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.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

It's Thunder and It's Lightning, And Where Are Your Manners? -- The Sound of (Modern) Young(ish) Scotland

For some reason--likely boiled down to the single word "Mogwai"--Scotland has managed to become an important source of music for me. There was nothing calculated or deliberate about it, as Mogwai simply drew me in with the 4 Satin EP, of all things, and particularly "Superheroes of BMX." I had legal access to most of their catalogue and ate through it quickly, following it to either end--the oldest and the newest, until eventually they were one of my ridiculously, excessively, obsessively collected bands. No, I didn't start looking for an original copy of "Tuner"/"Lower," but I did (digitally) track down everything I could. I was most excited about getting a copy of the expanded version of the creatively titled EP, now titled EP+6, as it included all of the original EP and two of their other extended plays, though ones with more thought-out titles, being 4 Satin and No Education=No Future (Fuck the Curfew).¹ The latter contains what I feel was their personal apex: "Xmas Steps."

Mogwai are probably best known for their early approach to dynamics, known colloquially as "loud-quiet-loud." They come from a group of bands collectively termed "post-rock" for their tendency toward unusual usage of rock instrumentation, not necessarily avoiding pop-style song structures, but playing the characteristic rock trio of instruments--guitar, bass, drums--in unusual ways, generally with a greater wash or wave of sound than even the riffs of harder rock. Often in almost orchestral or mood-oriented or anthemic, soundtrack-style fashion.² It also has a tendency to avoid prominent vocals--often lacking them entirely, or working through vocoders and samples. A slew of bands arose in the late '90s and early '00s under the auspice of "post rock," from Godspeed You Black Emperor! (later Godspeed You! Black Emperor--no, I'm not kidding) to Cerberus Shoal to Sigur Rós to the thousand splinter GYBE groups in Montreal (A Silver Mt. Zion, Do Make Say Think, et al.) on to Explosions in the Sky and many, many others. Mogwai come more from the "Slint" school of "post-rock," which tends toward the louder elements, the noise, the, somewhat ironically, "rock" elements.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I've Got a Preacher's Mouth and Rock 'n' Roll Heart -- Okay, Mostly Rock and Roll, If We're Honest: The Murder City Devils

The principle purpose--so far as I can guess--of compilations and split releases is often lost on me. I avoid compilations as a general rule, as I find them difficult to follow, or so unrepresentative that they might lose me on an interesting artist by sampling too little and too wrong a part of their entire repertoire. Most splits, at least those I know of are singles with a song per band, one on each side of a 45 7" record. Sometimes, too, they are gimmicky ideas or peculiar thoughts, which are most interesting with bands already familiar to listeners. Mudhoney and Sonic Youth each played the other band's song on the "Touch Me, I'm Sick/Halloween" split. Braid covered the Naked Eyes' hit version of the Bacharach/David song "(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me" and Burning Airlines backed it with Echo & the Bunnymen's "Back of Love," so there was even disparity in use of existing songs as hooks. At the Drive-In did one in-character track and one peculiar pseudo-dub track, which fits their experience and tastes but not the band in general, when they did a split with Sunshine--so on and so forth.

So, I often excise the side by the band I'm already interested and let the other pass, in the interest of not writing them off over a weird experimental track. It's not always the case, as I'll go with it given the entire split for some reason, via legitimate MP3 or CD release (as I did when acquiring the Burning Airlines/Braid split). Once upon a time, I ended up with the MP3s for the split that leads me to today's entry:

That is the ultra-limited blue issue, though the less limited gold pressing out there. Interestingly, it violates the same "rules" I approach most splits with: they are both remixes by The Latch Brothers. At the Drive-In I knew and loved, which was the reason for snagging the tracks in the first place. Each is represented on the clear sleeve packaging: At the Drive-In's Vaya EP had that angled boombox on an orange field for its cover, and the skull and crossbones image was the Murder City Devils' emblem for a time. The Latch Brothers remixed ATDI's "Rascuache" (from Vaya, the apex of the band, for me), and MCD's "Press Gang." That track comes from the Murder City Devils' third long-player, In Name and Blood, and it's a doozy, even when tweaked by outsiders.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

[I'm Not Foolish Enough to Post My Amateurish Translations] -- Japanese Bands, Especially That Super Funky One: Bazra

DISCLAIMER: I apologize to anyone who does not have MS Mincho (or equivalent) installed or enabled for display in their browser or operating system. I dislike romanizing without giving the original, so, while I will quickly gravitate toward it, most names will be established in their original language first.

With a taste for music like mine, the title of this post is pretty well guaranteed to reflect one of the handful of Japanese bands I like. Dealing with エレファントカシマシ (The Elephant Kashimashi, sometimes "Elekashi") is still a bit too daunting for where I am, and a bit too important to me to reduce too far. I like other bands with non-English-speaking origins, but plenty are instrumental, and others are languages either Romantic or readily translated into English, even if with sparing accuracy.

Translated Asian languages seem to suffer some of the most problems, for various linguistic reasons that I have only the mildest of familiarity with. Obviously this means I don't share my family's relative necessity for linguistic touches in vocals, though I can appreciate them. But I don't understand the lyrics of 宮本 浩次 (Miyamoto Hiroji) at all. In my college days, I took a fair bit of Japanese, but my lackadaisical approach to all things in structured education hindered my understanding severely, and even translating one song ("Call and Response"¹) was an arduous effort, which involved listening, transcribing and then comparing and refining where the phonemes could not be properly separated into words or tweaked into the right words. Then, beyond that, actual translation was an enormous headache, as my brain cannot decide whether to go with poetic license or extreme faithfulness. The end result looks like someone attempting to write something pretentious, but failing because they are writing in English and it's their third or fourth language and they've yet to master it.

Bazra is no different, in terms of my lyrical understanding. Bazra as a band, however, is very different. It's going to be difficult to impress the divergence from a more "classic" sound like Elekashi, rather than just attempting to establish the sound in the first place. It would be great if I could begin at the point that explains both my awareness of and my affection for Bazra, that being "星の降るような夜に," ("Hoshi No Furu You Na Yoru Ni") an Elekashi song from their 1994 album 東京の空 (Tokyo No Sora, which I can comfortably explain is "The Skies of Tokyo," though still rough as a translation), their 1994 album that marked the end of an era. But we'll talk about that some other time. To give a rough estimate, here is Elekashi in 2008 performing "Hoshi No Furu You Na Yoru Ni":

And Now a Big Surprise: We Can Thrive and Stay Alive

About two years ago, I went out to see some friends that I only ever see once a year. Occasionally, we'd exchange gifts, partly because two of them had birthdays right around that time, partly because it was the only time we saw each other. That year, though, my friend Yannick handed me one and said he was looking through my ridiculously extensive Amazon Wishlist¹ and said he could not believe that I did not have the albums he was handing me.

Of course, one of them I did (kind of) already have, that being Death's Symbolic, which was the album recommended to me by the friend who was the most help in expanding my knowledge of metal (introducing me to At the Gates, Opeth, In Flames, Dark Tranquility, Emperor, Mayhem, Cancer, Cathedral, Cynic...that list would take a while to finish, so let's stop there) out of Death's entire catalogue. It's an excellent album, but, as I say, I did already kind of have it--I had the original CD issue, and this was the reissue that included 4-track and 8-track demos Chuck Schuldiner had recorded prior to the album's actual recording sessions.

So that was not any kind of revelation. What came alongside it, though, was Bad Brains' I Against I. My knowledge of Bad Brains came from my best friend in high school and college, Jogn, who knew or knew of a slew of punk bands, as far as I could tell as a relative--almost absolute, to be honest--neophyte. Now, as a result, I knew Bad Brains as a hardcore band. That strain of music that followed on the heels of punk and sped things up to a blur of sound and a wave of aggression in most cases. Some punk bands recorded limited hardcore releases, like the Dead Kennedys' In God We Trust, Inc. EP² or The Misfits' Earth AD, both of which are ridiculously short, as hardcore songs had (and have) a tendency to be very short.

Indeed, Bad Brains, the self-titled debut of the band of Rastafarian punks responsible for I Against I blasts through 15 songs in about 34 minutes, almost half of them clocking in at less than a minute and a half. I have that release on vinyl (though, originally, it only appeared on cassette), but, at the time I received I Against I, all I knew was The Omega Sessions, equivalent to a lot of the cheap-o artist compilations that can be found in bargain bins around the United States for relative chump change, though the prices for "real" (older) albums are rapidly approaching the same. Well, that's not exactly fair: the EP is titled this because it's a set of recordings made at Omega Recording Studios in Kensington, MD, rather than a bunch of random junk live tracks that the "Extended Versions" series throws out without telling people. But demos and live tracks in general are perceived very differently when we're talking about Bad Brains and not Kansas.

Interestingly, The Omega Sessions does include a very early version of the title track "I Against I," but, though it is structurally similar, it is a lot muddier, being a cheap demo recording, and it's played a bit more loose, lending itself more toward the songs on Bad Brains. Of course, these recordings also include the reggae leanings of Bad Brains, with songs like "Stay Close to Me" and the pseudo-dub of "I Luv I Jah."

To give you an idea, if you don't know, what both hardcore and early 'Brains sounds like, here's "Attitude" from their self-titled debut.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...