Saturday, May 14, 2005

Let's hear it!

So, you guys aren't very good when it comes to leaving comments. What's the matter with you? Speak up!

Let me know what you like and what you want to hear more of; it helps me trying to decide what to put up next.

Battery - Say it!

Friday, May 13, 2005

A bundle of joy

Did y'all catch that story in the New York Times about how Linkin Park wants to get out of their contract with Warner Music (also see here)? Usually I wouldn't even pay much attention to something like this, but it amuses me to no end how these people are willing to embarrass themselves. They're concerned about their marketing budget after Warner Music's IPO? Please, that's just ridiculous. They're already shoveling cash up your asses, you made it into the select group of, um, artists who earn money for their record company; what on earth are you going to do with fifty million dollars? Buy yourselves a week's worth of programming on MTV? Even worse if they actually believe what they're saying. It shouldn't have taken them that long to realize that they are working for a corporation. Worst of all, though, is the fact that these guys are described as "the biggest rock band in the world." I don't care how many records they sell, their style is generic and redundant and they give a bad name to heavy music. Fucking clowns.

To let off some steam, I went to see Mastodon last night and was happy to know that they still do what they've always done, despite the bigger venue. Now here's a band that doesn't compromise its integrity even as it attracts larger crowds. I loved every minute of it. Also, you should buy all of Cult of Luna's records.

Today's update features a band from Southern California called Stickfigurecarousel. Their total output consists of little more than a dozen songs, but all of it is very listenable and well executed. Though their sound changed somewhat from release to release, beginning with their first 7" on dim mak, the cover of which was designed and packaged by Steve Aoki himself and which was more on the fast and chaotic side. A self-titled 7" on Schema followed a similar pattern, while they put a greater emphasis on songwriting with their 7" and CDep on Nothing Left. It's loud and bombastic; walls of guitars with frequent hints of melody and occasional singing. Think early Will Haven meets early Kill Holiday. Their last release was a split 7" with Germany's Linsay, also on dim mak.

Below, you'll find the first three songs of the ep, which kind of form a thematic whole - at least that's what it sounds like - and which are also all on the 7" version of this release. Some distros probably still have all or some of the above records, particularly the Nothing Left ep. Find them and buy them. Members of Stickfigurecarousel went on to play in, among others, Adamantium and Give Until Gone.

Stickfigurecarousel - Facade
Stickfigurecarousel - Penumbra
Stickfigurecarousel - A Bundle of Sticks

Saturday, May 07, 2005

The day pigs flew and hell froze over

In German, akephal is a little-used scientific term, an adjective that describes a form of archaic social organization. Specifically, it refers to the ability of nomadic tribes to function without central leadership, instead arriving at decisions through the discourse of the elders. Not unlike certain terrorist organizations, nomadic societies were thus able to survive as autonomous cells.

It strikes me that this description of autonomy as an organizational principle is not unlike what many DIY bands preach, and some practice. Stateside, CrimethInc comes to mind as the premiere example of a collective that puts quality of life first and just so happens to use music as a creative outlet. Whenever they get around to it, that is - Catharsis, the band that is probably closest to the nucleus of the collective, hasn't released any records since their split LP with Timebomb in 2001, which featured just one fifteen-minute song of theirs, 'Arsonist's Prayer.' Then there's the hactivist collective, another group of free-spirited young intellectuals, better known for the music they released as Creation is Crucifixion. Their last release is now also three or four years old and consisted of only three 'real' songs, though the CD also came with software by the Carbon Defense League and a ca. 100-page booklet with instructions for programming your own culturally-subversive Game Boy games, including strippers and prostitutes (unionized, I'm sure).

While laudable and deserving of respect, these groups are only the most extreme manifestations of an idea that I think is present throughout the DIY and larger independent music culture in its basic tenets, despite the widespread appropriation of the tools and principles of market capitalism. Under this model, indie bands are single-cell contractors whose largest assets are word-of-mouth (now aided by the Internet), tour vans and the music itself. It's by no means a recipe for success, but, given a minimum of dedication and talent, it works and has proven to be an artistically and economically sustainable approach for many bands.

In fact, it has been so successful that it has increasingly been adopted by the social, economic and political culture at large. How many times in the last two years have you heard political figures talking about 'reaching the base with grassroots campaigns'? Then, there is the much-debated democratization of the Internet itself, where groups of one persuasion or another (or musical taste, for that matter) cluster around indvidual blogs and sites, including this one. Who knows, even the knuckleheads in the executive suites of the Big Four labels and their A&R flame-outs might wake up to this new reality at some point. Ultimately, it would mean that music groups under contract with the big labels would no longer represent an investment with a 90% chance of negative return, but independent franchises that retain much of the control of their marketing and output while living off the road, leaving the labels with a low but also low-risk margin from online and hardcopy sales.

However, chances are that if you're young and bursting at the seams with creative energy and adolescent angst, your response is going to be something like "I don't give a shit, I just wanna play!" Point well taken. It's also exactly what the band whose music I want to share with you today and who inspired the above rant did.

Akephal, who hailed from Husum in the far North of Germany, are another case of music shrouded in mystery, just how I like 'em. The only release of theirs I am aware of is a seven-song 12" EP on 180-gram vinyl on Lund Castle Core Records, recorded in 1997 at Bremen's infamous Kuschelrock studios, birthplace of many fine records by hardcore luminaries like Moerser, Systral, Acme and Loxiran. Their exact political leanings are anyone's guess, but the lyrics provide a pretty good hint at where these guys were coming from.

"As long as propaganda turns cries of death into tales of heroic feats/ and as long as domestic security finds ways to justify all of its torture methods/ shit will pass for gold," they scream in 'So Lange' (note: my translation). File under current affairs - the critique of the unchecked powers of government has lost none of its relevance. They get more personal in songs like 'Zeitgefuehl': "We are getting lost in our own fear - escape attempts - self-deceit/ [attempts to] do away with boundaries, that you have created yourself/ Never will you overcome your own nothingness." It seems clear that the 'you' that is addressed here is really the singer himself, who, in other places, repeatedly bemoans his "passivity," inaction, and fear thereof; statements that appear trite in writing, but carry a very powerful momentum when bundled with Akephal's music. Their sound is brash and heavy; the closest comparisons that I can think of are Uranus, the layered vocals of Barrit and perhaps a more sinister Unruh. I also have to commend them on their effective use of samples. Coupled with screams and wailing guitars, they serve to add an additional layer of hauntedness, even if you don't understand German.

As always, if you can tell me anything about other releases by these guys or their present musical whereabouts, please get in touch with me. Below are songs three through five from the EP. I got my copy from X-mist six or seven years ago, but I wouldn't be surprised if they still have some left over.

Akephal - Zeitgefühl
Akephal - Feuer und Flamme
Akephal - Kaleidoskop

Thursday, May 05, 2005

How not to die a bitter death

Two things happened since my last post: First, work and life got crazy busy, and second, I received two e-mails, one from Stefan, former guitarist of June's Tragic Drive, and one from Marc, former bassist of Jough Dawn Baker. Both gave me updates on what they have been up to after the break-up of their respective band, which I'm going to take the liberty to share with you.

Stefan writes that after playing in Cheerleaders of the Apocalypse, he was in Borigor, a more metallic version of CotA. They broke up as well. Nowadays, he plays in a "stoner, psychedelic, sort-of rockish" band called Calahan as well as in an instrumental project called Blackwaves with Frank, also the singer of the Kinetic Crash Cooperation and former singer of Sermon, and Tomek, former drummer of the Lovesongcompany, that he describes as "a mixture of Pleasure Forever and Neurosis."

The e-mail from Marc came totally out of the blue. He is now playing the guitar in a band called Run Away From The Humans, outta Philly, a new-wave inflected indie/ electro project which I recommend you check out.

They also shared some thoughts on old times. Stefan says that he wishes he could "revive the old days. That music was such an extremely important part of our lives for me and the others." Marc says "Jough Dawn Baker was a fun band to be in." As for the blue guitar I mentioned below, it's "a charvel surfcaster ... to this day I have no idea how Joe got that thing so heavy sounding ... it was a semi hollowbody single coil pick up guitar ... crazy." Word.

What do we learn from that, kids? Don't squander your youth - turn off the televison and get off your fucking couch! Now, that isn't exactly a new idea; it's been at the core of what many bands have expressed lyrically. It's what DIY is all about. That brings me to today's update. Few bands have expressed this beautifully naive, but truly powerful sentiment, couched in a bed of sinister apprehension, better than Morning Again, particularly in their very last release, a two-song 7" on Immigrant Sun that I believe was recorded and released sometime in '98/'99, entitled 'To Die a Bitter Death.'

As the title would suggest, these guys aren't into the whole goody-goody posicore thing, but the point is, they're trying to make a difference for themselves. As they state in the liner notes, "hardcore helped all of us in the band realize that we didn't want to be like everyone who surrounds us each day." Of course, there is already an implied judgment in who the "we" and who the "everyone" is - but that's precisely what makes underground movements and music exciting. Alienation leads to extreme forms of expression, which ideally generate a new understanding of our collective and inidividual identity and allow us to create something that ultimately brings us closer to the miserly rest of humanity again, because we might just not be so different after all. Wrap those sentiments in music to do spin kicks by, and you got yourself a Morning Again record.

I'm not going to mouth off much more about this band, because the odds are you aready know them and are familiar with their output. Instead, I'm just going to be lame and say that I like their old stuff better - with the exception of the aforementioned 7" - because it's more in-your-face. That includes the first record with Damien Moyal, who later went on to sing for Culture and As Friends Rust. However you feel about this band, I think they deserve credit for their part in popularizing metal elements in hardcore early on, along with bands like Unbroken, Earth Crisis and Chokehold, as well as introducing very personal elements in the lyrics.

So here's some Morning Again, old and new. Make of it what you will. Just, you know, "live each day as your last." Piece o'cake.

Morning Again - Family ties
Morning Again - To die a bitter death
Morning Again - Noteworthy instruction