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Musings

One of the last shows of the "political" Protest the Hero era

As puberty set in, Protest the Hero were coming off of a re-release of 2003’s A Calculated Use of Sound, now retrofitted with the one-off anti-war ‘anthem’ “Soft Targets Dig Softer Graves” wedged awkwardly in the middle of its track list. “Soft Targets”, originally released on one of Underground Operations’ Greetings From the Underground samplers, was written and recorded over a year after the release of A Calculated Use of Sound and it showed. Rody wasn’t shouting anymore. His singing voice still wasn’t where it is now but for the first time he wasn’t simply yelling at the top of his lungs. The band had gotten a little heavier and a little more technical, too; there was less focus on Moe’s drumming and a higher emphasis on the guitar trade-offs between Luke and Tim and Arif had taught himself to finger tap on the bass. But the musical evolution evidenced in “Soft Targets” is unimportant to what I want to touch on. What matters is it was the end of Protest the Hero’s political era.

That became clear when they debuted “A Plateful of Our Dead”, then known simply as “Kezia”. In its infancy, performances of the song would always begin with bassist and lyricist Arif Mirabdolwhatever introducing it with the preface, “this is a song about a little girl standing in front of a firing squad”. When the album finally came out,…

First of all, I added a new song to our nifty Track of the Day playlist over there on the right.  It’s “Wellington’s Wednesdays” from the new Weakerthans release, Live At The Burton Cummings Theatre.  John K. Samson pulls a random kid up from the crowd to play a solo in the middle of the song and he actually does pretty damn good.

Alright, onto pressing matters.  Here are some things that you guys need to stop doing:

1. Using the term “concept album” – You wouldn’t call a novel that tells a story a “concept book” would you?  No.  So why do we automatically throw the hideous term “concept album” onto any record that has themes or tells a story?  People are calling the new Titus Andronicus album a concept album for Christ’s sake.  Every album has connected themes, every song tells a story.  You know why people call vehicle prototypes “concept cars”?  Because they haven’t been fucking invented yet.

2. Using the term “pop-punk” – It’s not so much the term itself that bothers me, although it certainly does get on my nerves.  It’s the fact that it’s gained such a negative connotation (similar to how people used to use the word “emo” a few years ago) that people automatically hold something referred to as “pop-punk” to a much lower standard, as if something labelled as such can’t be better than a 3 or 3.5.   It’s especially annoying that the only thing that sets “pop-punk” albums apart…

It’s rare enough that I choose to watch a film at all (I’m just not a fan of the medium in general), but lately, my tastes have become alarmingly specific; I’ve been watching operas. More specifically, I’ve been watching the movie adaptations of operas that were briefly prevalent during the later ’70s and mid-’80s – the 1986 version of Verdi’s Otello that stars Placido Domingo in blackface, the 1983 adaptation of the same composer’s Rigoletto that boasts one of Pavarotti’s defining performances, the 1984 version of Bizet’s Carmen with Julia Migenes in the sexually aggressive titular role, the acclaimed 1979 version of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, and so on. Generally, they’re good fun and they’re entertaining enough, and since they’re effectively just music with pictures they’re perfect for someone like me. Yet, one thing is undeniable – they’re not a patch on just listening to the music on its own.

Rigoletto This all ties into something that’s bugged me about opera for some time. Whether you choose to use the term ’snobs’ or ‘traditionalists’, there are a lot of big opera fans that will insist that it’s almost not worth owning an album until you’ve seen the opera performed live; that the music is just one part of a bigger event. On paper, this is completely true – the whole point of opera, in the beginning, was to combine every art form into one spectacle. The composers handled the music, the performers

I wanted the title of my column to be something awesome like Burt’s Bits or Taylor Talk but I have a weird name and “plan” is the only relevant word that rhymes with Chan.

Anyway, the other day I saw Paranormal Activity for the first time.  Marketed by many as one of the scariest movies of all time, I was pretty disappointed.  However, it did fill my head with a bunch of interesting thoughts, many of them so tangential that I couldn’t remember how I got from Point A to Point F or whatever.  Mostly I was distracted by thoughts of how awesome the movie would be if it was told from the demon’s perspective.  Imagine you’ve just died and suddenly you’re a badass demon living in hell.  You’re psyched, you’re ready to fuck shit up.  You get a message from the Colonel of the Demonic Legion saying that he wishes to speak with you.  You’re excited as hell.  You start mentally preparing for Armageddon.  When you reach his office, he gives you your first assignment:  squat in the house of a young engaged couple and scare the living shit out of them, with the eventual goal of possessing one of them or killing them both.  Sounds good, right?  But then he gives you some limitations.  You can’t just go in there and pinch their grape heads in your claws.  You’ve got to have finesse.  You’ve got to…make only one scary noise a night and then spend the rest of…

Echo Curio is a small art shop in Echo Park, California. A few days ago I went and saw the group Extra Life perform there. The venue was totally overpacked with it probably comfortably only holding 25 people. I imagine there was probably 50 to 60 people there so the streets were lined with kids drinking 22s out of brown bags. The concert was definitely a different atmosphere than the last time I saw Extra Life, but in general worked for the band. Some hipster noise group opened named Halloween Swim Team. Their music was boring as hell, but their equipment which included a vintage minimoog was fun to look at. My friends and I went next store to buy beer during the end of their set. The next opener was jesus makes the shotgun sound which I had heard of before, but never actually listened to. The group was pretty cool in a live setting though I don’t think I would be into their records.

Extra Life is currently wrapping up the last couple dates of a tour for their new release ‘Made Flesh’. The record takes a lot of the ideas found on their debut ‘Secular Works’ and makes them a little more comprehendible. The group played every track from ‘Made Flesh’ sans ‘Black Hoodie’ and ‘The Body is True’. From their debut they played ‘The Refrain’. Charlie Looker the main figure of Extra Life was very interactive with the crowd making plenty of jokes and talking…

On my way home from work I heard about the decision of  a German court on the radio. It’s one of the kind where you can only think “Wow dude… you are ABSOLUTELY f***ed, as f***ed as you can be”. Some might remember news about some German “gangster rapper” called Bushido (pictured to the left), who ripped off parts of a Dimmu Bogir song for one of his own. It was not the first nor the last time the rapper was accused of using parts of songs by other artsist without giving credit, but usually this ended with a settlement outside of court. In other words: getting away with a bruised eye, if you want to call it that way. Well, not this time, as the court in Hamburg owned Bushido, his label, as well as other labels REAL hard on tuesday.

The French Gothic band Dark Sanctuary took action against Bushido, when they got the feeling he was ripping off songs of the band. That is, ripping of thirteen songs by Dark Sanctuary. Here just one example, first the song “Janine” by Bushido:

And here’s the original song by Dark Sanctuary, “Les Memmoires Blessees”:

Everyone with ears can probably spot the obvious rip off, it’s so obvious that it’s (almost) not even funny anymore. And it’s not really that different with the other twelve songs in question, from all that one could gather. Add to this that all the songs were promoted and noted as very own…

Just in case anyone had thought that the Idol franchise had departed us, we are currently getting down to the business end of the 9th season of the American version. As much as the names and the faces have changed, it is pretty much the same ol’ same ol’ this year… And that folks, is not a good thing. Although, I must admit that there have been a couple of positives worth mentioning this time around and I’ll get to them later.

The usual controversy occurred with one contestant who had been named in the top 24 being disqualified due to an existing contract with some kind of (surprise surprise) boy band. As if to put us through hell and back on purpose, the powers-that-be replaced him with some kid named Tim, who subsequently stunk up the stage as the worst performance on top 24 night. Of course, this is Idol, so Tim survived based on his looks and his ability to be drowned out by screeching 15 year old females! A month later and Tim is still sucking, except now he’s made it into the top 10.

With 4 contestants initially being eliminated each week, there was some potential to be heard in the top 16. However, almost half of that was eradicated by the American public when Alex, Katelyn & Lilly were voted out heading into the top 12. All 3 of these contestants had at least a semblance of originality about them and could have even been…

Irish DIY label the Richter Collective have uploaded their first podcast, featuring tracks from upcoming records by the Redneck Manifesto, Hands Up Who Wants To Die! and The Continuous Battle of Order, as well as old tracks from BATS, Adebisi Shank and the now-defunct pairing of Marvins Revolt and Kidd Blunt.

I caught a few of these acts at the label’s Christmas party in Dublin last year. Some I was already familiar with (BATS, Marvins Revolt and headliners Adebisi Shank), but the act I was most impressed with was Belfast duo The Continuous Battle of Order (a.k.a. Hornby and Craig Kearney from We Are Knives), who will release their debut album Pattern Seekers on April 16.

As their name and album title suggest, they lean pretty heavily towards the mathy end of things, and the podcast’s opening track, ‘001-2,’ is well worth a listen for fans of Marvins, And So I Watch You From Afar and the aforementioned Shank. Check that out, along with two tracks from the forthcoming Redneck Manifesto album Friendship (March 26) via the widget below.

I have quite the thing with (not for) music books.  Basically, I can’t read one without eventually getting royally pissed off about some stray unneeded inclusion or irregularity or overwhelming example of intolerant ignorance towards fans/artists. This is all the odder considering that I own like seven of them. I mean, I usually don’t start frothing at the mouth, but there’s just always something that will ruin my experience reading a music book, whether it’s an overload of encyclopedic information about something that nobody needs to ever know (not even a fan who’s willing to shell out money to read about the subject) or a fawning, doe-eyed style of writing that pressures the reader to the point where they feel like they must like this shit, as portrayed in David Browne’s not-particularly-reader-friendly Goodbye 20th Century, which casts Sonic Youth as The Most Important Band Ever; you can feel Browne practically breathing with anticipation as his narrative moves from Sister to Daydream Nation to Goo, foaming at the mouth to describe yet another Endurable Classic. Like, there’s a reason the book skims over the band’s later period at a feverish pace, instead of abrasively embracing these album’s shortcomings, which would have ultimately been more interesting. And I even like Sonic Youth, like a lot.

Point is, music books are usually cumbersome, bloated, and tiresome, and often irk me in some way or another. But I keep buying them. Like, incessantly. The two I’ve bought most recently are different, in a…

I earn my living as an IT system administrator. Obviously, the news that Google stops censoring search results in China was quite a bomb for me. This is the biggest impact on politics and censorship in modern media that a single decision by a software firm has, or better, will have on the world and everyday life. At least I can not remember anything similar from the top of my head. Also, nice move from Google for not only telling the world they might do this, but for actually doing it. For whatever their motives might be, it’s a bold move nonetheless, given the weight the Chinese market will undoubtly have in the future.

As I thought about this whole thing for a while, putting the first obvious positives aside – being able to get an “outside view” on China through possibly less filtered and tuned news channels and websites – I wondered: how big will the impact on the music scene in China be? Will this be a chance for artists and new music to pour into the land? Or maybe, pour out of it? I mean, let’s be honest: China is more or less ruled like a totalitarian state, and history shows us that the censorship of those states make quite an impact on the music scene as well. One example I can think of is the government in East Germany/the DDR, where Beat music (think Beatles and Co), Punk and other music genres surfaced, tolerated…

Nujabes

Overshadowed.  I guess that’s the way Nujabes will always be looked at, not just in his life, but also in his death; the date of his death coming at around the same time as fellow jazz-rap pioneer G.U.R.U.’s heart attack, and the announcement coming on the same day as the death of the more famous Alex Chilton.

I can’t help but feel that a man unlucky enough to not be American, and thus finding himself entirely ignored by hip-hop in general, deserved a little bit more luck here.  There really is no way to say this without sounding like a collossal prick, but Alex Chilton’s death was just a shame and nothing more – he was a nice man, and it’s sad that he died, but he’d peaked as an artist decades ago.  Nujabes, by comparison, probably wasn’t due to peak for another few years – his work had just been getting better and better as time went on (2006’s Modal Soul being one of the best hip-hop records of the last decade).  The man was 36, for Christ’s sake.  There were plenty of people in the Western world that thought any hopes of the vibrant Japanese hip-hop breaking out internationally rested with him; that he would be the one that followed DJ Krush (no megastar himself) into having a sizeable international following.  Who knows how important he might have been?

And yet, the likelihood is that he’d always have been a cult figure.…

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