Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Best Pedal Review, Ever

Dear Paradyme420 from East Providence,

I encountered the following review while researching distortion pedals on Musicican's Friend:

"For the right genres, this box rocks!

Features: 9
Quality: 10
Value: 10
Overall: 9

paradyme420 from East Providence, RI
Experience: I own it
Background: active musician
Style of Music: alternative, grunge, post punk

"Mar 8, 2006 - Ok metal players, I officially don't understand you. Why would you buy a fuzz pedal??? That makes no sense. If you want to "shred" stick with BOSS and DOD Pedals and things that say like death crunch or whatever as the description. As for me, this pedal gives a very thick fuzz, perfect for Hendrix style freakouts, post punk, alternative, etc., it is perfect. If you want to "shred" my advice is (because I see horrible reviews for fender instruments as well) stick with guitars with humbuckers and pedals that have the word death on them, because it's sad to see good products get bad reviews because some knucklehead Dhimmu Borigir fan buys the wrong gear in their pursuit to unlock the gates of hell or whatever it is you do for fun."

And so, Paradyme420 from Providence, I was wondering...

Could you please come to my house and maybe be my best friend so that we could just sit around and write reviews about everything that we encounter? And by "we," I mean, "you" could write the reviews? You can start by reviewing all the musical equipment in the house but why stop at that? I have plenty of cereal boxes, sofas, and lamp shades, and houseplants that could benefit from such descriptive hilarity.

This request, of course, is based on your review of the Electro-Harmonix pedal I am thinking of buying, pictured above.

Based on your review, and because I wouldn't count myself a fan of Dimmu Borgir, I am totally sold on the Big Muff pedal. For real.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Which of these two bands do you want to punch in the face harder?

This band:

or this band:


My Opinions on Indie Rock (or any music for that matter) Are Invalid. Here's Why:

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Is Indie Rock "Dead?" Is Death Cab for Cutie "Good?"

A friend of mine recently lamented the state of music today, falling prey to the old adage that it is impossible to create anything new since anything one can think of has been done already.

I'm never sure what to say when I fall into this conversational trap. I mean, true enough, anything I usually think up has certainly already been done. It's probably also fair to say that, in terms of great breadth, most styles and genres that will ever exist have come into existance long before our time. But what's so wrong with achieving newness by changing the details? Tinkering around the edges of brilliance?

Considering music can either be stunningly complex or staggeringly simple and still bless the ears, it seems to me that by indulging in the intricacies, one really might be able to innovate after all. Mind, I'm not talking about plagiarism, or blatant rip-off artists like Franz Ferdinand (let the hazing begin). I simply mean that if a chord progression occurs to me, chances are it already occurred to some more talented mortal long before I decided to write a song around it. But does that mean hands off? Or that if I happen to hear the same string of notes that someone heard before, I have to bust them up even if the influence is subconscious or even unknown? Sure, there are only so many chords and even progressions. But there are infinite songs.

We can't ever really say with any authority that no new ideas remain, because if we could predict ideas, then what's the point? I know if I could predict what might someday change everything, I wouldn't be writing a blog about it. (I'd be writing songs around it). Until somebody stumbles across the next idea or innovation, what's wrong with simply writing new songs that rock?

My discussion with Bruner was chased close on its heels by another careworn discussion about the state of the music industry in general (note that Bruner and I are bandmates, and this constitutes fun for us when we're not busy discussing Nixon's secret war in Cambodia). In any case, Lonnie asked me the dreaded endless discussion question:

Do you think Indie Rock will ever die?

My reply of course, was that according to Robert Pollard indie rock died on April 24, 2005, at the Bowery Ballroom. I'm not sure I'm inclined to agree with Bruner, who thinks it is locked in eternal stasis, or with Pollard, (who you probably know once claimed he could write "five songs on the shitter, and three of them would be good"). Somewhere in between those two extremes, a lot of indie rock bands are still churning out incredible music. Fair enough, nobody's written "I am a Scientist," lately, but I could name a dozen songs that give Pollard's masterpiece a run for its money.

With respect to the whole innovation and indie rock is dead commentary, my estimation is that originality remains while perception of that reality has changed dramatically. Listeners can no longer consume music in a vacuum. Whether or not a given band was influenced by a another given band, the listener nonetheless draws his own parallels. These comparisons aren't even always based on music solely - but rather an assortment of the listener's own life experiences and associative contexts.

I remember whipping myself into a high-school frenzy of delicious melancholy over an unrequited crush. I would lie awake at night in a haze of happy despondency that could only have been perpetuated by The Cure's disintegration album played on repeat night after night after night. If, as a result, I've always associated the Cure with melancholy and if, someday another song gets associated with a later sense of melancholy, does the music recall the Cure or does the melancholy recall the earlier experience - including the music that fueled the flames? It's hard to say.

More importantly, today's concept of originality is drastically different than the previous generation's. The sheer volume of music and the unparalleled access to music that listeners enjoy today means that more and more of the good ideas have been heard by more and more of the unwashed masses. It doesn't take as much effort to criticize and compare anymore, so today everyone's a critic, and everyone draws comparisons. My college band got away with ripping off the then-extremely underground band Love. Today, thanks to i-pod deejay nights and internet programs designed to lead listeners from an artist to their supposed influences in the hope of shaking loose a few more nickels from listeners wanting to be "in the musical know," Forever Changes is about as underground as Pet Sounds. Since we have more to consume, and we enjoy greater facility of consumption than ever before, we set higher standards for originality.

The natural reaction to this seems to be to compartmentalize music into genres and to marginalize bands we get tired of by claiming one genre is more "original" than another. Those who subscribe to this reasoning usually conclude that "Indie" was once a genre filled with innovative music, but as it has subsequently crawled out of the underground and onto Starbucks compilations and the OC, it's hackneyed and unoriginal by default. But that's silly. Most of us grew up getting our music from the radio, and we all know it does't get much more "commercial" than that. Wanting to deliver one's music to large audiences is natural.

Okay. So most singer-songwriters these days emulate some combination of Jeff Buckley, Dylan, or Nick Drake and most bands seem to want to sound like Joy Division. (I know I do and I'm not even a man!). But in making this generalization, critics dismiss almost out of hand the enormous number of bands out there writing good music and playing good shows. And I don't think the assumption is fair or accurate.

To close this post out with some fun, I've uploaded footage I captured last night at the a show headlined by (arguably) one of the most readily-named "indie" rock band out there: Death Cab for Cutie. This song didn't change music or the world, but I put it on every mix tape I made for a few months after its release.


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Trotsky Loves Mao, Borrows Equipment, Writes a Few Songs, Goes to the Bank...

So I totally have a new side project. Here is our bio:

It was at Isaac Washington's instigation that Lonnie Bruner, Red Storm and Isaac Washington formed Trotsky Loves Mao and, with his encouragement, the three began to make a name for themselves in rock music, first by heart, idealism and raw talent, and later by hard work, copious amounts of alcohol, and innovation.

Building on their early twee pop sound, the trio soon began layering their delicate guitars with increasingly edgy riffs like some kind of heavy metal birthday cake from outer space with a deliciously sweet frosting.

Isaac W authored most of the band's early work. Heavily influenced by gaypop and Motorhead, his work was later complemented by the songwriting of fellow founding bandmate Red Storm. It was in there in the dining room "music laboratory" of Red Storm's Trinidad residence that the trio performed a series of magical ceremonies that prefigured Red Storm's elaboration of the techniques of rhythm guitar and lead vocals, or, as she was later to call it, "being divine."

(In this case, the ceremonies combined the performance of advanced ritual magic with helmets and other assorted implements of torture, including guitars, a makeshift tambourine, spirits, and some incense).

It was this episode in the music lab - sublime and terrifying as an experience, profound in its effects, and illuminating in what it reveals of the engagement of advanced magical practice with personal selfhood and music making - that constitutes the core focus of the band.

Lonnie Bruner, the twelfth of nineteen children and the third founding member, brought new direction to the band and is best known for his innovative guitar and steady talent. Lonnie Bruner's father, a soothsayer by trade, was quite musical and passed his talent to his twelth-born. On Sundays, the Bruner family often gave private concerts. Bruner's father played the harp while little Bruner and his mother sang. A music industry rep "discovered" five-year-old Bruner and took him under his wing for musical instruction. The care for young Bruner was meager and Bruner has said himself that "there was more flogging than food." Still, he persevered, determined even as a young boy to maximize the opportunity and learn all that he could.

It was not until early 2006 that KD, a force to be reckoned with on keyboards and tambourine, joined the group, rounding out the former trio's hard-driving but melodic sound with crisp keyboards and sweet harmonies. Recalling her mispent youth, KD says she now regrets the drunken rampages she used to lead friends on in her native Colorado, and claims that she was merely a footsoldier in the "army of anarchy." KD and her gang of ruffian cohorts would get drunk, put on army boots, and take to the streets wearing colorful wigs and carrying dainty purses they'd looted from their grandmothers.

They were fearless, drunk, and extremely beautiful.

In early 2000, BFF, self-proclaimed scion of the comfortable middle classes, undertook a journey to Washington, DC. The stated purpose of the trip was pleasure. BFF, later to be dubbed "the wickedest drummer on God's Green Earth," was in his late twenties when the band recruited him to provide percussion for their rock outfit. BFF, widely traveled and an experienced mountaineer, nonetheless loved Washington, DC and had personal reasons for wanting to be out of his hometown and so he accepted. Dreamy and mystical by nature, BFF is far from benign behind the drum kit. The band, now at full strength, soon learned that in much relating to life, (or at least to percussion), BFF held a wisdom beyond his years.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

If you thought the giant picture of my toes was disconcerting, wait 'til you get a load of what Metro is offering tourists this Cherry Blossom season!

So I get on Metro mid-morning today amid tourists, students and the occasional commuter still straggling after the 9AM rush and as I'd already read the Post, I had no choice but to read the advertisements displayed on board Metro, which is much like reading the sides of cereal boxes. Not exactly literature, but hey, we can't all be Shakespeare. In the midst of the local merchants pedalling their wares, (you know the standard assortment: Crate and Barrel, Tiffany's, the Dadaism exhibit at the national Gallery) what to my wondering eyes should appear but the poster shown at right?

Holy crap.

I mean, I'm all for softcore porn in the guise of an "urban erotic tale," but can you just picture the conservative Christian couple from Iowa with thier matching fanny packs fielding one of these likely questions from their chubby, hot-dog eating offspring:

"Mommy, what's happening in my pants?" or
"Can we come to DC every Spring?" or
"Isn't 'Noire' usually spelled 'Noir?' and isn't it meant to depict some sort of nihilism or existentialism in addition to the dark sexual overtones?"

So I thought maybe I could facilitate activities at the Metro Complaint department by offering up this website for their forwarding pleasures:

Ask Noir (Apparently).

So kiddies, have at the Cherry Blossoms this tourist season here in DC. If you're riding Metro and you ask the right questions, you just might learn something.