Saturday, August 27, 2005

Langhoff Unpublished: 12"/'80s Box Set

Unpublished probably; I sent it to Chuck at the Voice, but before he could find the space for it, a volume II came out and sort of rendered this one less relevant. Not as au courant. I keep thinking I'll buy the volume II and update this thing and send it back, but so far I've had other fish to fry, and it's not like this was my favorite set of CDs in the world, as you'll see below. Gave me a chance to employ a hoary metaphor, reminiscent of the ones buddy Karl and I useta come up with in HS typing class.

Various Artists

Beware, nostalgic dilettantes! There are two overlapping versions of Family Recordings’ 12”/'80s box set floating around, and one has “White Lines” and one doesn’t, which fact would seem to make your decision pretty easy, except the one with “White Lines” doesn’t contain Echo and the Bunnymen’s “Never Stop (Discotheque),” whose pizzicato string propulsion has changed my… well, it made my sad little whole grain breakfast much more enjoyable. If you’re not that dependent upon “White Lines,” no fear, because both sets boast Simply Red’s “Money’s Too Tight to Mention (Cutback Mix)” and Grace Jones’s “Pull Up to the Bumper,” my other morning revelations among 37 or 38 remixed British Chart Hits (some only climbing as high as Slayer’s “Criminally Insane,” not included, but hits still) by Predominantly British People. Most of these 12” singles are interchangeable and quite useless, which fact doesn’t necessarily make them art.

In fact, whether the terms 12” and 80s deserve equivalence depends on whether both sides are equally well served by the association. In this case, the 80s are a wealthy landowner whose skillful pruning of the twin forests Punk and Disco produced an incomparable series of pop wind-up-toys, resulting in much public goodwill and critical acclaim. Though we may question the 80s’ murder of that hoary beast Prog, the decade’s slightly smug patrician benevolence seemed to invite nostalgia from the get. By contrast, the 12” is a wastrel tinker who mistakenly wandered onto the 80s’ estate, got lost in Punk’s self-sufficiency and Disco’s vast repetitions, and used the landowner’s ample resources to force his way into the public eye. By now, the damn tinker’s reputation is way overblown, his contraptions too often empty of invention or joy. The 80s may have produced as rich a legacy as her sister decades, but she suffers from proximity to the 12”.

All except the stuff I said before and anything by New Order, not included.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Langhoff Bound: Mercenary's 11 Dreams and Samael's Reign of Light

These aren't available on the web, but they did show up in the April '05 issue of Decibel, this fantastic metal magazine that's about a year old. I actually understand very little of the magazine when I get it, but it's witty and my main outlet for reading Scott Seward, probably the best pure stylist currently criticizing records. So far Decibel hasn't made me buy anything I can't live without, but the Mercenary disc (which I got free) is sure to be on my year end top 10 list. It's a scorcher!

11 Dreams
(Century Media)

The thing Mercenary do most, and they do it well, is to pit impassioned not-quite-Broadway melodies against a scorching rapid-fire kick drum attack, with guitars and bass in between, playing both sides. After an orchestro-synth prelude, the band’s dreams (or “songs,” if you’re dead inside) #2-5 adhere to this successful formula. The Sandager brothers, Mikkel and Morten, provide Rent-worthy caterwauls and keyboards, the guitarists arpeggiate, and founding bassist/growler Kral brings the requisite violence, but the whole thing comes off a little restrained and wearing--too much of the same good thing.

So it’s a relief when the boys start mixing things up during dream #6, “Sharpen the Edges.” They deepen the minor chords from the preceding pleasures and add ominous male-chorus intonations. “Supremacy v2.0” is similarly dark and nightmarishly Neapolitan of chord, but the real shocker is just ahead: in a twist worthy of Million Dollar Baby, but giddier and more danceable, our gothic heroes cover Kent’s pop tune “Music Non Stop,” and it can’t, won’t, and don’t. Drummer Mike Park gets to rest his ankles and provide a syncopated livinonaprayer (Danish for “swinging like fuck”) beat while Mikkel invites the world to dance to the music he hears inside his head. Blogs and message boards are currently lighting up with cries of sellout, but I say if you’ve ever longed to hear Ryan Seacrest utter the phrase “Scandinavian metal gods,” this is the way to do it.

That’s the peak, but the rest doesn‘t let up. Add on an extreme atonal thrasher, a piano/guitar ballad, and a chunky modern-rock-chorded closer and you’ve got one of the more intriguing side twos, capping one of the more impressive stateside debuts, in recent memory.

Reign Of Light
(Nuclear Blast)

Samael’s eighth album differs in many important ways from Rammstein’s Sehnsucht, the watershed for gothy Euro-tech metal. To begin, Vorph is a hipper vocalist than Till--he sounds more relaxed, he barks around the beats and sometimes you can picture him shimmying with his friends the clanking machines. We can probably attribute this looseness to Swiss neutrality. It’s funny, though--Vorph “sings” in English, but I’m sure I could transcribe Till’s Sehnsucht vocals far more accurately, though I can’t understand a lick of German. With Rammstein, everything sounds clean and in its place--one part of the song ends, a title hook repeats four times, the volume drops and a synth plays a little tune, the loud guitars start back in. Samael are messier and the mix isn’t as clean, so you can’t always understand what Vorph is demanding of you. The rhythms are still lockstep and repetitive (we’re not talking Converge here), but there are more dirty guitar lines and fewer shiny song components. We can probably attribute this relative messiness to rebellion against Swiss banker parents. What this means is that individual Samael songs are harder to distinguish than individual Rammsteins. “Telepath” is the one where Vorph pronounces grace “guhlaysse,” and the bonus track is a remix of “Telepath,” but the others are more difficult, which isn’t to say bad because they’re enjoyable while they last. You could attribute indifference towards posterity to Swiss watchmaking or something Jungian, but I chalk it up to another classic archetype. A prancing vocalist you can’t understand because the mix is muddy and all the songs sound alike? Samael are the Stones to Rammstein’s Beatles, and I can’t wait to hear the new Paul Revere and the Raiders!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Langhoff Unpublished: Black Mountain's Black Mountain

In a fairly embarassing chain of events, I initially submitted this to M. Matos at Seattle Weekly; he politely informed me that he'd already run a review of the thing. Indeed, Jessica Hopper's review appeared several months before; it's far more informative than mine, but the musical effects to which she devotes so much detail are really not all that interesting. So then I sent it off to Chuck at the Village Voice; he politely informed me that Frank Kogan's review was appearing online as we emailed. As with most of his writing, Frank's review gets to the heart of the musical matter well and offers a closer musical analysis than mine; I didn't think the CD was worth much more than some drug jokes. I haven't yet brought myself to go back and listen to the two tunes cited in the Kogan review, but I sure didn't notice them the first three or four times. Anyway, I've submitted it to a third outlet, but haven't heard anything back yet. Looks like it'll live here. (That whole explanation may be better than the review, if only for the links.)

Black Mountain
Black Mountain

The Black Mountain credits thank “members of the Black Mountain Army,” which is funny because, dude, that’s gotta be one seriously stoned fuckin’ army. Listening to Black Mountain is like enlisting with the Swiss, whose latest model Army Knife includes a killer flashlight, as they take off the month of August to hang with their buds in Amsterdam--these Canuck guys/gal are totally Euro when it comes to their blues-psych. Don’t get me wrong, they can play loud and heavy, but mostly the BMs drift from riff to riff, firing one off and watching amused to see where it’ll land. The most concise song lays out an appealing twang-piano gallop to back up its Westerbergian refrain of “I can’t get no satisfaction.” The next most focused is the floppy soul single “Druganaut,” whose brilliant lyrics include “Are you freedom, man? We’re young and fast/ lighting up the sky.” I like to imagine mopey NASA engineers reciting those lines into their Scotch. The other tunes are decidedly Unfocused, which isn’t to say “Bad,” at least not for the first half; and even when the band runs out of ideas halfway through and you stop paying attention, the music remains an inoffensive backdrop to foraging for food or waiting for a man.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Langhoff Unpublished: Suzzy and Maggie Roche's Why the Long Face?

This represents my first unsuccessful attempt to get into Seattle Weekly; I never heard back from editor Michelangelo Matos. I enjoy the review quite a bit, mainly because it seems very light on its feet, even with the elaborate 7 Habits joke.

Suzzy & Maggie Roche
Why the Long Face
(Red House)

Amid the Folk Society syncopatin’ and self-deprecatin’ highlights of Why the Long Face, the second CD from the Roches-minus-sister-Terre, Suzzy cheerfully opines that she read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People only to discover she had none of the habits. I don’t believe her for a minute! I mean, New York folkies probably don’t Synergize or Begin With The End In Mind a whole lot, but I bet they Think Win/Win and always Seek First To Understand--they’re such Proactive sweethearts! (And their bluesy delivery on that Seven Habits song sure makes me wanna Sharpen My Saw, if you know what I mean!) The jig’s up--the Roche sisters are now busking for NY Arts Foundation grants instead of spare change, and have become, if not rich and famous, at least responsible adults; so their scatterbrained mode can start to seem disingenuous and set your teeth on edge. And when they Put First Things First and sing the words of a community prayer group or a kid with Asperger’s Syndrome or Brian Wilson, I’m tempted to set my CD player on pause. So instead I skip back to the first two songs, which are gorgeous, heartfelt, plainspoken acoustic chugalugs. Or ahead to the one where they sing bitonally, “Set down your key and trumpet/ Go have a dream and hump it.”