Posts Tagged ‘music’

Winds of Plague’s Unintentional Psychology Lesson

February 8, 2009

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance

…clearly the fact that theirs music fucking sucks only makes things more unpleasant.

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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.

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.

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?

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.