Archive for the music Category

ZERO’S LIST OF 100 GUITARISTS WHOSE ABILITIES HE APPRECIATES MORE THAN THAT OF JIMI HENDRIX, JIMMY PAGE, ERIC CLAPTON, AND ALL THE OTHER GUITARISTS EVERYONE FREAKS OUT OVER

Posted in best of lists, music with tags , on June 1, 2012 by darryl zero

I have ten guitarists I love above all others: 

1) Prince

2) Eddie Hazel

3) Chuck Berry

4) Ian Williams (Battles)

5) Tyondai Braxton

6) Vernon Reid

7) Dr. Know (Bad Brains)

8) Carlos Santana

9) Michael Hampton

10) Ben Verellen (Helms Alee)

and the rest, numbered only to keep place–I love them all in no real order

11) PJ Harvey

12) Kim Thayil (Soundgarden)

13) Marnie Stern

14) John Frusciante (whose music I actually don’t like, but the dude can play)

15) Mahavishnu John McLaughlin

16) Andreas Kisser (Sepultura)

17) Stephen Carpenter (Deftones)

18) Buckethead (possibly the only wank-virtuoso that will appear on this list)

19) Stevie Salas

20) Lindani Buthelezi (BLK JKS)

21) Tim Lash (Hum)

22) Dan O’Hara

23) Marc Ribot

24) Wes Borland (Limp Bizkit)

25) Buddy Miles

26) Vieux Farka Toure

27) John Vanderslice (dude never solos, but writes ridiculous riffs)

28) John Congleton (could possibly be the best guitarist on this list)

29) Che Arthur

30) Kevin Shields

31) Adam Franklin (Swervedriver)

32) Ian Thornley (Big Wreck)

33) Bob Mould

34) Matthew Ashman (Bow Wow Wow)

35) Unknown Hinson

36) Nicholas Sadler (Daughters)

37) Brian Molko (Placebo)

38) Billy Corgan

39) Ernie C (Body Count)

40) Jack White

41) Nils Frykdahl (Sleepytime Gorilla Museum)

42) Amanda Machina

43) Nile Rodgers

44) Lauren K. Newman

45) Terrica Kleinnecht

46) K.K. Null

47) Noel Gallagher (Oasis)

48) Dino Cazares

49) Eddy Grant

50) Sananda Maitreya (Terence Trent D’Arby)

51) Dean Ween

52) Ike Turner

53) Jimi Hazel (24-7-Spyz)

54) Steve Albini

55) Arto Lindsay

56) Max Cavalera

57) Crispin Gray (Daisy Chainsaw/Queen Adreena)

58) Kurt Ballou (Converge)

59) Justin Broadrick

60) Kyle Fischer (Rainer Maria)

61) Tony Iommi (yeah…sometimes everyone gets it right. early Black Sabbath is some of the greatest music ever written)

62) Paco de Lucia

63) Coley Dennis (Maserati)

64) Tom Reno (The Mercury Program)

65) Josh Homme

66) Eric Gales

67) David Pajo

68) Chris Carothers (Ativin)

69) Jon Fine (Bitch Magnet/Don Caballero/Coptic Light)

70) Shuggie Otis

71) Keziah Jones

72) Jimi Haha (Jimmie’s Chicken Shack)

73) Dave Holmes (Dub Trio)

74) Ernie Isley

75) Trevor de Brauw (Pelican)

76) Shaun Lopez (Far)

77) Jason Cropper (Weezer/Chopper One)

78) Wendy Melvoin

79) Micki Free (Shalamar)

80) Mick Thomson (Slipknot)

81) Dean DeLeo (Stone Temple Pilots)

82) Gary Shider (Funkadelic)

83) Aaron Turner (Isis)

84) DH Phillips (True Widow)

85) Frederik Thordendal (Meshuggah)

86) Uffe Cederlund (Entombed)

87) Alex Newport (Fudge Tunnel)

88) Gabriela Quintero (Rodrigo y Gabriela)

89) William DuVall (Comes With The Fall/Alice In Chains)

90) Jerry Cantrell

91) Cameron Greider

92) Adrian Utley

93) Elliot Sharp

94) Phil Elvrum

95) Takaakira Goto (Mono)

96) Amadou Bagayoko (Amadou & Mariam)

97) Daniel Ash (Bauhaus)

98) Manu Chao

99) Freddie Stone

100) Rocky George (Suicidal Tendencies/Fishbone)

and

101) John Congleton (because he’s so godly he has to appear on this list twice)

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On Battles, part two.

Posted in music, nerdiness on May 9, 2011 by darryl zero

Seeing Battles for the first time without Tyondai Braxton threw me for all kinds of loops. For one, I’d heard the new Battles single and hated it. HATED it. Even months later, I still can’t stand it–the arrangement is okay, but the vocals are silly, pandering, and completely uninteresting to a point at which I was disgusted enough with the band to consider not buying the new album. I still stand by that point, to some extent: the band using lyrical vocals in the first place seemed superfluous and confusing until Mirrored‘s second spin through my mp3 player. I thought Battles was perfectly fine as an instrumental group, and thought Braxton’s departure was a telling enough sign that the band could (and should) return to that dynamic–that is, unless Williams or any other of the existing members wanted to sing. My acquisition of Gloss Drop, if nothing else, actually encouraged me to buy the album; much like Mirrored, it’s mostly an instrumental affair, one that finds the band (in particular Dave Konopka, who seems to have inherited the majority of song-propulsion duties from Braxton) in top form on their multiple instruments. Still, as the band took the stage at the Doug Fir on May 4th, I had my doubts.

Konopka got things going (as he usually does) with a slow, pitchshifted extended intro that the band eventually warped into “Africastle.” The song (also Gloss Drop‘s leadoff track) easily stands out as one of the band’s best ever and, while I’d have preferred to have heard it later on in the show, it did do a lot to whet the fans’ appetites (I’ll get to that later). The bizarre intro highlighted one distinct change from the Braxton era–minus one member, the band seemed more comfortable jamming their way in-and-out of songs, for good or ill (I’ll get to that later). “Africastle” ended, and then the band immediately launched into “Sweetie and Shag,” one of the weaker tracks on Gloss Drop (and the first in the band’s set to feature one of the replacement vocalists). Much to the crowd’s (or, at least my) surprise, a video of Kazu Makino popped up on screens behind Stanier, allowing us to watch as she cooed her way through the song. While such theatrics are normally distracting and annoying at a smaller rock show, this actually proved to be interesting and entertaining, if only because Williams seemed to be able to control the video at will (either that, or he had a great rapport with the tech near him, just offstage). In fact, since Makino’s vocals were mixed far lower live than they were on the album, the whole song ended up sounding better. Williams’ control over the vocal samples became obvious after the song properly ended, when he slowed the Makino down to a crawl, with the video doing the same, providing an interesting bridge into “Wall Street.”

While “Wall Street” is one of the new album’s highlights (even if it does seem like a subtle dig, or at least a reference, to Braxton), the live performance ended up being somewhat lacking, largely due to the looser playing style. Williams got lost in the middle of the song amidst his own keyboard noodling; while Stanier and Konopka were able to pull him back in to finish it, a band like Battles, that requires precision playing to keep time amidst the various loops, doesn’t really have much room for error. The instrumental jam following the song was pretty cool, but then Williams slowly began the opening chords of “Ice Cream,” bringing me (and only me–I freely admit to being in the minority on this one) to a crashing halt. Matias Aguayo popped up on the video screens, the white hipsters in the crowd lost their shit, and the band pretty much lost me.

It drove home a painful point: that Battles is a pop group, now, and clearly playing to the audience that likes their music, even supposedly ‘edgy’ independent music, easily-digested and, well, glossy. While this isn’t entirely a bad thing–lords know everyone in the band put in their dues and deserve to make money off their music–it also means the complexity of the band’s music has ceased to be its selling point, highlighting a role Braxton played that’s no longer there. Makino and Aguayo are hardly bad musicians, but their roles in Battles’ music could not have been more clearly tacked-on and unnecessary, to the point at which their presence as disconnected, easily-manipulated video images was enough; while Braxton’s presence meant the band couldn’t be as loose with certain sonic elements, the sheer fact that he was able to create the sounds that he did live was a sight (and sound) to behold, treating his voice the same way he treated his keyboards or guitar. It was strange, beautiful and, even when it was poppy, it was still challenging.

Following “Ice Cream,” Williams created an admittedly entertaining loop of segments of Aguayo’s vocal parts that got my interest just in time for Konopka to begin “Inchworm,” the song that most displays the new Battles at its finest: creating pretty, danceable pop songs using sweet sounds and clever technology. It’s a beautiful song, and the band handled it wonderfully, but I was already emotionally on my way out the door, pausing only when they played “My Machines,” the only Gloss Drop song with guest vocals that actually works. Gary Numan’s face appeared onscreen, of course, still in the gothed-out makeup he’s been wearing since the 80’s, and I got a kick out of one last jolt of energy, but then that was it. The band methodically plodded their way through “Futura,” disappeared for a few minutes, then came back out for an encore.

Something very telling happened before the band began to play again: Williams picked up the mic after hearing a request for “Tonto” (one of Mirrored‘s singles) and politely said, among other things “we’re playing all these songs because we just got out of the studio [a blatant lie, as Gloss Drop has been in the can for months], and that’s what’s on our minds.” At that point, with Stanier not yet having retaken the stage, I knew right away that “Sundome” was going to be the encore, and that going to the bathroom was more important than watching Williams and Konopka horse around with loops for five minutes. As I passed the empty merch table, I shook my head; the band hadn’t even bothered to bring any tangible reminders for people to buy, which was perfectly fine, but still disappointing. It was the first Battles show (or the first show of any band) I’ve ever been to in which the headlining band had absolutely no merch to sell.

I finished my business and stood by the door as the band finished “Sundome.” My friend Nate walked up to me with a lady in tow. “1939 Ensemble [the opener] blew these guys away,” he said, before disappearing into the night.

I nodded, not necessarily agreeing, but not sufficiently blown away by Battles to really disagree, either. Considering Battles was, for the longest time, a band I fought so hard to get other people to pay attention to, I felt surprised at how indifferent I’d felt at the end of the show. I didn’t have my hopes completely dashed from a musical standpoint, but I wasn’t really interested in what was going on–and, maybe, that’s what makes me feel worst about the whole thing.

On Battles, part one.

Posted in music, nerdiness on May 9, 2011 by darryl zero

I can’t remember when I first heard of Battles; it would have to have been before mid-2003. I’m going to say it was mid-2002 or so, because I was doing some digging and looking for anything on Ian Williams. I was a huge fan of Storm and Stress at that point, just coming down from the high of obsessively listening to Don Caballero and appreciating the direction Williams was taking with his music. Of course, I was unaware that Storm and Stress was completely kaput at that point (and still can’t figure out why–I remember reading some rumor that the bassist slept with the drummer’s wife, but that’s neither hither nor yon), so you can imagine my impatience. If you’re reading this, you know I’m something of an obsessive about the music I love and to which I listen–if I love something, I have to know everything there is to know about it, and if I really love it, I turn it into my oxygen, my fucking life’s blood, and I immerse myself in it and make it a part of me. That’s how I was about Storm and Stress, how I was about American Don (the last Don Caballero album–fuck you, Damon Che), and how I generally was about Williams. So, when I heard that he finally had a new project going on, and it involved the drummer from Helmet and the son of Anthony Braxton, I was, if you’ll excuse the expression, jazzed, and I couldn’t wait for something to come out. But that’s exactly what I had to do. The band had set up a website by that point, barely updated and with a bunch of cool photos and nothing else, and no record label or magazine seemed to be printing anything about them, despite their status as a “supergroup” (an annoying label that persists to this day). I checked that website pretty much constantly for months, and annoyed the living shit out of record store clerks (mostly Jason Buehler at O3 Records) asking when the band was going to release their EP’s. When I finally, FINALLY got EP C in my hands, it was like my brain melted; it was one of the first times I’d anticipated a record so thoroughly and it had been exactly what I’d wanted it to be.

I saw Battles a couple times during that time period–both opening spots, both at well-known-yet-smaller venues (Dante’s, Berbati’s Pan), and one thing stood out about them other than the fact that they really ought to have been headlining: that there was an interesting disconnect between them and the audience. Drummer John Stanier’s perpetual scowl, Dave Konopka’s determined focus on manipulating his pedals and Ian Williams’ spaced-out seeming disinterest made it seem, regardless of whether or not it was true, like the band were really simply there performing for their own reasons, powering through challenging songs simply because they could. Having come to the band through Ian Williams, I was simultaneously not surprised and nonetheless let down a bit by the approach. Naturally, I gravitated toward Tyondai Braxton, not only because he was the youngest member of the group (close to my age), not only because he was the only member of the group that sang, not only because he was the only member of the band who seemed to be of mixed ethnicity, but because he was the only member of the group that actually engaged the audience on any level. Even off-stage, he was the closest thing the band had to a frontman: I ran into him walking across a bridge immediately before my first time seeing the band, and he was not only engaging and funny, but seemed genuinely pleased to be in a band, and grateful to have fans in the first place.

Anyone that actually cares enough to have read this far will undoubtedly know how this story continues: three-plus years after they debut, Battles signs to Warp and releases Mirrored, incorporating lyrical vocals into their sound and thus gaining the interest of hipsters that need an ostensible frontpersonality to gravitate toward in order to infer some stylistic sense to ape or rate. Pitchfork loves the album and the band finally gets the love and respect they deserve, and suddenly the band’s playing bigger venues. Braxton finally finds the time to release Central Market to considerable acclaim, establishing a foothold in the realm of modern-day composers and warping people’s ideas of what composed “new music” can be. Battles takes their usual forever-and-a-day to record the follow-up to Mirrored, culminating in Braxton deciding he wanted to leave the band rather than embark on an epic world tour and neglect his solo career again.

Interestingly, despite my affinity for Braxton (and my appreciation for his solo music, which had grown in the many years between Battles releases into something greater than my love for Williams’ work), I actually thought his leaving Battles could still be good for the band. With Braxton emerging as the charismatic focus of the group’s energies, the band’s direction quickly seemed to be limiting some of the other members to side player roles whether it was Braxton’s intent (which was unlikely) or not. Williams seemed to be particularly relegated by the situation; despite his unmistakable stamp (to anyone who knew or cared) on many of Battles’ compositions, his disassociative personality often got lost, and his notoriously abstract performances, while mercifully reined in by necessity among the band’s taught compositions, occasionally seemed out-of-place or needlessly dissonant. Moreover, Braxton, while a phenomenally interesting live performer, never seemed to fit the mold of indie-rock icon; his own contributions to the Battles ethic were meticulously crafted, more suited as part of an ensemble playing longer-form pieces than what were, in essence, pop rock songs. While he clearly seemed to enjoy playing with the band, the responsibilities intrinsic to being a pop rock frontman clearly weren’t the ones he wanted to continue facing. While there’s no doubt in my mind that Battles could have continued to release great music with Braxton (their last song with him being a great example), his departure meant the band could go back to being the instrumental combo they began as and still sound as complete as they did with Braxton.

That is, until I heard the band was going to use other voices to complete songs begun with Braxton.

in which i go off for no particular reason about music.

Posted in music, nerdiness on January 30, 2011 by darryl zero

I’ve probably written about this before, but I’m going to do it again.

I can’t put an exact date on when I decided irony (or the perception thereof) was killing music. Yes, my perceptions are clouded by the social climate of the city in which I’ve spent the majority of the past decade, but if nothing else, this means I’m a bit closer to the pulse of the zeitgeist–really, shit happens on the coasts before it happens anywhere else, and while the east coast tends to have marginal social groups innovating before anybody else, the west coast is where the dominant social paradigm seems to have stashed its younger, more creative selves. In short–the white people in the know represent the west side.

Lest I avoid a lengthy (and, yet, so typically Darryl) examination of my past and present relative to the musical scene at large, I’ll skip to the meat: the style of the youth, at least on the west coast of the U.S., directly relates to the music of the times. We’ve seen this pretty much since the transistor radio was plunked into cars around the country; whereas cinema is still too prohibitively expensive and time-consuming for the average (middle-class) Joe to contribute to much cultural change (although Youtube, for good or ill, seems hell-bent on changing this) and the finer of the fine arts are still the exclusive province of people with the luxuries of time and money to create, all it takes to record music these days is a decent enough microphone, your computer, and whatever instruments you can buy or borrow. (To phrase it better: how many “bedroom filmmakers” do you know–and no, you can’t count either pornography or Lars Von Trier.)

Somewhere between Kurt Cobain’s untimely suicide (really, he could have waited until he was old enough to see his first Rhino Records compilation rape his legacy before putting a gun to his head and subjecting us to the frustrating, if not amusing spectacle of Courtney Love raping it) and the awkward dueling spectacles of Kanye West’s id and Lady Gaga’s ego, music took hold of the emergent technologies available to it and, just as white people concocted the comparatively safe spectacle of the Beatles to create an iconic template for a safe, compartmentalized “revolution,” rich white males created a variety of interesting pop archetypes. Seemingly overnight, we got things like gangsta rap, to simultaneously keep the simmering Black urban youth from successfully integrating into middle-class culture and keep the rebellious white suburban youth from truly thinking outside the box by making it easier to rebel once they realized it’s a lot easier to ape Eazy-E than it is to, say, create and sustain a musical political movement. In fact, as a means of making sure the DIY rock scene never really achieved a level of relevance as the punk scenes once did, the cultural gatekeepers anointed their own safe, manageable proto-punk superstars (Green Day and, later, their legion of significantly lesser imitators).

I’m not telling you anything new, here–in fact, I’m pretty sure I’m treading on redundancy in my own corners of the blogosphere–but it still never ceases to amaze me how today’s musical (and, by extension, youth cultural) paradigm is so influenced by the superficial trappings of the 80’s that they completely missed the point of all of it. The 80’s, despite some of my vitriolic insistence to the contrary, did contain a lot of useful cultural details–but most of that useful, valuable culture developed as a reaction to the dominant culture of the time. It disappoints and disgusts me most of the time to see people completely having missed the point. To see spikes, mohawks, power chords and basic 4/4 songs in a time in which just about anyone with a couple hundred dollars and a little time on their hands can learn how to play their instruments well enough to sound like they actually care about how they sound is annoying enough–to see those useless anachronistic trappings carrying an ideology amounting to little more than “I like to get fucked up” borders on sacrilege.

Boring, nauseating, cringe-inducing sacrilege–and that’s not even getting started on the whitewashing of hip hop, by which I mean the dumbing-down to guarantee its listeners and advocates lack the motivation to reach any degree of social relevance. I do enough carping about that bullshit in shorter forms that I feel expounding upon it here would be useless–but I do think it’s especially telling about the designated social impact of rap music when the common justification for its existence in its current form is the condescending question of “well, don’t you want white people to buy it? Don’t you want some representation of ‘African-Americans’ in popular media?” Short answer: if that is the type of Black American archetypes white America wants, it’s clearly the exact OPPOSITE Black American archetypes that should be presented to young Blacks, and especially young whites.

Because anyone belonging to the dominant social paradigm is going to intrinsically be lazy about their cultural perceptions and projections. I don’t blame white people for that–well, okay, maybe I do a little bit, but y’all fucking deserve a little harsh judgment when people like me have to bend over backward to be nonthreatening in order to do something as simple as solve a workplace dispute (whoops–almost broke my silence on something I ought not to have) or, say, shop in peace. But, I digress. It’s unfortunate that white youth have become so lazy about their own culture and attendant subcultures that they go out of their way to find aspects of themselves in which they are marginalized. (And yes, I did just lump all white Americans into one culture. Deal with it.) With respect to music, it’s even worse (and prevalent) to see all young people marginalize themselves by staying within the comfortable confines of one paradigm. I’m referring to people who have to wear an immediately identifiable uniform, whose artistic sensibilities are as myopic as their worldview. Deliberately doing so is the trademark of a culture so ignorant of what the struggles of the marginalized were intended to accomplish that they take the pretty parts of that struggle and gloss over what it all was for in the first place, all the while claiming some winking meta-reference that never seems to be clear to anyone observing and certainly not for anyone involved.

Because, let’s be honest–not every winking reference, not every embrace of some stereotype for yuks among your enlightened liberal friends can truly be that well thought-out. If people really put that much thought into the content and observation intrinsic to their art, people like Jay-Z or Kanye West would be desperately digging through crates trying to come up with some catchy thing to mash-up with legendary producer Flying Lotus’s latest platinum-selling opus and selling it from the trunk of their car at Chuck D’s sold-out stadium tour. Hydra Head Records would be a major label, John Vanderslice would be as big as John Lennon, and Jack White would be perfectly content releasing his (admittedly) pretty decent music on CD. To put it another way–if everyone were truly “in on the joke,” there’d be no need for the joke in the first place. So, when I see acts like Die Antwoord or Das Racist getting paid for essentially embodying a subculture they’re ostensibly lampooning (pop for Die Antwoord, “underground” for Das Racist), or talented musicians like Lady Gaga adopting a meta-referential art-rock posture while churning out the same boring shit every other pop whore has been putting out since Madonna actually made pop whoredom somewhat interesting and provocative, I usually find myself trying as hard as I can to embed my face firmly in my palm. And, maybe most tragically, the thing that people like Robyn, Jemina Pearl, Jack White, or any of the slew of completely fucking soulless, ball-less, libido-and-soul-numbing-bitch-ass-wack-synth-pop-wink-wink-nudge-nudging-Soft-Cell-Gary-Numan-Depeche-Mode clones you read about in Pitchfork fail to comprehend throughout their peddling of their wares as some kind of postmodern interpretation of a classic theme is this: if it looks and sounds like the same old shit, it doesn’t matter how many “post” prefixes you slap on it–it’s still the same old shit.

8:14 (57)

Posted in eight fourteen, emo, film, music, nerdiness on August 13, 2010 by darryl zero

Feel free to label me a needless contrarian should you desire to, but I’ve always looked at some of the cultural trappings of mine and subsequent generations with the same kind of quizzical exasperation as demonstrated by those of generations before mine.

I’ve always been reluctant to embrace that which is notably popular and wide-reaching and label it “definitive” of a given category, which seems counterintuitive at first until you realize that one of the greatest losses of ages past is that only the pop-friendly stuff really had any sticking power, and that one of the best things about growing up in an age in which information, art and creativity are so freely (exploited) available is that the cultural aspects that we can only infer and conjecture about in generations past are now freely and easily chronicled today.

With all that said, I see things like the new Scott Pilgrim film and wince when people suggest it’s representative of a generational paradigm. Now granted, I haven’t seen the film, and my critique of its social implications and/or import is of an entirely aesthetic nature, but it seems to exemplify all the things about post-boomer culture that I find distasteful, the things that people seem to be convinced are the things that define so-called “Generation X” and its increasingly shortsighted, short-tempered, short-attention-spanned followers. It looks like, well, partly like a video game, but mostly like a cultural mash-up that’s really less of a cultural anything and more of a pastiche of superficial trappings of cultures cut-and-pasted together by a generation too lazy to be technical and instead relying upon talent.

[Time’s up, but I’m going to continue:]

I’d like to think that the film is much like its literary counterpart, a direct homage to a very idiosyncratic art form which is, in turn, a compartmentalized aspect of a very rigid, clearly-defined (almost to a fault) culture. I want to think that, mostly because I’m a literary critic and want it to conform to some paradigmatic rubric I can quantify and understand.

But actually, I’m afraid Scott Pilgrim the film truly does represent a culture captured onscreen, a culture of disparate influences collected under the auspices of inclusiveness and progressiveness but is, in actuality, the lazy hiccuping of generations that grew up with technological babysitters instead of active, functional parents. Even without having seen the film, I worry that the credibility that comes with the approval of those who catch the myriad in-jokes will somehow elevate it from the realm of kitsch to that of art in the minds of those that dictate history, because it will invariably have missed the point, just as the people who only dig Tarantino films for the violence, just as the people who mindlessly consume the insubstantial flash of Zack Snyder films, Stephenie Meyer and Dan Brown novels, Adult Swim, etc. all miss the point.

Call me old-fashioned, call me needlessly linear, call me conservative, call me neurotic or cynical, but somewhere along the line, after endless jump-cuts, hyperactive camera angles, over-edited chapters, and über-compressed drum tracks, our generations have forgotten what those stylistic trappings were intended to subvert and redefine, that the experimental has always been meant to exist on the fringe of a culture, that, just as technique for technique’s sake results in a culture standing in place as time passes it by, style for the sake of style results in a culture with no legs on which to stand.

8:14 (38)

Posted in eight fourteen, music, nerdiness on June 26, 2010 by darryl zero

I feel bad about saying this, particularly given the context in which I’ve met some people who have access to this page, but there is precious little that occurs on a karaoke stage that genuinely impresses me.

I know, it makes me sound like of of those “clearly you have issues, because why else would you be here?” kind of musician-douches (you know, the ones you usually find behind the counter at any Pacific Northwest/Liberal Arts College Town record store or behind the bar at any Southeast Portland hipster hangout), but it’s true. I’ve hashed it out a few times before, but it warrants mention again: I patronize karaoke spots not because I’m there to be astounded by vocal performances, or even because I enjoy the attention that invariably comes when I sing. I go there because I like to see people enjoy the visceral act of making music, even if it’s not their music they’re making.

Even if it weren’t a philosophical bone-of-contention for me, I’d still consider it worth mention because I’ve made money in and around karaoke for the better part of seven years and, with some notable exceptions, I’ve seen and heard damn near everything there is to be seen and heard. I so often encounter people who ask me questions about their performance, or the performances of others, looking for some qualitative assessment, forgetting that part of what makes me good at what I do (because I am, for your information, a damn fine KJ) is that I completely block out anything that may transpire onstage. I’ll notice something that amuses me at times, for good or ill, and I’ll occasionally make a comment, but it’s generally best that I don’t know what’s going on.

[Time’s up, but I’m going to continue:]

In my long and sordid history behind the board, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that there have been exactly two people who have legitimately and remarkably impressed me on a karaoke microphone. The first was this wonderful woman named Adonai, a lady who was a preschool teacher who came in and completely nailed Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson”–all the parts–seemingly without trying. I don’t even remember what she sang later on in the evening, but I do remember it was completely different. The other was the woman who would later become my ex-girlfriend Jen, who killed Erykah Badu’s “Tyrone” so scintillatingly I almost forgot how smokin’ hot I found her.

That’s the trick to really being a dynamic karaoke performer–it’s not whether or not you can do that amazing rendition of that one song over and over and over and over and over and over again. It’s what else you can do. Some people can get over their lack of discernible talent through turning the stage into a pro wrestling ring, conquering the crowd through showpersonship–that only sometimes works, as it often results in people being really fucking annoying, especially if they do the routine more than once. The really interesting, entertaining folks, though–they do something completely different. Soulful renditions of songs that require them certainly indicate some degree of vocal skill, but there’s a difference between vocal skill and sounding good.

I see and hear a ton of people that can do a pretty damn Janis Joplin/Glenn Danzig/Pat Benatar/Steve Perry/Ann Wilson/Usher. But none of them can do it in three octaves, which is pretty much the only thing that makes me say “damn.”

But, really, the fact that I think about this at all makes me the biggest loser in the room.

music rant.

Posted in music, nerdiness on March 25, 2010 by darryl zero

With all the major-label musicians for whom I’ve lost my taste on my descent into the realm of indie-punk elitists (Moby, I’m lookin’ at you–make an album with some balls, will ya?), I was always pleasantly surprised that the Deftones hadn’t made the list. Every one of their albums was always a pleasant surprise, moving their sound in a good direction, even if that direction wasn’t necessarily forward. That the band was able embrace a more mature sound was what always set them apart from their contemporaries both higher-and-lower-selling; they adroitly managed to push themselves away from rap metal much more comfortably than Korn or Limp Bizkit, and never quite dipped into emo melodrama as much as Far or Incubus.

For their part, much of what made the band so refreshing was their constant, obvious push-and-pull of influences–frontman Chino Moreno’s love of dream-pop successfully transitioned from being a bonus-track afterthought on the band’s 1994 breakthrough Adrenaline to being the featured attraction on 2000’s White Pony onward, all the while dueling with guitarist Stephen Carpenter’s penchant for increasingly-precise metal riffage. While most bands would collapse under such competing artistic visions, the Deftones took the tension and used it, often to startling effect. Saturday Night Wrist, the band’s grossly underrated (and underselling) 2006 album, featured the most evocative examples of the band’s duality, pairing the band’s melodic tenderness (lead single “Hole In The Earth”) with its dark, jagged aggressiveness (“Rats!Rats!Rats!,” the band’s arguable career highlight). Wrist reportedly nearly broke up the band and, while the real reasons why are lost to the time and memories of all involved parties, the band’s subsequent actions were almost as telling as events outside their control.

By the time the Deftones re-convened to record Wrist‘s follow-up, Moreno–who had begun playing guitar during the writing of White Pony–handed guitar-playing duties back to Carpenter exclusively; with it presumably came a concession of control in songwriting as well, as the band proclaimed their new material to be closer to the sharper, more “metal”-oriented sound of their first two albums. Subsequent songs debuted at live shows seemed to corroborate this, particularly “Melanie,” with its staccato beat and hacksaw guitar. However, before the new album, Eros, ever saw release, bassist Chi Cheng fell into a coma following a car crash, and although the band repeatedly insisted it had nothing to do with their bandmate’s condition, the album became repeatedly delayed. In the meantime, the band added a member–former Quicksand bassist Sergio Vega–and resumed touring. Eventually, the band elected to shelve Eros and hit the studio again with Vega; the result is Diamond Eyes, due out in early May, and while the album isn’t a complete misfire, it does represent the first step the band has taken in a wrong direction.

Or, to be more accurate, it doesn’t really seem to be a step in any direction; each song has just enough to make it distinctively a Deftones release, but the overall image gets muddied in overstated production and distracting slickness. Rather than, as they had for Eros, enlisting longtime collaborator Terry Date (who handled production duties on every previous Deftones album save for Saturday Night Wrist), the band turned to Nick Raskulinecz, best known for his work with Trivium, Foo Fighters, Velvet Revolver, and Danzig, among others. The difference in production values is striking: guitars are heavily compressed in the mix, much flatter than on previous albums (almost to a point at which they’re indistinguishable from keyboards), and Moreno’s vocals seem closer to the front and significantly less-processed. While the latter point isn’t entirely a bad thing (particularly after the Auto-Tuned awkwardness marring some of the brighter parts of Wrist), the former is frustrating to the point of irritation. The title track begins fantastically–Carpenter riffing menacingly while Moreno’s pleasantly-mature voice dances above–before descending into an almost orchestral-sounding swell of voice and keyboards sounding more at home on a pop-“emo” album than a Deftones cut. “Royal” and “CMND/CNTL” pick up the pace a bit, but, after sludgy highlight “You’ve Seen The Butcher,” “Beauty School squanders another promising beginning by lapsing into this radio-friendly melodrama. “Prince” puts the album back in familiar territory (Moreno alternating between hushed, near-whispers, honey-sweet melodies and nails-on-chalkboard screech) before the album’s main highlight: “Rocket Skates,” a time-changing, head-banging march featuring Carpenter’s Meshuggah-ready steam engine of guitar. After that, however, the album seems to limp to a conclusion; “Sextape,” though inoffensive, is an indecisive pop-rock song, and, while “Risk” mostly feels like a typical post-White Pony exercise in metal-tinged dream pop, “976-EVIL” and “This Place Is Death” both squander decent Carpenter riffs in favor of swells of vocals and keyboard.

This isn’t to completely disparage the album, which is admirably performed by all contributors. Drummer Abe Cunningham continues to be one of the best in rock, punctuating arrangements with creative fills and excellent drum tone, and Vega admirably adds his own style to the band’s attack. Moreno’s voice is stronger than it’s ever been, and Frank Delgado seems to have completely abandoned the turntables in favor of keyboards, which he uses capably despite their excessive place in the mix–itself an interesting turn of events, given how much they’ve been buried in the mix on previous albums. Nonetheless, the excessive production and radio-friendly mix make Diamond Eyes a large question mark, if not an outright disappointment, which begs the question: exactly what does Eros sound like? I say “does” because the band has promised the album will eventually see the light of day; hopefully, if nothing else, the album fills in the blanks between Wrist and this one. I’ll definitely buy Diamond Eyes as soon as it hits stores, but it’ll likely end up ripped to my hard drive and relegated to “also-ran” status.