A Bold, Fresh Piece of Humanity?

December 19, 2008

Though “deathcore” has gotten itself a bad name in the last year or two, I’ve always thought of Misery Index as the pinnacle of it. Their first few releases– Retaliate and Dissent, especially– have a loose, hardcore swagger to them, but are still plenty rooted in grind and death metal. Though not as admirable as Dying Fetus (of which members of Misery Index were once a part), I find those two albums are some of the metal records I listen to the most (when determined, I’m a runner, and I defy you to find a better collection of songs to move your blood than Retaliate). Whereas hardcore has come to mean “breakdowns” to anythingcore bands, Misery Index are both aged and well-versed enough to grasp the full spectrum of the genre and slyly combine it with other “extreme metal” elements to remind us that, well, if the guys in Slayer didn’t like hardcore, metal would have never gotten fast. Though hardcore and metal exist, usually confidently, on two different sides, the line between the two is thin, and they do a lot more overlapping than we think. Early Misery Index is one of the bands that overlap the best.

With that in mind, I was hesitant to check out Traitors, their latest. I was anxious at first, only due to the album’s cover art (which is saying a lot, in that I haven’t been impressed by a band’s cover art in years. The last decade has been awful in terms of album artwork). Upon hearing a few tracks in advance, I was unimpressed: the music sounded rigid and slick, with a lot more death metal riffing than I’m used to from them. But on a more visceral level, nothing popped out at me. I was disappointed, then moved on to the seeming plethora of other great death metal that came out this year (Hate Eternal? Dead Covenant? Arsis? Origin? Neuraxis? Yes please! And Jesus Christ, there was more!) Not to say that Misery Index sold out– an album like Traitors, no matter what your feeling on it are, was certainly not made with financial gain in mind– but it felt like the band was past its prime, downshifting from impressive to adequate.

Though with the end of the year at hand, I couldn’t help but notice how many year end lists (well, in the metal-sphere, anyway) had Traitors on it. The album was fairly well received, but I didn’t think it was considered “great.” I eschewed Discordia— their last album– as seemingly everyone else had, and thought of this as just an extension of that aforementioned adequacy-not-greatness. But the praise for it seemed strangely unanimous. So, having not yet checked it out, I decided to give it a chance.

And the results are– wait for it– mixed! Though better than I had originally thought, my initial impressions were correct: the album is too clean-sounding and stiff to recapture my interest in full. That being said, Traitors is no work of half-assery; it’s a brass knuckled punch to the jaw. It suffers mostly from what I call Chinese Democracy Syndrome: were it released by a band I’d never heard of, I’d think more of the album. But because it’s Misery Index, I expect more. Is that fair? Absolutely not. But is it how we collectively think? Absolutely. To start as a band of great quality means the pressure of great expectations. And if you are a truly great band, those expectations should be met. Of course, the middling nature of Discordia and the not-as-good-as-it-should-be status of Traitors doesn’t necessarily reflect on the band overall; after all, Bob Dylan wasn’t so hot in the 80s and most of the 90s, but has had a late-career renaissance most bands and artists don’t experience. Or more toward Misery Index’s sound: Celtic Frost.

That being said, the core of Misery Index is, for the most part, still intact. The guitars are  meaty as hell, but fast and unrelenting. Vocalist/bassist Jason Netherton still has the sandpaper bark that’s graced every MI full length, EP, and split. The band’s uncanny knack of knowing when to shift gears between genres is still unmatched, while paying attention to cohesion and not slipping into the choppy depths of the kitchen sink-core craze (Heavy Heavy Low Low, The Number Twelve Looks Like You, etc. bloody etc.) of the early part of this decade. The less-then-exceptional parts (the outro riff on “Ghosts of Catatonia” wasting its brilliant build up, the too-straight up hardcore of “The Arbiter”, the fact that “Thrown into the Sun” is by a wide margin the worst song Misery Index have ever put to tape) are overshadowed by the record’s best moments (the top notch intro “We Never Come in Peace”; the album closer “Black Sites” dipping into melodic death metal only enough to stick to your ribs as opposed to playing to your sweet tooth; plus many, many other opportune points of plain ol’ solid extreme metal). Expecting too much from Traitors is a shame, in that despite its imperfections, the band still seems to be on top of their game.

Of course, the band are missing the grime and groove that made them so likable to begin with. The blame rests solely with two culprits: producer Kurt Ballou and drummer Adam Jarvis. Ballou’s had a fucking STRONG string of production credits in the last few years: Animosity’s Animal, Torche’s Meanderthal, Disfear’s Live the Storm… hell, he even made the last Elysia record bearable. But Traitors is too antiseptic. The guitars, while having Kurt’s signature crunch, are rigidly married to the beat as opposed to just swinging along with it. Jarvis is an able death metal drummer, but Misery Index aren’t really a death metal band. The brilliance of original Misery Index drummers Kevin Talley and Matt Byers (and in defense of Jarvis, they’re tough acts to follow) was that their styles were noncommittal, bobbing and weaving between grindcore blasts, mid-paced death metal, and deep hardcore grooves. By sticking to just one style of drumming (plus not having the same sense of groove as the aforementioned former sticksmen), Jarvis takes some of the excitement from the band. There really aren’t any sloppy segues, but there aren’t any enlightening shifts, either.

But there’s something delightfully angry about Traitors that seems to hit the spot after the last ridiculous year in our country’s history. With Rage Against the Machine and Fugazi missing in action, and other important or notable bands not attacking Bush and America’s obese consumption addiction with the lobster-faced anger of Misery Index (possibly because, with Bush’s unequivocal political sadism and the nation’s laziness slow rotting away our physical land at home and our standing abroad , the target was too easy and slow moving, which isn’t necessarily a bad decision), it’s nice to hear a band this ANGRY about the bullshit to which we’ve grown accustomed. By no means is Traitors perfect, and it won’t age as well as their early work. But in the climate in which it came out (in the shadow of America’s most politically toxic era and deathcore looking to do for death metal to what Dick Cheney did for executive privilege), it’s a sobering slap to the face. Like a sneeze or a shot of espresso, it’ll jerk you back into consciousness, despite its blemishes. Wake up.

The End of an Era

December 19, 2008

My first memory of Guns ’n’ Roses coincides with the last time they were truly culturally significant: it was around 1992 or ’93, and I was in 5th grade. My gym teacher, Mr. Tenero, would occasionally let us bring in music to do whatever the hell it is you do in fifth grade gym class. Two of the more edgy dudes brought in a cassette– cassettes being the primary and most affordable method of obtaining music at the time– of Use Your Illusion II, and after my gym teacher skimmed over the lyrics, he thanked them for wanting to contribute to the class, but he thought that the tape was too inappropriate for its intended purpose. One of those guys would grow up to be a junkie that would go to jail for beating up his mother. I graduated from high school, went to college, graduated from college, got a Master’s Degree, and have had a series of jobs since then. I went from liking Nirvana to Nine Inch Nails to Fear Factory to Slayer to Emperor to Dying Fetus to Anaal Nathrakh to Suffocation to probably hundreds of other bands, both metal and decidedly not so. In that time, we’ve gone from consuming music via magnetic tape to the digital ambitions of CDs to the once futuristic concept of having all music be completely digital and held in a device the size of a palm, weighing only a few ounces. Through all this, the last original work by Guns ’n’ Roses remained the Use Your Illusion duo.

That duo already showed GnR fraying at the edges: they’re both fatally imperfect records, usually drowning in their own mega-excess and threatening to collapse under the weight of their spectacular ambitions. But there were also a bunch of great songs on those records that would rightfully join Guns ’n’ Roses’ canon. From there, GnR went from being the world’s biggest band– both in overindulgence and popularity– to the holders of a “long awaited” record, to a nostalgia act. Before hearing a note of Chinese Democracy, most had already written it off and were pining for the GnR lineup of lore, because in between the Use Your Illusion stadium tours and the cold November Sunday when the new Guns ‘n’ Roses album was officially and finally released, bands long thought dead returning to the road and studio became big business. While Chinese Democracy began as a fight for W. Axl Rose to stay relevant and push the GnR’s dirty roots to the limits of their very definition, it’s been in waiting for long enough to be viewed as another in a long line of bands past their prime trying to prove themselves as still artistically significant.

And in Axl’s defense, this isn’t fair; he’s been working on this since The Spaghetti Incident, so it was probably made with at least some– if not truly the best, for him– artistic intentions in mind. In Axl’s condemnation, it would may have been in his best interest to have put this out in 1999, when it would have knocked the world on its collective ass. But either way now, it’s legally out in the world, no longer just a mess of bootlegs and rumors. And the strange thing about Chinese Democracy is that it doesn’t sound like anything around right now while avoiding sounding like it was frozen in the amber of the mid-nineties. Our shared attitudes toward this record– waning from excitement to denunciation– have shifted so dramatically that it became impossible to have any accurate expectations for this record. Its mythic stature has made it transcend a worth-the-wait affair or an epic disappointment. It simply is, now.

But what is it, exactly? It’s too much. It’s bloated, with every note on the record produced within an inch of sounding robotic. Nothing on this record is simple, but instead a collection of ideas rethought and rethought then covered with a gloss of new perspective. Axl’s love of rock pomposity and excess dates back to the multi-million dollar videos for “Don’t Cry”, “November Rain”, and “Estranged”; Chinese Democracy is that love fully blossomed. It makes the Use Your Illusion records, both toeing the line of Spinal Tap-worthy glut themselves, seem like gravelly, lo-fi demos. It could possibly be the most enormous album ever released, which is both its greatest failure and its greatest triumph. Chinese Democracy is so overstated that you can’t peg it as either good or bad; it’s a mess, but what a glorious mess it is.

When taken for exactly what it is– and let’s just be reasonable here and eschew any hope that it will recapture any of the sound or spirit of Appetite for Destruction— it’s in many ways one of the great rock records. Though perhaps only half of the songs on the record are good songs, the not-so-good ones are so spectacularly executed that they’re at least worth an approving nod, even if they’re usually songs you’ll come to skip over when returning to Chinese Democracy in the future. And that return will come about: Axl, for all his ridiculousness and dunderheadedness, has an impeccable ear for pop rock songwriting. From the title track to the sad radio rock of “Better” to the Queen-esque overreaching of Chinese Democracy’s first leak– via the band itself at the 2002 VMAs– “Madagascar”, there isn’t necessarily a shortage of good songs, even if the record isn’t made up entirely of good songs. Perhaps it’s the low expectations due to our “where’s Slash and Duff?!” dismissal of anything GnR past 1993, but many of the album’s songs are particularly affecting, and stick to the soul like flies to flypaper.

This, of course, presents the most damning aspect of Chinese Democracy: what does any of this have to do with Guns ‘n’ Roses? The band established itself as a breath of fresh air from the glossy and weak metal-du-jour: glam and what has now become known as Hair Metal. Appetite— and it was a conscious decision not to mention the seminal album more than once before now– was a dirty butterfly knife to the gut of Poison and Whitesnake, reminding the general public of the scrappy roots of rock and roll via equal parts classic rock swagger and punk rock piss and vinegar. As we all collectively predicted, Chinese Democracy has nothing in common with Appetite for Destruction. The band name is seemingly just a formality. But with that, not a moment of the new record is spent missing Slash, Duff, or Izzy; listen to Chinese Democracy and try and find a moment where they would have fit. You won’t come across such a moment.

The massive irony of Chinese Democracy is that it’s released under the name of a band that reminded the public the refreshing power of a band writing simply great, ballsy rock songs. That irony also encompasses the fact that, in an age where any jerk off with a guitar, a Pro Tools rig, and some expensive microphones can make a glossy rock record, it’s an album that actually benefits from intemperance. When Nickelback and Hinder write shamelessly simple music and manage to sell a simply retarded amount of albums doing so, Axl Rose dropping a neutron bomb of complexity into the mainstream feels like a relief. The rock world into which the original incarnation of the band plunged a syringe of adrenaline has come full circle; the downside to the near-Communist pop culture atmosphere where anyone is capable of making a record is that not everyone can do it well. In that sense, the title of the new Guns ’n’ Roses record is strangely prophetic. The tens of millions of dollars put into Chinese Democracy are terrifically apparent. This album could not have been made by anyone but the mythic figure of W. Axl Rose. The seventeen years it spent in gestation all feel necessary. Whether or not it’s good or bad seem like semantics; this record is purely an event. And whether its ambition signals the resurgence of or conclusive demise of rock and roll as we once knew it, Chinese Democracy lives up to, in every conceivable way, all its good and bad hype. And in that, more than any other record I’ve ever heard, you’d be stupid to miss it. Axl Rose’s two decades worth of artistic excess has yielded results. Whether they’re worthwhile or hollowly pretentious, by no means is Chinese Democracy a failure.

“I’ve never had a piggy bank, but one time I had some bacon that tasted an awful lot like change…”

December 19, 2008

Mitch Hedberg’s “last” album, Do You Believe in Gosh?, was released back in September. Even with the hint of its release, his still-loyal fans (including this dude) were filled with the sort of glee reserved for Christmas or graduations, itchy to hear the last bits of new material left in his canon. Any complaints from his fans about the album are purely rooted in either too-high-to-fulfill expectations or douchebag hipster snobbery; Do You Believe in Gosh?‘s saddest point is that it shows that Mitch on top of his game at the time of his passing, with his new material eschewing risky new ground and staying with what made him so likable to begin with. Though it arguably pigeonholed him as the stoner’s Stephen Wright, it also made Mitch a reliable source of humor: no amount of parking tickets, shitty coworkers, messy breakups, deadbeat landlords, or Sarah Palins could dull the blow of a Mitch Hedberg act, at once charming and funny in an endearing way. Despite the lack of “himself” in his material (and thus dodging the psycho-traumatic bellyaching of his late 90’s/new millennium contemporaries), he still came across as very much approachable. The moment Mitch’s untimely death sinks in is after the last joke of the CD, when it’s apparent that there is no more new Mitch Hedberg. But the energy and razor-sharp cleverness of his puckish-yet-affecting jokes briefly suspend reality, leaving you in the audience on the evening the CD was recorded, drink in hand, watching him avoid eye contact with the audience even though all he’d encounter would be a sea of approving gazes.

Those familiar with Mitch’s work– and it’s somewhat easy to be, considering his relative ubiquity on Comedy Central and the like even before his death– will find both familiarity and a subtly different approach on Gosh?. His lifelong battle with stage fright, whereas his specials and previous two CDs showed a man who still managed to pull off his carefree brand of one-liners despite his crippling awareness of the judgments of his audience, seems only an afterthought on this album. The CD is nothing but new material, though the jokes on the CD all follow the same path as his other jokes did– charming observational humor with an absurdist slant, only about half to three quarters of the jokes being effective while the others were brushed off in an almost post-modern awareness of how bad they were. Some of the bits on Do You Believe in Gosh? fall awkwardly flat, and would render another comedian’s CD as a mixed bag. But Mitch– even though it’s very clear that he’s the joke’s creator– seems to be refreshingly more in on the joke than you. His act can seem dumb. In fact, it is dumb. But the first person that would call him on it is Mitch himself. It was a brilliant way to strip away pretense, thus enabling the simple charm of his work to burrow into his fans. Some may not have warmed up to him, but those who did hung onto each goofy word that left his mouth.

Do You Believe in Gosh? is not a documenting of his last show. In fact, it wasn’t even intended to be released as a CD. Mitch was rehearsing to record a new CD before he died, and spent time on the road polishing up his act. So there’s a sense of ease and spontaneity on the album that was missing on his prior two albums. And though this could come off, in theory, as hearing a bootleg of a show Miles Davis played around the time Kind of Blue was released as opposed to listening to Kind of Blue itself, it actually strengthens the argument of Mitch Hedberg being a great and versatile comedian. Missing from his first two albums are almost any interaction with the audience aside from the occasional jab at himself after a joke bombed. Gosh? includes conversations with the crowd that kill as much as his best material, a refreshing discovery considering Mitch’s act was so meticulously rehearsed. And that quality of meticulous preparation is all but gone here, perhaps due to the fact that he didn’t think the show would ever be heard by anyone not in the audience or because he’d grown as a performer, playing as much off the room as well as his tried and true material. Mitch had been around for a while, and of course to add to the Universe’s unending sense of irony, and was probably about to ascend to a elevated status in the entertainment world. Do You Believe in Gosh? is a great case for his theoretical ascension.

The saddest parts of the CD– aside from the aforementioned ending– is how Mitch died. On his first two CDs, Mitch was clearly on something: Strategic Grill Locations features the man either stoned out of his mind or on a near-drooling dose of painkillers while Mitch All Together (named a joke only on the previous CD) features an occasionally abrasive energy that nods to an excess of coke. But Do You Believe in Gosh? hints at an at least metaphorical sobriety, having Mitch sound completely in control and confident. He never came off as a basket case or a mess during his life, and though he freely admitted to drug use in his act (ranging from the classic “I used to do drugs. I still do, but I used to, too.” to some of his banter with “Phil” on his latest), it’s not apparent anywhere on the album that he was out of control or the sense that we’re catching him in the midst of a downward spiral. It’s not that his first 2 CDs are sloppy; in fact, I personally find them funnier overall. But they’re missing the coherent, focused, loose approach that Gosh? has in spades, and it leaves the listener feeling good about the place Mitch was in when he died.

His last show– circulated online via a very rudimentary bootleg– utilizes the same material as Do You Believe in Gosh? along with more audience banter. He sounds carefree in his delivery of new material, and the audience responds favorably. Then he closes out his show with a smattering of his old, beloved material, with the audience delivering the punchlines as he does. Though I don’t know much about his personal life, I’ve always viewed his overdose and subsequent death as accidental; though hiding behind a pleasant facade is nothing new in entertainment, Mitch didn’t seem to be tortured enough to take his own life. The end of his last show, though, adds a sad coda to Do You Believe in Gosh?: he seems perfectly in tune with his audience, and like a band, he gives them the material they came to hear at the end, everyone laughing just as hard as they did the first time they heard it. It’s a melancholy end to a set of jokes that relied as much on the charm of the man telling them as the material itself. And as on his other CDs, neither charm nor good material is lacking on Do You Believe in Gosh?.

Sevens

July 30, 2008
To kick this updating thing into high gear (or… any gear), I’ve decided to shamelessly rip off something I saw on another few blogs (invisible oranges and aversionline, to name a few). Presenting: 7 Songs I’m Into at the Moment or Something.
1) Krallice– “Wretched Wisdom”
Krallice is the side project of Behold… the Arctopus guitarist Colin Marston, though you can’t decipher his ridiculous fusion tech-death roots from the streamlined melodic black metal of this band. Though the album suffers from thin production, the sheer volume of pitch-perfect melodicism makes up for it most of the time. “Wretched Wisdom” seemingly blows their self titled debut’s wad almost right out of the gate, with the song serving as the album’s opener and almost impossibly high watermark. But the waves of layered guitar, both liltingly sad and sneeringly propulsive at once, and howling vocals (done in a very un-black metal style) of “Wretched Wisdom” demand both your attention and chills with each listen. If these kids can manage to focus more in the future, they could contribute something really significant to the already rich American black metal scene.
2) Girl Talk- “Once Again”
Though Girl Talk just put out another ridiculously great album of mash-up brilliance, I’m still fixated on the opener of last year’s “Night Ripper”. Though I could go into the dozens of nuanced reasons, it’s really because of two factors: Ludacris verse from a song I hate reimagined over my favorite Boston riff (the one from “Foreplay/Long Time”). Girl Talk does a lot of this sort of thing with Luda; hell, they do it twice on their latest. And my thing with Ludacris is a relatively similar problem that I have with Jesu: Jesu EP’s and splits= excellent. Jesu full lengths= trying but sometimes rewarding. Ludacris songs= hey, that’s alright. Ludacris verses on shitty songs= goddamn, that was awesome! See how that works? Of course you don’t. But my long, belabored point is to place those great verses over something worthwhile really builds a permanent timeshare in my heart… keep it up, Girl Talk guy.
3) Sinead O’Connor- “Fire on Babylon”
My issue with Sinead is that she doesn’t have any sort of set sound or style; she just moves along with whatever trends catch her fancy at the time she writes her music. Her early work was jagged, folky post-punk, the 90s fluxuated between synth-driven balladry and “Ray of Light”-style intelligent pop (with the occasional drum loop or skittery pseudo-drum and bass beat), today she’s… doing really odd, not-always-successful things (her last album was a reggae jaunt called “Theology”… ugh), but the draw has never been her compositional prowess, but instead that fucking VOICE. I can’t think of any other voice in popular music since (early) Grace Slick that’s been equally tuneful and a force of nature at the same time. This particular song harnesses the no-bullshit fury O’Connor is known for, while still managing to hit high notes that I didn’t know existed without sacrificing an iota of expression. She’s always been an interesting dichotomy: on the one hand, she’s wounded and vulnerable, nursing a heart broken by her countrymen, Catholicism, the fickle public, and the men and women that have been involved with her; on the other, she’s a strong, confident, very angry woman. The two cross often, and to brilliant effect. On “Fire on Babylon”, she sounds overwhelmed, wounded, venomous, and dangerous all at once. Meaning, of course, she’s a woman I like.
4) Nachtmystium- “Seasick”
Nachtmystium’s closing suite on this year’s excellent Assassins: Black Meddle Part 1 was a letdown at first: it was the song that every pre-review of the album raved about as the epic album closer, often comparing it to “Echoes”, the closer on Pink Floyd’s (regular) Meddle. Truth is, though, when you average all 3 songs together, it only adds up to 7 minutes. And initial listens do sort of convey a sort of lack of focus, providing what seems to be an unfitting ending for an otherwise strong album. But further listens (and even listens to each part individually… thanks iPod shuffle!) unveil the song’s brilliance: it’s that “lack of focus,” which is actually more of a liberating looseness, that provides the song’s true quality. Parts 2 and 3 are where the song lifts off, propelled by Santana-channeling guitar work and a goddamn knockout sax solo by Yakuza’s Bruce Lamont. When both the solos intertwine at the end of part 2 to form one beautifully hideous note that dissipates into a psychedelic mist, it knocks the wind out of you. It’s not black metal anymore, of course; it’s just good.
5) Crosby, Stills, and Nash- “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”
…and while we’re on the subject of suites, this is a song I’ve been obsessed with for the better part of the summer. It’s one I’ve always had a fleeting knowledge of, both through my mother and the fact that I know more about rock history than other more relevant history. But I’ve never really listened to it, which has been a shame. The song is gravy on top of butter on top of icing on the cake. It’s essentially four neat little sixties folk rock numbers melded together as one big plea for forgiveness, with a throng of man-harmonies as a lead vocal line, something you don’t hear nearly often enough– or at all– in popular music today. It’s deep and heartfelt enough not to be breezy but competently fluid as to avoid being an overwrought chunk of the Summer of Love. Hearing the live version from Woodstock is equally telling: David Crosby’s insistence in the middle of the performance into the mic that there needs to be less “low end in the guitar, please,” perhaps the most prickish thing done in the ’60s this side of bombing Cambodia, and the last part with it’s “do do do do do, do do, do do do do” acting as catnip for filthy hippies, as a crowd full of them that had never heard the song before began clapping along without being told to do so by the performers. Like any great song, I hate the end of it, because I know it will soon be over. And for a 7 1/2 minute song to be too short, especially by ’60s standards, is a true goddamn achievement.
6) Morrissey- “That’s How People Grow Up”

There is no reason why Morrissey should be making music this consistently good and relevatory this late into his career… hell, this is 20 years into his solo career, which really should have meant that it was stuff not decent enough for the Smiths. But Morrissey has found a unique voice for his solo material and has mostly yielded good results, from not-too-bad to rivaling his Smiths-ian output. “That’s How People Grow Up” is a track tacked on to his latest Greatest Hits collection, which in itself is a cash grab. Or maybe it’s to secure a solid place for this song, as he isn’t putting out a new album just yet and the medium of the single is, well, dead. The song itself is still in the vein of his recent solo work: robust and full of confidence, finding Morrissey comfortable in the role of crooning elder statesman. But this doesn’t mean there aren’t moments of scraped knee rawness in the song, with Morrissey, even after strides toward being a semi-adjusted adult with a regular sex drive on his last album, lamenting years lost to wanting to be in love, ending with the delightfully condescending line, “So yes, there are things worse in life than never being someone’s sweetie.” The song, much like the aforementioned Sinead O’Connor’s “No Man’s Woman”, manages to find liberation in rejecting the idea of having a lover outright. Those over the age of 22, who with each passing day enter a world more and more based on pairing up with someone for the sake of not dying alone, the song is a call to arms.
7) Jesu- “The Stars that Hang Above You”
Jesu’s contribution to their half of their split with Envy is the definition of so-so: the first song, a 13 minute exercise in shoegazing, is tiring and pointless. The second, “The Stars that Hang Above You”, is up there with the best that Jesu’s done. It works off of a bassline very reminiscent of “Glosoli” from Sigur Ros’ Takk, and slowly builds on it, eventually piling on a herd of distorted guitars as the beat intensifies. Justin Broadrick’s voice stays at a deadpan mumble, even as the music ebbs around him, climaxing with high velocity double bass and chunky guitar chords plodding along, all maintaining the beauty with which the song began. Then it stops and fades out, leaving you feeling pulverized and not sure why, as Jesu songs are just supposed to make you sad…
Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

More empty promises

July 13, 2008

Much like a deadbeat dad, I’m promising you, yet again, to see you more often. Here’s why I’ve been updating less:

-Got a job 45 minutes away from where I’m currently living, so an hour and a half-two hours of my day is now driving as opposed to blogging, along with the 8 hours a day I work.

-I write reviews for MetalSucks.net and themetalunion.com, which has been the bulk of my writing about the arts time.

-I’m really broken up over what happened between you and your mom.

My point being, although one would think that because I’m writing semi-professionally now (the semi- due to the fact that I’m only being paid in promos for both positions) would mean my days of writing on this thing are over. But no, dear reader! In fact, due to the fact that my name is out there means I’d like to have my name out there more, and this blog also means I’ll be covering the stuff I do want to write about as opposed to what I’m being assigned to write about. Which means, I’ll be writing about more non-metal stuff (and ideally seeing more movies and writing about them) here than before. That being said, every now and again, something metal related may pop up.

But yeah, I’m giving this thing a MASSIVE OVERHAUL and updating it a lot more often to both sharpen my writing skills and have a bigger portfolio to work from… and oh yeah, to impress you. So tell your mom that she and “Uncle Greg” congratulations about getting that condo in Stockbridge; I’m moving up in the world, too, goddammit!

Chaos to Order to Chaos Again

May 23, 2008

Mayhem get a bad rap (dear God, pardon the paradox). Truth be told, that’s mostly their own fault, considering that they spent the early part of their career burning churches along with killing themselves and eachother. And during that burnin’ and killin’ phase, unsurprisingly, their music was rather lackluster. Actually, to pretty much anyone outside the scene, the music was terrible.  Like with most “true” black metal, I consider it a had-to-be-there kind of thing.

Of course, having your bass player stab your guitarist (who also wrote most of your music) is something that would sink most bands, as it did Mayhem… for a while. The band returned in the late ’90s to put out by far the best and most diverse music of its career, which of course was overshadowed by the music made by the God-deflin’, stabbin’ incarnation of the band. This is a shame too, as the band’s latter work shows a lot of forward-thinking, something almost universally absent in black metal.

The main reason why they got so significantly better was due to Blasphemer (who along with former bandmates Maniac and Necrobutcher easily have the worst pseudonyms in black metal), the man who would replace Euronymous (actually, add him to the worst pseudonym list as well) on guitar. While Euronymous’ work has probably suffered due to 14 years of being regurgitated by every Johnny Necro in the black metal biz, Blasphemer’s writing seems to go above on beyond not only black metal standards but metal standards as well, probably coming closest to evoking Wagner without getting an orchestra or synthesizer involved (and, in fact, even closer than them, as metal and orchestras have yet to yield any decent result, as far as I’m concerned). His riffs manage to be both stately and raw, the precise middle point that all things heavy should aspire to. Add to that that Blasphemer took the reins as head songwriter as well transformed Mayhem from a bunch of guys in face paint worshiping Satan and occasionally killing eachother to a dare I say mature black metal band trying to push the genre past its inherent silliness and genuinely try to make it a force of fucking nature.

Ordo ad Chao, Mayhem’s latest album, is the best representation of this era of the band, as the band’s former vocalist (the one that was kicked out of the band for drinking and getting thrown down a flight of stairs, not the one that killed himself and had bits of his skull worn as jewelery by the other band members) Maniac sounded a little like a chain smoking ally cat being gang raped. The music and production on the last album he appeared on, 2004’s Chimera, was astounding enough to make the listener not as focused on that (well, after a few listens). But Ordo ad Chao hearkens the return of Attila Csihar, the vocalist on Mayhem’s first full length De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. But while Attila’s vocals on that album are certainly atypical for black metal– certainly a considerable feat, at the time– they were also laughably bad. And while one got the sense that they were meant to be that way– more performance art than botched sepulchral emoting– it hindered the experience of listening to the album. The Attila Csihar of Ordo ad Chao is the fully realized version of his De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas predecessor, using his vocal quirks to go along with the music instead of separating itself from it. He jumps back and forth between postapocalyptic carnival barker to weeping asylum inmate to seemingly typical black metal rasping and death metal growling to finger-wagging prophet, often in the course of one song, as Ordo ad Chao‘s near 10 minute epic “Illuminate Eliminate” would suggest. Csihar managed to bring enough avant garde to black metal to keep it interesting, yet still manages to work within Mayhem’s savage heaviness. That in itself makes the album worth it.

Of course, what makes Ordo ad Chao such an exceptional record is that all the elements are there. Hellhammer’s drumming has also matured, seemingly taking a page from the “throw some mind-blowing fills in there whenever the riffs are at risk of becoming stale” chapter of Mastodon’s How-To book, keeping the album at an almost constant forward momentum. Blasphemer’s playing is both metal-heavy and punk rock sloppy, yet never at a point where it doesn’t sound like the man doesn’t know what he’s doing. And as far as his composing goes, Ordo ad Chao seems to be a direct response to the relative-accessibility of Chimera, creating a thick wall of blackened apocalyptic madness that seems almost impenetrable on the first few listens. Part of this wall is the production, which is terrible. But terrible production is the norm in black metal; that being said, I don’t think a band has ever used grimy production to its favor as well as Mayhem has on this album. The music is easily the most elevated, technical, and intense in all of Mayhem’s catalog, but one never gets the sense that it’s not being created by any more than a few Norwegian guys (well, and one Hungarian, as Attila Csihar is literally from Transylvania. I hear they have a great Quizno’s there) in a room together: the drums are unequalized, meaning they sound as drums usually sound when you’re standing right in front of them (also meaning the ride symbol is often the loudest thing you’ll hear, which is something I’m used to associating with Songs in the Key of Life more than anything); the guitar’s a fuzzy mess and ripples with reverb  every time the full band comes to a halt, something that’s usually shaved off in post-production. At first, it sounds like the band rushed this into existence, not bothering to take the extra week to master the album. But further listens make the band’s intent clear: the album just sounds fucking RAW without proper production values, hearkening back more to hardcore than their basement kvlt black metal brethren. It’s music that doesn’t need gloss to make it appealing, something the likes of their contemporaries in Darkthrone have been striving for for years and yet have never actually achieved.

So, with what could very well be Mayhem’s best album yet, Blasphemer has quit the band, citing that he doesn’t think the band has a future. Seeing as both Attila and Hellhammer play in dozens (no really, actually dozens) of other bands and Necrobutcher (yes, I take the bass stylings of Necrobutcher to task!) didn’t even play on Ordo ad Chao, he may have a point. A Mayhem without Blasphemer really signals the end for the band, as third incarnations tend to take advantage of the good will of the band’s fanbase as opposed to resulting in anything remotely good (see: Genesis, Van Halen, Chicago– Jesus Christ, who the hell is even in Chicago anymore?). And that’s a damn shame, as Mayhem had just made an album that harnesses the kind of evil and endtimes chaos that black metal has been meandering around for the last twenty or so years.

The Fine Line Between Brilliant and Sleepy

May 17, 2008

If you know me and I enjoy your company, I’ve probably tried to push Jesu on you in the last year. Most of my friends can attest to this, probably with a little eye rolling in the middle of that attestment. In a way, I understand the main criticisms of Jesu: the music is too slow and plodding, boring, and already been done by way of the Cure’s Disintegration. And obviously if you have a low tolerance for drone music/drone metal/shoegaze/ whatever the fuck they’re throwing around, you’re not going to get into Jesu. But even if there’s the slightest itch in you to look past almost intentionally slow and melancholy trudging of almost all of Jesu’s work, you’ll be likely to discover the rich melodicism and beauty that lie underneath the majority of Jesu songs. While the music has gone above a snail’s pace to a snail’s brisk walk only once (Silver‘s “Star”), the music creates a gorgeous landscape every time; in fact, the longer the song, the broader the strokes on said landscape. In many ways, Jesu are admittedly a hard sell. But it drives me crazy still that more people aren’t buying into them. Jesu’s fanbase, from my experience, is me and 8 rock critics.

As with Justin K. Broadrick’s (Jesu’s mastermind/master of dirges) previous project and most well-known one up to this point, industrial metal kingpins Godflesh (kingpin being used due to the fact that Godflesh were the rare occasion where an industrial metal band didn’t suck), he is remarkably prolific, so much so that the other day I was wondering, “Jesus, when the hell are Jesu going to put something else out?” when it had been only 3 or 4 months. But if you dig what the man does, you can easily get lost in this prolificness. With the slew of releases and albums that aren’t technically Jesu albums but are just cut with a different singer (this year’s J2, with former Swans vocalist Jarboe), there’s no shortage of Jesu. And,  interestingly enough,  each release is exceptional in its own right. While it’s impossible to release perfect album after perfect album (lest I remind you of Magical Mystery Tour, people? Nobody’s perfect.), Jesu’s 4 EPs, 2 full lengths and 1 split since 2005 all seem to have their own personality. While nothing he’s done thus far has been so drastic as to step out from under the Jesu umbrella, the Jesu of Heart Ache and the Jesu of Lifeline, the band’s first and latest release respectively, are two very different very sad bands.

Since his days in Godflesh, Broadrick has been touting his love of post-punk and new and no wave, despite being in one of the most influential thinking man’s metal bands of all time (that being said, Godflesh’s Streetcleaner is essentially Swans’ Cop, except chock full of beefy man-riffs instead of an impenetrable wall of abstraction). Jesu seems to be his way of breaking away from his metallic roots and slowly shifting into the Young Indiana Jones to shoegaze icons My Bloody Valentine’s Indiana Jones. Or at least it would seem this way if you stumbled onto Jesu during the Silver and/or Conqueror album cycles (much like yours truly). But truth be told, Jesu’s evolution has been very deliberate and interesting, churning out a release slightly different from the last, with Lifeline looking back toward its starting point: a very sad, angry chimp still breaking armadillo shells open with a bone. But before I get too far into my own metaphor (which I’m certain I already have), it’s worth noting that all of Jesu’s releases have been enjoyable in their own right, or as enjoyable as vast melancholy can be.

That being said, Jesu’s strength lie in their EPs. While J.K. Broadrick has proven that he can keep a listener’s attention for the span of a full length record with Conqueror, he also showed that he knows how to drag the hell out of his feet with his band’s eponymous full length debut. The shortest song on that album is still just under seven minutes long, and the rest balloon out to an average of nine and a half minutes each. And while most of those songs play pretty well on their own, next to eachother, they start to sound (ridiculously) same-y, to the point where the record goes from ruin-your-day sad to damn-I-gotta-get-back-to-my-day-already sad.

None of Jesu’s EPs have had this problem thus far, as Broadrick apparently works best when he’s working in the confines of just a few songs. On Silver and Lifeline, he churns out four stately dark pop songs at a leisurely pace, while Heart Ache and Sunrise/Sundown are both as long as most bands full lengths, but manage to stretch each of the two songs on their respective collections out to the breaking point of the listener’s attention without actually breaking it. This makes the songs quietly epic, like a camera panning across a foggy British countryside, Irish farm on an overcast day, or another pretentious metaphor.

And though the sheer length of the songs on the Heart Ache EP and the overall pace and stateliness of the releases that followed hint at pretension, Jesu don’t insist on your knowledge of literature or history like the Decemberists or Arcade Fire, and though they don’t rely heavily on contemporary song structures, they aren’t the non-conformist circle jerk of Battles. And even though they plod along with downtuned distorted guitars, they aren’t the every-once-and-a-while-when-you’re-in-the-mood-for-it drone metal of Sunn 0))) (despite the fact that Broadrick was once a touring member) or Earth. Like the slow version of Disintegration that it is, Jesu is much more about lushness than sadness, evoking mood instead of emotion, esoteric but not for snobby reasons. Justin Broadrick just likes things at a melancholy pace, even if he isn’t particularly sad. And, most likely, adores weed. And though it is an acquired taste, dammit people, acquire it. At the rate the man’s going, it’ll soon be hard to know where to jump in.

Trent Reznor and the Thanks-,-I-Guess Award

May 15, 2008

If anything, you have to give the man points for effort: Trent Reznor’s recent decision to give his newest album away completely for free is perhaps the apex of his actions in the last year (guerilla marketing campaign, telling fans to steal his album from his label, breaking from said label, releasing an album on his own for a reasonable price and making millions). While not a new idea, Reznor is the first to do it correctly. While Radiohead were the first major band to release their album technically for free, they did it via a pay-what-you-like method, which allowed “buyers” to possibly pay nothing for the album, which used good, old fashioned Catholic/Jewish guilt to make the few suckers that paid for the album pay for it (I paid 2 and a half pounds for it, which, compared to the American dollar at the time, was probably roughly $16.50). The files were also only available in low quality mp3, which while 9 out of 10 couldn’t tell the difference, Reznor publicly took issue with this. For both The Slip and Ghosts (the latter his 4 album instrumental piece released a month and a half ago for $5, which I also bought, like a sucker) were available in a variety of formats, from high quality mp3s to audiophile-approved files that even bested CDs. While this in no way means Radiohead were ripping off their fans, they were the first to do it, and had yet to perfect. If there’s a better way to give your album away for free via the Internet, I think the general public may physically choke on gratitude.

The main problem with giving your album away for free, though, is the issue of the quality of your album. Who gives a shit, right???? Well, 47 mb of one’s hard drive does, and for me, 13 years of being a Nine Inch Nails fan does. The Radiohead album was interesting in the respect that it was a subtle return to form for them: relatively stripped down songs that were tuneful as well as pretty guitar based. It would have been an exceptional album had it been released on a major label and gone through the whole outdated cycle that the release of the album set out to destroy. Though they don’t properly rock again, it’s a step in the right direction, and In Rainbows definitely grows on you. It also doesn’t deserve to be overshadowed by its method of release. The Slip, though, feels like it may be.

The first proper album by a major band to be released for free feels, well, a little slight. This, though, isn’t necessarily the fault of the marketing scheme or the hype, but the fact that Nine Inch Nails, since their ceremonious comeback in 2005, have been lacking in certain departments. One sort of feels like a dick in saying that, being that a) the big change Reznor went through in Nine Inch Nails’ haitus was kicking a nasty coke and tequila habit and b) for years, Nine Inch Nails fans have been bitching about Reznor’s complete lack of prolificness (3 full lengths and one EP in the span of the band’s first ten years while Reznor’s now released more than that in last three) and now that he’s broken that streak, I’m displeased because he’s not putting out exactly what I want to hear. That being said, if I didn’t have an opinion on things, I’d be listening to Nickelback and married to a girl in a cat sweater in suburban Delaware.

The Slip suffers from the same things With Teeth did: instead of a rousing return to form, it feels a little more like aggro-Nine Inch Nails by numbers (words Trent Reznor is not allowed to use anymore: “myself”, “knees” and a combination of “nothing” and “matters). And while Reznor’s fuzzy wall of guitars, synthesized noise, and barking tenor can sometimes feel like a fond trip back to the angry days of your youth, the anger in the first five proper songs feels canned, and much like a can of ravioli, it tastes fine and even hits the spot every now and again, but a steady diet of it will soon result in not being hungry for it anymore. And while some tweaks work (latter Nine Inch Nails records have the best fucking live drum sound put to record this side of a Steve Albini-engineered record), the rest don’t. Fortunately, this only plagues half the record.

The ironic thing is that Ghost I-IV was an impenetrable work overall due to the fact that it was 2+ hours of instrumental noodling, and the best tracks on its straightforward followup are “Corona Radiata” and “The Four of Us are Dying”, The Slip‘s two instrumental tracks. That being said, Ghosts‘ problem was a lack of focus, and “Corona” and “Four of Us” are both very focused and pleasing, managing to be more evocative than two hours of same-y ambient space. The other strange thing about The Slip is its critical response: it seems to be focused on the rock half of the record, when the most interesting part of it is its more experimental tracks. “Lights in the Sky” is the best Nine Inch Nails ballad yet, mainly due to the fact that it’s not drowning in its own histrionics, as Nine Inch Nails ballads tend to do. “Demon Seed” is built around an insistent beat and a droning synthesizer, loose and slippery bass line, and sporadic bursts of static-y guitar, bringing the record to a lively close after a few tracks of ambient goodness. It sounds like Nine Inch Nails moving beyond returning to form and forming into something else altogether, much like quiet half of With Teeth and most of last year’s Year Zero.

Of course, this is all overshadowed by the fact that we didn’t pay a damn dime for this record. And who knows, maybe like In Rainbows, this record will grow on me as well. Perhaps we’re expecting too much instant gratification from these records due to the instantaneous fashion in which we procured them. But the idea of a band or a band’s piece of work growing on the listener is exactly what major labels have been rejecting for the last 7 or 8 years, and exactly what Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails are railing against. So we’d be stupid not to expect the most challenging work of the bands’ careers in this, and hopefully, their most rewarding.

A History in Weezer

May 13, 2008

Weezer are a strange band, indeed. I’m not talking about Rivers Cuomo’s psychosexual allusions all the way through Pinkerton or the Blue Album’s heart-firmly-on-sleeve odes to dorky teenagers playing Dungeons and Dragons in their prospective garages while worshiping Kiss (to massively oversimplify it). I’m talking about how they have such a rabid following, especially with people my age. Their inspiring comeback 7 or 8 years ago was one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever seen– the band wedged themselves back into the public’s consciousness by simply reminding us of how good they made us felt when we were teenagers. And it wasn’t necessarily unwarranted, as those two albums perfectly encompass the skinned-knee rawness of what it was to be a teenager in the 90s. The band were part Cheap Trick, part Pixies, part Nirvana, part Beach Boys, a sliver of Ramones simpleness, and of course, (actual) emo’s confessionalism, back when it made something more personal instead of whiny. Their following albums range from dull (the Green album), to better than you think (Maladroit), to soul-mutilatingly awful (Make Believe). But the good will from those first two albums made them the most likable among the quirkier-than-thou bands that ruled modern rock radio back then, mostly because their quirkiness felt authentic when everyone else was either steeped in irony or faux-quirkiness to sell records.

Everyone that likes Weezer has a Weezer story. Mine’s mostly rooted in Pinkerton, as Pinkerton was the album that tanked initially that I liked despite that, therefore it was more mine. That and it was the album that brought me and my ex-girlfriend together. Then we broke up and I didn’t listen to it for a year. The album is perfect for nursing heartache and fostering awkward, rosy-cheeked love, as it is both raw and tuneful at once, like the Pixies filtered through an OG-emo lens. The Blue album, while I did enjoy it at 14, really came to be for me when linked arm and arm while hammered with 45 other people at some random party my freshman year of college, when Weezer were still reemerging and not making new music to be co-opted by the OC crowd.

Now despite being a total Maladroit apologist (which I will no doubt touch upon at some point in the near future in its own post), Weezer have yet to recapture the initial spark that kept their fanbase hungry through five inactive years. This is due almost completely to the fact that after the resounding rejection of Pinkerton‘s unabashed emotional purging, Rivers tucked himself back into his shell songwriting-wise, even though the world was ready for him to be a sappy, uber-personal bastard. And it wouldn’t be out of line to think that Weezer may never re-strike that sweet spot, as their massive, embarrassing failure Make Believe was the middle point of their latter period’s uninspired songwriting and the sort of faux-quirkiness they didn’t align themselves with in the post-Cobain wasteland of modern rock radio. The most one could seemingly hope for would be a few good songs every now and again (I’ll still stick up for “Beverly Hills” as a damn fine pop song among a bunch of vomit-encrusted ones) to be cherry picked into a boss iTunes playlist.

Or so I thought. Upon hearing “Pork and Beans”, the first single off of Weezer’s forthcoming album, the chorus hit me like seeing your best friend from middle school after 13 years. The interesting thing about growing up with a band like Weezer is that, when Rivers gets personal again, he’s getting personal about being a lame old man among the vapid, uber-hip mongoloids that currently populate pop culture, something anyone over the age of 25 that isn’t trying too hard can relate to. This is precisely what “Pork and Beans” is about; even despite cries of “I ain’t gonna wear the clothes that you like.”, the rebellion isn’t rooted in youth, but wearing Hager slacks because they’re damn comfortable instead of whatever zebra print is sprawled across the emaciated bodies of American Apparel models. Add this to a simple chord progression straight off of the Blue album, and this marks the first time I’ve been excited about hearing a Weezer song since 2001, and this time, I’m not ambivalent about it.

The rest of the album, which leaked today, is incredibly scattershot, but most certainly not without its best-since-Pinkerton (or definitely since Maladroit) goodness. The one thing that can be said about it is that Rivers is being unapologetically personal for the first time since Pinkerton, and while it’s failed miserably for some after the age of 30 (ahem Jay-Z ahem), Rivers’ new self– lame old guy that still writes catchy songs– is certainly entertaining, if not extremely likable. The problem with Weezer’s generic phase was that, without the personal edge of their early work, it was hard to determine whether or not they truly gave a shit about what they were writing or doing. Their intentions were questionable, and with a video featuring Elisha Cuthbert, it was hard to tell whose side they were on– yours or MTV’s. If anything good can be said about the Red album, it’s that its heart is back on its sleeve, and it’s charming, if anything.

The album isn’t perfect… at all. In fact, there are some cringeworthy songs on there (Weezer have an uncanny knack for giving their extra-terrible songs extra-terrible names, with Make Believe‘s “We Are All on Drugs” and the Red Album’s “Everybody Get Dangerous” as great examples). But almost every song is packed with the passion that made me and many others love Weezer. “Troublemaker”, the opener, and “Dreamin'” are seemingly “Now That’s What I Call Music 36” contenders on first listen, but after a few more, they sound like an evolved version of the 1994 model. This is a hybrid version of Weezer running on the same confessional gas as before with a jolt from Generation iPhone. And “Heart Songs”, after 2 1/2 minutes of abysmal name-checking, recalls the sort of brilliant specificity that made “In the Garage” what it was.

The song everyone will talk about, though, will be the band’s sloppiest masterpiece since the sloppy masterpiece that was Pinkerton: “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived”. The song is the worst song I’ve ever heard and the best song I’ve heard in a while all in one, which makes it a great song. In the span of almost six minutes, you’re transported from a rapping Rivers Cuomo (which, yes, is just about as awful as you think it would be), to some chugga-chugga rap metal that smacks of Sum 41, to some crooning, to some falsetto brilliance, to some multi-part harmonies, to some pop-punk trudging to… it doesn’t matter. The song is all over the place, which is something that Weezer have never done before. The spirit behind the song is what makes it so wonderful– the song is charmingly ambitious, which makes the worst parts (almost, as a rapping Rivers Cuomo is still pretty deplorable) forgivable, and more subject to repeat listens than any other song on the album. Plus, the entire song is based upon the Quaker hymn “‘Tis a Gift to Be Simple”, which makes this the best re-imagining of this song that I’ve heard since neo-classicist Aaron Copland got his mits on it back in the first half of the 20th century.

“The Greatest Man That Ever Lived” recalls the best of Weezer in one ideology: if you loathe this, you have to be a really cynical bastard. I can’t think of anything Weezer have done since the oft-mentioned Pinkerton that has warranted that kind response. So, for real this time, welcome back, boys. Now can you take this energy and write a solid album from beginning to end?

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.