Thursday, December 28, 2006

Film School-Film School

You can’t take back what you already said, but since this is an electronic medium, I can sure as hell go back and add another album to the 2006 Baker’s Dozen list.
To explain: Film School’s eponymous second effort was released in January of this year, so the oversight is somewhat forgiven. It was also an effort that I played a few times, rather enjoyed, but life somehow forced me to put the album away and, shame on me, forget about in.
That is, until I recently went about making a mix cd for the obligatory holiday traveling and noticed it, sitting right there in the “H” section of my alphabetized collection. Quickly spinning through the tracks, I was reminded that Film School is a rather nice exercise in early 80’s British psychedelia,
Which is exactly why it didn’t post higher in the 2006 Baker’s Dozen list; an “exercise” in 80’s British psychedelia is a fairly unremarkable inspiration to begin with. Let’s face it, some of those original bands, the Teardrop Explodes and Echo & The Bunnymen in particular, were very capable and hard to surpass. But when a band reaches for these kinds of pinnacles, and comes close to the same floor as ‘em, it’s deserving of attention.
The required blueprint is here: melodic bass lines, echo-laden guitar patterns, and faux Anglophile vocals. While this is enough to qualify, and while a lot of bands stop at this, Film School explores the musical interplay beyond the three and four minute mark, hinting that they may be a worthy live unit.
The highlights that best exemplify this come towards the end of the 10 song disc, with tracks like “11:11,” “Sick Of The Shame,” and the stunning closer “Like You Know” all clocking in at six minutes or more, providing the band with ample time to explore every nuance of the obvious inspirations. It’s a good direction to follow, if the fellas are taking notes here, and it does require the listener to get through the fairly shallow first half of the record to notice what they’re capable of.
Good things come to those who wait, and the same is true for this review, I guess.

Photo by Aerin. Courtesy of band's website.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Mastodon-Blood Mountain

For some time now, longer than I care to admit, heavy metal has needed an album that shakes the genre to its core. A reminder that, in order for it to remain relevant, it needs a few watershed bands to move things forward. And while there are certainly bands that help fit this description, the reality is that the majority of these releases remain speckled in the underground, avoiding detection by (what I believe to be) a record buying public that may have written off the genre, choosing instead to reminisce about pre-Black album Metallica, old Slayer, and buying Iron Maiden re-issues. I say this, because I’m one of those people.
But I have hope.
It lies, at the moment, in the hands of Mastodon’s major label debut (third overall) Blood Mountain. The hope is that with the resources of a major their impact will be wider. Immediately after impact, the desire is that their influence will take hold so that other bands within the genre can feel the freedom to push their own creative envelope. The Lord, and Satan in this case, knows that metal as we know it today needs more bands like Mastodon who understand more about shredding than they know about Soundscan.
The obvious concern, and it’s one that crosses genres, is that whenever a band moves to a major label they make adjustments to their sound to become more palatable. The reality is that Mastodon has tweaked Blood Mountain to a point, yet I don’t see them sacrificing anything for the sake of building a wider audience. The vocals are more defined, the drums are clearer, and the riffage remains humongous.
Speaking of riffs: They’re here. There’s plenty. Sometimes to the tune of five or six per song. Sometimes impossibly proficient. And with more depth added to the production, you can clearly hear why there’s not another metal band at this moment that can touch ‘em.
True, this is a more progressive-metal Mastodon, and this may alienate some fans of 2004’s “Leviathan,” but by the same token, weren’t true metalheads alienated by how that album was based on fucking “Moby Dick?!” Christ, the only Moby Dick a real metalhead knows is the one that swam out of John Bonham’s drum kit. My point is, only a real snob is going to comment about how Mastodon has gotten more “progressive” with Blood Mountain. A real metalhead only knows that the performances on Blood Mountain rock the piss out of nearly every living mammal on Earth.
Speaking of drummers, Mastodon skinner Brann Dailor is just as amazing as the band makes frequent use of time signature changes. And with each tempo change comes a new sub-genre; progressive metal morphs into psychedelia before switching to thrash metal while visiting the familiar epics of old British new wave heavy metal. It’s all touched upon while being completely refreshing and utterly believable. Blood Mountain is an album that not only respects its elders, but also attempts to outdo them.
Will it sell enough to keep the band on the Reprise payroll? If Mastodon’s audience doesn’t move beyond the hipsters and underground metal supporters that they’re accustomed to, then probably not for long. So here’s a plea to anyone (and there’s lot of you) who have Powerslave, Master Of Puppets or South Of Heaven in their collection: you will love this album. If it isn’t one of the best metal albums you’ve heard in the past decade, it is at the very least, one of the best albums, irregardless of genre, that you’ll hear this year.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Happy Holidays From Glam Racket!

Nothing says "Merry Christmas!" or "Happy Birthday, Jesus!" quite like Chapter 11 in R. Kelly's "Trapped In The Closet" video series.

You're welcome.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Colbert/Frampton Victory!

I know this has gotten plenty of web attention, but it's worth it. Stephen Colbert won the "Greenscreen Challenge" against the Decemberists last night on Comedy Central. I've got to hand it to the people of the Colbert Report for taking the idea and totally running with it.

The comedy gold is found here.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The 2006 Baker's Dozen

For those of you not familiar with the “Baker’s Dozen” end-of-year list, it’s quite simple. Any music lover should get at least one album a month and/or a 13th title as a gift or as a splurge for one’s self. It’s science. And the list is based solely on the opinions of Todd Totale. Any argument of the list is completely wrong and those who take issue with it should shut the fuck up and get their own website.


1.) CAT POWER-The Greatest
Never mind that Chan Marshall has completely reinvented herself this year (both physically and psychologically) although it may have helped in this year’s rating. The reality is she made an album that completely validates her catalog of heartache while standing up against acknowledged classics like Dusty In Memphis, I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You, and Call Me.
2.) T.V. ON THE RADIO-Return To Cookie Mountain
Unlike anything you’ve heard in some time and then, after you’ve heard it, it’s still unlike anything else. Challenging, topical, and sometimes poetic; Return To Cookie Mountain isn’t a “rock” record, but it’s definitely one of the heaviest records you’ll hear all year. It won’t immediately grab you either, which is totally awesome considering today’s Ritalin-induced culture.
3.) MASTODON-Blood Mountain
Leviathan hinted at how good Mastodon could be and Blood Mountain confirms it. It’s the album that ultimately places them as the king of metal’s hill and forgives every single sin that the genre created during the past decade.
If signing to Capitol means making an album this good then cash in, baby. Equally lifting from British folk and English progressive rock, these Oregonians have made sounding English forgivable, as well as making an album that equally lifts from British folk and progressive rock. This is coming from a guy that hates both Donovan and Yes with a passion.
5.) DESTROYER-Destroyer’s Rubies
It’s official: being a part of The New Pornographers means that you’re all but guaranteed a spot in the Baker’s Dozen. And while Neko Case just missed the list, Dan Bejar gets the nod, if only for the line “those who love Zeppelin will eventually betray Floyd.”
6.) THE ARCTIC MONKEYS-Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
They have more going against them (youth, hype, inexperience) than for them (a great debut). And while the world is littered with over-hyped bands (Oasis, Stone Roses, The Strokes, The Libertines, etc.) that hit their zenith shortly after releasing their debut, at least they all have a fucking great album to stand on. Start to finish: this album rocks.
7.) TAPES 'N TAPES-The Loon
In late 2005, they were one of the most hyped bands around. In late 2006, it seems they've lost some of their luster (see Arctic Monkeys). Ignore the press/bloggers/pundits that feel the initial attention wasn't warranted. There's a reason why they were hyped to begin with and it starts with the fact that The Loon is filled with distinctive songs that capture the ear and beg to be played again.
8.) LOVE IS ALL-Nine Times The Same Song
Oh, Sweden. There’s a great wave of nostalgia throughout the country and, unlike other bands that ride the wave with a clear purpose, Love Is All rides theirs with passion. There also a good hint that they’ll find their own niche, but for now, Nine Times The Same Song is as stunningly original as the influences it mirrors.
Yep, it’s another overwrought epic endeavor that, surprisingly, works. So while these Kansas natives throw a ton of imagery in their lyrics and sound, there’s something about making an album that doesn’t feel restricted by its locale.
10.) CLIPSE-Hell Hath No Fury
The idea of “gansta rap” has become increasingly laughable, particularly when one considers the blatant commercial appeal behind the beats of some of the genre’s biggest acts. Not Clipse; Hell Hath No Fury is stark, minimal, and downright scary in places as it paints a chilling portrait of the life of pushing coke. The closest thing that rap has to the television show The Wire.
11.) WILLIAM ELLIOT WHITMORE-Song Of The Blackbird
The greatest rock star to come from Keokuk, Iowa since Mr. Mister's Richard Page! Authentic folk blues with a voice that occassionally hints at Tom Waits. Whitmore's other talent is his ability to weave up some legit Midwestern mystery that's probably a lot more romantic than it actually was. A tremendous piece of work from one of music's most overlooked artist.
12.) BORIS-Pink
Groovy, ear-melting garage/metal/stoner rock from....wait for it...Japan. Proving that the electric guitar and a barking amplifier are indeed the universal language. Also proving that my musical tastes haven't expanded much since hearing Raw Power, The Perfect Prescription and Masters Of Reality. But shit, dude, you could do worse than those albums anyway.
13.) SONIC YOUTH-Rather Ripped
They’re not going to turn heads and re-define music like they did 20 years ago, but what they are doing is completing a veritable trio of incredibly tight guitar rock albums. Rather Ripped may be the band’s most accessible album to date, but that doesn’t mean that it’s their least compelling.

(also known as 'the other 13' and in no particular order)

THE RACONTEURS-Broken Boy Soldiers
BOB DYLAN-Modern Times
YO LA TENGO-I'm Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass
THE HOLD STEADY-Boys And Girls In America
NEKO CASE-Fox Confessor Brings The Flood
THE FLAMING LIPS-At War With The Mystics
LIARS-Drum's Not Dead

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Matt Rogers-Rated X Mas

Since we’re quickly approaching the holidays, I think it’s time to mention the absolute worst Christmas albums known to mankind. It would be easy to nominate those recent offerings by Billy Idol or Twisted Sister, but I’m versed enough to know that the most pathetic holiday album was released in 1999 and is no longer available. It’s because the baby Jesus demanded the thing be recalled shortly after it was issued.
Matt Rogers’ Rated X-Mas promises “Christmas songs NOT for the entire family!!!” when it should have read “Christmas songs NOT fit for human consumption.” Containing 8 songs (or “parodies” as listed on the cover art) and clocking in at less than 20 minutes, it’s a collection of familiar Christmas classics, lyrically raped by (assumedly) Matt Rogers and a few unnamed musicians.
These musicians have, what sounds like, a commercially available keyboard pre-programmed with songs like “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” and “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer.” From there, the “hilarity” begins by changing the lyrics of these well-known tunes into raunchy, utterly retarded renditions. At the risk of sounding like a prude, let me declare that even the most socially inept 14-year old that masturbates four times a day would not consider these renditions to be clever or funny. Anyone else would probably react like I did upon first listen: with a violent fervor that will have you screaming for the head of one Matt Rogers.
“Rudolph” is changed into “Rudolph The Deep Throat Reindeer,” where the familiar red-nosed reindeer manages to make the other reindeer jealous because he gives Santa blowjobs and allows him to have anal sex with him because Ms. Clause “is on the rag.” The song is complete with the sound effects of these acts with the role of Rudolph being played by the most juvenile homosexual stereotype imaginable. The rest of the song’s verses are sung by an uncredited female who should be sterilized for participating in such a project.
She also makes an appearance on “Frosty The Pervert” and “Drunken Santa’s Coming To Town.”
The pinnacle of the disc is “Suck On My Cock,” sung to the melody of “Jingle Bell Rock.” It provides the listener with detailed instructions on how to properly give a blowjob (“Start licking and slurping/My dick will get firm/Soon you’ll be tasting sperm”). The funny thing is, when the line “don’t got ripping out my pubic hair” comes around, you begin to wonder if Mr. Rogers has ever even received a blowjob himself; in all of my years of oral sex, I’ve never experienced an incident where my pubic hair was getting pulled. What the fuck?!
Equally troubling is “I Love To Choke My Chicken With My Hand” (sung to “Winter Wonderland”) where Rogers’ admires his ejaculate and then starts, literally, screaming about how his sister offered to blow him if he reciprocates. He continues to rant about how he can jerk off with both hands and how he wants to masturbate continuously. With songs as unfunny as these, his wish may probably come true.
So how did I come into possession of such an unwanted Christmas artifact? Radio stations were sent promotional copies of this disc, which is itself a completely stupid move as none of the songs could even be aired on terrestrial radio due to the lyrics.
Anyway, a friend worked at one of these stations and was taken aback at how awful the disc was. He played it for me, angrily yelling “It’s Christmas!” during points in the song where Mr. Rogers’ probably anticipated laugher. We did laugh: We laughed at the shitty production quality. We laughed at how someone thought it was funny enough to press and release. We laughed at how anyone would actually buy it, only to play it and find out how embarrassingly bad it is. Seriously, it’s not the kind of disc you can play for anyone as most of the reactions to it would be discomforting to the point where you quietly reach for the eject button.
Almost as soon as it was released, it was taken off the shelves in a forced copyright infringement recall. Apparently, in a rush to bring laughter to the world, Mr. Rogers’ failed to secure the legal copyrights to every song he anally raped. This resulted in some very angry legal threats from the original songwriters, to the point where none of them would allow the songs to be used in any future pressings and to the point where Mr. Rogers and “Party On Parody Productions” were forced to destroy all remaining copies of Rated X Mas.
My friend snagged an additional copy for me and since acquiring it, I play it at least once every Christmas to remind myself that there are worse things, much worse, than hearing “Silent Night” for the ten-thousandth time in my life.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Pernice Brothers-Live A Little

You won’t hear a bad word from me regarding Joe Pernice. His talents are obvious and obviously consistent, but you may hear a few grumblings from me about Pernice Brothers’ sixth album Live A Little. So before I get to the bitchin’ and moanin’, let’s preface by saying that most of my complaints are merely the result of this album not being as heartbreakingly awesome as Discover A Lovelier You, The World Won’t End, or their debut Overcome By Happiness.
On paper, it looked promising. Joe and the band re-teaming with “O.B.H.” producer Michael Deming could only mean either 1.) another cinematic sweep of chamber-pop mastery or 2.) a revision of Joe’s initial country-tinged work with Scud Mountain Boys. I wasn’t expecting 3.) the first Pernice Brothers record that didn’t have me lobbying to put Joe’s name in the same arena as Brian Wilson.
As expected, the string accompaniment has returned, but they’re subtle to the point where the guitars are actually more defined in the tracks than in previous albums. As expected, Joe continues to reach literary heights with lyrics like “Who isn't worse or better than they seem / the chased and slutty and the in-between" (“How Can I Compare”) flowing out of his hands with enviable ease.
The album’s highpoint is actually a Scud Mountain Boys remake, and that’s the nagging problem for me. Up until now, there’s always been at least a handful of “you gotta hear that new Joe Pernice song” and with Live A Little it’s been reduced to a retread. And unfortunately, the performances are ear-grabbing enough for me to declare “you gotta hear that new Pernice Brothers song.” Combine that with the common knowledge that more people need to be familiar with any Pernice Brothers album and you’ll get a good understanding of my ambivalence. At the end of the day, Joe Pernice’s talents deserve more than what he’s demonstrating here. Live a little more next time, brother, and maybe I can give a little more than this.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

David Bowie-Heroes

So, those of you familiar with the invite-only Glam-Racket 2 My Space page know that I recently bought a house, recently was made aware that I am expecting a child, and that I quit my job yesterday. I’m tired of explaining the events that led to this spur of the moment decision and I’m well aware of the implications, especially considering the aforementioned announcements. What it boils down to is that Todd Totale doesn’t appreciate being treated with disrespect, he has issues with authority (particularly ones that are utter douchebags), and that he doesn’t have a contingency plan for this unemployment.
This resignation marks the first time that I have left an employer without any formal notice. It was deserving, trust me, and there’s a little bit of punk rock when one can utter the words “I quit…effective immediately.” There is nothing punk rock, however, about worrying about shit like car payments, mortgages, and lack of health insurance resulting from uttering the words “I quit…effective immediately.” Who am I kidding: there’s nothing punk rock about being forty.
To look for a familiar frame of reference here is impossible, as life today is unlike anything else that I’ve been through. I suppose that this is a good sign; it means that my life has progressed somewhat and that I’m encountering new experiences. It also means that I think I understand the lines to that Dylan song that goes “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”
The events have me thinking about the obligatory “Mix Tape For The Unemployed,” or specifically, what albums was I listening to when I left a source of income without having another source lined up. It needs to be said that this is something that Dad told me never to do. Sorry, Dad.
But it’s happened twice in my life now, and as usual, I can tell you the soundtrack to one of those events.
The first time came right after college. Actually, it was the fall after I graduated college in the spring of the same year. I had successfully managed to keep working at a part time radio job that paid just enough to pay rent, utilities, and provide a few nights at the rock club. Then, I was informed by my parents that it was time I found a big boy job.
Honestly, I had only half-assedly looked for work and I’m fairly confident that my parents understood this. It probably contributed to their newfound micro-management and their curious demand that I return home to look for a full time gig. In retrospect, I probably could have resisted and avoided the self-imposed ridicule of being an-adult-still-living-at-home-with-the-parents, but I was too weak to fight them.
So I packed up the records, unloaded the furniture I’d acquired in school to various friends, and made the trip back home in the 1987 Ford Tempo.
Upon arriving, my Mother suddenly became a tyrant, berating me about my lack of initiative in sending out enough resumes and that I was “too picky” in my employer selections. She also didn’t like the fact that I would go out drinking, spending my diminishing savings on liquor and sleeping in late. She was working and found it hard to suppress the anger when coming home to find her adult son asking “What’s for dinner?” while on the phone with friends, coordinating what bar they’d be hitting in a few hours. Her anger, in retrospect, was completely understandable.
At the time, it was oppression. To tackle this perception, I would come home late at night, sneak a few hits of weed in my old bedroom (which had been remodeled since I first left) and play David Bowie’s Heroes.
Smoking weed as an adult living in the parent’s house takes some planning. I implemented strategies previously used while living in the dorms of the public university. There was a strict ban on pot smoking, burning candles and incense. Thankfully, the R.A. on our floor was too consumed with controlling the belligerent drunks and understood that our group was relatively harmless. Every once in a while he’d remind us of the policy and then we’d remind him that the guy across the hall puked all over the carpet in the hallway. He’d realize that three or four pot smokers were the least of his worries; not once did was he forced to call maintenance on our behalf and we were very conservative with our music volume after midnight.
In addition to placing towels at the bottom of the door to prevent marijuana smoke from escaping the room, we used an additional technique to circumvent the odor. We’d take empty paper towel tubes and stuff them with Bounce sheets. Then we’d exhale our smoke through the tube, filling the room with the fresh smell of a dryer sheet.
I used the same technique at home and was able to achieve the same winning results. The weed, which was a fairly large quantity transported from my college house and which was wonderfully potent, was primarily smoked from a one-hitter, thereby conserving the drug and limiting the exhaled smoke.
For whatever reason, the crowd I ran with in my hometown was not deemed to be deserving of my chronic; they were primarily drinkers anyway, so why offer something so good that wouldn’t be fully appreciated?
I’d return home from the bars and retreat to my bedroom with a large glass of ice water or juice in case of a coughing spell. I had the CD player hooked into a boombox. I felt the accommodations would be temporary enough, so why bring out all of the stereo components.
I purchased Heroes used and wasn’t immediately drawn to it. It’s a difficult album to recommend to a passing Bowie fan. Unlike anything in the Bowie catalog (with the exception of the other two albums in the Berlin trilogy: Low and Lodger), its an album filled with atmospheric soundscapes and isolationist arrangements.
Hunky Dory and The Man Who Sold The World were more my speed at the time.
I kept at it, probably because the vast majority of my cd collection was still packed away, and suddenly, it came to me. It’s not lost that the isolationism reflected in the music of Heroes mirrored that of my own isolationism, secretly smoking pot in my parent’s house, struggling to find work and finding excuses to leave acquaintances behind at the bars.
On dozens of occasions, I found myself alone with the quiet of the house, sparking up to the opener of “Beauty And The Beast,” doing a bit of reading before nodding off to the instrumental portion of side two. It’s as if there wasn’t a more perfect album for me at that time and it, like the weed, was an album that I didn’t share with many others.
But really, Heroes isn’t an album that’s suited for social settings. Its strength can be found when you’re with it alone, carefully studying the intricate layers of sound. Because it requires such focus, it enabled me to forget the reality of my surroundings and, at least for forty minutes, to forget that I needed to find work.
It may be time to dig out that copy of Heroes again.