Rage Against the Machine

Over the Weekend (Sept. 21 Edition)

New music, videos, and news to kick off your week…

Eagles of Death Metal are set to release their first album in seven years, and the duo sat down for an interview with Rolling Stone that was in equal parts hilarious and eloquent, which should not be a surprise to anyone with a passing familiarity with their particular exploits.

Another fun interview worth checking out is the one SPIN conducted with Wayne Coyne about the twentieth anniversary of Clouds Taste Metallic, which touched on such topics as to how The Flaming Lips ended up on the Batman Forever soundtrack and the circumstances of the departure of guitarist Ronald Jones from the group.

Ought just came out with their second album last week, and Sun Coming Down has been greeted with rave reviews so far.  For those looking for a taste as to how the new album sounds, the band shared the video to the almost-title track “Sun’s Coming Down” last week.

With the breakthrough success of their album Sunbather still fresh in the minds of critics and fans, Deafheaven’s New Bermuda is set to be one of the most highly anticipated releases of the fall.  They should be highly pleased with the release of the song “Come Back”, as it incorporates many of the elements that people loved about Sunbather with some additional metal touches thrown in for good measure.

New Bermuda is not the only big album being released next Friday, as V from Wavves is also coming out on October 2nd.  The band shared the wrestling-themed video for the single “Way Too Much” last week, and it should get you pumped.

DIIV released the single “Dopamine” last week from their upcoming album Is The Is Are, and you can take a listen to the driving and infectious jangle-pop track through the band’s SoundCloud page.

Diffuser provides a look at the history of the photograph that Rage Against the Machine used for the self-titled debut, providing a bit of context to the unforgettable image of  Quảng Đức’s self-immolation.  Elsewhere on the site, you can find a pretty good list of the 25 Most Underrated Albums of the Past 25 Years, which we can say because we agree with many of the choices.

And finally, in not-unexpected news, the band Viet Cong has announced that they have decided to change their name.  The group still has a few shows left on its tour, including a date in Portland, but have not settled on a new name yet.

The Strange Intersection of Musicians and Politicians

We have a strange political system here in America, where we have managed to turn elections into multi-year affairs.  A lot of this is the fault of the media and especially 24-hour cable news networks, which have to find something with which to fill their airtime, and incisive policy discussion ain’t gonna cut it.  As a result, we end up with breathless coverage of every single appearance that a “candidate” may make, followed by countless pieces which attempt to either present us with straight-up bullshit or worse, find a unique bullshit angle to discuss the bullshit.  No, I am not a cynic.

One such example is this recent piece published in the New Republic concerning music played at political rallies.  There have been several instances over the years where artists have asked candidates to refrain from playing their music, with several providing cease-and-desist orders and threatening other legal action.  The author of this particular piece pleads with these musicians to stop engaging in this practice, and in the name of bipartisanship allow their music to be played without regard to the candidate’s politics.

To this I say: Fuck no.

The author makes a very simple mistake in his argument, and that is to confuse a candidate’s personal taste with his or her professional work.  Simply put, when music is played at a rally, there is an implicit connection made in the minds of the audience between the artist and the candidate.  This is not unintentional–the music is selected to convey a particular message, so there is definitely a level of forethought to the presentation that exists beyond “the candidate likes this song.”  And just as it is the case in film and television, an artist has the right not to associate his or her work with a candidate.  Few would argue that an artist must comply with a filmmaker’s demand or an advertiser’s wishes to include a particular song, so why would one assume that a politician should be able to use a song without regard to the wishes of the artist?  That is part of the protections offered by copyright, and a musician should certainly be able to defend that right.

Squishy notions of bipartisanship should not play a part in the decision at all; it may be that the vast majority of examples of refusals may be against Republican candidates, but an individual musician is under no obligation to make up for the gap when their politics are entirely diametrical.  Survivor had every right to be pissed when their megahit “Eye of the Tiger” was used as the soundtrack to the recent rally for Kim Davis–they would much rather have their song associated with the triumph of Rocky instead of affirming the beliefs of a bigot.  If it means that more conservative candidates have to lean on country cliches, that says more about the current sad state of the genre than anything else.

The editorial was on the right track when it discussed the intrusion into the personal lives of candidates; Springsteen does come off as a dick in his interactions with Chris Christie.  If the candidate can separate personal and professional lives in meeting with a hero, the artist should be able to do the same.  I have no doubt in the sincerity of various politicians when they profess their love of certain bands–even though Paul Ryan’s budgets make it seem like he has never listened to a word that Rage Against The Machine has said, he would not be alone in ignoring the content of their message.

Oh, and just because Neil Young wrote “Rockin’ in the Free World” as a protest against the policies of President George H.W. Bush, that does not mean Young should allow it to be used by a competitor against Bush’s son.  Everything that Young said about Bush goes ten-fold against Mr. Trump.

Over the Weekend (Aug. 17 Edition)

News, new videos, and other fun stuff to help you begin your week…

There had been rumblings for a while now, but now it can be confirmed that Flight of the Conchords are reuniting.  Fans of the hilarious HBO show featuring Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie should be delighted to hear that not only are they making plans to head out on tour next year, but that they are in the initial stages of writing a full-length movie.

The best song of 2014 finally has a video, as Death From Above 1979 shared the music video for “White Is Red” today.  Instead of following along with the riveting narrative described in the song, it mainly consists of footage from the documentary on the band, Life After Death From Above 1979, serving as a very effective advertisement for the film.

Switching the focus to more recent releases, Tame Imapala released a video today for a condensed version of Currents standout “Let It Happen”, focusing on the travails of one of the weariest travelers you will ever see.

Deerhunter released the first single of their upcoming album Fading Frontier this weekend, with frontman Bradford Cox first teasing fans by playing “Snakeskin” on his radio show.  The song is livelier than you might expect considering Deerhunter’s recent material, and you can check it out for yourself as the band has released a video for the song as well.

In another surprise, Talib Kweli has released a free album called Fuck the Money that is available through the website Kweliclub.com.  All of this is of course for free, in case the name of the title was not clear enough for you.

Rage Against The Machine will be releasing a concert film this fall from their recent reunion, as fans from around the world will now be able to see their free concert from London in 2010.

Foo Fighters = content.  Ultimate Classic Rock has the story of how Dave Grohl ended up singing “My Hero” to a crying fan at a recent concert.

Finally, we have a couple of useless lists for your enjoyment.  First, Rolling Stone has compiled one of those extensive, vague lists that only exist to get people arguing, this time ranking the 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time and attempting to show off some fancy web tools at the same time.  A more interesting list is the AV Club Inventory that takes a look at “20 Great Songs Orphaned By Their Namesake Albums”, a concept that took me a few minutes to understand but is nonetheless a pretty cool idea.

Covered: “Fuck Tha Police”

Covered is a feature where we examine the merits of various cover songs, debating whether or not they capture the spirit and intent of the original, if the cover adds anything new, and whether or not it perhaps surpasses the original.  If we fail on those counts, at the very least we may expose you to different versions of great songs you hadn’t heard before.

In light of recent tragic and inexplicable events, it seems an appropriate time to discuss one of my favorite covers of all-time.  Growing up, I didn’t listen to much hip-hop beyond what would crossover into the mainstream, and focused much more of my attention on rock.  So my entry into classic hip-hop comes from a different direction than a lot of people, and was influenced by my love of Rage Against The Machine.  I became a devoted fan of the band soon after the release of Evil Empire, having been transfixed by Tom Morello’s ability to manipulate the guitar in ways beyond its intended purpose in “Bulls On Parade” and “People of the Sun”.  But I also appreciated Zack de la Rocha’s unique drawl and his fiery lyrics, which read into this as much as you need to, very much appealed to a politically-minded middle-schooler.  It wasn’t long before I attempted to track down everything the band did, and with the advent of file-sharing a few years later, that became easier than ever.

One of my first finds in the early days of Napster was a live recording of a one-time cover that the band did at a Philadelphia show back in 1995.  Apparently there had been concern by the local police that rioting would break out at the Rage Against The Machine show, because of the unassailable logic that angry music leads to uncontrollable hooliganism.  The large buildup of police at the show did not escape the band’s notice, and the band extended “a nice, friendly message to the fraternal order of police in Philadelphia.”

I loved the ridiculous pure noise that Tom was able to coax out of his guitar to mimic the turntable in the original and how by slowing the riff down and adding some distortion the entire band was able to create such a hard-edged groove.  It was the perfect example of the group’s ability to find the intersection between rap and rock, something that while many other bands attempted during that era but spectacularly failed to do so (as those who have the painful memories from living through the nu-metal era of the late-90’s can attest).  You can feel Zack’s genuine anger in his performance and the passion that he has in what he says, so it’s easier to forgive a few of his lyrical mistakes or that he only perform’s Ice Cube’s verse.  I loved this cover so much that I spent countless trips to the record store looking through their bins to see if I could find a copy of the import album Live & Rare so I could have it on disc, ultimately proving successful.

As big a fan as I am of the cover, nothing compares to the anger and importance of N.W.A’s original.  Their blunt reaction to the brutality of the LAPD was a shock to the rest of the country, but it gave voice to those who experienced repression on a daily basis but had been ignored to that point.  While many forcefully disagreed with the group’s view and felt that they were a threat, N.W.A was representing the point of view of a constantly persecuted group that felt the need to rebel in any way possible.  This is a response and attitude that is as old as popular music itself, but it speaks to the power of hip-hop (and the power of other biases) that there were those who assumed that every lyric the group spoke was intended to be the truth, and as a result should be censored (we’re seeing this play out once again with the recent Supreme Court case Elonis v. United States).

As for the music itself, the reliance on simple drum machines and turntables are a hallmark of the era but are also used to great effect.  The big hits with each beat provide a nifty contrast to the main funk sample, though the Twilight Zone-ish guitar riff used in the post-chorus hasn’t aged well.  As for the lyrics, there are several great lines throughout, and unfortunately as pointed out above, they are as relevant as ever.

Over the Weekend (July 7 Edition)

Hope everyone had a fun holiday weekend, with all fingers and toes still intact.  On to the news and videos:

Big news last week as Death Grips broke up, just in time for me to miss seeing them on their tour with Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails.  To tell you the truth, I wasn’t fully expecting the group to show up, considering their history, but it’s a bummer nonetheless.  The “break-up” makes sense, in either their own narrative of being an art project or an outsider’s perspective of being a pure troll-job.  At least we can say that a lot of rich people gave them money, and they repaid that debt by giving the public a lot of cool music for free.

Some might say that the biggest news was the leak that Pink Floyd is releasing a new album, but this is only significant for people who never listened to The Division Bell and don’t care that Roger Waters is not involved in the new project.  Still, if you’re looking for an excuse to turn out the lights and fire up Wish You Were Here, might as well make it this one.

Or you could listen to “Wish I Was Here”, a collaboration between Cat Power and Coldplay for the new Zach Braff film of the same name.  I don’t remember much of the movie “Garden State”, but if it got more people to listen to The Shins, I’m perfectly fine with its existence.  I still get chills listening to “New Slang”.

Continuing with another (un)expected collaboration, Rolling Stone has the latest video to result from the Miley Cyrus/Flaming Lips partnership, this time with special guest Moby.  Yes, drugs were involved.

Jack White is continuing to clear out his vault, and announced the release of a single from his band The Dead Weather, along with a live album from The White Stripes.  Pitchfork has the details if you’re interested.

If you’re in the mood for some reading, you could do better than read the AV Club’s Hatesong feature, which continues to be a waste of time for most everybody involved.  This past week saw a comedian complain about Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls On Parade” because…he was in 8th grade and didn’t like his classmates that liked the song.  AV Club, you’re better than this.

If you need something to lift up your spirits after that, no worries: we finally have a new song from Death From Above 1979.  The track “Trainwreck 1979” made its debut on Zane Lowe’s program on BBC Radio 1, and you can catch it at about the 1 hour and 54 minute mark.  Be sure to set your cursor back a couple of minutes before that, as Zane explains the significance of You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine to many music fans, even if it never sold all that much.  It reminds me of “Sexy Results”, but a quicker and dirtier version of it.  In other words, it’s grimy, but still has a good dance beat.

[Edited to add:] The band has uploaded a lyric video for “Trainwreck 1979” and have also included information to pre-order the new album The Physical World on their Facebook page.

Still bored?  Check out some Best Albums So Far lists, courtesy of Relix and Stephen Thomas Erlewine.  Several the albums we’ve touted appear on both lists, so good news for us, but they should also provide the opportunity to discover other new artists as well.

And last but not least, Spoon continues to release new tracks from its upcoming release, They Want My Soul.  The band released “Do You”, plus Brit stopped by the BBC Radio 6 studio to do a quick acoustic show and interview.

So, How’d That Happen? — “Godzilla”

With the newest iteration of Godzilla being released this Friday, now is as good a time as any to ask this question: how did possibly the greatest song in the entire Rage Against The Machine catalog end up on the soundtrack to an incredibly shitty film?

Mind you, I have no answers or inside knowledge as to how it occurred.  Yes, there is a mention of the beloved monster in the lyrics.  Of course, the full line is “Godzilla?  Pure motherfuckin’ filler, get your eyes off the real killer.”  I would never excuse entertainment executives of ignoring salient context, but you would think someone would have said at some point “this song is kind of mocking the very existence of this movie, is it a great idea to include it on the soundtrack?”  I would imagine if this question was so posed, that the answer was “Any publicity is good publicity; we’re just being edgy, kids eat that shit up.”

But that distracts a bit from my original point, that this is some of Rage Against The Machine’s finest work.  It doesn’t feature any incredible guitar theatrics from Tom Morello (the solo is basically just one tremolo’d wah note played multiple times, like a whacked-out version of the memorable one-note solo from Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl”), but it does feature a groovy riff and a rocking coda, and some of Zach de la Rocha’s best lyrics.  It’s such a great song that I spent years trying to find the Australian import of The Battle of Los Angeles so I could have the song on an actual Rage album, and not some crappy soundtrack where I’d have to skip around to get to the good stuff.  I did end up finding a certain version of the “Guerrilla Radio” single that included the track, so it all ended up working pretty well.

That said, there were some hidden gems on that soundtrack.  I always thought that “A320” fitted nicely along with other well-known classic Foo Fighters tracks, and is definitely their most underrated song.  I could listen to that ever-escalating coda forever.  And then there’s “Deeper Underground”, which I’m told is one of Jamiroquai’s better songs, at least from that period (confirmation from RIJR has yet to take place).  Finally, we have the remixed version of “Brain Stew” which not only adds some nice electronic touches, but also includes well-placed Godzilla screams.  I’ve always said that we need more Godzilla remixes of songs, and it’s too bad that no one has taken on that mantle.  Can’t you imagine how bitching a Godzilla remix of The Shins’ “New Slang” would be?  It would totally take that song to another level.

I can only hope to be pleasantly surprised this weekend, and that we find out that history repeats itself and we randomly get another brilliant Rage Against The Machine song.  It would definitely help take the sting out of the Blazers’ elimination a little bit.