Friday, September 9, 2011

On The Beatles' "You Never Give Me Your Money"

Inspired by Bret Easton Ellis recent obsession with the song, I wanted to peel back the layers of that perplexing and transporting Beatles deep cut (well, as close as they have to a deep cut), "You Never Give Me Your Money", the halfway point of their last album Abbey Road. Also: I can get really intense about The Beatles so...

It's the official starting point for the Side 2 song suite. Actually, I think "Because" might be but "...Money" is the first movement in the segue. "Because" seems related because it does all the things that the suite does that Side 1 does not. That is to say, every song on Side 1 has impugnable integrity. This does not imply quality but rather that these songs are unto themselves, complete, and wanting for nothing. Every song in the suite seeks the next one. I realize this is an artifact of never having perceived these songs any either way but I'd also argue that their inherent qualities are such that any alternative presentation would be impossible.

If "Because" is the primal soul burst that presages the searching song suite, "You Never Give Me Your Money" is the elaborated taffy pull overture. Paul McCartney never met an idea that he didn't like, or was unable to cram on top of, in front of, or during an otherwise complete piece of music. That the five separate movements of this song not only work but sound organic against each other is a testament not simply to McCartney's songwriting acumen but to tapping into the weird conflicting winds of his band's dissolution.

"You Never Give Me Your Money" is about endings and beginnings, just like the suite is about endings and beginnings. And like the suite, the song connects ideas that don't seem to have any relation to one another. Which brings me to...hard stop here...what the hell is this song about? There's that plaintive intro (which is weirdly the only iteration of the chorus) about "negotiations" and "situations". It sounds like a bad business deal, or perhaps a divorce. Then we're transported via parlor piano to the situation of virtually every middle class twenty-something (and shit, some thirty-somethings) in the Western world: out of school, broke, and in debt. What did this person have to offer in the negotiations of the preceding section? This might be a story told out of time, with the narrator seeking refuge in the nostalgia of simpler times, hence the jauntiness.

"But oh, that magic feeling/nowhere to go"

This is the precipice of an emotion that we are about to dive into headfirst, wading through a forest of "oohs" and "aahs" and heavenly arpeggiated guitars. This is the first climax of the album and its a foreshadowing for the "real" one in "Golden Slumbers" but this is the one that hits home for me. Once Paul takes us off that cliff with his last "nowhere to go", we are in that uncanny spot that he was in, realizing that his band was done without it actually being done yet. And he was finding peace and joy in that moment while still realizing that the end was nigh. We mirror our incidents onto that if only because at that point, people who heard this record when it came out had to have realized that they were halfway through the last Beatles album.

This shot in the arm of joyous sentiment sends us into the "one sweet dream" motif which is introduced by Lennon's strange prog-y guitar solo, climbing and reaching as far as it can go before dropping us down into the dream, which feels like an escape, which doesn't feel exactly like what the narrator originally wanted to do but "step on the gas and wipe that tear away," he does. What is the "one sweet dream"? Is it the strange menagerie of characters, ad-libbed weirdness, and psychedelic images that comprise the rest of the suite up until "Golden Slumbers" (which gets us back to the grounding bummer theme of dissolution)? That's a convenient summation but who knows.

"1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7/All good children go to heaven"

I have no clue what this means but it's sung with such sincerity and conviction that it relieves the emotional consternation of the preceding. I have no doubt that Paul McCartney sincerely believes that hearing some variation on "it's gonna be okay" is a very real way to alleviate stressful circumstances. Perhaps it's a testament to The Beatles' talent (and a by-product of the legendarily grueling recording regimen they were subjected to) that they could churn a handful of seemingly disparate ideas slap them together and defy them not to make narrative and musical sense, while speaking to the depths of their mental states at the time. And perhaps stitched-together ideas, as William Burroughs once opined, will make a greater sense than we allow ourselves to make in real time. This is all to say that this song is a joy and a lesson and far ahead of its time.


Monday, June 13, 2011

An(other) update

I'm writing a novel.

There's a bunch of other things going on as well, but the one that I am most excited about, particularly because it seems the most daunting, is a full-length prose novel.


It's an SF/fantasy story set in 1983. Its locale is the West San Fernando Valley near LA, which is where I grew up. This book is important to me for a lot of reasons but that stuff is better to share when you have the actual book in your hands. For now, I'll explain a little bit about what I want to pull off with this book.

The idea in a nutshell, is that this book be both smart and entertaining. I want it to be both a quick, plot-heavy read and a dense slow-burner with hidden layers for those who wish to take their time. Also: topping out at 200-250 pp. max. Books are SO goddamn long, aren't they? Who are these motherfuckers in 2011 who think they have 500+ pp. of interesting shit to say? I want to trim the fat and make every paragraph just thick with ideas, images, and moods. This book will be edited within an inch of its life--no wasted scenes, no gratuitous references to my favorite indie rock song, no chapter-long expositions.

Oh, also remember how I said it was an SF/fantasy book, but it's set in the Valley in '83? Yeah, that doesn't mean there will be a door in our world that leads to another dimension where people are named Terl and fly on multi-headed winged beasts. Nothing against that stuff (really) but I'm trying to achieve a tone of believability that I don't often see in the genre and have it play as realistic. This will be a book for people who pick up genre fiction and go, "ugh, not this again," and for people who pick up experimental or 'high' literature and wish there was a plot. It's about a father and his son and that's all I should say for now.

It's called The Anglekeeper, I'm about 1/3 of the way done with it, and I can't wait to share it with the world.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Vista 2: The Young Murderers

Vista 2: The Young Murderers
[Stardate: 20110315]

“Keep all your heads DOWN! I’ll tell you when it’s your turn.” I’m lying face-down in Timothy’s Market at lunch time, feeling a pool of someone else’s blood soak my last clean white shirt. My right eye scanned the room wondering who was alive but everyone else is on the ground too. I hear moans, encouraging moans. My name is Kevin Dwight Page and I do not want to die in the town I grew up in.

My bruised lip touched the cool linoleum. Oh god, it felt so good. A wave of guilt accumulated and hit me like a motherfucker from every time I felt comfortable while others suffered—when Kally got sick after her abortion and I went to Reno with Rick and Jeremy Renfro, when my mom didn't eat for a whole week while we were on food stamps and I had stashed a Hostess Cup Cake that I wouldn't share, when my brother died in Iraq at the exact time (I figured it out) I was getting a blowjob from Christy Sanders. If I get out of this, I will reverse my desire to be on the receiving end of the gifts I find in this world. I have to give someone else that gift.


Jesse Klier and Mike Beatty came down from the hills overlooking Parable, CA (pop. 1400) to Timothy's Market during lunchtime (when barbeque is served) expecting fifteen but they only got five men and women, lambs to carve with their angel of death-looking scythes. The first hit was Dr. Carter, who got a hack to the thigh so deep, the rusty teeth lodged into this femur. Mike had to step down on his leg so he could pull the blade out; he stepped so hard, Dr. Carter’s leg just snapped like plywood. His screams cut through the air for the duration of the slaughter. The weird part was that these screams, instead of weighing on the hearts of the killers, made their work easier. There’s something about a perpetual sound, no matter how horrid, that starts to become soothing. It loses its edge because it literally has no end: a scream with no shock and no cut. So they cut more and felt less remorse, severing flesh, gouging eyes, tearing limb from torso. While Mr. Carter wailed like an infinite stuck pig, they were getting into the physicality of it all, realizing they were naturals at the sport of hacking the human body. If Dr. Carter knew that he was making it easier for them to kill, he’d have winced in silence, holding back the pain past tears and vomit.

Before this, neither Jesse nor Mike had even so much as punched another man. Today was about transformation—they could feel every new kill in their bones, in their blood, infusing their being with responsibility, irrevocable gestures that they had no choice but to own. Their weapons breaking skin slowly and tentatively at first—Jesse held them down (he was the sturdier of the two at 260 pounds, 6’2”) and Mike ran the blade—then graduating to precise butcher-like flesh rending. It felt good, they thought, to exercise their ability to change the reality. Outside, the freezing cold crystallized the green of a new spring.

In the aftermath, this will be characterized as a senseless tragedy. It was a tragedy. It wasn't senseless. The sense that Mike and Jesse had was that on the deepest structural level, nothing would ever change. Kings are born kings but these two young men received the poor fate to serve. Only tearing at the fabric of their fate would force God to sew them a new one.

Jesse Klier’s mom is the Queen of Dumb. I say this not to be unduly obnoxious but to highlight that she’s never said a single insightful or clever thing in her life. I give Jesse a break because I cannot imagine a more exceptionally unfortunate fate than to be born to a woman like Bernadette Klier.

Because there is literally nothing else she can do in this life in exchange for payment (including housekeeping) she assigns numbers at the DMV in Redwood, CA, about two and a half hours drive from here. Half her daily paycheck goes to the gas she uses to get there and back, which bothers Jesse way more than it does her. She comes home, heats up a red-beef burrito and opens an orange soda, and watches this television program about a kid who solves crimes by talking to his dog. A constantly thickening layer of Ho-Hos and bad TV dulls her senses to where she can barely turn a deadbolt. If I could see anything in Jesse’s eyes it was fear—fear that callousness like that was even possible. I think that’s the only thing that’s different about us. I see that and I want to leave this place, put myself as far away from it as possible. He sees it and he starts to sink…

A damp iron chill hung in the air. My lungs filled with cold blood vapor. Jesse stood over us with his head arched. His upper lip twitched up at the corner of his mouth as he looked over the carnage, physically unable to have an opinion about it but under the impression that he processing it. The twitch was the humble morality of a guy who’s never done shit in his life revisiting a body that was now occupied by the Black Angel of Death’s right-hand man. The profound division inside a body fueled by cheetos and orange soda made him so sick he felt he’d throw up his internal organs. For the first time in his life, he felt what a “splitting” headache was.

Mike—whose arm was drenched elbow-deep in blood from plumbing Vicki Sanchez's belly with a bladed knuckle (his own invention)—was, of course, our Black Angel of Death incarnate. He was mainlining Christ’s blood, feeling the power of a god while on this earth. This inverse divinity was so far off the map of his fated path, you could practically see the universe ripping around him, shafts of light emerging to close the gaps in the realm of the perceived. The screams of Mr. Carter have faded to reveal the eerie low groan of the newly dead. There’s one body left before the Black Angel’s feast completes; then he’s a free agent again. Occupation is the name of the game in the hungry spirit world and (apparently) no one’s hungrier than Death.

“What are ya thinkin’ about?” Jesse barely mumbled these words, thucking me in the stomach with his steel toes. He did this lightly for a 260-pound guy, which is to say I tasted this morning’s mac and cheese coming back up.

I don’t know why I said this: “I was wondering…why are you lettin’ me live?”

Mike rushed to interrupt this little moment here: “Hey yo, Jesse, don’t listen to this fuck. Who says we’re letting you live? You see how I’m killing motherfuckers? Wait your turn!”

“You’re talkin’ to me. You didn’t talk to anybody else. Didn’t even wanna look at them.”

“What, fucker?!?!” Even with the teeth of that blade on my neck, I was convinced: he would have done it by now.

“It’s too late. You can’t do me.”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!!!” The words rang in my ears so bad, I didn’t even notice he had kicked me in the head, and harder than before. Blood ran down my mouth leaving a metal taste against my lips and creating that light-headedness that comes from the sensation of lifeforce oozing out of my body. Oh god, I thought, this is really happening. They’re all dead and I’m very likely dying. I think I’m taking this more seriously than my attackers. And that might be a good thing.

Mike kneeled down to press his arm against the back of my throat. “You wanna know what? It was Jesse’s idea.”


“He thinks you’re smart. He looks up to you. I mean, come on, you’re smart.” He was whispering this to me in a conspiratorial tone. Was he trying to get out of this, and get out of it with me?

I REALLY don’t know why I said this: “I’m not special, Mike. Tell you what—you both leave and I’ll say I did this.”


“Don’t fuck with me, Kevin.”

“I’m not fucking with you one bit. You leave. I’ll take the fall. Who would know? They’re all dead. It’s just your word against mine.”

“Why would you do something like that for US?” Mike’s lip was trembling while he touched his blade to my head. “You got a scholarship and shit; y’all gonna be famous. You throwing that away?”

“I want to give you things that no one’s ever given you. It’s just generosity. That’s all we’ve got separating us, man. Generosity.

“The FUCK you talking about?!”

“I’ve already been given chances and I don’t want to stay small.”

I couldn’t see Mike’s face; he was staring at the ground and breathing deep breaths. He suddenly became the linchpin, and seemingly wasn’t pleased with the fact.

“This sounds like…I don’t know…this sounds like…some kinda bullshit. I have an idea, Kevin. You—.”

It happened way too fast. I heard Mike’s wrist snap. That’s all. Jesse had turned Mike’s blade on his gut, forcing the tip of the scythe through his stomach. Forced pounds of pressure set the blade deep before stopping at his vertebrae. It’s fascinating how unaware of his strength Jesse is. His whole body was vibrating as his friend fell silently with this, the last death of the day.

I looked over and Jesse was staring at me, not concentrating but staring fixedly like his daze would produce an answer. When at the point at which I looked so deep into Jesse’s eyes that I could see he was there in a life support capacity only, which is to say no one was home, I projected my self, entered his shell and began to see through his eyes. I observed myself through another person’s body for the first time, which oddly made me feel like my existence was suddenly negated. Phased.

When I say I occupied his body, I’m not speaking metaphorically. I was now in control of the body of Jesse Klier. There is a point at which the animus vacates the shell just so and I have a window of opportunity to take over. It’s sort of like breaking into a house when the person’s on the shitter but you have to be careful—once they’re alerted to your presence, you’re out. Right now though, Jesse, stone terrified by how fucked things had gotten, was more than happy to let me take the reins for the foreseeable future.

Oh, and I didn’t know ANY of this shit yet. I was just looking at my own face thinking I’d died or gone insane and wondering if I’d know the difference.

“Who are you?”

Someone said it. I think it was me. I didn’t mean it to be deep. I meant it in the most boringly literal sense possible. Then I heard it.

“Boy, wassa MATTER w’ you?!”

It was Dr. Carter.

“Wassa MATTER with YOOOOU?!?!”


“Murderer…’s too young…t’ be a MURDERER!!! Brough chu boys…inna th’ worl…”

“I’m not a murderer.”

“I never...never forget…I don—MMMF.”

Sigh. Deep breath. He was dying. He’d lost a lot of blood for a man his age to even be talking let alone lecturing me. I turned around to face him, as Jesse. It was the least I could do.

“Never forget…a face. Y’do sumpin’ GOOD, son. Sumpin’ fer CHRIST. Don’t die…without…”

Goodbye, Dr. Carter.

Here’s what’s gonna happen: Jesse, you and I are trading bodies. All you need to do is stay here, occupy my body, and NOT fuck up. I’m gonna leave right now in your body and figure out how to get you another chance. We’ll meet back in town when I’m done and trade back. I promise all of that. Jesse nodded with my face. I asked him for my keys and left.

Being poorly versed in the transmigration of souls, I was surprised at how well I was improvising. Mike had chained and padlocked the front door. I, having neither time nor inclination to search his corpse for the keys, remembered I was strong as fuck, covered my knuckles in a shirt, punched through the glass door and walked away from that grisly scene without so much as looking sideways. I got into my car and drove towards Eureka, for once welcoming the hours of unpopulated mountain road that lay ahead.

Nothing precludes the possibility of redemption. With that in mind, I drive north.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Vista 1: The Ex and The Alien

[Stardate 20101205]

She didn't need me, he realized, walking through a dark, drenched countryside on this most ordinary of November nights. I walk here after dinner to help me digest. I do this with such regularity I don't think it's particularly effective anymore. What a time to think such a thing. It's never when you think it'll happen...

It's not that she didn't love me. I know she did or at least she said she did. She wasn't lying about that. But need is something more. I need her. I want her to need me. Relationships are egalitarian by default, rarely betraying their imbalance. It's like being a character in a D&D game; depending on your skill levels and experience, the same quanta of affection can be overwhelming or trifling. That same force makes the relationship an emotionally tenable idea while it exists and a painfully ironic one when it's over.

I hear ducks from far off (or what sound to me like ducks) and it helps to distract me from this train of thought. Sometimes, the loud quack of a duck can make you laugh and take your mind off the worst shit if you let it. That's the kind of mood I'm in, listening to animals and wishing for a psychic takeover by modest emotions.

When I see ice on the lake, it reminds me of her but not her when she let me go. Her when she was a new world -- a gentle land ruled by 3 purple-lipped princesses with white bare feet, too delicate to stand on our profane Earth. I bring forth this vision and I suddenly feel calmer than a man witnessing the birth of his last child.

There was a time, at the beginning, when we spent every night together. At some point after we fell asleep, I'd feel her fingertips search my thigh until she clasped her hand around my balls. This relaxed me immeasurably, like a bath in warm water. In half-consciousness, I would imagine, that she derived some kind of power from this act. She held my nuts like they were a badge granting her access to some outer dimension otherwise restricted. If she wanted, she could present my nuts to St. Peter and it'd be sufficient currency to enter the heavens. That's what I believed.

Through these seemingly insignificant gestures, she made me unbelievably confident. I could walk through walls. My mind cut through glass. There was an orb, a sephira, inside of my chest that came alight at the thought of these transfers of power. The smaller my mind became, the more this orb would grow, expanding out of my solar plexus, salving and aligning every organ and tissue that it passed on its way out of my skin to surround me, now parting my feet from the ground as it ballooned into a circumscribing vessel. This was my protection.

And just in time, for what should stand before me but H.R. Giger's Alien, all sinewy armored musculature, acid blood stream, and deadly oral protrusion. Standing a full ten feet looming above me, I realized that it was in fact crouched for once its arms spread out and its legs straightened, it stood close to fifteen feet. Shit.

Alien reared back, spouting a fountain of acid skyward (perhaps just to frighten or mock me? Well, mission accomplished for I felt frightened and mocked and perhaps I peed a little.) In one fluid motion, it's torpedo-shaped head shot back down, like a smooth igneous meteor, aimed for my face. I braced myself with clenched teeth for an impact that never came. The beast was shut down, knocked back on its ass by the resilience of my protective orb, my expanded sephira. Dear god: what would I do with this power? Would I be the envy of Ripley and several outer-space Marines (RIP)?

As it turns out, my powers were merely defensive in nature. All I could do, effectively, was deflect the creature's powerful strikes, divert its caustic life's blood, and simply stand my ground. Each attack more powerful than the last, I figured victory would be mine through Alien's eventual exhaustion. Not that I knew anything about the physiology or endurance of the xenomorph. Perhaps it had reserves of energy beyond calculable time and this was, in fact, merely a warmup. I wondered if exertion somehow invigorated this species, causing it to gain as much energy as it expended in a feedback loop of horror that ends with my defenses compromised and my skin and vital organs similarly, gruesomely compromised.

It was Alien's last attack that presented an option. Its death dildo probosces shot with such speed, the inverted energy knocked the beast back many dozens of yards into the cab of an ancient rust-corroded Ford F-150 with the concentrated rubbery force of an injurious racquetball. The beast was so contorted and malpositioned from its forced entry into the otherwise spacious seating area of an American truck, I suddenly realized I would have time to strike back provided I had the testicular fortitude to strike NOW.

Despite all good judgment, I charged the ten yards towards the beast. My orb, as I expected, made impact with the truck and moved it with relatively reasonable ease for a 5000 object. It was, however, on wheels so I dug in my heels and pushed, and pushed until movement begat momentum and at last the truck, with xenomorph in tow, hurtled towards a massive hole in the ground. Said hole is the portal to a subterranean scrapping factory whose many metal levels caved from the weight of the plummeting truck. The fall couldn't be significantly dolorous to Alien but what lay at the base most certainly would be--a metal shredding maw automated to function upon contact. Indeed, upon contact the shredder began to operate without a shred of remorse, gnashing into alien flesh. I could hear the ungodly screech, like a pterodactyl impaled and descending down a long wood stake, somehow living to experience the pain with exponentially increasing acuity.

Mercifully, for me and it, the maw finished its work, its gears and teeth eaten by acidic spew. Smoke rose from the wreckage which looked beyond recognition and betrayed no visible sign of life, structure, or any other cognizable form of dignity. A wretched tangle of flesh and metal remained and Alien was gone. It was all thanks to her. Emboldening gestures of love and affection need not be reciprocated or matched to be real. Real enough to defeat a homicidal alien whose entire existence is predicated upon the hunting of frailer beings. Through this most improbable encounter, I realized that a subtle power builds by letting things just happen. Letting my partner touch my balls while I slept, letting her stay with me even though I knew it would end. Now, with a mangled alien corpse between us, I could let her go. Thanks for the memories, the strength, and an education on the perception (not the reality) of imbalance.

Despite this all, I'm gonna start running now, because I certainly saw Alien's arm protrude forthright from the wreckage. Superhuman shielding forged by sincere affection is quite an ally but so's a head start.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

An actual update

A friend mentioned that they'd bookmarked my blog so I've decided to start updating it again. So what's been up you ask?

I've been doing a lot of metal journalism for Invisible Oranges, the metal blog edited by Cosmo Lee. Here's a link to my entries. I used to write a MySpace blog called The Metal Apologist (all entries of which are collected on THIS blog) and my writing at IO can be considered a substitute for MA.

The Atomic Bomb Audition has been my main focus as of late. We just self-released our 3rd album, Roots Into The See. It's available on vinyl LP and high-quality digital download ONLY. You can buy or listen to it here:

Lastly, my ongoing concern has been a first attempt at a large-scale writing project. This is a graphic novel script entitled Silver. I'm reluctant to share script pages; how much meaning can one glean from a technical comic script with panel descriptions and lettering instructions substituting for evocative prose? I can, however, share my essential pitch/logline:

Silver is a point of convergence: a potent chemical, a revolutionary device, a woman with staggering psychic powers—these 3 elements synthesize to create a great weapon that unravels the fabric of our reality. This is the story of the inevitabilities that lead to this convergence and its consequences.

Anything regarding this story that seems "shareable" (i.e. suitably protected and developed for your profane eyes) will make its way to CoPR.

Alee Karim & The Science Fiction will record new material this Winter to be shared in 2011. Be prepared for mega sonic evolutions and LOTS of synth via Shayna and Norman.

Cheers and thanks for reading/caring,

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Metal Apologist - Mastodon, San Jose, 21 November 2009

If you attended the Mastodon/Dethklok/Converge/High On Fire show and you were paying very close attention, you could see the quiet journey of a bright soul led into the black. Basically, I think it's a case of the proverbial bottom line butting up most obnoxiously against the art of the thing. Now don't get me wrong - I completely understand that marketing, product placement, and dumb dude dollars are a necessary evil, an engine of the entertainment business. I stopped crying sellout when I realized it's worth it to make some concessions so you can do your art for a living rather than scoop ice cream at the drug store to keep your integrity intact. And really you have to give some respect where it's due to the people who do all the shitty work to advertise and provide infrastructure to our fun. But you know, sometimes the cheap commerce side of things sinks its fangs way too deep into the true beating heart of artistic divinity, reminding you that our tolerance veils its nature, haggard and vampiric by the light of the latter.

Let's start at the top: Brian and I arrived at the San Jose Events Center circa 7pm. Actually it was 7:15pm and I was confused as to why Converge were on stage given that High On Fire were set to go on first. Well, a marginally helpful young man (who seemed genuinely confused as to why I would talk to him) informs me that High On Fire DID in fact go on, hewing precisely to the scheduled 6:30pm start time. Wow. Who made it down here (that is, from the greater Bay Area to South Bay; I assume that's a decent portion of the audience but I could be wrong) on a Saturday night before fucking dinner time to catch these fellas? I have to remember to reset my internal rock clock for these big venue shows - mercilessly on-time. Also where's the respect for HoF, these now elder statesmen of the scene? It's kinda heartbreaking; like when you see 70-year-old men working at Walgreen's. There needs to be a Musician's Scene Cred Roth/IRA that you start building up when your band forms so that in 10 or 15 years, no matter how many times Pitchfork or the white belt crowd pass you over, your band is assured teacher's salaries and mid-size venue headlining tours. Jeez, lest we forget the ironic fact that headliners Mastodon met one another at an HoF show over ten years ago.

On to Converge, who from the moment we arrived were seemingly tearing it up. Let me rephrase that: they were indeed tearing it up but that was not the perception of a plurality or at least a very vocal minority in the audience. I've never heard such savage booing for an opening band. They ate it up like pros and I was kinda teary-eyed and inspired to seem a band react so bravely. Their set ended and I really needed to know: what was Converge's transgression? We asked two separate groups of kids what they thought but they were either mildly enthusiastic about the band or benignly indifferent and... well... I'm a bad journalist because I gave up after surveying .01% of the control population. I didn't learn much either as the guys we spoke to were also perplexed at this bad reception. For me, the distorted guitars, the gruff vocals, and the massive collusion of bass, drums and guitars forming what we refer to as the "riff" seems like common enough ground for all four bands to...converge upon. So what got everyone's ire up? I'm the worst judge for this; I'm an artist, not a critic. The thing is that my taste in music is kinda like the positive flip side of the stereotypical mom who says all that heavy metal sounds the same. It isn't all the same when you get down to the details but for most intents and purposes, on a fundamental level it IS the same. Catharsis through volume, sonic shrapnel, massive emotional bloodletting - that's what Iron Maiden, Morbid Angel, Godflesh, Opeth, and Emperor (for a few examples) all have in common for me. And apparently if you put each of those bands' diehard fans all in the same room, the collected will NOT agree on much. My guess: the hardcore-flecked vocal delivery, the scruffy and natural-sounding guitar, the dynamic, not-constant-pitter-patter-of-double-bass-drum-pedals probably equals total turnoff for an audience weened on that perfectly cut 24-carat diamond that is the modern death metal recording. That kind of flawless, Pro-Tooled horse stampede was yet to come. That's just my theory though I do feel some solidity there. Shit, maybe even I couldn't have gotten on board with something like Converge if I were a little younger. Well, yeah I could have but if I hadn't, I don't know what would have compelled me to actually BOO the band. Hey kids: stop being such fucking townies or risk growing up to realize you're 40, have experienced nothing more exotic than the cajun taco roll at 7-11, and drive by your high school once a week with tears in your eyes. I might be exaggerating.

Fortunately, I think all those bad vibes got inverted into some extra-keen enthusiasm because we all went apeshit when Mastodon took the stage, my cynical ass included. Seriously though, I had a really good reason. I happen to believe that Mastodon's Crack the Skye is no less than this generation's Led Zeppelin IV - epic storytelling enrobed in heavy cinematic rock music that crosses over without pandering; that is, it transcends. Of course, the riffs are still brutal and metal-borne but what I'm trying to say is, for example, you don't think of Stevie Wonder as a guy who plays R&B or soul or pop - you think of him as something unto himself. His music is obviously rooted in identifiable styles but he doesn't fit squarely in any of them and eventually he created the Stevie Wonder spot, a kingdom of one. Diehards accused Mastodon of getting too glossy and too proggy with this record, a stance articulated fairly enough in a pretty scathing review via Invisible Oranges. I think Cosmo's on to something in his analysis if not his conclusions; the band have drifted considerably from their straighter metal roots. However I think he misses the point for though they've become less metal, they've become convincingly more themselves. Personally I think their early years yielded their safest, least distinct output. In fact, I think this may have been the key to their early success: they baited an audience with simple, satisfying metal, gradually switching in the epic sweep that came to a head with CtS. They're like your new friend who's into all the same shit as you (metal and beer) and then gets drunk and comfortable and admits he cried when he saw "Beaches".

If I ever harbored a doubt that Crack the Skye was Mastodon's victory lap it was certainly allayed by the bluster with which they executed the album live. As Cosmo Lee points out, what Mastodon lack in overdubs live (and Crack the Skye has a bazillion of them, albeit mostly for textural purposes) they more than make up for in raw power and the sheer charisma with which they wield it. Every one was feeling it too, singing along to every word in this strange double-headed story that intertwines the tragic suicide of drummer Brann Dailor's teenage sister many years ago with the purported transmigration of Rasputin after his assassination many more years ago. That's exactly the kind of nebulous, unwieldy semi-story that makes for the best concept album in my opinion, the kind that has a sturdy sense of narrative while giving room to dream.

And dream I did. These immersive sound worlds each inhabit their own compositional logic. Motifs unfold rather than progress, transitions emerge as inevitable results of the riff's genetic code. This is a story of re-incarnation, of one soul inhabiting seven shells represented by the seven unique yet interconnected musical movements that comprise the record. Mastodon's serpentine motifs can seem a little top-heavy at times, as though they could have shaved off a note or five and saved themselves some trouble. Yet CtS finds this approach better illustrating the complex landscape of psychic travel - this is, after all, the sound of teenagers transmuting into czars. It's not all quantum physics either as they eke real dimension by seesawing between the Neanderthal and the abstruse with alchemical deliberation. Exultant, airborne arpeggios are soon dragged down into tar by massive gravitational doom-chords, moving our minds through the spheres via Byzantine sonic architecture.

Five older songs followed Crack the Skye and then just like that, Mastodon were calling it a night. Despite their confidence and swagger onstage, the dudes were downright bashful when they said their thank yous and goodbyes. It was charming in that Southern way. They were clearly humbled by the adulation and dare I say by the music itself, privileged to have made a truly classic album in the vein of old Floyd or Zeppelin. How strange then that the house lights soon came up, signaling there would be no encore. Huh? Now, I'm not a big fan of encores generally; I'm all for a band saying their bit within the margins of a set. I think the margins in this case were a bit narrow though. They couldn't have played for more than ~85 minutes and as Mastodon were surely the stars of the night, maybe they could've languished in the spotlight a bit longer. Right? I guess not. I couldn't help connecting this unceremonious end with the audience's reaction to Converge. Was a fickle audience in charge here and worst of all, were the masters of ceremony abiding their whims? Don't play too long. Don't play these sounds. Are audiences in 2009 severely allergic to having their expectations challenged?

On to Dethklok, remarkably the world's second animated band. I found myself in the confusing position of feeling uncomfortable during their set despite being a huge fan of "Metalocalypse". First off, the live band format really robs the whole Dethklok universe of its charm. Brendan Small's earnest death metal facsimiles successfully buttress the hilariously clever story arcs of the show. Without those stories, the songs come across as pretty vacant. It's that same lack of narrative that makes the interspersed animated clips fall flat as well. These focus on banter between the characters, sight gags, and... video game endorsements. So you're left with a de-fanged disassembly of a musical parody. Really? This is what we've been led up to all night? There was something so cynical and disappointing about seeing this after the emotional rush of Mastodon's set. It was so weird to negate the profundity of their and Converge's music by serving Dethklok as the final dish. Surely, whoever put this together could have exhibited more class. Now let me say this: I have sincere respect and admiration for Mr. Small's work. But certainly some deference was in order. It's so impossibly ironic that three hard-working, blue-collar bands with an astonishing THIRTY-FIVE YEARS of touring between them got lapped for draw by the two-year-old made-up band. More apropos at least if the order had been first cartoon band, then Mastodon. Furthermore, I wondered if Mastodon even needed the pull of a co-headliner or if Dethklok were just padding to ensure turnout. I get that business is business but at the same time, it's all based on judgment calls so it's imperfect too. I'm no promoter but I had a feeling that they could've drawn the same without Dethklok, that the latter were just a pleasant diversion for most.

Ultimately, I think this situation alienated me a little bit more from seeing live music and I was already a little bummed about live music anyway. My peak musical experience will always be listening to a record in private from top to bottom. That's where the emotions and dreams really take flight. Everyone goes off about the exhilaration and visceral nature of a live show and I get that but I also can't forget that I'm there to buy a beer, and buy a shirt, and pay a service charge and really, the music is secondary to all that. One look at this video of Van Halen playing an out-of-tune "Jump" ought to tell you that. I'm skeptical of how dumb crowd momentum overshadows a sense of humor, complete thoughts, and other things that I find valuable in art. On the other hand, you have ear-shattering volume, human energy and interaction, and pretty lights. I like those things. At long last, it's not the end of the fucking world if the cartoon band brings in the bucks and dumb kids boo the hardcore band, etc. I think these bleak economic times find the more principled folks among us conceding to those aforementioned dumb dude dollars to keep doing what they do. But goddamnit, it's time for a band like Mastodon to step to the front of the class - headlining arenas, 2-hour sets, rabid fans screaming until they're hoarse for a five-song encore. It reminds me of something that the band HEALTH said in an interview not too long ago. To paraphrase, they wondered aloud whether a 21st-century band can truly arrive in the classic sense given the all but disintegrated state of the music industry. In Mastodon's case, it remains to be seen and I wouldn't rule anything out for their future. Perhaps it's merely a question of confidence on the part of the band or their management. There's a legion of people out there who will be very on board with a little more audacity from those fellows. Of that I am sure.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

New review of "Light Will Remain"

Read it below or visit speed, glue and music to check it out all pretty-like there.

"My co-writer here at Speed, Glue and Music tells me that there are people in San Francisco that actually read this blog!! Is this true? Feel free to leave some comments or share your blogs with us! Anyway since San Francisco is showing us some love, I thought I would review a SF an Oakland band that as far as I know hasn't really received much exposure yet (I could surf the internet to verify whether or not this is true, but I'm lazy). This is a band that Mr. Destroy the Scene and I randomly saw 3-4 years ago, by accident. We had left our luxurious apartment at the intersection of Mission and Precita and ducked into El Rio for a few drinks, and this band was playing. And we were blown away! Never before had I accidentally ended up watching a band I liked so much. And then... I didn't hear anything about them for years. Not, in fact, until I was board-operating an interview with Dub Trio at KUSF, and they mentioned that Atomic Bomb Audition were opening for them at the Hemlock. Did I know anything about this band, they inquired? Yeah! I said, suddenly remembering the band I unintentionally saw years back. What do they sound like, the dude from Dub Trio asked. "They sound like umm.... really heavy.... you know but also, like.... textured.... sort of shoegazey but also..... heavy" I said, and the dude from Dub Trio nodded solemnly, secretly amazed and envious at the breadth of my knowledge of music and the more technical terms pertaining to it. Anyway, I wasn't able to go to that show, and then next I heard of them is when I came across this album, Light Will Remain. Apparently this is their second album, and I'm curious to hear what their first album sounds like, because by this release they already have a very full and well-developed sound. Much like contemporary Deftones (yeah I said Deftones), Atomic Bomb Audition incorporate a lot of 90's indie, shoegaze and emo into their sound, but much, much louder and heavier. Except the Deftones ended up in their heavy-shoegaze incarnation coming from nu-metal, whereas this band seems much more natural in their melodic sensibilities. They also incorporate a lot of post-rock and prog into their sound, and the result is long, complex songs that alternate between lush melodies and heavy riffing (I just barfed a little as I wrote "lush melodies"). At various times, this band reminds me of Built to Spill, Dinosaur Jr (in particular the vocal melodies at the end of "Copernicus: Perigee"), Mogwai, Isis, Amesoeurs, The Angelic Process (who RULE and I will definitely write about soon) and Explosions in the Sky. Yet at no point do they sound derivative of any of those acts- they have a really interesting and unique sound, and I'm eager to see what they do next."