some demos instead and has long replaced the 'old' reissue, making that one difficult to find. Unless it was just gossip, I also heard that Gira sold the master tapes to this album on eBay recently, presumably to fund My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky. That's a lucky fan... It's weird, this EP doesn't get discussed much among fans but it's one of my favorite Swans releases. It just has a really interesting sound, and just because it's more traditional doesn't mean it's not as intense and atmospheric as any of their later stuff.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Album Review: Flowering Blight - "The Perfect Pair" (2008)

Flowering Blight
The Perfect Pair

Why the fuck haven't more people written about or listened to this? Damned crime, it is...

If you listened to anything Ministry released between 1988 and 2003 (which is considered their best period by most people who like heavy/dark music and aren't meatheads who think an overabundance of same-sounding wanky, repetitive speed-solos and redundant, childishly-written lyrics about the president are the only way for music to be good*) then you are probably familiar, at least in passing, with the name Paul Barker. He was credited as the only other 'official' member of Ministry-the-studio-band during that period, alongside frontman Al Jourgensen. He played bass, had a hand in writing most or all of the music, did a bunch of the electronics-work, and did lead vocals on a couple songs. He was also involved to an equally heavy extent in most of the side projects during that period doing the same type of stuff... Pailhead, Revolting Cocks, PTP, 1000 Homo DJs, and Lard. Also lent himself to stuff you'd expect of that era like Pigface, and had a pretty cool side project on WaxTrax with some dude from Stabbing Westward, called Lead into Gold.

A lot of people don't like Ministry from before Barker joined (I do though) and people are also pretty divided on post-Barker stuff, and even some of the later stuff from when Barker was onboard gets a lot of hate (which I don't think it deserves) but most Ministry fans will agree that the best Ministry albums by far were ones Barker had heavy involvement in. Listening to this, it's easy to see why.

Flowering Blight is Barker's tragically little-known solo project. He gives us a nice, heavy sound without really even trying to be 'metal'. It sounds like a combination of the sounds of 'The Land of Rape and Honey', and bits of 'The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste', 'Dark Side of the Spoon' and 'Animositisomina' with an added healthy dose of post-punk gone horribly wrong (and I mean that in the most flattering of contexts) and a lessened focus on heavy metal elements in exchange for more heavily atmospheric stuff. Very apocalyptic sound. The composition is very refreshing as well, because it's more sweeping and large in scope compared with Ministry's much smaller-scale arrangements (not that it didn't work for them most of the time). The production is very thick and noisy and adds an extra layer of nastiness and darkness to everything. The bass sounds badass and everything has this great sinister, almost gothic feel. Wonderful crunchy guitar tones and all... Kind of reminds me of 'The Land of Rape and Honey''s production at times. There's this dusty, 'western' feel to the songwriting/production at times that I really enjoy as well. Paul's vocals are impressive as well - a lot of people seem to hate his voice but I just can't not like it. He sounds like a more refined, restrained Alice Cooper at times here.

As stated earlier, Barker is mostly solo here, but there are a nice group of guests appearing, including Josh Freese (Nine Inch Nails, Devo), Max Brody (Ministry), Paul Leary (Butthole Surfers), and others. Overall there is not a bad track on this album and I find myself listening to it constantly... Makes a very good soundtrack for Fallout. I find it really tragic that very few people have heard it, which I guess stems from the fact that the only place to get it is Barker's website, and it never gets advertised anywhere - music sites would rather pimp the latest cheaply-made covers album Al Jourgensen put out to get a few bucks, I guess. But I would say this is as good as just about anything Ministry ever put out. Do yourself a favor... Go get this album if you have any appreciation whatsoever for Barker-era Ministry and/or any of the side projects. I cannot stress enough how much this deserves to be heard by more people. So go. Give it a listen. Give Barker reason to make more music! We need it!

RATING: 4.5/5

Tales of the Dead Dreamer!!

That's right, more strange dreams! Haven't posted one of these in a while, mostly because I haven't felt like it, but I thought these were vaguely interesting and not-too-personal to post! These were all last night/today...

Had a dream where for some reason I had large, wonderful breasts that I sat and played with in the mirror.

I wrote an awesome graphic novel series drawn by an acquaintance of mine that was an apocalyptic/cyberpunk/horror type thing drawing heavily from music (which is not unlike something we're discussing doing IRL), and got in an argument with the publisher because I was insisting that the first volume (which used Alice in Chains' Dirt as its 'background') be printed on some kind of hard cardboard-like stock and have the pages of one of the stories be intentionally made to look filthy and smudged like they were badly printed. And I won!

Also I started my lifelong dream of directing movies, which included some vaguely fetishistic (but not to the extent I'd have expected from my mind) CGI movie that had to do with someone being shrunk in a Victorian setting, followed by a live-action remake of A Goofy Movie with Jim Carrey as Goofy and John Goodman(?) as Pete and the two of them just wearing crappy little mask things with fake ears not unlike what the Beagle Boy in this video wears:

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Album Review: Gary Numan - "Tubeway Army" (1978)

Gary Numan
Tubeway Army

Gary's first LP... Damned good for a debut. Here we see Gazza and the Tube-Tones take a step from their more straightforward punk rock origins for a more melodic and synth-heavy sound. They still bring the heaviness though, and create an excellent cyberpunkish sound (inspired in part by Bowie+Eno and the Krautrock classics) with the electronics and jagged guitars. Basically, this is (logically, but very tangibly) a stepping stone between the sound on The Plan and what Gary would embrace on Replicas.

Lyrical content is... All over the place. There's a song about emotional loneliness, some usual Numan cyber-noir fodder, a song about the right to die, a song about a gigolo, a song about jerking off... Like I said, all over the place.

The sound is fairly diverse. There's some excellent pre-industrial-rock stuff in songs like "Steel & You" and "My Shadow in Vain", and there's plenty of good old post-punk weirdness all around. The boys create a good mood and it's a testament to their playing and production skills that they were able to make an album with three guys on it sound so rich and thick, like there should be a lot more bodies in the studio playing instruments or adding synth textures. Paul Gardiner's excellent bass skills are of course a highlight, and some of the electronic textures hit a more cinematic and creative high than in many of Numan's later albums (possibly just because they're being complimented and reinforced more than usual by the guitar as well).

While I can't think of too much outright bad to say about the album, some of the songs do kind of run together - and they're not even bad songs. It's just too much of a good thing. This album was immediately and mercilessly topped by the similar-in-style Replicas a year later, but it's not necessarily obsolete. While I don't think I would recommend this as a starting point for anything, if you're interested in new wave, post-punk, industrial, or anything related to those, then I recommend you check this out at least once, if only for historical context.

RATING: 3.5/5