Musings on music, old, new, popular and obscure. Post punk, metal, hip-hop, funk, and rock in general. A music fan with a desire to lose boundaries on what should and should not be listened to writes about experience in music from a listener's perspective, hopefully unhindered by prior expectation.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Where Do You Think You're Going?

Hello, out there in the world of blogs that no one at all in the entire world is looking at, since I abandoned this one some time ago in favour of my new one!

This doesn't belong there, but deserves a bit more space than any social environment will directly allow, mostly because of the visual aspect.

I've spent some time lately developing a list of difficult to acquire tracks from a number of artists I find fascinating enough to allow for such pedantry. It means learning there are a lot of songs on compilations, split singles and the like that I do not otherwise see, and often of covers and oddities otherwise unnoticed. As I very rarely acquire music through illicit means anymore, I now spend a fair bit of time finding these things in places like Google Play's music store, Amazon MP3, and bandcamp

Bandcamp is the ideal: it's assembled by the artist directly in many cases (and thus often means they get most of the money), and often used for things like exactly what I want (Converge, for example, aim for exactly that: "Get rare, self released, and out of print digital music, direct from the band."). It's a mess, though. Not everyone bothers, some only provide limited discographies, and plenty are actually labels acting on behalf of the bands². Add that the mix of label and band providers means an artist's work can be split all over the place and difficult to track, too--well, it's just the flaw of anything collaboratively assembled.

Next we have Amazon MP3, which is where I first started doing things this way--a few free $.99 credits meant a few free tracks, and, since I can get most stuff on a nice, physical CD with art and physical longevity and such, I chose to use those credits for exceptional items where it is unavailable on CD, or would necessitate the purchase of an entire compilation (often out of print, and not definitively interesting for any other artists). I've built up a small collection there, but nothing ridiculous--plenty of it just part of Amazon's "AutoRip" feature of providing the tracks from an album you purchase there.

When Davenport Cabinet released their Risks in Magic EP (digitally only!), I first checked Amazon out of habit and had difficulty making the purchase before work that day. So, instead, I went to Google Play on a whim (I already took advantage of the 10,000 track free upload, so the idea was thre)--there it was. And I discovered Google Play actually provides tracks at a higher bitrate than Amazon: 320kbps vs. 192kbps (bandcamp also covers FLAC, VBR, ALAC, etc, for the record).

Suddenly I found myself using Google Play as my primary source now--or trying to.

When my current project struck me, I started with a nice Google Doc and as I went through it, decided to find out what I could get digitally. I suddenly learned that, somewhat ironically, Google Play Music has a terrible search methodology, which is incredibly inferior to the one I'd been using via Amazon to find all of these obscure tracks. That's the focus of what we're here today to look at!

Here's the original searching I was used to, using the search term "Snapcase" (the name of the artist I was then looking at):
You can click that to enlarge and see the notes I added, but overall what you are seeing is album covers for album-matches, and then a list of track-matches. You can actually sort the track results by most of the provided fields--"Title", "Artist", "Album", and "Time" (track length). You can add multiple tracks to a cart for a "packaged" purchase, as well as purchase the tracks individually. While this is not really ideal for mobile usage, this is also not the mobile version of Amazon's page. It means that if you are searching for a song title and can't remember the artist, or any of those three primary pieces and can't remember the others, you can use the sorting to attempt to decipher what it is your brain is vaguely remembering. If you knew it was an artist or title, you can click on the artist or title as it appears and be narrowed to those specifically.

Here are the results from the same search on Google Play:

We get an artist result, which is new, and we get purely pictographic results for the search, with an image chosen for the artist results. Below this, all album releases that match are pictured (including albums which contain a track with a name matching the keyword search). Below this, the tracks are listed with album covers, making the results mildly confusing at first glance, and then confusing and difficult to glance at--the focus is on the album art, which isn't helpful in results based purely on track-matches. The differing results are somewhat interesting in this case--Amazon pulled the Julie Miller track in its "track" results, while Google shows it only immediately under "Albums", which is a strange way to match an album (by a track name alone). Indeed, the track doesn't appear under the "Tracks - See More" page until nearly the end.

Now, if you open an artist page on Amazon MP3, you see something like this:

 We have the artist-matching album results at the top shown via album covers, and then a list of tracks below this. That tracklist down there is my favourite thing: it shows all tracks available on Amazon MP3 by the artist whose page you are looking at. I chose this page of results to illustrate this: you can see that none of the Album Titles in those results match the albums above. Those tracks are indeed the same artist, but are on compilations. You can sort this way to discover things like which track is actually a 10 minute dance remix (sort by "Time"), which is from the actual album (if you're a pedant, and want the exact crossfades, mixes, tracktimes, etc--sort by "Album") and look for that song you kind of remember the name of (sort by "Title"). My one complaint is that, unlike your original search results, you are limited to 10 results per "page" of the track-matches. There's no option to expand the list, and it can be tedious to page through them. That the original search results allow for a more code-complicated (some mouseover popups, highlighting, the mp3 "cart" option, etc) results leaves me really just confused as to why the option is not there.

 Open a Google Play Artist result, and you get something like this:
 You get a biography (if there's one written--I'm guessing pulled from somewhere, but I don't recognize it immediately. It tends to strongly resemble the iTunes ones, based on what I've seen of those excerpted in normal-Google search results), top 10 tracks, and albums. And here's where Google Play really becomes baffling: that top 10 tracks list is all you get for tracks. Top 10. There's no "see more" or way to sort it, or anything. Just 10 most popular tracks. Below that, albums. What is definitively missing is any way to sort results, any way to find the tracks that are on compilations Google Play also provides access to (and they do exist!³). They are tracks by this artist, but there's no way of knowing from this page that they exist. Following any links here, too, will not help. So far as Google Play is concerned, those albums and the top 10 purchased/downloaded tracks are the only ones that exist and/or anyone cares about.

It's a nice layout, and, again, more mobile-friendly, but it's pretty terrible for actually looking comprehensively for an artist's work. And even more popular artists do, on occasion, have those strange tracks that weren't on an album, but you know and love, because they got radio play from that soundtrack, or that weird compilation that somehow broke through.

But if you click "See more" under the original search, next to "Tracks", you get this:

And here we start to see glimpses of those mystery tracks--down at the bottom there, fourth from the right, you see "Filter", which is a live version of a track from Lookinglasself (the sort of navy album you see three times there), released on a live compilation called California Takeover. Keep scrolling through those results and you'll find those tracks from Victory Singles, Vol. 2, Victory Style 5, and so on. But they're just mixed in--you can't sort those results, filter them, or anything. You just get a big messy page that draws your eyes to album covers, which are repeated for every track from each release. It's mobile-friendly as always, but pretty useless overall. Track results kind of demand at least sorting, if not text-based listing. You can't immediately tap an album cover knowing that was the right track, you have to look at the text.

But, probably worst of all, we have this:

I actually did this search for myself, while trying to find some digital-only (or at least, non-CD) tracks by the band Transit. "Stay Home" can be seen in the album results, and is one of the results I was looking for, but there are four (!) results for the artist name "Transit"--not inconceivable, as Discogs illustrates (there are 25 of them!). So, in-and-of itself, this is not problematic. Unfortunately, the Boston, MA Transit I was looking for released both Keep This to Yourself (pictured first) and Young New England (pictured third)--displayed as if they are two different artists! The problem only gets worse if you actually look at them, too. The first artist has a mix of Transits--some of them are the Boston, MA band, some aren't. The second, which doesn't appear to refer to the Boston band actually does contain some of them. And the third, well, it contains only Young New England (which is just mind-boggling, as Listen & Forgive, which appears under "Transit #2" up there, was on the same label!).

To make matters worse, a friend asked the name of the band playing recently, and it was Transit--he proceeded to look on Google Play, and I had to point out that narrowing their material was nearly impossible without already knowing it (the alternative being research!).

So, as it is, I use Amazon to find the tracks I want, then go and figure out how to find them on Google Play for the superior bitrate. Of course, I can also use some phrase-based google searching (eg "google play" snapcase "crown of thorns"), but it's entirely too much effort for what it should be.

This may not affect you, or may even be useless information--but for some folks, there are important takeaways. If you really want bullet points, they are these:

  • Google play has superior quality (higher bitrate) digital music.
  • Amazon has superior searching, sorting, and exploration options.

¹Obviously, that's my own collection on bandcamp, and it readily betrays the nature of my purchases there. Scattered curiosities, single tracks, cassette and vinyl-only releases, and plenty of digital-only releases.

²Click the artist name ("These Arms Are Snakes") and suddenly find yourself at the Suicide Squeeze--label--bandcamp. Whoops!

³I can currently think of few exceptions, if any--largely, Amazon and Google host the same titles.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A New Blog

In the interest of serving something that came along while I was writing this blog and attempting to find a way to expand my reader base, I have opened a new--far more active--blog at another location.

Verging on Vinyl should contain the same wit and thoughtfulness (or combination/lack thereof) found here at There's Something in the Gold We're Digging, but with a more specific emphasis: reviewing my record collection, some of which I've paid little (or even no!) attention to as I've amassed it. It's a response to the numerous (often terrible) blogs inspired by 1001 Albums You Must Listen to Before You Die, that write insipid, shallow commentary that doesn't even do much to establish personal feelings, let alone show the intent to become a music history "autodidact".

I hope to see you there, even if 99% of you are actually just looking for downloads or cover art from things I've talked about in the past here.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Everything's Gonna Be Cool This Christmas

I was raised in America, which means it's pretty much a given that I have some measure of familiarity with Christmas, as do most of us here. A bunch of Christmas carols and Christmas-related hymns are ingrained in my brain on various levels, but they were instilled so early that many of those songs have no major standing, or have been turned to white noise via repetition. It certainly doesn't help that I was convinced for many years that there was a place called Orientar, of which there were three very vocal kings.

It means that, these days--as with many things--I tend to aim for my own sense of both tradition and "Christmas," which often has interesting results. Because a lot of traditional music leaves me cold (for reasons I can elaborate on, but don't feel the need to here), it means pursuing Christmas songs from less traditional sources. Of course, this doesn't mean that this is a novel idea. There are fantastic lists of unusual or more recent lists of Christmas or holiday songs from various bands and artists over the last few decades, from faithful covers with rock instrumentation to strange, twisted covers on into both sincere and tongue-in-cheek songs written only in that same time frame.

Normally, I'm very lazy about this: I open my chosen media player (MediaMonkey) and create automatic playlists with filter words like "Christmas," "Xmas," "Winter," "Snow," and "Santa." Liking black metal can make this a multi-step process ("snow" and "winter" tend to show up as indicators of entirely different notions). Of course, plenty of other artists skew those results, too. It takes a bit, and for some reason I find myself starting over every year. I tried to start it up this year and found myself, instead, booting up the Christmas bonus levels of Epic MegaGames Jazz Jackrabbit--the original game having a solid soundtrack, and the Christmas levels having carols worked into the same style to great effect.

I did eventually get the list together and, as with every other year, a few tracks consistently and without question show up in that list:

"364 Days" and "Dead by Christmas" by the Murder City Devils
"Father Christmas" by the Kinks
"Homeless for Christmas" by the Black Halos
"Everything's Gonna Be Cool This Christmas" and "Christmas Is Going to the Dogs" by Eels
"Merry Fucking Christmas" by White Town
"Thanks for Christmas" and "Countdown to Christmas Party Time" by XTC
"The Closing of the Year" by the "Musical Cast of Toys" (Wendy & Lisa, former partners to Prince)

I suppose the most amusing of these tends to be the tracks by the Devils, Halos and Eels (once you hear it, White Town's track is less obvious by far). Of course, I use the word "amusing" at somewhat of a stretch. "364 Days" is from the Devils' last release, Thelema, and it is actually titled to reference the amount of the year that St. Nick spends "all alone." Spencer does invite Nick to "take off [his] boots, pour a drink," but then does add that, in doing this, he should "try not to cry, try not to think." It's a clever conceit for the song, and was not placed on the album to indicate its Christmas-relations. Its first release, though, was on the "Christmas Bonus Single" 7" in 1998, backed by, of course, "Dead by Christmas."¹ Self-loathing, nihilistic stories of infidelity are nothing unusual for them, but this Hanoi Rocks cover's Christmas setting certainly puts a different spin on it. As a song, though, it remains far more upbeat than the plaintive and aching "364 Days."

The Black Halos were a small Canadian punk band who actually shared a lot of labels with the Murder City Devils, both releasing their first albums on Die Young Stay Pretty before moving to Sub Pop, though the Devils stayed there until their initial breakup, while the Halos moved to a sublabel of Century Media who are usually known for metal releases. In any case, "Homeless for Christmas" is another inappropriately upbeat song, wherein Billy Hopeless, their vocalist, intones his desire not to be found, well, homeless for Christmas. As with many bands of the more independent stripes, this was another 7" release originally, a split with a band called Tuuli I know essentially nothing about (who are of course also doing a Christmas song on the release).

Eels' "Christmas Is Going to the Dogs" was actually from the live action Grinch movie, and tells of a Christmas celebration from a dog's perspective and does so quite well, though it predates front-man/only-man E's ownership of Bobby, Jr, Eels' dog mascot. Working in a chorus like "Christmas is going to the dogs/We'd rather have chew toys than yule logs," should get some kind of award, honestly. "Everything's Gonna Be Cool This Christmas" is probably the most "normal" of all these tracks, though it still comes from the deep, dark life that E has had in its way. It's a beacon of hope and optimism in the midst of that sensibility, though, and it shows.

"Father Christmas" is actually another on the dark side. The Kinks released the track in the 70s, after their initial phases of critical acclaim and before their popular breakout on the U.S. (the one, at least, that was not stunted by a ban from playing here). Ray sings of dressing up as Father Christmas and being accosted by a group of youths who insist: "Father Christmas, give us some money/We got no time for your silly toys/We'll beat you up if you don't hand it over/Give all the toys to the little rich boys."

XTC released their tracks as "The Three Wisemen" on a 7" and managed to work a strong, heavily electronic synth and a quirky, shuffling, danceable beat into the rather odd "Countdown to Christmas Partytime," (linked is Andy's demo, rather than the band version that was released, as XTC's catalog is a mess of red tape, multiple releases and confusions in general).

As someone who intends to spend the day watching Gremlins, Die Hard, and Scrooged (with possible slots for Black Christmas and Home Alone), this list is the kind that makes more sense to me, but it's the theme from the movie Toys that I actually find most evocative of my personal perception of the glowing positives of Christmas, especially when married to the footage it originally appeared next to. I don't have access to show you that, but I can leave you with the music video Wendy and Lisa did record for it, which does include some of that footage (and lets Seal make an appearance):

¹There has not been a digital release of the track to my knowledge. The video of it uploaded to youtube involves a dead animal, so I'm going to spare anyone and everyone. If this doesn't bother you, feel free to search it up.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

How Does It Feel to Be Back?

I've been quiet for some time now as I've been in the process of moving--as I still am--which has limited my time to write here. However, I've now isolated my stereo and my music in their own room to allow for plenty of un-distracted listening. Once I get an appropriate chair in place, at least, which will hopefully inspire some expansion here, as music has not at all disappeared from my daily experience.

That the band from which I derived the title of this blog just responded to me on Facebook and shared what I wrote about them some time ago has certainly inspired the idea of expanding here again too, to be sure.

Stay tuned, as I intend to get more in here when I get a chance!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

It Puts My Back Up, Puts My Back Up Against the Wall -- The Frustrations of Closed Minds

In response to the impression that a positive voice is not so much unwelcome as uninteresting, as well as a series of changes in location and occupation, I've been refraining from posting much of late. It's difficult to maintain the attitude I wish to both as a person and in writing when I'm exposed so much more readily to the simplistic and snap judgments most impose on music and, often, its listeners, and certainly doesn't encourage the idea that putting that kind of attitude out there is of value to most of the world.

Those attitudes are what frustrate me most about the way music is taken these days--though I suspect the attitude is more re-framed than new in recent years and generations. The thought in general is not one I've failed to mention before, having noted its prevalence in affecting discussions of Ryan Adams, its usage to reduce genres to simplistic tropes, and in declaring the very object of this set of writings. Still, most of those are addressed more to those whose work is "published," at least in official website capacities, if not in print.

But the attitude is even more insistent in the public at large. There are, it's known, a handful of bands I sincerely do not like--and, of course, more out there I'm unaware of. Some of them are expected, some are obscure, but they're based on not liking what I heard for myself. In every case I can think of, it was actually after recommendations from people I liked as human beings at the time the recommendation was made, and I had every reason to follow the recommendation to appreciation rather than distaste. I feel a sense, not of haughty pride, but of relief that I can say that this is how I have determined these things--the philosophy I have that appreciation or disinterest should be formed on bases other than what admiration those opinions gain one.

But, consistently, I find things reduced simplistically for completely alternate reasons, and done in such vehement ways, at the mere mention of a re-evaluation in different lights or from different angles is returned as an impossibility. Most recently, this was leveled, in my "presence," at U2. Now, U2--in particular, Bono--receives a lot of head-shaking and derision these days. There are albums I don't like, there are songs I don't like--I was, oddly as opinions on their work tend to lean, not impressed by All That You Can't Leave Behind, finding, for instance, that "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of" is one of the most awkward song titles and choruses I've ever heard--nevermind that it was a tribute to Michael Hutchence of INXS, of whom I am a big fan. The song simply didn't work for me, feeling forced verbally. But I grew up on The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby, enough that the latter was easily my favourite of their albums, even without knowing what its critical reputation was--it tends to be, strangely, I think, a critics' darling but a lesser favourite compared to Joshua Tree.

The attitude I am running into, though, is that everything they ever did is, to directly quote, a "piece of shit." Out of thirty-three years of recorded music, every single thing they have ever done is that terrible? Instead of taking the easy way out and snarkily thanking someone for listening to every single song in their career and rating it for the rest of us, I decided to try and encourage the mentality I endorse in general, and referenced some of their more unusual, earlier songs--"11 O'Clock Tick Tock" and "Another Time, Another Place," from the single of the same name and the latter half of debut album Boy respectively. These particular songs would fit happily into any discussion of post punk, angular, energetic and jerky in that distant fashion that separates it so distinctly from the more catchy, pop-oriented nature of new wave. Naturally, the response I received was that different sounding shit was still shit--almost a guarantee that neither song had ever been heard, and the judgment was made purely by association with the band.

I'm not going to pretend I've gone through every piece of music recorded by every single band I dislike, but I'm also not going to tell anyone they are all "shit," nor, for that matter, am I inclined to call any of them "shit"--it's a pretty concrete, harsh judgment, at that point beginning to render judgment, by association, of any who feel otherwise. It's against my instincts not only to level the accusation openly, but to even think it privately. Certainly, I avoid those pieces of music personally--but I feel little need to come out ranting at those who feel something to the contrary.

This isn't, of course, anything new, now or, I'm sure, in decades past. It is more frustrating as the public voice--such as my own writings here--becomes more audible, available and widespread. Multiple generations join the accusations regularly, almost always leveled exclusively at acts currently active, be they long-term like U2, or fresh like--well, any newer artist. One of the most common blanket statements is that modern music is all terrible and it would be so much better if it were still the 1960s, the 1970s, or even the 1980s, despite the reputation the last has, culturally, overall. It's met with folks who grew up in some other decade who cling exclusively to what they grew up with, or with folks my age and younger who, for varying reasons, insist on maintaining their association with earlier music. "I'm 17 and I feel the same way," or "I'm 15 and I wish it was still the 1970s, Zep rules," or what have you, litter the internet and earn the appreciation of the majority, despite the pointlessly reductive nature of the comments.

Rose-tinted glasses tend to illustrate this mentality in its totality--accusations that Glee is being compared to the Beatles acts on the assumption that the charts were magically made entirely of the music we hear regularly now, despite the fact that many express pearl-clutching despair at the "travesty" of so-and-so having a #1 single now, despite the fact that Classic Rock Band X never did--which obviously tells us that there was something else in its place, though I suppose the assumption might be that 1970s charts ran "Zeppelin, Queen, Bowie, Clash, Kiss, Thin Lizzy..." or some such fantastic nonsense. A quick glance disproves this readily, showing names I've never heard, and inevitably earn the, "Oh, yeah, I'd forgotten all about that song..." responses from those who lived then.

Now, certainly, the pop charts in particular are more focused on the genres of music that seem to be "distilled" into the more confectionery variety of music, but that's a result of splitting charts, communities, genres and musical availability further and further as time goes on. We have a magazine named for an album named for a cover of a song that is used to describe an entire genre, for instance (No Depression). At that point, is it really fair to expect pop charts to run the gamut of genres? When you are able to pick a genre, a focal periodical or website, order independent releases directly and affect the charts in this fashion?

Of course, don't take this as dismissal of modern pop music as a whole--I don't get a chance to hear much these days, but I've liked plenty of songs here and there, and even own both of Lady GaGa's first albums for myself, as does one of my most well-rounded-musically friends, who could also manage an impressive bout of discussion about musical history. Certainly enough to scorch those who respect only "classic rock," as both of us listen to plenty of that, as well.

This also has led to increased willingness for people to more openly and visibly declare that they know better than an artist what they "mean" to do--not in the sense of feeling they aimed for something and missed, but of aiming for the "wrong" thing. Mike Mictlan of Doomtree recently released SNAXXX, an interim "mixtape" intended to tide us over until he finishes another complete album to follow up his debut with producer Lazerbeak, Hand Over Fist. Mictlan has always been the most "traditional" of the Doomtree crew, having made his home in Los Angeles for some years, and being recommended by P.O.S. as the crew member to ask for rap battling, and most prone to braggadocio. Still, at least one listener suggested Mictlan had no business releasing this, as Doomtree "is about" socially conscious rapping--missing out on, for example, Sims' "Spinal Tap," most tracks from Mictlan's contributions, and various bits and chunks from throughout time. Or those who suggest Dessa is "better" than rap and has no business tooling around with the guys--despite the fact that her earliest contributions were all more rap-focused anyway. Of course, most bizarre in either case, is that the crew as a whole has endorsed their releases, furthering the notion that any declarations of what "should" be are utterly inaccurate.

Naturally, my friends often simply respond to these frustrations with the eminently reasonable, "Some people are just stupid jerks," but I'm left with enough faith in human nature--somehow!--to think that everyone might receive just a little more enjoyment if they looked for what might be good, instead of attempting to earn "cool" points by having the "right" opinions.

John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats managed to drop a comment to this very effect in a recent interview (somewhat ironically, written up for Pitchfork, who tend to feel the exact opposite):

"Not to be a total hippie about it, but every place on earth has a frequency. It's not good or bad, it's just the way it is, and if you can attune yourself to that frequency, then you can find comfort in that. You can get into anything if you are determined. I always thought that with music, too. I don't like to say, "Oh, I don't like this kind of music." I like to listen to it and try to see what people who like it get out of it."

Of course, Darnielle put some people in an awkward position by recording, semi-famously, a Goats-take on Ace of Base's "The Sign," without any sense that he did this to distance himself from the original, but more because, he said, he always liked the song anyway.

And that's the kind of attitude I like--strange though it seems to be.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

If You Do Spread Your Wings, Please Let Me Know -- Kno's Death Is Silent

Actually quite similar to how I run into a lot of metal these days, no longer hanging around any metal heads, I was unfamiliar with CunninLynguists in general and Kno in specific for certain. This happens a lot with rap, which seems to run in an even greater variety of strains and layers. There's obviously the readily available and apparent mainstream rap, there's heavily familiar underground rap, there's the more intricate varieties that focus on wordsmithing, there's the hybrid forms that meld with other genres, and the kind that has determined fans without any major hook from violating expectations. Heck, there's more beyond that. Still, it makes it increasingly difficult to get a handle on whether you might like an artist or not without simply listening. On the bright side, the nature of rap means hearing it live is one of the more accurately represented genres, so long as the place you hear it has reasonable sound and the DJ (or laptop) is solid, it bears a pretty strong resemblance to the recorded material.

When I saw this album, it screamed "independent rap," but that's a pretty wide swath of music to plow through, and there's no telling what it means. The one advantage metal does have is that, while the named genre or subgenre can be misleading, it does at least give a starting point. Subdivision of rap hasn't taken enough hold to become widespread. There are certainly vibes and feelings that I break apart in my head for my own moods, or to attempt to share a genre that receives a lot of hatred or at least dislike in the kind of circles I most often find myself in.

I mistakenly first believed this was a CunninLynguists album, as it is marked as "CunninLynguists Presents," but it is in fact the first solo album from producer/emcee Kno, who is from that duo or trio (depending on when you are discussing). I'd heard the name, outside of the obvious pun that inspired it, and was pretty sure I'd heard it associated with talent, which is what drove the (rather cheap) purchase of what I discovered was an out-of-print album.

Kno's beats are loop-oriented and relatively lo-fi, spare and heavy on vocal sampling. The title of the entry actually refers to the song "Spread Your Wings," which also features fellow CunninLynguist Deacon the Villain:

The abstract notion I have of the subdivision this falls into is somewhat confused. The beats are reminiscent of both the underground varieties of "mainstream" rap (as opposed to the more introspective varieties), and indeed the lyrical material makes reference to sex (particularly in "La Petit Mort," the French term for orgasm, I've heard--making it a clever insertion on an album that is intended to deal in the matters of death) and drugs more explicitly and at greater length than in most of the rap I do listen to regularly.

At the same time, the lyrics are also in that same vein, in that the words are impressive more in terms of rhyme scheme and witty wordplay than in terms of their perceptiveness. It seems, by and large, to be in that vein of rap that's not been moved into territory that makes it comfortable for those who "don't like rap," and is simply underground because it is not of the modern production techniques.

Kno's voice, to be honest, is a bit awkward and is regularly outdone by his guests, be they his regular group members (the aforementioned Deacon the Villain as wellas Natti) or others who appear. His words are often clever, though sometimes a bit forced, and his articulation is somewhat peculiar and uncomfortable, as if he hears his voice in a different way than it comes out. He has great control and the flow isn't off, but the emphases and the enunciation make things a bit weird--think of someone forcing a dialect unnatural to them and you may have an idea of what I mean.

The production, however, which is what Kno seems to be best known for, is excellent. And, as a bonus, the album proper is followed by instrumental versions of most of the tracks unlisted on the CD version of the album.

I do recommend giving it a listen, whatever reservations I might have, for the production to be sure, but also for those who may feel differently about Kno's voice.

You can check it out (and purchase it directly from the group) over at bandcamp.

Friday, September 21, 2012

You Used to Be Like My Twin -- Katatonia's The Great Cold Distance

One of the most simple yet random of the purchases I made some time ago, Katatonia's The Great Cold Distance is my first ever Katatonia album, and, indeed, my first ever listen to Katatonia at all. The name rang bells from the days I hung about a discussion forum based around metalheads in college. I can't actually guarantee those bells were ringing correctly, but I figured that for a brand new copy of the album at $2, I couldn't complain too much.

My notion going in was that they were going to be on the more commercial and accepted side of extreme metal. I found through a quick round of sampling that I was more right than I suspected. They aren't really in the range of extreme metal at all. They may have been previously, though their home being Sweden, there's a strong strain of more readily accessible metal wandering there, much of it falling into that subgenre "melodic death metal" or "melodeath," which this isn't. Jonas Renkse flat out sings consistently throughout the album, nowhere approaching the "growl" of death metal.

The album did drop one single, "My Twin," which is a solidly catchy song:

Wikipedia justifiably has editors classifying the album as "alternative" or "gothic" metal, which is quite reasonable. The inherent tone, both musically and lyrically is rather somber and depressed. There are some weird arguments flying about how they sound like Tool, but this reflects more on some choices in a few odd vocal effects and some approaches to guitar riffs on occasion, but overall doesn't bear out too much.

If you will allow the phrase, it's a very pleasant album. Obviously, with the tone, this isn't exactly the right sort of word, but I think we all know that rather "down" music can indeed be very enjoyable despite this. And this album is very much that. It's interesting to hear it come from the general community of metal as well, where musicianship is emphasized enough that the experience with it does show in the performances on this album.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Blue, Why Don't You Stop and Look at What's Going Down? -- The Jayhawks' Music from the North Country

Sometimes, connections are just strange. I last wrote of Jaguar Love, who I found because, well, I liked the bands its members came from--simple enough. The Jayhawks, however, are something entirely different. I'm not sure if I heard their name before I looked into them, and I'm not completely certain I didn't hear their two bigger, earlier singles on the radio when I was younger. I did live in Missouri growing up, though, so it's entirely possible dim memories of "Jayhawks" relate only to one of my then-neighboring state's mascots.

When I finally looked into this band, though, it was because of an offhand reference to the song "Six Pack" by Black Flag, which was met with a reference to "6 Pack on the Dashboard" from The Bunkhouse Tapes, the semi-official title (a la The White Album/The Beatles) for the Jayhawks eponymous debut on Bunkhouse Records. I didn't know that, and simply used Google to find out where this reference came from.I found it was the Jayhawks and looked for an example of their music, as this was made by Gerald, who I've mentioned on many other occasions. I stumbled into a video of "Save It for a Rainy Day":

I ran into a copy of their post-reformation latest album, Mockingbird Time, and was pretty well taken. I referenced the album in one of my endless lyrical entry titles not too long ago, but also picked up the recent deluxe edition of Tomorrow the Green Grass. I saw this anthology, Music from the North Country, a few times before I picked it up. My disineterest in best-of collections, however, collided with my love of music videos--as well as the fact that, in this 3-disc deluxe edition, there was also a disc of bonus material, as well as the only location for their relatively small videography. I was finally pushed over the edge by the presence of "Save It for a Rainy Day," being my immediate introduction to the band and coming from an album old enough that it wasn't going to show anywhere new, but unpopular enough--and released recently enough--that it was not going to appear used very often.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Parades Burst from Your Brain, Plaid Haired Girls Call Your Name -- Jaguar Love

This is simultaneously the easiest and most difficult thing to write about as I go through my slew of purchases from the few days I photographed previously. This is actually a 3-song EP released in 2008 by Jaguar Love before they had completed an album. I bought it because I owned both of their albums, 2008's Take Me to the Sea and 2010's Hologram Jams and this was the only track left I did not own. Chaz over at Bull City Records had a copy in his discounted new CDs and I'd picked up Take Me to the Sea from him on vinyl not long before that, so it was a given (much like picking up The Hookers, the band The Murder City Devils were formed from, which Chaz emphasized--no surprise, as we first met minds over my purchase of the Devils' In Name and Blood on vinyl from his store at its old location, on my first ever Record Store Day). So, easy: one track. Not question about where to start on that, of course! Catchy as hell, if you like Johnny's vocals (which I do!). "Black water, in a crystal skull/Drink deep, hallucinate an ancient ocean/Black water, flowing out your mouth..."

Now, I guess the next question--easy to tell, but lengthy--is who are Jaguar Love?

Well, I have actually mentioned them before, and indeed briefly relayed their history. Jaguar Love, at the time of this EP, was composed of Johnny Whitney, Cody Votolato (younger brother of more famous Rocky Votolato) and Jay "J." Clark. Now here we practically need a chart, but I'd spend too much time on it and it would look terrible anyway, so bear with me. Johnny and Cody were most famously in the Blood Brothers, an extremely strange, experimental and abrasive post-hardcore band from Washington (the state) who broke up in 2006 after releasing their fifth album, Young Machetes.

Cody played guitar in both bands, and Johnny sang in both, as well as in another splinter band, Neon Blonde. Neon Blonde released one album and one EP in 2005, before the Blood Brothers broke up, but were also composed of "alumni": Johnny, of course, and drummer Mark Gajadhar. Mark handled all the percussive elements and Johnny did, well, everything else (with the exception of the saxophone's occasional appearances, by Joel Caplin). Neon Blonde is, by far, the weirdest, with Johnny's voice at one point accompanied by drums and piano and nothing else. Jay Clark remixed a Neon Blonde song on their EP Headlines, thus foreshadowing his later appearance in Jaguar Love.¹

I started it all, though, from the Blood Brothers. I picked up most of their latter era albums, beginning with Crimes and following with Young Machetes, ...Burn, Piano Island, Burn, and March on Electric Children because they were re-issued by major punk label Epitaph in "deluxe" editions with extra discs of live shows, concert video and b-sides. I was still working at Borders at the time and had never heard of them, but darned if they didn't look interesting, and the idea of these albums being re-released and completely unheard of fascinated me. The prices were solid, too--MSRPs for deluxes at around $16, so I just went for it. I didn't regret it, and later picked up This Adultery Is Ripe, their first album and Rumors Laid Waste, the collection of their early 7"s and splits.

I heard that after they broke up, Johnny had formed these other bands (of course, I found out Neon Blonde was formed before they broke up, but nevermind!) and happened to stumble into Hologram Jams around that time. Clark had actually left the band at this point, leaving it Cody and Johnny and a drum machine for even live performance.

That's about as close as you can get to understanding what the logic behind looking into a band no one has ever mentioned to me and I've never heard of is. It's rough and odd and somewhat arbitrary--though the idea that a reissue of an entire indie catalogue is somewhat leading, to be fair.

And yes, I realize Johnny's voice is utterly repellent to many people. I really (sincerely!) like it, though.

¹Let's be really amusing here:
The first Blood Brothers EP was recorded in the "soft underbelly of the Jake Snider Residence." Jake Snider was the vocalist/guitarist for Sharks Keep Moving, and currently fronts Minus the Bear. Minus the Bear's most famous guitarist is doubtless Dave Knudson, though, who was in Botch. Further, Clark's prior gig was Pretty Girls Make Graves, whose first EP was released on Dim Mak Records, who released all of Neon Blonde's work. Pretty Girls, of course, were a sort of splinter from the Murder City Devils, who formed from the Hookers, whose drummer became Pretty Girls' vocalist. Apparently, if you're from Seattle and in a band, everyone knows everyone and played in their band, their bandmate's band, or their brother's, or produced it, or shared a label. It's kind of mind-blowing.

Monday, September 3, 2012

I've Never Met a Traitor I Didn't Like -- Hot Cross' Cryonics

To avoid getting mired in an excessive numbers or numerals, I'm moving away from the titling format for this discussion of these releases--also reflecting the fact that this is the last of a previously singular post broken down into the separate releases that were to compose it. I'd gotten up to this album, wrote half of it, realized it was going to be a stupidly long post and asked my friend Brian who agreed splitting things might be advisable. So, now, I'm breaking away from even that and simply writing on the albums on their own terms. I'll still tag them as part of that series, but let the posts have a little breathing space from uniformity.

This was the find that day, for sure. While Special Wishes was nice in that it wasn't going to be easy to find cheap, I've seen Harvey Milk albums float around and did not know at the time it was a rare one--indeed, I'd bought the compilation of their early singles and splits from the very same store. Of course, I learned in the course of my usual dissection and reassembly of compiled tracks into their original sources that the insert for that CD is basically the only place you can find the cover art for those old Harvey Milk singles!

Still, I picked up Hot Cross's Risk Revival a few years back, only because its listed label was Equal Vision Records, which was the first label Coheed and Cambria was on--at least, under the name Coheed and Cambria (obsessive fans know that of course the Delirium Trigger EP was released under the name "Shabutie," and it came out on the label Wisteria). Admittedly, Equal Vision does stop off into stuff that I don't feel like I have time to sift through, so this isn't a guarantee, but looking into Risk Revival led me to the track "Turncoat Revolution," which has one of the most blisteringly fantastic central riffs around (comparable in some ways to the riff from Converge's "Dark Horse" I mentioned in the previously).

Allegedly, the album is "screamo," which is one of the most derogatorily used genre names I've ever heard--both dismissive and denigrating--in almost every context I've ever seen it used. The reviews I found were the ones on Amazon, though, which meant there was only a handful of them, all three stars and all from a community embracing the genre names rather than using them as catch-all insults. I always prefer finding such reviews to get an idea of what genres mean, as I read things like "While Hot Cross may most commonly be known as the band that came after Saetia," as it gives me a nice context for what a band is to the community it comes from. Of course, I still haven't ever seen any Saetia so, despite the fact that they were clearly a central figure here, I haven't a great idea what they sound like.

The album, though, was great--sure, Billy Werner is screaming throughout the album (if you take that reductive approach of "aggressive vocals are always screaming" that doesn't appreciate the variation in methods used to achieve aggressive vocals), and yes, it's got a sense of betrayal, loss and emotional frustration and anger, but the lyrics are intelligent and interesting. But forget all that--the thing smokes:

That was probably one of the best  pseudo-blind purchases I ever made on an obscure, defunct band out of a morass of random titles--a set of releases dumped at an FYE because the labels had damaged stock, missing slipcases or re-packaged used titles. There was a lot of Equal Vision, plenty of Earache and a few other labels that would catch my eye quickly. It was the same boxes of miscellaneously labeled stuff that spawned some of the purchases mentioned here.

Soon, Hot Cross entered my regular listening for its mix of melody, aggression and expression. It manages to ride a crest of energy that more aggressively abrasive bands (such as the death metal bands I listen to) can occasionally become tiring with, never quite crossing that point as the clever guitarwork carries the sound for the part of me that appreciates the "prettier" side of things. By this time, I let Chaz over at Bull City Records know I was on the lookout (inspiring the usual response to mentions of Hot Cross: "Man, haven't heard that name in a while!") and he suggested I check out Level Plane Records, which is a label he told me would carry similar material.

So, when I saw Cryonics at the store that day, I snatched it up without hesitation as my jaw dropped for seeing "Hot Cross" on a split card in a CD section in the first place. At this point, the band apparently functioned with two guitarists, creating a different variety of more complicated and often more subdued sorts of textures, exemplified in songs like "Frozen by Tragedy" (which tends away from naked aggression) or, "A Tale for the Ages":

And, of course, what label was Cryonics released on? Level Plane.
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