The Melvins and drums

I had the good fortune of catching The Melvins live last time they played Boston. During this set, they stuck to rock oriented material, and didn’t really show their more experimental side. Although I’ve been listening to their material for years, it didn’t dawn on me until that show how essential Dale Crover’s, and more recently Coady Willis’ drumming is to The Melvins songs.

The Melvins take a few page from The Who play-book, at least in their dynamics. Buzz largely sticks to rhythmic parts that accentuate chord changes. He doesn’t really do the whole straight eighth notes power chord thing too often, instead he builds catchy riffs that dance around a bit until they return home to pound you in the face at specific chord changes. Buzz solos pretty rarely, but when he does he rips. He always aids the mood of the songs with his guitar solos rather than using the solo as a venue to show off for the sake of showing off. Jared the bass player follows Buzzes lead hitting the root notes fairly often, but mixes it up with flourishes chords. He basically sticks to what a good rock bassist should do, keep the rhythm but, throw some cool fills and leads in their as well.

The largest amount of variation, solos, fills, sound effects, what one would consider the lead parts come from Dale and Coady. The drums pushed each song, they didn’t provide a subtle back beat, they didn’t lay back. The drums kicked each song in the ass driving the mood by simultaneously working with the song, and sometimes threatening to tear it apart.

The beautiful thing is that the tension created by the drummers during certain songs is completely intentional. Both Dale and Coady are exceptional drummers, and know exactly what they’re going for. They know when to play the same beat, and they know when to go ape-shit. As if playing their often taxing and complicated parts for each song perfectly wasn’t enough, in between each tune Dale and Coady would engage in mini drum offs and pieces which would give Buzz and Jared time to tune. These drums excursions always segwayed perfectly into the next song.

Dale and Coady represent the best kind of drummers. They frequently deviate from basic rhythms, but they do so in a way which is tasteful. Their drum solos aren’t 10 minute long epics, they’re short sweet, and show off their abilities to compose cool rhythms and miniature pieces, rather than showing how many notes they can hit in a second.

As they have in the past the Melvins have brought together an amazing group of musicians, who are tasteful, and enthusiastic to break new ground. While there probably isn’t an era of the band without something valuable to offer, this latest line-up could possibly be the best they’ve had yet. An amazing feat for a band who already have so many artistic accomplishments under their belt.

Thoughts on MF Doom

The idea of a rapper basing his whole persona around Dr. Doom, even going so far as to wear a metal mask in public, is awesome. Unfortunately the execution of said idea isn’t so great. No I’m not talking about Dr. Dooom a.k.a Kool Keith. Rather I’m talking about MF Doom or as he wants us to call him now DOOM.

MF( Metal Face for those not in the know) is pretty well known to most fans of the rap genre. His songs cover the gamut from getting high to food to women. He tends to use odd phrases and wordplay to sometimes disguise his subject matter. Because of this, his main stream appeal is greatly reduced and he tends to be championed by fans of “Backpack” rap (I put quotes because I find it a bullshit label, but most people besides me accept it so I’m using it here for brevity’s sake). Doom tends to be brought up when people are challenging the idea that all rap is about bling and hoes.

Except he is really not the best person to be used to convince people that rap is good. This is because MF isn’t a great rapper. Yes he has fancy wordplay, yes he has a cool concept. But he lacks charisma. Dude is about as wooden of a rapper as you can find. He isn’t interesting at all. This fact isn’t helped out at all by his choice of beats. Most are as boring as DOOM is. Thus his cds just plod along as some guy talks about putting jalapeños on his popcorn.

Why do rap fans embrace him? Well because on a technical level, dude’s got game. He’s got some great songs, but for all the material he has out those great songs are a vast minority. He also has some great rhymes, but he’s not some grand master wordsmith that fans make him out to be. I feel these people have take to him because he’s a great idea like Twitter. But like Twitter, MF in reality is just annoying.

But I didn’t write this just to bury DOOM. Instead I’m here to praise him. I realize I’ve just spent three paragraphs spitting venom on the subject, but I’ve got something positive to say. He’s just released a 5 track sampler for his new album Born Like This and I really like it. I was shocked but again I really liked it. So that means that maybe his fans weren’t lying about him. Rather they were just harking about genius that hadn’t been fully realized till now. Or maybe he just has 5 good songs on the new album and thats it. Either way we will find out soon.

Why Adbusters sucks.

A few months ago Adbusters published an entire issue dedicated to taking the piss out of hipsters. Their argument boils down to this. The primary concern of a hipster is to be perceived as cool, and that overrides greater moral obligations to society. First off, just because someone comes from a rich background, wears stupid clothing and reads Pitchfork media, does not mean that they aren’t moral people who try to help society. In fact, that describes most of Adbusters target audience. As far as I can tell Adbusters markets to young anarchist types, who have enough money to spend on special activist gear. Thats right folks, Adbusters sells special activist shoes for $75 dollars.

Fight capitalism by buying things that other people who purchase Adbusters will compliment you for wearing. Better yet, buy the TV Killer key-chain attachments so you can turn the game off and yell at your dad about the possibilities of a Libertarian- Socialist future or Heidegger. Or buy the t-shirt with The American flag on it where the stars on the flag are replaced by big business logos. That way the everyday ignorant American will be woken up to the fact that big business runs his life, I’m sure that a life time spent immersed in American culture won’t have clued him in by now.

The point of a magazine like Adbusters isn’t to help, its provide a place for douche-bags with money to be snide, and stroke each other. Basically the writers of this magazine are the worst kind of hipster imaginable. I hate to break to all you revolutionaries out there, but the revolution ain’t happening, and if your anarcho-socialist bullshit actually came to power, it would be just as oppressive as our current system. If you want to help don’t spend money on the anarchist activists pack sold by rich white kids that dumpster dive magazine. Sit down and figure out a way to compromise with capitalists and christians, to create a society that works the best for everyone. In other words be decent and civil, and willing to compromise, because you’re not going to win people over by being an asshole.

Freak Out!

I have to be honest, I could care less about buying most new CD’s and records. Its not because, I don’t like new music. On the contrary, I think theres probably the highest percentage of good music being released now than ever before. It takes time to dig through all the crap, but any resourceful individual can go on or twitter or allmusic, or search through the thousands of review sites out there and find a lot of amazing music.

I’m also not in favor of pirating music. People deserve money for their art, particularly young artists attempting to push creative boundaries. If you’re going to download music, you should do it directly from an artists website, or their record labels site. This is the best way to insure that the artists and labels you support, get the largest cut of the money you spent on their product possible. That way they can afford to keep producing art, and possibly widen their creative range by allowing them to purchase better equipment.

My real issue is that most CDs and records come in packaging whose only purpose is to look aesthetically pleasing. Other than some pictures and basic band info, the most you’re going to get from most packaging is some lyrics and maybe a story or two about the band. Most bands miss the point that the packaging can be just as important as the music on the album.

I got a chance to check out an original printing of Freak Out! by Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention. Freak Out! was released in 1966. At the time the most dangerous acts around were The Rolling Stones (whose rebellious streak was sheerly for appearances sake) and Bob Dylan. The Beatles wouldn’t release Revolver until the end of the year. Basically it was a draconian environment for anyone who didn’t want to get a decent job, have a family, and compete with the Joneses.

Into this climate Frank Zappa dropped a bombshell. Freak Out! advocated the restructuring of society into a place where tolerance and free speech would be advocated, and giant corporations would be forced to act ethically and produce good products lest they be replaced by independent firms.  He advocated all these ideas in songs which mixed ideas from R&B and 20th century avant-garde together in a perfectly executed sonic dada fest. Zappa was much brighter and realistic than his contemporaries. There was no, “love is the answer,” bullshit to be found here. There was only cold hard reality, and how to realistically change the way things are. Pretty radical ideas even for today.

Unlike todays artists Zappa didn’t have access to Myspace. There wasn’t even an independent music community to speak of. No zine promotion, no independent music clubs run by douchebags in wearing white belts. There was nothing. He was alone. So, the only way to reach the people who may be interested in his music, was to promote himself, play lots of gigs, and create packaging for his product designed to lure in the dissatisfied. <!– @page { size: 8.5in 11in; margin: 0.79in } P.sdfootnote { margin-left: 0.2in; text-indent: -0.2in; margin-bottom: 0in; font-size: 10pt } P { margin-bottom: 0.08in } A.sdfootnoteanc { font-size: 57% } –>

Zappa spent a large amount of money on the packaging for Freak Out! Unlike most records, the packaging was not meant to attract the average record buyer. The album cover of Freak Out! shows a 27 year old Zappa with long black hair grown past his shoulders, and his trademark mustache and goatee. The Mothers surrounded him, wearing beads, possessing strange facial hair, and in general looking radical and threatening. The album cover insinuated that these were radical road worn men who presented a threat to society.

In contrast to The Mothers, The Beatles were barely out of their teens when they released, “Meet The Beatles.” The cover shows four well combed kids smiling with their perfect teeth. The cover looks like four kids without much experience playing music, trying to look cute to attract girls. Except for Ringo, who worked as a session musician, none of The Beatles had any experience in the music industry. Prior to the release of Freak Out! Zappa had owned his own studio, recorded popular artists, and had extensive experience as a studio engineer and film editor. Not to mention The Mothers who were a hard working bar band prior to Zappa’s arrival.

By the time the public was introduced to Zappa his personality and ideas about music and politics were largely solidified. Comparatively John Lennon entered the public eye as a cute pop star with some latent anti-religious beliefs. One can chart the growth of his personality through The Beatles transition from cute pop stars into somewhat radical social critics, over the course of several albums. Zappa chose a more direct route to radicalism. Neil Slaven comments on the back cover stating, “The world was introduced to Suzy Creamcheese on the back cover. Her letter, written by Frank, was composed of sentences designed to attract the album’s potential ‘freak’ audience and repulse symbols of authority.1

Upon opening Freak Out!, the viewer is barraged with information quotes such as, “The present-day composer refuses to die!” and “If your children ever find out how lame you really are, they’ll murder you in your sleep.”  Also included in the album was a list of over 200, “Freaks.” The list mentioned everyone from 20th century avant-garde composers to Zappa’s high-school music teachers.  Enclosed in the original pressing, Zappa included a list of 36 Freak hot spots, where people could go and experience the counterculture.

Freak Out! wasn’t just an album with some songs that you liked on it. It was a cultural artifact which sought to expose America to new ideas, whether they be social or musical, that were being repressed by the predominant culture of the day. Though other artists have done unique and interesting things with CD packaging, I can’t think of anyone who made there packaging as multi-faceted and engaging as Zappa’s. Young bands who think they are doing something truly culturally important, should consider utilizing the packaging, as a venue for expressing their ideas just as much so as their music. Remember kids every scrap of information or product that is put out there with your name on it represents you, and in turn influences how people think of you.

1Slaven 61

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A reaction to Adult Nights by Wild Light

Another album of conventionally orchestrated, super slick, songs about girls and parties, with a couple of songs about death or something sad thrown in for good measure. Its hard to tell exactly what some of these tunes, are about because the lyrics, while successfully rhymed, are vague enough that some of them might be mistaken as poetic or meaningful.  Its not that this album is a terrible listen or that Wild Light is doomed to financial oblivion. If anything these guys write music which is balanced , catchy and mediocre in every way, thus giving them a pretty good shot at airplay.

Fortunately for major labels, and unfortunately for nerds like myself, hundreds if not thousands of bands are out there harping on the same formula. Its a formula that permeates all genres of popular music. Though somewhat complex, the formula boils down to be mediocre, and you will become at least mildly popular. Learn how to play your instrument, pick up a cute turn of  phrase or two, pick a genre and stick to it, don’t suck, don’t be challenging in any way unless its your first album and you plan on dropping anything confrontational from your sound after it gains you some notoriety, and most of all dress the part. Also, make sure to make ridiculous faces and exaggerated bodily movements while performing live.

This emphasis of craft over substance, insures we get a slew of potential Rolling Stones and U2’s while insuring that bands doing something original will have to work that much harder to gain notoriety in the long run, and money in the short run. Theres a lot of passionate and challenging artists out there that are expressing valuable ideas about the human condition, who deserve your money, more so than The Black Lips. I’m not saying that there isn’t room for brainless pop music, I own and listen to a lot of it, but challenging music deserves at least as much of your attention and cash. Most importantly your cash.