Archive for April, 2008

Passing Time in America

April 23, 2008

A lot of things are compared to baseball; the most obvious, of course, is sex. This always bothered me, considering the numerous inconsistencies. The first is when you get a home run or manage to get around all the bases in baseball, you don’t say that particular player went all the way; if you plow someone, you don’t refer to it as getting a home run. I mean, maybe you do, but you’re probably odd if you do. And there are others: if the physicality of women having sex could be considered by me as getting to third base, what would be third base be for women that prefer women? Is there a gray area (ew… I hope not) where it goes from second to home, like a dust storm fucked everything up all along the third base line? This is why I refer to my sexual conquests only in hockey euphemisms. And I will tell you– getting a hat trick is filthy, filthy business.

Now in the last five years or so, I’ve gone from being apathetic in the most annoying of fashions (that fashion, of course, being Jcno jeans– the more enormous the better– and fishnet anything accompanied by a whole lot of sighing at the Conformists) to being passionate (well, relatively) about baseball. I’m not one of those douchebags that jumped on the Red Sox bandwagon when they broke an agonizing 86 year losing streak in 2004… I jumped on the bandwagon the year before. After being following them from October on in 2003, the sight of everyone I grew up around having their hopes dashed year after year finally made sense. Well, as much sense as unending masochism can make to anyone who is not directly involved. Also beginning that year was a dreaded time of year known as the offseason.

Now, for most normal dudes, this sucks, but not that much. There’s football, hockey, basketball, European football, and golf. But one must understand that I really could care less about any of these other sports. This is true mainly because my art fag wiring will not allow me to follow numerous sports avidly; in fact, I’m pushing it as is. The other reason is that all other sports have a flimsy base. Football is a field full of brutes in tight spandex taking entirely too long to make a 7 second play, then only playing one game a week. Hockey is interesting, but much like European football (or soccer, if you’re not pretentious), I can only be so interested in a low-scoring game. Hell, defense-heavy games of baseball drive me insane. Basketball feels like it should be interesting, but my image of basketball is heavily tied to dudes with outlandish afros and short shorts with a sweet Funkadelic bassline accompanying everything they do. This image is completely my own doing, and it makes little to no sense, considering that era of basketball was over before I was born. But much like funk has progressed into a weak facsimile of its former self, I see no reason to like basketball nowadays. Their shorts are too long and their afros… please, don’t get me started on the lack of sweet afros in the NBA. And until Tiger Woods got involved, golf may as well have had a Grand Wizard. So this essentially leaves the cold, unforgiving New England months to Xasthur and Jesu records, driving or taking the train to a job I loathe a lot more than I do when the sun’s out and the trees don’t look like wooden skeletons. Well, that and movies, good TV and friends… but the one element of myself completely rooted in dudeness suffers from November to April, and must look elsewhere to be fullfilled.

In previous years, this has manifested itself in different, scary ways. The scariest of which was a newfound affection for Kevin Coster’s baseball movies. While “Field of Dreams” is a little heartwarming despite being dipped in saccharine, “Bull Durham” is completely inexcusable. While the movie is alright enough, the 17 minute sex scene between Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon set to an unintentionally eerie sax solo is not only grating and nauseating, but creepy and possibly the most unsexy sex scene in a movie this side of Boys Don’t Cry. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I mean, what else is a man to do? Socialize? Read? Exercise? Community service? Don’t be fucking ignorant.

This year, to a greater extent than in 2003 mainly because the contest was more intense this year, it was politics. After the Iowa caucus, it became clear that my rabid interest in politics was merely a substitution for the lack of baseball in my life. When I was teaching night classes, I would give my students writing assignments to be able to sneak online and check to see who was winning what state. When a primary would fall on a night I was at home, I would watch CNN incessantly (being that watching Fox News for Democratic primary analysis is like watching a Red Sox game on the Food Network), cross-checking the results to what AP had, being that AP usually called a particular race first. I even tried to understand what the hell a superdelegate is. I found this much more entertaining than watching to see who would get Johan Santana for the entire winter.

Now this seemed completely random at first, along the lines of intensely following the Iditarod or who would veto the earmarks on the No Child Left Behind bill. But upon further consideration, it isn’t that out of the ordinary. Those of you who have been paying even the most remote attention to this primary season have surely noticed the to-the-death nature of the competition, making each day another event to follow: a jab from one candidate and waiting to see how the other would react. Then the actual primary coverage perfectly fit my interests: if anything else was on TV or I had grading to do, I could drift in and out (like I do with most ballgames), coming back when someone had won and half-heartedly listen to hours of spin and analysis. In theory, I’m going to vote for whomever wins the Democratic nomination; in fact, I’m rooting for one candidate over the other. Politics is very reminiscent of baseball, just instead of drunken bragging rights to your buddy Paul from Washington Heights, it’s, you know, your hopes, dreams, beliefs, and ethics.

Now, I’m gunning for Barack Obama this time around, because I’m naive, overly idealistic, enjoy slogans, and heartily against concrete promises. While I don’t have many complaints about Hillary on the issues in comparison to Obama, I know that she’s much more of a divisive figure in the middle and on the right than he is (though they’re getting neck and neck there as well) and would have a harder time tackling Everybody’s Crazy Grandpa John McCain. Now while I saw the two candidates in this light at the beginning, slowly but surely, I did the proper competitive thing and rooted for one and demonized the other. Now while I’ll view Barack’s loss to Hillary much like the Patriots’ loss to the Giants back in February (4 minutes of disappointment followed by a sandwich and wondering what else was on) should that time come, up until right around now, their rivalry hearkened to the Sox/Yankees bouts that I would normally have to wait until spring to re-experience.

And the two are not unlike those two teams. Hillary has been expected to seek the Democratic nomination before she even ran for office in 2000, having it all but promised to her due to the fact that her husband was the one good thing to happen to the Democratic party in the last 45 years and that she was a brassy lady that could seemingly withstand the blows of the subtle and blatant sexist jabs of the press that would come along with being the first serious female contender for President. In fact, she was expected to be the nominee about 16 minutes after Bush took office in early 2005. This sense of entitlement irked me as much as living a 20 minute drive away from Yankee Stadium while being reminded of the Yankees’ 26 World Series titles as often as possible. Having Massachusetts plates made it worse at times, of course.

Obama, on the other hand, seemingly came from nowhere: an overly green and idealistic newcomer riding on the fumes of a really fucking good Keynote address at the ’04 Democratic Convention. When going up against she who was promised the shot at the presidency, he seemingly was pursuing a lost cause; it would have been better to have him drop out and wait until ’12 or ’16. But thanks to an incredibly obnoxious swarm of supporters that showed up wherever he was (just short of calling themselves Barack Nation), he fought against the initial odds to become the (slight) frontrunner for the nomination. After worrying about the distinct possibility of having another war-crazy Republican in office, it was refreshing and inspiring to see another non-white man have a shot at the White House to (hopefully, but probably not) undo most of the mortal sins of the last 8 years. In the offseason, it was nice to see someone come from behind to seemingly win in the end that wasn’t in Bull Durham.

(Of course, having Kerry lose to Bush in ’04 was like watching the ’04 Sox lose to a Yankees starting lineup comprised of Hitler’s generals as being coached by Saddam Hussein.)

This was all up to Pennsylvania. The same problem I have with football I’ve had with the Pennsylvania primary: it took too goddamn long for too little payoff. And I got to watch Barack Obama say the same thing over and over again and Hillary Clinton piss all over anything I ever liked about her by coming up with a new trivial issue to squawk about in every morning news cycle. The last six weeks have essentially been a political offseason: the only movements were subtle and didn’t have any immediate effect on the outcome of the race. Of course, in lieu of trades, we had angry black ministers and candidates not actually getting shot at in Bosnia. Upon its return, it wasn’t as exciting. It was tiring instead of exhilarating. And as the results came on, I found myself paying more attention to the Boston/Los Angeles game (but in my defense, 2 Ellsbury home runs and 3 doubles by Pedroia beat the shit out of Paul Begala and Wolf Blitzer, a man who clearly does not deserve his badass name).

So at this point, I guess I could watch closely over the next two weeks to see who does what. But at this point, yeah, Hillary won, but not by enough to convince people that she should be the nominee. And even if Obama pummels her in the remaining primaries, she still has enough of a reason to stay in this through the convention. This is going to stretch out the length of time it has already been going on, and I am officially throwing in the towel. I would like someone to contact me after the brokered convention and/or the riots end and let me know who to champion over the other guy. It’s baseball season again; this is no time to be intelligent.

Five albums you should pick up

April 15, 2008

…because I did. And we all know I’m a touchstone of greatness.

1) LEATHERFACE– Mush

A band I had absolutely no clue existed until about 3 weeks ago is yet another in a long line of bands I was completely unfamiliar with who have an extensive history. The band plays endearingly sloppy pop-punk with vocals from a dude who sounds like a slightly more melancholy Lemmy Kilmister… well, in the case of Lemmy, “at all” would be more than usual. It sounds exactly like if the aforementioned Lemmy fronted Alkaline Trio with all of their music being written by Bob Mould. The best thing about this band is that I don’t feel silly listening to it.

The worst part about getting old (aside from physical aging, weight gain, mounting debt, being more susceptible to sickness, society’s disturbing obsession with getting married by a certain age… alright, maybe it’s not the worst thing) is discovering bands that you didn’t when you were younger, and then finding out that there was a small window of time where they were alright to connect with. Braid’s The Age of Octeen is a perfect example. I got into their semi-brilliant swan song Frame and Canvas my senior year of college, and liked it quite a bit; the album felt mature enough that I wouldn’t have to walk by a gaggle of Braid fans at the mall, but it felt vibrant enough that I wouldn’t feel like I was curling up with a Norah Jones album and a cup of English Breakfast, mourning the loss of my youth and waiting for the icy high-five of Death. Needless to say, it was a perfect album for that time and place. But the Age of Octeen I got two years later, and I missed the point of it entirely. I didn’t dislike it, but it was too deeply rooted in, well, being octeen, if you will. Even though I hated being a teenager, I completely allowed myself to be marketed to as one, and had a collection of music rich with (often manufactured) youth rebellion. I can look back on it fondly now, but that’s because it was mine in that time and place. Age of Octeen wasn’t mine then, and it didn’t make sense to me as an adult. Leatherface don’t get that sort of reaction.

They’re essentially what someone who initially liked the palpable nature of pop-punk would return to after listening to a shitload of other music first. Every song is driven by a straightforward punk beat and accented by simple guitar work, though occasionally peppered by some interesting post-punk chords. Every song on Mush is ridiculously anthemic, even if you can’t understand what musta-gargled-glass-and-turpentine-at-one-point singer Frankie Stubbs is saying. The album, it could be argued, is just one song done over and over, slightly different each time to give the allusion of variance. The thing is, that song is a great song, and I have no issue listening to it over and over, which is why the record has been in almost constant rotation since I acquired it.

2) Isis-Oceanic

The buzz on Isis, if you’re like me and spent almost all of your free time at your office job reading as much as you could on them, is that their 2002 fucking masterpiece Oceanic is widely considered their classic, while Panopticon, their 2004 followup, is underrated and, in fact, much better. The problem with this is, of course, that I haven’t read an article talking about Panopticon where it’s spoken of as inferior to Oceanic, thus making Oceanic their underrated classic while Panopticon is too ballyhooed for its own good. Make sense? Of course not.

While the band started off as what Neurosis riffs would sound like after 2 or 3 stomachs worth of digestion from a cow and have (as of their last album, 2006’s In the Absence of Truth) wound up playing all your favorite Tool songs, just in different keys and with their own words attached, their three “middle” records– Celestial, Oceanic, and Panopticon— are a lush middle ground of the former’s slow-burning heaviness and the latter’s outer space melodicism. Oceanic is the most fully realized of this philosophy: while there’s no doubt the record’s not gut-punchingly heavy at times, the band pack the songs full of simple-but-moving consonance. The album’s two standout tracks– the sparse and subtle “Weight” and “Hym”, Oceanic‘s last song that manages to outdo the rest– show Isis hitting their stride. This is a direction the band could have kept going in for 2 or 3 more records and I would have enjoyed each. But being the better-evolved human beings they are, they went in a different direction for their next record, and while I do like Panopticon, I think it spends too much of its time meandering, trying to find the creamy center they kept biting into all through Oceanic: heaviness with a subtle, lush, simple base.

3 & 4) Fugazi– In on the Killtaker/Red Medicine

While aging hipsters will insist to you that Fugazi peaked right around 1990, when their nimble full length Repeater came out, I argue that the band was just getting started. The aforementioned aging hipsters ignored Fugazi right after their departure of a full length Steady Diet of Nothing came out. That album was Fugazi’s first fully-realized album as opposed to another collection of preachy anthems that lose their luster right around the time you turn 23. While that album isn’t necessarily perfect, the two records that followed it– In on the Killtaker and Red Medicine— are pretty damn close.

The reason I mention these two records together is that they are mirror images of eachother. Killtaker is a ballsy rock album chock full of fucking RIFFS with occasional emotional flourishes while Red Medicine is an emotional album that’s noisy as well as tuneful with a ballsy fucking RIFF thrown in every once and a while for good measure. They compliment eachother perfectly, and also perfectly illustrate the best parts of Fugazi: stop-start arrangements, using noise as a compositional technique in more of a workingman’s fashion than a pretentiousman’s one, and the overall insistence of the music. People often state that the last thing is why they don’t like Fugazi; the music is too insistent and in-your-face to be enjoyable and not feel like you’re being preached to. But while Ian Mackaye’s hardcore brethren often used preachiness and insistence because they wanted their music to be important, Fugazi sound insistent because their music IS important. They tread the same fine line Bruce Springsteen and early U2 do: they don’t employ irony to make their music easier to swallow, so therefore their music is stuffed to the seams with earnestness. And while earnestness is used by everyone from Matchbox Twenty to Nickelback to hide the fact that they’re shallow, boring human beings that should be marketing reps instead of musicians, someone making an earnest point is sometimes making the best point. And the best point is not always benefited by gratuitous helpings of irony. This, for me, is why Fugazi will always kick the shit out of Pavement.

5) Nachtmystium-Worldfall

The two years between Nachtmystium’s last full length, Instinct:Decay, and their new releases (the Worldfall EP and their full length Assassins, coming out in June) have felt like a decade, partially because Blake Judd, Nachtmystium’s central dude, was just starting to get to a very interesting point. “A Seed for Suffering”, the first proper song on Instinct:Decay, felt like a thrown gauntlet. The last third of the song is a wall of psychedelic guitars, all looping around a typical (but not stock) black metal riff. In a world as narrow as the one of black metal, it was akin to handing out rugs on which to pray toward Mecca in a Jewish deli on the Gaza strip. And while the rest of the songs on the album were good, none of them matched “A Seed for Suffering”.

Worldfall picks up where Instinct left off, if not for all too briefly. The EP’s five tracks (including 2 covers: a Death in June song radically reworked and a throwaway Goatsnake dirge) all hint at brave new ground just waiting to be tread upon. But being that it’s an EP and EPs rarely rival full lengths (notable exceptions: Dillinger Escape Plan’s Irony is a Dead Scene, Misery Index’s Dissent, Jesu’s Silver and, duh, Mission of Burma’s Signals, Calls and Marches), it’s thrown-together nature is forgiven. Though the pieces seemingly thrown together are remarkable: the title track is an ominously beautiful wall of reverb-soaked guitars, raspy whispering and chant-like vocals; “Depravity” is black metal-by-numbers, but channeled through the Nachtmystium-ator, so it’s twisted to shed light on new heaviness; “Solitary Voyage” is a reworked early song, illustrating how truly unexceptional the band used to be and how (arguably) important the band is now. That’s the thing with Nachtmystium: they began as a prolific and extremely bland lo-fi black metal band and, seemingly from nowhere, wriggled their way out of the pigeonhole to daringly stare into the face of what they were reared upon. They never feel like a band that hates black metal and is therefore destroying it, but are trying to show what they can do with the limited resources black metal offers. Plus they realize what most bands in the genre do not: all of black metal’s forefathers made the best “true” records already, and remaking a Darkthrone record over and over isn’t adding anything to anything. Darkthrone have made more than enough records as it is.

So yeah, get on that. I’m also listening to a lot of Crosby, Stills, and Nash. I don’t know if I’m ready to work my way over to …and Young yet.

This will be regular from now on

April 14, 2008

Due to the fact that I have a sliver more free time on my hands now, I’m going to try and update this as often as possible to essentially write every day. So strap on your damn seatbelts.