Two things you should know about the Vancouver duo, Japandroids — One, they like to rock and, two, they like to have fun when they rock out. Really, one would have to say it’s harder to not have fun when listening to a single like, “House That Heaven Built,” a song which channels the best of punk rock and classic rock in one four minute blast. Here, you have the attitude, aggression and chugging guitar riffs of punk and the unbridled enthusiasm of classic rock channeled in its abundance of “Whoas” and “Ohhs.” To be clear, this isn’t the “Oi Oi Oi.!” of skins. This isn’t a call to strap up your boots and get ready for a bare-knuckler. Rather, it’s an affirmation. Lines like “And if they try to slow you down/Tell them all to go to hell,” are about resilience, taking the bad and twisting it into a rollicking anthem and feeling the strength of fists pumping in celebration.
Celebration Rock by the Japandroids will be released June 5th on Polyvinyl Records. It will be preceded by a “House That Heaven Built” 7″ on May 15th featuring a cover of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “Jack the Ripper” on the B-side. Lastly, the boys in the band have a tour in the works, too. They’ll be in Cleveland at the Grog Shop on June 22nd.
The Florida metal band Torche do a lot of things well, but one thing they do especially well is distilling the power of metal into concise two-to-three minute jams. Take “Kicking,” the first single from their forthcoming album, Harmoniacraft, for example. It’s got power. It’s got flair. It’s got a clean chorus. It’s a real bruiser and it’s over and done with before you know it.
Stroboscopic Artefacts founder/label head Lucy talks about SA’s latest ambitious project Stellate Series, the process of his worldview being filtered into his music, and why ‘incomplete’ music makes complete sense in the end.
“I’m destroyed,” with a faint smile, Lucy replies to my hello as we sit down. The day after his gig at Sama & Oktave party in Brooklyn, the last leg of his US tour, he seems calm and perhaps slightly dazed from bright afternoon sun, but most of all relieved that the constant travelling is almost over. For now.
Considering it’s barely two and a half years old, Stroboscopic Artefacts has gained a significant recognition in the world of techno. The release of two acclaimed full length albums: ‘Wordplay for Working Bees’ (Lucy) and ‘Sword’ (Xhin) was pivotal in solidifying the label’s identity, in addition to its highly successful Monad series. Behind the success is Lucy, whose role seems to be a lot like a curator for art gallery, who envisions and fine-tunes the concept for an exhibition and commissions artists for the art works that strike a chord with the theme but also can challenge their usual styles and works. The words ‘challenge’ ‘potential’ and ‘possibilities’ consistently knock on your mind when Lucy talks about music production and SA. “Opening up the potential,” he says with a hand gesture of popping up the cork of a Champagne bottle, “it’s like opening a highly pressurized bottle full of potential. I want to see what happens when all that pressure is being released.”
The conceptually charged label has been a breath of fresh air, carefully building the new sound to expand the universe of techno. SA has also managed to keep people excited not only about the releases but the label itself, wondering what’s next. “It’s not like we all gather into a big meeting room and draw a plan saying ok, this is what’s going to happen next, you know?” He says about the task of spearheading the label’s future. It’s not? Whichever is the case, anyone who has paid a small attention to the details that come with SA’s output can see that it doesn’t just throw darts in the dark either. From the initial concept to the accompanying artwork, everything is carefully coordinated behind its deceivingly minimalistic black & white flower art.
SA’s new series Stellate shares the same experimental core with its sibling Monad. But if Monad played with industrial, techno, IDM & drone Stellate is going into the deeper level where things are broken down to the molecules. The result is a surprisingly ambient and atmospheric album that is reminiscent of a motion film soundtrack – as if each track is designed to capture and preserve the mood of certain scene or state of mind. Among the unexpected are Perc’s ‘Paris’ and ‘Molineux’; both are not only deeply introspective but beautiful, almost romantic – a departure from Perc’s last album ‘Wicker & Steel.’ “It’s about reshaping and rethinking dance music and the way people dance. We’re looking for the kind of sound, mood and inspiration behind the dance music or what we hear on the dance floor.” Lucy says about the concept for Stellate series. “It’s not that we wanted music that’s un-danceable. Our approach was that there are two layers – the outer layer can be the music you can play in the club, then there’s the second inner layer – it’s the lower level that’s consists of the basic palettes of the sound, things you have in deep under to inspire the upper layer. Stellate is focused only on that sub layer and that’s what we asked of the contributing artists – pure inspiration without any limitation.”
Stellate I features four artists – Lucy, Borful Tang, Perc and Kevin Gorman with each contributing two tracks. Unlike the digital-only Monad series, each Stellate is set to be a strictly vinyl limited edition of 300 copies that come with the artwork by Oblivious Artefacts. “We spent around one year to organize and set up the series, it took long because for everything – from the initial concept to packaging, there was an extra step involved. We realized that we wanted a physical product that you can touch – something that allows you to be completely respectful for the music 100%.” He explains the idea behind the vinyl series. “We tried to stick to the concept as much as possible – both graphically and musically. When you transform the concept into something concrete, you have to compromise somewhat, because of the limations of what is possible in a practical, pragmatic sense. With the Stellate series, we tried to have no such compromise at all. And I’m very happy about the result.”
“Ambient and techno…for me they are the same mood of things.” Lucy explains his vision of two genres ‘reuniting’ through the Stellate series. “The way I grew up musically, those two worlds – dance club music on one side and non-danceable kind on the other, whether it’s ambient or experimental – they were never really separated from each other.” He continues. “When I listen to the tracks, the feeling that’s surrounding the entire album is…I don’t feel like I’m in a totally different world, or switching between two completely different worlds, they share the same core, same enzymes…just in different shapes. That’s the essence of the series.” Lucy is very mindful of the state of being chained to something – conventions, forms, rules, styles, what is supposed to be or to be expected; or as he calls it, ‘slavery.’ “As a label, we wanted to give the artists freedom, completely unchained from the idea of being dance floor/club friendly. SA might be identified as a techno label but (with Stellate Series) we wanted to send out the message, what is possible when the two worlds come together. And with that belief, I want to do something useful for the underground scene. I want to bring new perspective and inspiration.”
If self-imposed freedom and experimentation are a big part of SA identity, moderation is not so much. “I try to take things to the extreme, until there’s so much unbearable tension that it’s about to break.” Lucy describes his music production. His idea of making music seems to contain the kind tension and energy level that goes into the birth, the process often chaotic and painful until the moment a new life breathe its first breath. “Maybe I have a bit of masochistic tendency inside of me.” He laughs, slightly abashed. “People say my music is dark or intense, and it could be…a lot of it is coming from not just who I am but where I have been, my past, sometime from painful memories, you know?” If anything, all has served it’s right purpose, as Lucy takes something dark and deeply hidden in his mind and memories and brings life into it. “It’s a kind of urge that you just want to get it all out of yourself.” He says. And why not. For Lucy music is both a therapeutic outlet and a medium for communication – with himself, collaborating partners, and listeners.
Lucy – Bein (Wordplay For Working Bees, 2011)
‘Perfectionism’ can be a bit of cliché when it comes to artistry. You rarely meet an artist who says he is not a perfectionist. To my surprise, Lucy seems to have a slightly different view. “When I listened to the completed tracks for Stellate I for the first time, I felt that ‘this is it.’ It sounded incomplete.” It’s interesting to see someone who comes across as very methodical and thriving to keep the integrity of his ideas and philosophy talks about being incomplete. “Do you know the story of Sisyphus in the ancient Greek mythology?” In the midst of our conversation on Stellate, he asks me about the story of a king of Corinth, who was punished by Zeus for his hubris and destined to roll an immense boulder up a steep hill, only to watch it roll back down and to repeat it for the eternity. “It’s actually an acute presentation of human condition.” He says. “We keep on pushing (without ever reaching to the top), but it’s not about the target but the fact that you keep on pushing. The significance and importance of keep on going is not that you reach somewhere. That’s a typical western civilization concept that I don’t share. It’s always much more about the process.”
Lucy – Decad (Monad X, 2011)
Lucy’s collaboration with Xhin recently delivered ‘LX4/LX5′ on Chris Liebing’s CLR, following ‘LX2/LX3′, which was released almost a year ago. To the question of who brings what to the table he gushes, “Ah, that’s a really tough question!” He describes the collaboration with Xhin as a lot of bouncing ideas around, rather than dividing up who does what. “It is a real true collaboration in a sense.” Perhaps due to the years of friendship and mutual understanding of each other’s style, Lucy seems to find Xhin as a production partner who’s most comfortable and enjoyable to work with. As for releasing LX series on CLR, Lucy explains “Chris just really liked the idea and the tracks we presented. That’s what I love about Chris, when he finds something he likes, Chris gives it full support with the most sincere enthusiasm.” (During the interview with NTD last year, Liebing enthusiastically mentioned SA and Lucy and how he found SA inspirational.) Lucy seems to enjoy juggling all three aspects of his work – producing, label running, DJing. To the delight of fans, the busy producer has still found time to work on his own album – no concrete release plan yet – over the past year or so. “It’s actually going to be a collaboration album with another artist.” Clearly an album worth of material has been produced but Lucy wants to keep the details and the future of the album secret for now. “The artist I’m collaborating with also has his own label, so ideally we would like to release the collab album on another, a third label.” ‘An artist who runs his own label’ – if that’s a significant enough clue, let the guessing game begin.
Lucy & Xhin – LX4
Towards the end of our talk, I ask Lucy about his two tracks ‘Estragon’ and ‘Vladimir’ on Stellate I, apparently named after two characters of Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot. Was he inspired by the play? “Totally. Waiting for Godot has always had an incredibly presence in my mind ever since when I first read it – I think I was 16 or so. Maybe it’s that sense of waiting…” He adds, “But there’s also this relationship between Estragon and Vladimir, that represents the relationship between a master and a slave in a way. I was always intrigued by the dynamic of ‘who gives the orders’ and ‘who just follows the orders.’ And most importantly, the inner reasons of this dynamic. There’s a sense of absurd and nonsense to Waiting for Godot of course, but the genius of Beckett is that he achieves the absurd by pushing the limits of all common logical systems.” You might remember that the eleven titles of his last album ‘Wordplay for Working Bees’ add up to the Latin phrase ‘The art of being a slave is to rule one’s master.’ I jokingly tell Lucy that I think he is fascinated with the master-slave paradigm. “Yes, completely.” He smiles. “I don’t think it would be as much special to think about music without thinking about the society around us and the dynamics within, you know? If you believe music is art, and consequently ‘useful expression of mimesis,’ try to understand what’s going on around you before sitting down in the studio.”
The first installment of the Stellate series SASTE001 is due out in March 15th. Pre-Order
Outside of two 7″ singles, one for Douchemaster Records and another on Hozac, it’s been a relatively quiet four years for Gentleman Jesse since he first broke out with his debut album in 2008. It happens some times. And with the way bands come and go these days, it’s all too easy to forget how back in 2008 it appeared as if Gentleman Jesse was poised to be the next big thing to break out of the garage rock underground. Now, with all that being said, “Rooting for the Underdog,” is the perfect reminder of everything he did so well on that record filled with pure, ’70s inspired power-pop, recalling such icons as Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello. The Happy Days vibe is a bonus.
Thursday, March 1st: Galactic @ Beachland Ballroom (Part of the Beachland’s Anniversary Weekend). Tyvek, Feelings, Puffy Areolas @ Happy Dog.
Friday, March 2nd: The Greenhornes, Wussy @ Beachland Ballroom (Part of Anniversary Weekend).
Saturday, March 3rd: Herzog, Mystery of Two, Dreadful Yawns, Sun Spots @ Beachland Tavern (Part of Anniversary Weekend). Now That’s Class Five Year Anniversary with Motorhead USA, Burger Boys and too many shenanigans to list.
Sunday, March 4th: Atlas Sound, White Rainbows, Carnivores @ Grog Shop.
Monday, March 5th: Corrosion of Conformity, Torche, Valient Thorr, A Storm of Light @ Grog Shop.
Friday, March 9th: Village Bicycle, Brian Straw, I’m Friends with Edie Sedgwick @ Happy Dog.
Saturday, March 10th: Keelhaul, Death Krawl @ Happy Dog.
Sunday, March 11th: EMA, Nu Sensae, Outer Space (John Elliot of Emeralds) @ Beachland Tavern.
Thursday, March 15th: The Reverend Horton Heat @ Beachland Ballroom.
Saturday, March 17th: Prisoners, Tinko, Shitbox Jimmy @ Happy Dog.
Self-described as sounding like Black Flag Tambourine, or as I prefer to call it, Jesus and Mary and Johnny and Joey and Tommy and Dee Dee Chain, the San Francisco trio Terry Malts, a band equal parts punk and pop, but not punk-pop, have put together a chainsaw of an album in Killing Time quite unlike anything in recent memory. Sure, many have used a similar formula in the past — Stomp on the pedals until ears start to bleed and then hit ‘em with a likable melody, but few have written songs so effortless and memorable; Few have been so in tune in that perfectly out of tune, crunched, mashed and blasted to oblivion way as Phil Benson (bass/lead vocals), Corey Cunningham (guitar, backing vocals), and Nathan Sweatt (drums/backing vocals) are on their debut album for Slumberland Records.
And the lyrics, while certainly clever, never leave anyone out of the joke. You don’t have to have the right books on your bookshelf. You don’t have to have the right records in your record collection to enjoy these 14 songs. A soul might help, but even that one is optional. For in “Not a Christian,” Terry Malts have written the ultimate punk rock anthem for all of the atheists, agnostics, and humanists of the earth, a track which culminates in a wash of piercing guitars and whirl of words that read like a humanist manifesto: “If there’s no power over me/I take responsibility/All prayer is empty air when no one’s listening/There’s no god and there’s no master/There is no happy ever after/There is life, there is death/I live my life and do my best/To cherish all experience ’til I lay down to rest.”
On the subject of love, Benson, Cunningham, and Sweatt are equally as endearing. “I’m Neurotic,” consists of a single stanza, “I’m neurotic/That’s what she says/I won’t let it go to my head/Maybe she’s right,” repeated, and twisted to the point where its hard to tell whether instability is a badge of honor or a cause for concern. While “Waiting Room,” not the Fugazi song, and “Tumble Down,” not the Jesus and Mary Chain Song, both take down the tempo a notch without losing any intensity or immediacy. The guitars are still delightfully shrill and the sing-a-longs are still there, waiting for your extra backing vocals, and the rhythm section still has that thumping, pogo beat.
With a frightening pattern emerging of the most hyped artists being the least ready for the spotlight (Hello, Sleigh Bells and Hello, Ms. Lana Del Rey), Terry Malts provide an alternative to the unhealthy cycle of buzz and disappointment with an album that is proof positive that pop music doesn’t have to be finely polished and doesn’t have to sound modern to be successful in the 21st Century. More important than having the right look, the right connections, or the right influences is simply having songs that people will want to hear time and again. I can think of 14 songs off the top of my head that fit the bill. 10 out of 10 on The Rockometer.
Before they became the second New York buzz band of 2012 to put in a shit performance for Saturday Night Live, Brooklyn’s Sleigh Bells were already a divisive group in the underground. For while there’s little doubt their sound is a modern one — Heavy metal guitar riffs lifted from the Mullet Rock compilation, cheery vocals and scattershot, electric beats — There’s always been the counter argument, “Is this really the sound of now we want?”
You see, subtlety, is not Sleigh Bells thing. The title to Reign of Terror’s lead track, “True Shred Guitar,” explains all you need to know about guitarist Derek Miller’s infatuation with ’80s metal. Every sound out of his guitar is of the one-foot-on-the-amp, explosions-in-the-background-of-the-video-shoot, sexed-up-female-model-rolling-around-on-the-hood-of-a-red-convertible variety. While Alexis Krauss sings every line, be it during a rocker or a ballad, in her best cheerleader voice. In moderation, in the middle of an iTunes mix, let’s say, there’s a real chance you’ll find yourself cranking up a jam like “Comeback Kid.”
As an album experience, however, the Sleigh Bells trick gets grating right quick. Remember kids, there’s a reason Nirvana made hair metal obsolete overnight, and it wasn’t due to collusion of the record companies, record stations, and MTV. No, once the public were reminded that rock music could do more than communicate strip club scenes and hot teacher fantasies; That rock music wasn’t just for drop-outs and jocks and muscle cars, and those wanting to relieve their drugged out, drop-out days in the high school parking lot, the music stuck in that mold was revealed to be every bit as cheesy as it always was. The facade, and thrill, was gone. 5 out of 10 on The Rockometer.
Maybe you missed the Grammy’s last weekend. I didn’t bother, either.
Maybe you missed Dave Grohl’s speech after the Foo Fighters won a Grammy for Best Rock Album. It went a little something like this:
This is a great honor, because this record was a special record for our band. Rather than go to the best studio in the world down the street in Hollywood and rather than use all of the fanciest computers that money can buy, we made this one in my garage with some microphones and a tape machine…
To me this award means a lot because it shows that the human element of music is what’s important. Singing into a microphone and learning to play an instrument and learning to do your craft, that’s the most important thing for people to do.
It’s not about being perfect, it’s not about sounding absolutely correct, it’s not about what goes on in a computer. It’s about what goes on in here [your heart] and what goes on in here [your head].
What I read was the statement of a man who was proud of the hard work he and his band put into their latest album, Wasting Light, an album they recorded old-school in a garage studio.
What I read was the thoughts of someone who fears technology is removing the human element from music.
Did I miss something? Did Grohl punctuate his speech with calls of “Death to Disco!” and “Death to Dubstep!” Did he burn effigies of Skrillex and Deadmau5 as he and his band exited the stage.
It’s not surprising dance music fans chose to read between the lines instead of reading the actual lines. Their culture is often marginalized in the mainstream music press, only grabbing headlines when someone overdoes at a large outdoor rave. But in this case, was there really an insult to be had? Was there really an ulterior motive on the part of Grohl?
A similar game is often played in the world of American politics. President Obama will send out a holiday card and instead of having a picture of a sweet baby Jesus, the card may have a tree or a fireplace. Right on cue, someone on the right will claim Obama is a Muslim because the card didn’t have Jesus and the card didn’t say Christmas. Or, maybe Obama gives a speech on the budget. The same thing will happen. “Obama didn’t say ‘Jesus’ during his speech on the budget. He must be a Muslim!”
Dave Grohl bashed technology! He must hate dance music!
And just like American politics, others picked up on this line of attack and amplified it, few voices of reason spoke up, because, really, they was nothing to speak up about, and Grohl ended up issuing an apology for something he didn’t say (The full text of which is below).
To be fair, there has been some decent writing on this non-controversy. The Village Voice’s Michael Tedder rightfully reminded people that Grohl has worked with electronic and rap types like Trent Reznor, Alec Empire, and Puff Daddy, and he even performed with Deadmau5 during the very same Grammy broadcast. He went on to speculate that Grohl could just as well have been commenting on the soullessness of mainstream rock.
The truth of the matter is human interaction with technology and what technology can and cannot replicate when it comes to human interaction is a real topic of concern in our society. Many researchers and tech types, when speaking about facebook, twitter, youtube will quickly point out how modern communication, with all of its benefits, is still a poor substitution for real face time with a real person. Consequently, how we can make these technologies more closely resemble real human encounters is an important area of research.
Similarly, as technology becomes a more prevalent element in music of all genres — Rock, rap, pop, and dance, we will have to have the real conversation about how we can use this technology and still make our music sound like it was made by humans using machines and not as if it was made by a machine without the aid of a human.
As all of us, musicians and fans, are working these issues out, some truths are already becoming clear. Making your voice sound like a robot with auto-tune is not the answer. Neither is stuffing a song with an incomprehensible number of tracks, artificially boosting sound levels on your recordings, or tweaking your career statement into perfection because you can. To reduce Grohl’s comments to an attack on a group of people who weren’t explicitly attacked ignores this larger problem and stifles any significant progress on this front.
“To me this award means a lot because it shows that the human element of music is what’s important. Singing into a microphone and learning to play an instrument and learning to do your craft, that’s the most important thing for people to do… It’s not about being perfect, it’s not about sounding absolutely correct, it’s not about what goes on in a computer. It’s about what goes on in here [your heart] and what goes on in here [your head].”
Not the Gettysburg Address, but hey……I’m a drummer, remember?
Well, me and my big mouth. Never has a 33 second acceptance rant evoked such caps-lock postboard rage as my lil’ ode to analog recording has. OK….maybe Kanye has me on this one, but….Imma let you finish….just wanted to clarify something…
I love music. I love ALL kinds of music. From Kyuss to Kraftwerk, Pinetop Perkins to Prodigy, Dead Kennedys to Deadmau5…..I love music. Electronic or acoustic, it doesn’t matter to me. The simple act of creating music is a beautiful gift that ALL human beings are blessed with. And the diversity of one musician’s personality to the next is what makes music so exciting and…..human.
That’s exactly what I was referring to. The “human element”. That thing that happens when a song speeds up slightly, or a vocal goes a little sharp. That thing that makes people sound like PEOPLE. Somewhere along the line those things became “bad” things, and with the great advances in digital recording technology over the years they became easily “fixed”. The end result? I my humble opinion…..a lot of music that sounds perfect, but lacks personality. The one thing that makes music so exciting in the first place.
And, unfortunately, some of these great advances have taken the focus off of the actual craft of performance. Look, I am not Yngwie Malmsteen. I am not John Bonham. Hell…I’m not even Josh Groban, for that matter. But I try really fucking hard so that I don’t have to rely on anything but my hands and my heart to play a song. I do the best that I possibly can within my limitations, and accept that it sounds like me. Because that’s what I think is most important. It should be real, right? Everybody wants something real.
I don’t know how to do what Skrillex does (though I fucking love it) but I do know that the reason he is so loved is because he sounds like Skrillex, and that’s badass. We have a different process and a different set of tools, but the “craft” is equally as important, I’m sure. I mean…..if it were that easy, anyone could do it, right? (See what I did there?)
So, don’t give me two Crown Royals and then ask me to make a speech at your wedding, because I might just bust into the advantages of recording to 2 inch tape.
Now, I think I have to go scream at some kids to get off my lawn.