Month: March 2014

Over the Weekend (Mar. 31 Edition)

It looks like a pretty good Monday–a lot of new music, videos, and other fun stuff to kick off your week.

We mentioned this on Friday, and today our suspicions were confirmed: The Antlers are about to release a new album!  Familiars will be released state-side on June 17, so mark your calendars now (or just save the hassle and pre-order).  Meanwhile, watch the music video the band released for the lead single, “Palace”–it’s as delicately gorgeous as you would expect, and the band has already done the courtesy of providing the lyrics for you on their Tumblr.

Stereogum has the premiere of the single from former member of The Walkmen Peter Matthew Bauer, the festive “Latin American Ficciones”.  It definitely evokes the spirit of his former band, especially in the insistent trebly guitar, with a nice spare percussion backing track.  This follows on the heels of the recent new music we’ve heard from other former members Walter Martin and Hamilton Leithauser.  It’s unlikely that any of the projects will reach the heights of the best work of The Walkmen, but all of the songs that have been released are rather promising, so fingers crossed.

Everyone should be familiar with Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” right now, but you may not know the “science” behind the hit.  Owen Pallett takes a look at the underlying music theory that makes the song work so well.  He takes a couple of liberties to make it easier to understand for beginners, but it’s a solid look at the underpinnings of the tune.

This actually appeared on my Facebook feed on Friday, but I’m linking to it now because we need more ways to kill time at the beginning of the week.  NPR has a quick quiz of “Name That Drum Fill”, and I think most people should do pretty well.

And finally, last night I had the great pleasure to see album-of-the-year frontrunners The War On Drugs in person at the Wonder Ballroom in Portland.  It was a blistering set, and the new songs really kick live.  We may run a quick review of the show in the next couple of days, but I’m going to pass along a video from one of the highlights of the show: it was when Jim James of My Morning Jacket showed up for the encore to sing a cover of John Lennon’s “Mind Games” with the band.

Advertisements

Catching Up On The Week (Mar. 28 Edition)

We have a few #longreads and some new music news for you this weekend, so if you didn’t have plans, you’re now in luck.

First, we got a bit of a surprise today when The Antlers posted a quick clip on YouTube that seems like a teaser for an announcement for an upcoming new album.  There’s not much to go on, besides a solemn instrumental, some band footage, and a final quote of “soon.”, but this is exciting nonetheless.  If you don’t feel the same way, then you need to spend your weekend finding a copy of Hospice, one of the most heart-breakingly beautiful albums of the past decade, and Burst Apart, their more-than-worthy followup so you can get into the proper mindset.

A little young for Antlers, but...

A little young for Antlers, but…

Next, we’ve got another video for you to enjoy, courtesy of The Daily Show.  Jon Stewart did an interview with Amy Yates Wuelfing and The Butthole Surfers’ Gibby Haynes to discuss an oral history of a legendary New Jersey bar and the different legendary punk shows that took place in that humble setting.  It’s bizarre to see Gibby dressed in a way that is reminiscent of a college professor, at the very least.

Last week we mourned the death of Scott Asheton, and since then more and more tributes have been published.  Iggy Pop talked with Rolling Stone about his memories of his bandmate, and Vice published an interview Legs McNeil did with Scott himself.

Beck is continuing to open up and talk in the wake of the release of Morning Phase, and FILTER did a great piece on him.  We learn for instance that unfortunately there were a couple of albums that were lost, so we were never able to hear the original followups to Odelay and Sea Change as they were intended.  We also get some insight into his creative process over the years, like how old ideas are shaped into new songs.  And we also get a bit more information about the planned new album that hopefully will be released by the end of the year.

Finally, there’s a lot for all the Cloud Nothings fans out there.  We’re eagerly anticipating the release of Here and Nowhere Else next week, but apparently that’s not the only new music we’ll be hearing from Dylan Baldi.  Cloud Nothings and Wavves decided to collaborate, and it looks like we may soon hear the fruits of their labor (with the additional help of Rostam Batmanglij from Vampire Weekend as well, it seems).  The band also gave a quick description of their early shows to Clash Magazine, who interviewed several artists including Los Campesinos! about their first gigs.  And finally, Pitchfork did an extensive profile of the band, which should have you fully prepared for their release on Tuesday.

Feats of Strength: Dinosaur Jr.

Dinosaur Jr. is one of the greatest bands to come out of the American underground in the last thirty years, first rising up as some of the first heroes of Alternative Nation, and then years later defying convention by mounting a comeback that has seen their recent output matching (and in some cases surpassing) their work from their early golden years.  Over the course of their career, most of the attention has understandably been given to guitarist and lead singer J Mascis, as his incredible guitar playing convinced a generation of punks that hey, it’s cool to know how to play your instrument, and his slacker-ish whine was imitated by scores of other bands.  Bassist Lou Barlow also received a share of the spotlight, both for his unique and innovative bass playing as well as his engaging and combative personality.  In addition, Barlow has been recognized for his notable post-Dinosaur Jr. career, with his work in Sebadoh and Folk Implosion providing the spark for the lo-fi revolution in the 90’s.

Today, however, we’re going to highlight an under-appreciated aspect of the Dinosaur Jr. sound with our focus on the contribution of long-time drummer Murph.  Though he has begun to receive more credit through the years, and is rightfully considered one of the primary reasons why Dinosaur Jr.’s recent work has been so strong, his earlier work has not received as much attention.  To an extent, that was reflected within the band itself, as Green Thumb only had Murph drumming on a couple of tracks–a sign of the future when J would take over full-time for a couple of albums.

“Thumb” is one of the few ballads in the Dino catalog, with a memorable mellotron riff that flutters above the melody for the duration of the song.  It has a nice elliptical chord progression, and J’s trademark plaintive whine fits the longing nature of the lyrics.  But for me, the real key to this song is the pure power from the kick and snare drum, which give an extra bitterness to J’s lyrics.  Lines like “an excuse is all you’re in for, the abuse is all you crave” take on an extra snarl when it’s emphasized with those syncopated big hits.  Murph switches the rhythm for the chorus, and by throwing in a couple of either unexpected hits or rests, it complements the ambivalent sentiment of lines like “Pretty good, not feeling that fine–getting up most every day”.

But for the most part it’s the simple force behind the drums that make the song truly stand out, making it an organic version of a “power ballad”.  You can feel the intensity through the speakers, especially in lines like the fill that leads into the second chorus.  As a result, “Thumb” is one of the few Dinosaur Jr. songs that I’ll air drum instead of air guitar–though when the solo kicks in at the end, I try to do both.

Review: The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream

There were high expectations for the latest album from The War on Drugs as they followed up their breakthrough Slave Ambient, a fixture of many 2011 year-end lists.  It’s safe to say that not only has the band met the challenge with Lost In The Dream, but they’ve exceeded even the most ambitious projections.  The band has further honed their distinct style of 80’s Americana pitched through the hazy lens of shoegaze, finding even more common ground between what had seemed to be two unconnected genres.  The combination helps make Lost In The Dream simultaneously one of the most comforting and thrilling releases of the year.

The exciting lead single “Red Eyes”  gave us a clue as to the direction of the album, with the punch of an upbeat rocker that is reminiscent of Slave Ambient highlight “Baby Missiles”.  Instead of keeping the intensity at 11 for the duration of the song though, the song slowly builds and builds, gradually adding layers and volume; the performance is captured so well that the listener can feel it down to each and every snare hit.  On Slave Ambient, “Baby Missiles” served as the climax for the whole album–the band shuffled between shimmery ambient melodies and reverb-soaked folk before coalescing into the big kick of that single.  The War On Drugs took the template of the album and applied it to each song on Lost In The Dream, giving the album a forward propulsion even amid the natural emotional ebb and flow.  This skill allows the band to indulge in longer songs without ever losing momentum.  Opener “Under the Pressure” is a perfect example of this, which even though it runs nearly nine minutes long, it keeps the listener’s attention the whole time.

With their previous work, The War On Drugs were eager to explore dreamier soundscapes, which while pleasant, gave some of their work an unfocused aspect that allowed the listener’s attention to drift before a more fully-formed song would appear from the haze.  With Lost In The Dream, the band has moved into a much more song-based approach (save the instrumental interlude “The Haunting Idle”).  One may attribute this shift perhaps to the absence of Kurt Vile; one can almost sense a split in the identity since that album, as Vile has continued to mine that vein in his subsequent solo work.  It’s not a drastic difference–the trademark style of The War On Drugs is definitely still evident.  There is still a heavy dose of reverb-soaked guitars and vocals, with synth lines that thicken up folk-tinged rock songs that don’t rework old Springsteen and Tom Petty, but captures their spirit.  One can even hear the influence of Bob Seger, right down to the title, in “Eyes to the Wind”.

Throughout the course of the album, the band displays an incredible knack of building complex songs and evoking strong emotions from simple elements.  Most songs are built on the basic rock beat with an emphasis on the 2 and 4 by the snare, with only slight deviations from that formula (for example, the added delay/reverb effect added to the kick and snare on “Disappearing”).  It seems that the band took Homer’s advice of “Why have burger when you can have steak?” to heart, since they know that the beat gets the job done–it forever moves the song forward, pushing the listener’s anticipation into the next phrase.  They manage to keep this repetition from getting stale mostly through the use of dynamics, enhancing the natural push of the rhythm and allowing the song to build organically.  “An Ocean In Between The Waves” is a perfect example of this, and one can imagine how the crowd will eat it up when they hear it live.

It’s amazing how organic the album sounds, as if it was done by a band recording live, when it was actually mainly a solo record.  Stereogum has an excellent behind the scenes look at the making of the album, which is definitely worth reading.  There was an incredible amount of effort that went into the making of Lost In The Dream, and it paid off with what is surely one of the best albums of the year.

Sometimes A Cigar Is Just A Cigar

Sometimes I get in the bad habit of finishing an article, and then deciding to stick around the site by clicking on an attention-grabbing headline to a different story.  Yes, I understand that this is the very foundation of the online publication model, but there are some sites where that strategy is not a good idea and that it is best to disengage from standard internet protocol.

We recently posted a link to an article in Slate that explored the mystery of the time signature of the theme from The Terminator.  This was an interesting and fun story that allowed the reader to indulge in harmless music nerd-like tendencies, while also revisiting a great film.  It’s a perfect time-waster that also benefits by adding a little bit of knowledge of music theory and production.  However, instead of closing the tab and continuing with my previously-planned surfing, I made the (figuratively) fatal error of clicking on this article.

Sexism worthy of more concern

Sexism worthy of more concern

There’s not much to this article–an NPR producer has an extensive record collection, and his wife started a Tumblr where she criticizes his albums called “My Husband’s Stupid Record Collection”.  Sounds innocent enough, right?  But apparently when constructing a personal Tumblr examining a record collection, one needs to be hyper-aware about the possible gender politics, and the politics of the gender politics as well.  The initial criticism derived from the premise of the Tumblr itself, with Slate mentioning that “[f]emale music writers Annie ZaleskiMaura Johnston, and Ann Powers have pushed back against the blog’s conceit, arguing that it reinforces negative stereotypes about the role of women in the music world.”  This of course assumes that a personal response to a shared relationship concern is somehow supposed to be a reflection of music criticism as a whole.  If someone can clue me in on why this assumption exists, I would appreciate it.

In addition, according to the critics cited in the piece, not only should there be concerns about the blog itself, but with the reactions to the blog and their possible sexism.  To quote: “Flavorwire‘s Judy Berman initially appreciated the blog’s charm, but then, ‘as acquaintance after acquaintance—almost all of them men—enthusiastically shared the blog, I noticed a more powerful, gendered slant to their appreciation of it,’ she wrote.”  Is the point then that an author should then be concerned not only with the reactions of readers to the piece itself, but then how they then frame their appreciation of it later?  The article continues, “[b]ut seen another way, her exercise is not very funny at all, because it helps those same music-nerd dudes who have boxed women out of the subculture—keeping them on the periphery in the roles of wives and girlfriends—to share the link as confirmation that women just don’t get it.”  At this point, anyone’s reaction should be “Who gives a shit about what these people think, and more than that, why should anyone believe that this Tumblr is great evidence of their point?”  The fact that I’m reading an analysis that amounts to a reaction to the reaction to the (initial) reaction means that we are ever closer to fulfilling the prophecy that the internet is merely an ouroboros of shit.*

The article itself makes a half-hearted attempt to justify all this wrangling over nothing, and the best the piece could do was talk about the premise of art from the perspective of the outsider.  Congratulations for explaining how a significant percentage of comedy works (to the piece’s credit, the author acknowledged this).  The problem is that this analysis should have been the one and only paragraph that was needed.  The author of the Tumblr is not attempting to ingratiate herself within the insular culture of record collectors; she is distinctly attempting to mock it from the perspective of an outsider.  It is not her responsibility for how other insiders react, and it’s not her concern.  By criticizing her, it takes away from other issues of gender politics within the music community.  The fact that women still fight to achieve respect within the community is a significant issue, and taking on pieces like this one is irrelevant to that fight.

The ultimate lesson should be that when critics are going so far down the rabbit hole to look at third-level reactions of a piece and what it means about society, it’s time to take a step back.  There are other issues of gender politics that are worthy of concern, but this is not one of them.  And next time, I’ll remember not to click that extra article.

*Note: I am fully aware that by participating at another level of criticism can be cited as an example of perpetuating the problem, but hopefully my intentions are clear that rather than perpetuating the cycle I am attempting to end it and slay the ouroboros.

Over the Weekend (Mar. 24 Edition)

We’ve got a lot of new music to news that you need to be familiar with, or you’ll be completely lost at the water cooler this week.  And nobody wants to endure that potential fate, so we’re here with the links.

Probably the biggest news of the week first broke on Friday, when The Black Keys employed some unusual means of announcing to the world that they’re about to release a new album.  The initial tweet came courtesy of Mike Tyson, but the bizarre video that accompanies the tweet did not include him (unless that is one fantastic makeup job).  The Black Keys then held up their end of the deal, releasing the track “Fever” today, in advance of the May 13 release of Turn Blue.  The single sees The Black Keys further evolving their sound, away from their ragged blues to a more dirty funk/soul sound that was found on the album tracks of Brothers and El Camino.  Old school fans may be alarmed at first, but I hope they succumb to the groove.

The other big news today was the long-awaited announcement that the Pixies are finally releasing a new album.  Pitchfork has a lot of the details of the upcoming release of Indie Cindy, but a lot of the songs should be familiar to Pixies fans, since it includes the songs from their recent EPs (with EP-3 being released today).  There are a lot of special editions of the album coming out, including a double-disc edition which features a hardcover book and a compilation of live tracks from their recent US tour (with bassist Paz Lenchantin).

We’ve mentioned our previous love of Cults before on this site, so it’s no surprise we’re going to put you in the direction of this video interview that the band did with Salon.  It’s great to get a little insight into their development as a group over the last few years, thanks to a few good questions.

In some sad news, it was announced that the man known as Oderus Urungus, lead singer of GWAR, was found dead in his home this past weekend.  To help ease the sting of the news, be sure to watch the video from the AV Club link of the band’s cover of “Carry On, Wayward Son”, and check out the other GWAR videos on the site for good measure.

Finally, we don’t want to end on a bum note, so here’s a video of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah performing on their recent “living room tour” at their stop in Portland.  No, I wasn’t one of the lucky few that got a chance to see it, but it looks like I missed out on something pretty special.  Here’s a performance of “Underwater (You and Me)” from the criminally underrated Some Loud Thunder.

Catching Up On The Week (Mar. 21 Edition)

We don’t have any real #longreads for you to scroll through this weekend, but there are a lot of shorter interesting articles that are worth your time.  That’s probably a good thing, because I imagine a lot of people will be focused on the NCAA Tournament this weekend; then again, if you were looking for us a source of distraction, we’re sorry.

First, for the music theory enthusiasts out there, Slate did a piece on one man’s quest to determine the time signature of the theme from The Terminator.  If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a time signature in music, there’s a quick explanation in the article, so don’t worry.  For the record, my initial guess was 10/8.

Not The Terminator, but frightening nonetheless

Not The Terminator, but frightening nonetheless

I was glad to see that one of the conditions of the settlement between GoldieBlox and the Beastie Boys was a public apology by GoldieBlox.  If the case had gone to litigation, there was a potentially an intriguing fight over how parody in certain contexts should be handled under Fair Use.  Complicating matters for GoldieBlox was the fact that they were using the parody for other commercial purposes.  After all this, I hope everyone learned this lesson: always ask permission, and make sure you get the proper license.

There have been discussions recently on the issue of audio quality and the way that digital technology from both the musician’s and consumer’s perspective has had a significant effect on recording (See “Pono”), this article takes a look at how musicians have attempted to push for greater rights and use of live musicians instead of samples.  The piece makes good points about how difficult it is to actually replicate live sounds, and how musicians (especially string players) are often screwed when it comes to compensation.  However, the article fails to account how some artists take advantage of the more mechanized sound and use it to their advantage (See the entire career of Kraftwerk).  I appreciate their intentions, but it’s not the only pathway.

On a similar note, here’s some more disappointing news for musicians: Late Night with Seth Meyers is booking fewer musical guests than the show did under Jimmy Fallon.  Billboard reports that this is by design, as the show believes that Meyers has other strengths.  Say what you will about Fallon’s ability as a late night host (and believe me, I have), I always appreciated that he would often book underground acts and give them exposure, like Titus Andronicus or Parquet Courts.  Hell, Refused even played Fallon’s show.  Hopefully Fallon will do some similar booking with The Tonight Show in the future.

Record Store Day is coming up in a month, and there are several cool releases to look forward to picking up this year.  But while RSD has provided a lot of good exposure to independent stores in the past few years and have provided a lot of foot traffic, this article explains that the type of product being offered often languishes on the shelves and other such factors mean that the “holiday” may actually hurt several stores.

CNN continues to show that they have little idea about how to do anything right.  Deadspin has a piece on how they used an absolutely awful lede in a story about Kurt Cobain.  The original article has since been altered, but the Deadspin staff had fun in coming up with their own versions of other possibly awful openers that CNN could have opted to use.

Finally, here’s a pleasant song for your weekend: Real Estate recently did a live cover of Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”, and Pitchfork has the video.  It’s one of my favorite songs, and I appreciate the spirit of the cover.

Review: The Men – Tomorrow’s Hits

Some bands take their time between albums and spend countless hours on crafting each sonic detail.  They think deeply about how each song fits within the general themes of the album.  Perhaps they also ponder how their latest release will fit within their oeuvre overall, and what kind of comment they could possibly be making on their genre or their industry as a whole.  Then there’s The Men, who see that it’s a new year once again, so that means it’s time to put out another album.

The underground punk roots of The Men still shine through in their sound as well as their prolific pace, and they have managed to keep that spirit alive even as their sound has evolved.  The days of the pure noise and cacophony of Leave Home are closer to becoming a distant memory, but The Men still believe in no-bullshit rock, even when they’re clearly bullshitting you (as seen in the lyrics to the opener “Dark Waltz” (which isn’t even a waltz): “My mom gave me this guitar in 1974, and it’s true”–a timeline that paints the band as being about a decade older than reality).  Over the course of the album, the band continues to play whatever strikes their interest, whether it be some Americana-influenced 80’s boogie, complete with backing horns (“Another Night”) or a winsome country-tinged ballad (“Settle Me Down”–a song that will probably make it the second year in a row that The Men will have released my favorite country song).  The standout track is “Different Days”, which manages the neat trick of morphing the keyboard line of “Walk of Life” into the hook of a blistering punk blast.

Everything about Tomorrow’s Hits gives the listener the feeling that they’re hearing a bar band playing a rundown of the  Most Played Songs of that dive’s particular jukebox, from the title itself to the neon light cover art.  The Men even look to their own recent material for inspiration, re-working the riff of “Half Angel Half Light” from last year’s New Moon into “Going Down”, exchanging the lo-fi swing of the former for more hard-charging straight-ahead rock.  Some older fans of the band will complain that they’ve softened or mellowed out since the Leave Home era, but as someone who was first introduced to The Men with the stellar Open Your Heart, I have no problem with the shifts in style within and between albums.  It’s not an issue that they’ve traded in Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth influences for Crazy Horse and Tom Petty, because no matter what it’s still clear that the band is having fun.

There’s a looseness and a joy to the music, even when they’re pushing the tempo or stepping back for some reflection.  It’s just a whole lot of…fun.  And while the title Tomorrow’s Hits is at most wishful thinking and most likely meant to be ironic and tongue-in-cheek, I would be glad if its prediction held true and I was getting a nice blast of “Pearly Gates” as I flip on my radio and hit the highway.

That said, what I find most amusing about The Men is the way that they’ve become the focus of a bunch of ridiculous thinkpieces for more than a few rock critics.  These listen to an album of straightforward rock, and then look at a no-nonsense band, and then think that they need to ask “What does it all mean?”  This is a band that has no social media presence (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), doesn’t print out a lyric sheet, have a name that’s practically useless to Google, and plays whatever style fits their mood at the moment–all this points to a group that really doesn’t give a fuck about “their place in the industry”.  You read reviews like this and you just have to wonder who the author is trying to impress with this pseudo-intellectual nonsense.  Just grab a beer and have some fun as the band decides to have some fun.

Tool, Live at Matthew Knight Arena

In my review of Nothing’s debut album, I commented on the fact that metal was an often stagnant genre, a style that would find bands content to cover the same ground over and over again in hope that the law of diminishing returns somehow didn’t apply to them.  One band that resisted this trap for years was Tool.  Their albums for years showed a band willing to explore the outer edges of heavy music, with each album possessing distinct characteristics.  Tool would evolve with each release, from the dirty, sludgy darkness of Undertow to the more reflective and spiraling Lateralus, pushing themselves musically and incorporating more and more elements of progressive rock along the way.  It wasn’t until 10,000 Days that Tool sounded as if they were repeating themselves.

It was with that last release that that it seemed Tool had begun spinning its wheels, with the best moments sounding like variations of riffs we heard before from Lateralus and the worst parts simply failing to make an impact (the problem with most of the second half of the album in a nutshell).  The feeling that the band was treading water combined with the increasing time between new albums leads to a problem that befalls other similar bands–the danger of becoming a nostalgia act.  The audience is no longer looking forward to new, exciting (and especially in the case of metal, “dangerous”) ideas, but have come to the show to bask in the comfort of remembering their favorites from a previous era.  With their last release dating back all the way to 2006, when I was still working in radio and years before attending law school, and no new music having been announced, “nostalgia” was strictly my approach: it was time to revisit some of my high school metalhead(-ish) days.

High School Memory: Wearing my T-Shirt from this show, and having people ask "Who's 'And King Crimson?'"

Reliving the Glory Days

Adding to the general air of nostalgia that I personally felt was the fact that I had not seen Tool live since their show in Eugene back in 2001–a time before I even had a drivers license, which means that yes my mom indeed made the trip down and then had to figure out something to do on a midweek evening in Eugene on the fly.  That show was a particularly mind-blowing experience, and not only because it was my first exposure to King Crimson (and that presented me with the opportunity to purchase this bad-ass t-shirt).  I had arrived at the show an intrigued skeptic and left a full-fledged fan–at least by the standards of normal fans (spend any time in certain areas of the internet, and you are bound to find a Tool SuperFan, the kind that spends hours constructing YouTube videos breaking down the supposed allusions in Maynard’s lyrics and the symbology present in album artwork (and those are the more pleasant examples)).

We arrived in between the opener and the main event, partly due to an epic Blazers comeback (that fell short), and partly due to the ridiculous parking setup at the arena.  After some shuffling around, we made our way down to the arena floor, where we found our seats–yes, this was a heavy metal show, but Tool was not going to allow us to get disorderly in any way.  There were several people in official blue polo shirts that would make sure that chaos would be restrained, at least on the audience’s side, and please no photos or videos thank you.  Having previously seen them at the Hult Center, which is home to the finer arts groups of Eugene, I remarked to my compatriots that it was not unexpected for us to have seats, and besides we were there to witness a full-fledged “experience”.

The one photograph I risked taking

The one photograph I risked taking

Tool began the show in a fury, opening up with the rager “Hooker With A Penis” from Ænima, as the man in camo would have predicted if he was in attendance (I personally would not trust a person in a camo shirt in many situations, but the intricacies of the Tool setlist would mark one of the few exceptions).  The band was all business, with minimal stage banter with the audience beyond a few brief words of thanks and a mention of the city’s name (though Maynard’s quip this time lacked the touch of the last appearance, where he acted as the party responsible for introducing the band to the city and vice-versa: “Tool, Eugene.  Eugene, Tool.”).  There was no encore, but a brief intermission midway through the set that was partnered with a countdown clock, giving you the exact knowledge of the targeted time to return with an overpriced beer.  (Unfortunately, the intermission was not accompanied by their own song, “Intermission”.)

Each member was set in his traditional position: Adam and Justin up front and out to the sides, and Maynard and Danny in the back but centered.  The setup of the band and their respective demeanor exemplified the interesting dynamic within the band.  Maynard is a powerful frontman on record, with a charismatic and distinctive voice that stands out even in collaborations with other bands and lyrics that inspire careful study and feverish devotion in fans.  However, Maynard’s stage placement de-emphasizes the position of the singer within the band, and puts him on an equal footing with everyone else.  And Maynard’s performance and movements when singing also differ from the traditional frontman–he positions himself sideways to the audience, and always seems to act as if he is in combat with an unseen enemy, actions which often enhance his own lyrics.

Maynard is but one example of how Tool upends the traditional band structure within itself–the guitar generally does the work of keeping everyone grounded with the more basic rhythms, the bass provides a significant amount of the melody, and the drums are where most of the fireworks happen.  I pondered whether or not to do a Feats of Strength post highlighting how this dynamic works, using the breakdown/solo of 46 & 2 as the example.  If you listen closely, the guitar and bass go in and out of sync, alternating parts where they play in different time signatures.  In those parts, the bass gets the melody while the guitar palm mutes the accent hits.  And then Danny comes in with an amazing drum solo, syncopating his parts with amazing precision but also using his gigantic drum kit to actually create a melody that lines up with the guitar and bass perfectly.  There’s a good reason that this song is a fan favorite, and we of course went nuts when the band played it–and believe me, all eyes in the audience were on Danny as he nailed that solo.

It’s that precision coupled with the complexity of the music which draws a lot of people in, but the moment that I remember most from the previous concert was the time where the crack was most apparent.  It was one of the first performances of the Lateralus tour, and so the band was still getting a handle on how to play the songs live, including “Schism”.  For the bridge/solo, they had Maynard pick up a guitar to handle the melody, but his inexperience was clear and he flubbed a couple of the notes.  It was that little moment which made the band more human and less of a machine, and it actually made the rest of the set more impressive.  There was no such moment this time, as Maynard played his part on a keyboard this time and was much more comfortable.

With no new songs to play, the question then was how much of the experience felt like a nostalgia act.  The setlist hit some of the expected highlights, but the band also often did a great job in disguising a lot of what was coming up with interesting new intros and interstitial music.  And combined with an even more elaborate video setup, with huge television screens playing some of their trademark bizarre art (at one point during “Lateralus”, the image could only be describe as a view from the back of a spiraling train of guys providing manual pleasure to each other), it made for a pretty memorable experience.  At this point though, the time has passed for me to be a zealous follower, but I can still say that I’m intrigued by what is coming up next.

In Remembrance of Scott Asheton

There was some sad news from this weekend, when it was announced that Scott Asheton, the drummer for the legendary punk band The Stooges, had died.   Rock critics tend to get more specific when discussing The Stooges, christening their music as “proto-punk”, since their style laid the groundwork for the full-fledged punk movement a few years later.  Today, this distinction may not hold as much weight with today’s audiences, simply because the line between proto-punk and punk has been blurred so much that it makes little sense to differentiate between them.  That in and of itself is proof of the amazing influence that the band had.

Scott Asheton’s pummeling drumwork was a fixture of those early Stooges records, and all three of them are certifiable classics.  Here’s a quick glance at those landmark records:

– From their John Cale-produced debut album, The Stooges, “I Wanna Be Your Dog”.  It’s driving and relentless, and is pretty much the sound of impending doom.  It’s the perfect soundtrack for the apocalypse.

One of the key aspects of the sound of The Stooges was their ability to maintain a groove, and that was driven by the drums.  It’s in this “groove” that you can hear the connection between the older R&B sound and the proto-punk that was the hallmark of The Stooges.  Asheton’s drumming helped prevent the band from becoming untethered and out of control (except in cases like “We Will Fall” where drifting away was completely intentional), as he alternately swung and pushed the beat.  “I Wanna Be Your Dog” is a perfect example of the mix of these two styles. The drumming pattern is predominantly a bouncy rhythm through most of each line, contrasting with the insistent piano line and sleigh bells on each eighth note beat (provided by John Cale).  Asheton switches the pattern in the last measure of each phrase, away from a shuffle to a more straight-ahead pattern where he emphasizes the last two beats with snare hits.  This gives the combination of both groove and propulsion, a push-and-pull that keeps the tension alive in the song.

– From their followup, Fun House, “T.V. Eye”.  The album may be even grittier than its predecessor, and the added psychedelic touches make it a real trip.  I have no idea what this song is about, but fuck yeah does it rock.

Asheton’s drumming in this song abandons groove and focuses solely on pushing the beat, with snare hits on every single one.  You can hear the roots of early-80’s hardcore punk with this track, as you will hear this pattern on the majority of those songs (though at a few higher beats per minute).  Also, it’s a nifty trick when the band drops out, tricking the audience into thinking the song is over, before the guitar riff kicks in again.  As you hear Asheton come back in with those double-sticked snare hits, it just begs the listener to start clapping or smacking something in line with the beat.

– From their third album, Raw Power, “Search and Destroy”.  The band shuffled the lineup a little bit (and the band is credited as “Iggy and The Stooges”), but Scott Asheton was a constant behind the kit for this one.  The band tightened up their sound a bit for this one, and I don’t know if there are many opening lines that are better than “I’m a street-walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm.”

“Search and Destroy” is a brilliant amalgamation of the two drumming styles previously highlighted.  Asheton alternates between sections of bouncy patterns and quarter-note hits, with plenty of awesome fills in between that are in the brink of going out of control, but reign the band back in with each section.

It’s always a great idea to rock out to The Stooges, even in sad circumstances such as these.  And if you’re new to the band, hopefully this is the kick you need to get down to the record store and pick up these brilliant albums.