Friday, February 27, 2015

Technical Difficulties

I've been having recurring tinnitus for the past month or so. It could be related to sinuses, and is almost certainly related to listening to music on headphones on my commute, especially given my newfound love of metal. To try to stop my ears from constantly ringing and there being a metallic sound in my head all the time, I've stopped listening to headphones except a little at work when I have good headphones. Which means I've cut two hours of music-listening out of my day. This has been compounded by the fact that I'm having technical difficulties which makes it hard to synch my iPod or rip CDs, which means no new music for the near future. The short end of it is that now I maybe listen to music for a half hour or an hour at work, and then I'll listen to some jazz or kids music in the background in the mornings and evenings. That's a huge contrast to how much I used to listen to music.

It is a little like realizing that I no longer have the time to read anymore. I stopped reading non-school stuff when I was in school, and it was such a sad realization to make that I didn't have time to read any of the books I wanted. Now I have all these albums I want to listen to but I don't have time. Growing up is lame sometimes.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Nick Weaver review

I reviewed Nick Weaver's "Yardword" EP a few weeks ago at RapReviews.

Andy Stott Review

And Stott
Faith In Strangers
Modern Love, 2014

“Faith in Strangers” is Andy Stott’s second album of 2014. He released “Drop the Vowels” earlier in the year as one-half of Millie and Andrea. His solo album balances the hard-hitting cacophony of “Drop the Vowels,” with the soothing dub of his 2012 album “Luxury Problems.” it manages to be the best of both worlds, offering both beats and more introspective sounds.

Album opener “Time Away” starts things off slowly with what sounds like a foghorn eventually melting into a wall of ambient swells. “Violence” also starts slowly, with just a synthesizer and a woman’s voice (Allison Skidmore, who was also featured on “Luxury Problems”). Her singing is plaintive but muffled, processed so that it is impossible to make out any words. Drums finally kick in around the three-minute mark, and this is where the song, and the album, really takes off. There are crushing 808s and distorted snares and synths, all slightly off beat. It’s an odd combination of beautiful, banging, and disquieting. It sounds like a fever dream version of trap music.

The mixture of gorgeous vocals, synthesizers, thundering bass, and distortion appears throughout the album. “On Oath” and “Science and Industry” use those elements over a skeleton of minimalist techno. “No Surrender” and “Damage” combine them with drum ‘n bass. “How It Was” applies them to house music. It’s never glitchy or harsh enough to make it difficult to listen to, but it constantly keeps you on your toes. There are two weaknesses that electronic music can fall prey to: it can be too repetitive and predictable, and it can lack any real low ends. Stott solves both problems by keeping his songs off kilter, and backing them with heavy beats.

The title track mixes things up by being less dissonant and more straightforward. I had assumed that the title of the album, “Faith in Strangers,” was meant to be ironic. I was surprised by the sense of hope and optimism in the title track, especially after the darker moments on the rest of the album. “Damage” and “Violence” live up to their namesakes, although even at its noisiest, “Faith in Strangers” can still be beautiful.

The album ends with “Missing,” which like “Time Away” is mostly ambient. It’s an ambiguous way to end things, and it doesn’t tie the album together or make a statement the way some of the other tracks do. Stott seems to be intent on challenging the listener and distancing himself from the dancefloor as much as possible. It may not get him gigs playing stadiums, but its what makes his music special. There are no phony builds, no bass dropping, no obvious patterns. “Faith in Strangers” keeps listeners on their toes, and keeps their head nodding the whole time.

Serengeti Review

Originally posted on RapReviews

Kenny Dennis III" marks the third time that Serengeti's mustachioed character Kenny Dennis has been given his own project. He has a long and storied fictional history. He started out in Tha Grimm Teachaz alongside PMDF and DJ Koufie. They were signed to Jive, and were supposed to release their debut, "There's A Situation On the Homefront," before an altercation with Shaq at a live event caused their label to shelve the album. He's released an EP and a 2013 album, and has been featured on other Serengeti projects. 

"Kenny Dennis III" is a concept album with storyline about Kenny hooking up with his friend Ders (played by Anders Holm) to tour malls with a 90s high-energy hip-house group called Perfecto. The story is pure hip-hop Spinal Tap, the flailing has-been grinding through the most depressing tour imaginable while refusing to acknowledge that he isn't a superstar. He's also battling a pill addiction, egged on by his new friend Joji.

As Kenny, Serengeti raps in a gruff "Joey from the old neighborhood" kind of voice about absurdities. "Hot dogs for lunch/Hot dogs for dinner/I don't eat breakfast/I am no beginner" he raps on album opener "No Beginner." There's a Madvillain vibe to the album, especially in the way that Odd Nosdam's dusty breaks compliment Kenny's bizarre rapping. I only knew Nosdam from his anticon. days, and I didn't expect such straighforward crate-digging from him. He samples old soul and surf rock, throwing in some of the art-damaged weirdness that anticon was best known for. Nosdam's beats ground the album, making it groove even when it devolves into nonsense.

The character of Kenny is funny, but not funny enough to carry an entire album. Serengeti may have known this, which might explain why Kenny only raps on ten of the 19 tracks. Still, even ten tracks is more Kenny than I needed. It's like one of those Saturday Night Live movies that tries to stretch a three-minute sketch into a 90 minute movie. Also, the character of Kenny isn't so much funny as he's weird and annoying, which makes it even less fun to spend an entire album with him.

Anders Holm's sketches as Ders are what really end up making "Kenny Dennis III." Where Kenny is a big character, Ders is more understated. Ders is an aspiring actor who is beaten out of a Different Strokes reboot by a funnier, more attractive actor. He fully embraces their 90s throwback rap, starts wearing nothing but mall clothes, and even gets into parkour when Perfecto flames out. He catches the optimism and ego and tragedy of being an artist on the margins. I found myself listening the skits that Ders was on more than the actual songs on the album because they are so funny. 

I can see how Kenny could appeal to listeners. There is a DOOM-like quality to his absurd-yet-smart style of rapping, and nobody could argue that Serengeti isn't committing to the character 100 percent. I didn't find him funny, nor did I find his rapping appealing from an aesthetic standpoint. As a result, I was more into "Kenny Dennis III" for the skits and beats than for anything that Kenny had to say.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Body Count Review

Originally Posted on RapReviews

Body Count
Sumerian Records

It’s not that surprising that Original Gangster Ice-T would form a metal band as a side project. Ice’s love of metal was evident on his first album, which sampled Black Sabbath. What is surprising is that Body Count, Ice-T’s metal band, would be around twenty five years later. And yet last summer saw the release of Body Count’s fifth album, “Manslaughter.” 

At face value, hip-hop and metal are very different. One is centered on speaking rhythmically over mechanical drum beats, the other is centered on screaming over guitars. One is a predominantly African-American art form, the other is predominantly white. But there are also a lot of similarities between the two. Both are art forms that represent outcasts and the underclass. Both genres often celebrate nihilism and anti-social behavior, and both genres often use violence as subject matter. Chief Keef and Norwegian black metal band Mayhem may sound totally different, but they both share a certain level of misanthropy and disdain for mainstream society. There’s also a level of boasting and fantasy in both genres. Few gangsta rappers are actual gangsters in the same way that few Satanic metal bands are actual Satanists. 

What Body Count do well is combine the aggression and attitude of hip-hop with the musical aggression of metal. Musically the group, led by axeman Ernie C., is as tight as ever. They combine thrash, doom, hardcore, and even a little death metal. There are chugging guitars, wailing solos, and hammering drums. Whatever the novelty of a bunch of black guys from Compton playing metal, they are no joke. Musical high points include the relentless “Manslaughter” and “Bitch in the Pit,” the chugging “Talk Shit, Get Shot,” and the thrashy “Pray For Death.”  It’s all loud and heavy.

The challenge Ice-T has had with Body Count is how to translate his rapping to metal. Rap lyrics might be a couple pages long; your average metal song might only be a paragraph. In trying to adapt his lyrics to metal, Ice tends to dumb them down to a ridiculous extent. It doesn’t help that he essentially rap/yells them rather than singing or screaming or screeching or growling. There’s a reason why so few metal bands have “clean” singing:  the lyrics sound better when you can’t quite make them out. 

Ice-T has always used Body Count to push boundaries and push buttons. He got almost all the cops in the country mad at him for “Cop Killer,” and no less than Charlton Heston read the lyrics to “KKK Bitch” at a Time-Warner shareholder meeting in an effort to get the conglomerate to drop Body Count from Warner Brothers Records. If you are pissing Charlton Heston off, you are doing something right. (The irony being that compared to Cannibal Corpse, who sang about murdering women and raping their dead bodies, Body Count seem pretty tame.) “Manslaughter” tries to be shocking and gleefully offensive, but it comes off more as dumb and sophomoric. For example, the title track isn’t about killing men. It’s about how masculinity is being killed by wimpiness. The remake of “99 Problems” is about the 99 bitches Ice-T has. This from a man with a reality show about how much he loves his wife. The remake of Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized” would be funny if not for the stale racist jokes. I’m not even going to write about “Bitch in the Pit.” 

There are a few songs that get it right lyrically. “Get a Job” and “Wanna Be A Gangsta” show the humor that has always been part of Body Count. “Back To Rehab” vents frustration at addicts who can’t stay straight. The album ends with the intense and thoughtful “I Will Always Love You,” which is dedicated to “the heroes...young men and women who have given their lives and risked their lives for this country!” 

“Taught you everything, dropped out of school at 17
Trying to get a job at an early age,
But no diploma means minimum wage.
Bumped into a military recruiter,
Said the same, no game, no first person shooter.
With high-school you missed it,
So that day you’re enlisted.
First day off the truck
Basic training, scared as fuck,
Drill instructors, demons from hell
You never forget what you hear and yell
Six minutes of torture drives you insane
March, run, march, train!
You’re asking yourself why the fuck you came,
Lock them all 30 rounds, watch your lane!”

It’s Ice-T dialing back his metal persona and dropping some lyrics remind you why he matters as a rapper. It’s also a song that manages to pay tribute to soldiers while not glossing over the horrors of war and the ambiguities of the wars we’ve been fighting for the past twelve years. 

If only Body Count could have made more songs like that one.

D'Angelo Review

Originally posted on RapReviews

D'Angelo and the Vangaurd
Black Messiah
RCA Records, 2014

For a genre that is ostensibly all about getting down and getting it on, R&B has a significant amount of capital G Geniuses. Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, George Clinton, Sly Stone, and Prince are examples of R&B musicians who have taken the music far beyond its boundaries. Add to that list D'Angelo, the Virginia-born musician who is best known for his 2000 masterpiece "Voodoo." He's also known for basically dropping off the face of the earth after in the wake of that album (the story goes that at least part of the reason for his retreat from public life was how oversexualized he felt as an artist, and how much attention was given to his six-pack and model good looks vs. his music, in other words the same ish that every single female R&B singer has to put up with).

D'Angelo was supposed to drop an album with Prince in 2009, and every year since then has promised new work from him to no avail. He did release a few songs, played live a few times and even toured. Still, a new album from him seemed about as likely as a new album from Dr. Dre or "Madvillainy 2." And then, out of nowhere, "Black Messiah" drops.

The album was originally supposed to come out this year, but D'Angelo put it out in mid-December to coincide with the protests going on around the country and the world in the wake of the grand jury decisions on the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases. In the liner notes he writes:

"It's about people rising up in Ferguson and in Egypt and in Occupy Wall Street and in every place where a community has had enough and decides to make change happen. It's not about praising one charismatic leader but celebrating thousands of themÉ"Black Messiah" is not one man. It's a feeling that, collectively, we are all that leader."

It's fitting that "Black Messiah" is meant to reflect the Ferguson protests, because the album is powerful and messy, and manages to convey anger, hope, and beauty, sometimes all at once. On my first two listens, I found myself wondering if there were any actual songs on the album. So much of it is texture that it takes a while to understand their shapes. This is an impressionistic album that is built around grooves rather than traditional pop songwriting. It makes "Black Messiah" a challenging record, which isn't something I expect from R&B.

The album starts off with a squall of feedback before going into the sloppy, tripped out Southern funk of "Ain't That Easy." "Take a toke of smoke from me as you dream inside," he sings. In another artist's hands, this might be a babymaking slow jam, but D'Angelo keeps things a little off. The song is a little shambling, the pieces not quite all fitting together. Even lyrically there is more going on than just a standard love song:

"Ever hit with a choice that you can't decide?
Which direction left or right?
Shut your mouth off and focus on what you feel inside
See y'all know I'ma go with my vibe
You won't believe all the things you have to sacrifice
Just to get peace of mind
And you take what they give as if it did suffice
Still it's just a waste of time"

From there the album goes into a Malcolm X song about how Jesus was black, which kicks off the noisy "1000 Deaths." The song seems to be about both staying strong as an artist in a genre that doesn't reward age, and staying strong as a black man in a society that doesn't trust his skin.

The musical fury of "1000 Deaths" seems abated by the pretty ballad "The Charade." That is, until you actually listen to what D'Angelo is singing:

"Crawling through a systematic maze to demise
Pain in our eyes
Strain of drowning, wading through the lies
Degradation so loud that you can't hear the sound of our cries
All the dreamers have gone to the side of the road which we relay on
All we wanted was a chance to talk
instead we've only got outlined in chalk
Feet have bled a million miles we've walked
Revealing at the end of the day
The charade"

While there are some neo-soul and contemporary R&B elements in "Black Messiah," much of it is built on analog equipment and analog sounds. If you told me this was a lost 70s classic, I would believe you, even though it is full of hip-hop influences. It has the heaviness and intimacy of Sly Stone's "There's A Riot Goin' On," and it is hard not to compare the two albums. It's also hard not to hear Prince on "Black Messiah," especially in D'Angelo's voice and his willingness to mix rock in with his funk and soul. Even more impressive, it sounds like the D'Angelo record we've been waiting for for 15 years. It builds on the sound he perfected on "Voodoo" while moving it forward. It's not a passible copy of his former glory that fans will put up with because they are hungry for more. We've all bought those albums, and tried to pretend we like them. "Black Messiah" isn't like that.

The fact that D'Angelo was able to release this album on a major label in this age of market-testing and Auto-tuning the soul out of any major release is a feat in itself. It's even more amazing that an album 15 years in the making is so vital. "Black Messiah" is an incredible album, and an essential addition to D'Angelo's discography.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Old punks don't die, they just play metal

I was listening to the NYT Music popcast recently and came across an old episode about metal with the poet Michael Robbins. He and NYT's Ben Ratliffe remarked how punk didn't seem to age - people didn't grow old with punk. At the same time, I've been listening to crust legends Amebix, and reading criticism by punks about how they went metal. Which got me thinking about how punk doesn't age. Most of the punk bands I can think of that didn't burn out early either went metal or some other genre. To whit:

Black Flag went metal. They started incorporating  Black Sabbath riffs in their first proper album. Other artists that went metal include Bad Brains, Descendants, Discharge, and GBH. Subhumans last album was metal. I'd argue that the whole Epitaph/Fat Wreck Chords sound is essentially punky metal.

Other bands went in an alt-rock path, like 7 Seconds, Husker Du, and Stiff Little Fingers. Still others went roots - I'm thinking X especially, and Joe Strummer's solo work. Hell, the Clash weren't a punk band by their third album.

The whole first wave of punk bands stopped being punk by the 80s. Johnny Rotten's band after the Sex Pistols was PiL, who were not punk at all. Mick Jones of the Clash formed a dance/hip-hop/reggae hybrid. The singer of the New York Dolls became a crooner. Most of the new wave bands had members who had started out in punk bands.

Even looking at how the genre evolved, it went in a metal direction. Crusty punk, which was pioneered by Amebix and further refined by Doom and a host of d-beat bands is basically a punk riff on Motorhead, built around chugging guitars. Grindcore is owned as much by metal as punk, and the bands on punks extreme could be categorized as metal.

Looking at contemporary punk bands, Fucked Up have basically become a rock band with a punk vocalist, Trash Talk have strong metal elements about them, and many of the other so-called punk bands either veer towards post-punk or some other genre.

I think the reason for this is that punk, while a vital and energizing form of music, is extremely limited. It depends on playing fast and loud and simple. Once you learn how to actually play and want to do something beyond three chords, you end up moving into different musical territory. Near me there is an unincorporated community called Kensington that is less than one square mile and has a population of about 5,100. It's small. If you walk to far in any direction, you leave it. And it doesn't want to grow. Punk is a little like Kensington, narrowly focused, encompassing a limited musical geography, and resistant to expanding that geography.

This isn't to disparage punk at all - it is and remains one of my favorite types of music, and the early albums and singles by the classic punk bands are musical treasures. I'm not dissing "Nervous Breakdown" or "Out of Step" or "The Punch Line" or any of it. It is interesting, however, to examine why punk bands don't tend to have long careers, and why so often it is the early albums by punk bands that remain the most highly revered (this isn't true across the board, and it is also true of many non-punk bands). Punk is important, but it is not music that is conducive to mastery.

40 for 40

I did a playlist on Spotify to commemorate my 40th birthday, which was at the beginning of the year. It's forty songs that meant something to me throughout my life, in the order that I heard them. I was going to do a song a year, but really years 1-4 are a wash and not enough time has passed in for the last five years or so to have a lot of songs that really stick out as important to my life or whatever.

I start with a Woody Guthrie song that is one of the first songs I remember hearing. My mom had a record of his. "Heart of Glass" by Blondie has been one of my favorite songs since I heard it for the first time around 1980. My sister played the Xanadu soundtrack so much my parents banished it. My day care in 3rd grade had "Rock the Casbah" on 45. "Miss You" was just one of many songs my parents played over and over again at high volume while I was trying to sleep, and one of the few I still like. "Beat Street" got me into hip-hop, and I was lucky enough to come of age in an era when much of the pop music was being made by innovative and interesting people - Prince, Madonna, even Duran Duran. Anyways, enjoy.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2014

There were several points this year where I had a crisis of faith about this whole hip-hop thing. I’ll be forty in a week, which is Too Damn Old to be listening to a 19-year-old brag about having sex and getting high. There were many times this year that I felt like the old guy at a club full of people half my age. Metaphorically speaking, of course; I’m Too Damn Old to actually go out to a club. I get up when those kids are coming home.  But each time I felt like telling hip-hop to get off my lawn, I’d hear something that would remind me why I love this music and why I shouldn’t give up on it.

I made a point of challenging myself to listen to music outside my comfort zone, and as a result I got into a lot of stuff that otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered listening to. The Cali swagger of DJ Mustard, the gay bounce of Big Freedia, two rap concept albums, even some R&B. The best thing about 2014 was that some of the best and most thoughtful rappers of the year were either young kids (Vince Staples, Wara) or old-ass men like myself (RTJ, Open Mike Eagle). There’s room for everybody in hip-hop, so long as you’ve got skills.

15. Shabazz Palaces, “Lese Majesty”

14. DJ Mustard, “10 Summers”

13. Tink, “Winter’s Diary 2”

12. Big Freedia, “Be Free”

11. Flying Lotus, “You’re Dead!”

10. Azealia Banks, “Broke With Expensive Taste”

9. “D’Angleo, “Black Messiah” (The only reason why this isn’t higher on the list is because it came out last week and I haven’t had much time to listen to it.)

8. Kate Tempest, “Everybody Down”

7. Wara from the NBHD, “Kidnapped”

6. Ghostface Killah, “36 Seasons”

5. Andy Stott, “Faith in Strangers”

4. Madlib and Freddie Gibbs, “Pinata”

3. Vince Staples, “Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2”

2. Open Mike Eagle, “Dark Comedy”

1. Run the Jewels, “Run the Jewels 2”  Let me say that I did not want this to be my number one. I’m the kind of idiot that hates to like what everyone else likes. I actively wanted to dislike the second RTJ album just so I could be different, but dammit if it isn’t almost perfect. The beats hit hard, and El-P and Killer Mike have added more gravitas and thought to their shit-talking rhymes. As a bonus, both are hip-hop lifers who are overdue to be appreciated by a wider audience than just hip-hop nerds like myself.

Best non-rap albums of 2014

Here are my favorite non-rap albums of 2014, in orderish.

Total Control, “Typical System” This Australian band veers between new wave, post punk, and punk on an album that could’ve come out in 1980 but doesn’t sound like it is trying too hard to be retro.

Angel Olsen, “Burn Your Fire for No Witness” Like a punk Patsy Cline, kind of.

Fucked Up, “Glass Boys” I didn’t love this as much as their last album, but it still is another solid entry in their discography

Aphex Twin, “Syro” He’s back, and it’s like he never left.

Andy Stott, “Faith In Strangers” Beautiful, disorienting, and with chest-shattering bass.

Bleeding Rainbow, “Interrupt” A brilliant 90s shoegaze album, only by kids who were born in the 90s.

Against Me! “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” A rocking punk album about dealing with being transgender.

Panopticon, “Roads of the North” Black bluegrass metal that was powerful and beautiful at the same time.

Ex Hex, “Rips” Old punks deciding to write pop songs telling boys off.

Tombs, “Savage Gold” Heavy, loud, melodic, and perfectly balancing black metal, stoner metal, and hardcore. This album got me listening to metal again.

Friday, December 26, 2014

More Metal

I've been on a metal kick as of late, especially black metal. Partially because I've discovered that it is good music for commuting on BART in that it allows me to drown out the other passengers and still be able to read, and partially because I've gotten into the way the music can do interesting things with guitar textures. I've always been a sucker for the My Bloody Valentine wall of guitar, and there are a lot of metal bands that do this well. Also, metal tends to be a little goofier and less "real" than punk and post-punk. I love Unwound and Fucked Up, but their music sometimes hits a little too close to home. Listening to someone I have nothing in common with growl about Satan or whatever is like reading scifi: it's removed from my day to day life and thus a form of escape. In fact, the key to appreciating both sci-fi/fantasy and metal, at least from my perspective, is embracing the genres' goofiness. The first time I read "Game of Thrones," I was put off by how silly the made up names and made up places were. Then I learned to embrace it, and now I'm an avid fantasy fan. The first time I listened to Deafheaven, I thought the screeching vocals were the silliest things in the world, but you get used to it.

 Tombs' "Savage Gold" is one of my favorite albums of the year, so I've been investigating their back catalog. As in , downloading all of it. When I was in Houston in November, I bought CDs by Deathspell Omega, a French doom/black metal band who are an influence of Tombs, Blut Aus Nord, and Lair of the Minotaur. I've also downloaded albums by NYC black metal band Krallice, as well as seminal Norwegian black metal albums by Mayhem, Emperor and Darkthrone.

Let's talk about the Norwegian stuff first. I have some serious issues with Norwegian black metal, both musically and philosophically. Philosophically, some of it is rooted in nationalism, racism, homophobia, severe anti-social behavior, and Satanism. I deeply dislike all of those things. Listening to the early Norwegian black metal is like listening to Compton's Most Wanted or Lil' Boosie, gangsta rap records made by people with actual criminal records who were rapping about and doing terrible things. It's hard to do with a clean conscience. Sonically, the Norwegian black metal albums (with the exception of Darkthrone) don't usually have the same punk/crust influence that many American black metal acts have. As a result I find it less to my taste. They also have same guttural screeching vocals that Deafheaven share, which I find pretty annoying after ten minutes. I enjoy Darkthrone the most out of the three I've listened to, mostly because it basically has the sound and production values of a crusty punk record.

"Transylvania Hunger" is a an example of what the music can do. It has a melodic quality that you don't find in most extreme music, and yet the growled vocals keep it firmly extreme. The lyrics are still Satanic and possibly latently racist (having been written by Vlag Varkeness of Burzum), but they are almost all in Norwegian so it is hard to say.

I also got Mayhem's "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas," another seminal black metal album that while good, is so friggin creepy that I have a hard time listening to it. I also downloaded Emperor's "In the Nightside Eclipse," which has a more epic scope than Darkthrone or Mayhem. Emperor were one of the seminal and notorious black metal bands, since the singer was a church-burner and their drummer killed a man who came on to him. So, you know, kind of assholes. They incorporate synthesizers and have a more "metal" feel than Mayhem or Darkthrone. It's interesting, but feels a little like a D&D aficionado who is way too into collecting swords.

I'm more into the American stuff, especially what I guess would be disparagingly referenced as hipster black metal. Deafheaven and Liturgy are the most obvious examples, but I've also gotten into a New York band called Krallice, who do a highly technical version of black metal. Listening to "Dimensional Bleedthrough," you understand that there is a droning quality to the music that isn't totally unlike electronic music. The songs are almost always long, often stretching past the 10 minute mark, and there is an element of composition to them that you don't get in most pop music. A 10 minute black metal song isn't that different from a 10 minute Burial or Andy Stott song, only they are using different sounds and going for a different emotion. The contemplative, repetitive nature of the music is similar, though.

I'm especially into Panopticon's new album, "The Roads to the North." Panopticon are a one-man band who mixe bluegrass with black metal, leading to something powerful and very different. It's sort of like the Pogues if they were from the Bluegrass State, and were into black metal and not punk. In other words, nothing like the Pogues.

Panopticon and Krallice, like Deafheaven and Liturgy, don't share Scandanavian black metal's love of Satan or whatever. Panopticon is allegedly leftist, but I can't understand a word he says so I'm not sure.

Finally, there is French band Blut Aus Nord. I checked them out after Pitchfork compared them to Aphex Twin. They've been around for years, and are basically a one man band with a backing band. Their latest album Memoria Vetusta III: Saturnian Poetry, is more melodic than other stuff I've heard from them (which at times veered towards industrial). I'm into it.

I've struggled to try to understand why music nerds are so into black metal as opposed to other forms of extreme music. Why doesn't Pitchfork review hardcore bands or crusty punk bands? I think the answer is that there is more room for experimentation in black metal. It's music built around textures rather than chords and choruses, so there is more room to get weird. The music inspires artists to do these grand, ambitious projects. Blut Aus Nord did a three-album "Memoria Vetusta" series, and in between that released three albums in the "777" trilogy. Fellow French black metallers Deathspell Omega similarly did a trilogy of music about Satan or whatever. Panopticon have done several concept albums, including one about coal miners.

I don't know that black metal is destined to be my favorite music, but it's interesting and I've enjoyed getting back into louder music. What does it say about me though that I am forty and listening to this?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Favorite Songs of the Year

In alphabetical order, here are my 15 favorite songs of the year.

Against Me!, "Transgender Dysphoria Blues"

Andy Stott, "Violence"

Angel Olsen, "Forgiven/Forgotten"

Atmosphere, "Southsiders"

Bleeding Rainbow, "So You Know"

D'Angelo, "Sugah Daddy"

Ex Hex, "How You Got That Girl"

Flying Lotus, "Never Catch Me ft Kendrick Lamar"

Fucked Up, "Paper the House"

Ghostface Killah, "Love Don't Live Here No More"

Kate Tempest, "Lonely Daze"

Mirel Wagner, "The Dirt"

Panopticon, "Echoes of A Disharmonic Evensong"

Run the Jewels, "Oh My Darling (Don't Cry)"

Tombs, "Ashes"

Total Control, "Flesh War"

Vince Staples, "Nate"

Wara from the NBHD, "Beige"

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