Archive for August, 2011

[There are a lot of videos in this post. I apologise, but I felt it was the only real way to get my point across. You don’t have to watch them all]

Ah yes, the drum solo. Please don’t leave, don’t use this number to go to the bathroom and get a drink. I promise you it’ll be interesting.

Really it’s not surprising why drum solos get a bad rap. There’s enough negative press about guitar solos as it is, and that’s the one that makes squiggly exciting noises that can be bent by ungodly amounts of pedals, computer processing and any other form of electronics conceived by man. And when your audience is bored of some long-haired jock playing with electricity, well, how does a drum solo begin to compare?

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Basic Channel – ‘BCD’ (1995)

It’s to their credit that Basic Channel’s Mark Ernestus and Moritz Von Oswald both created and redefined the sound of an entire genre in the space of just a few years. What pushed two Berlin-based record shop owners to mix the sonic elements of Dub music with the dance-ready electronic sounds of the nineties nightclub is anyone’s guess but the result both captivated and alienated the electronic music community – who were still on the fence as to whether or not “techno” was exclusively dance music. From the first few records released on their own label, the blueprint for Dub Techno had been laid. Minimal arrangements of pulsing 4/4 kicks and deep, hypnotic basslines formed the core of their music, with sparse splashes of synth stabs and clanging percussion used to add variety in the most pure sense. Basic Channel’s appearance on the underground Berlin techno scene had indeed posed more questions than answers; shrouded in mystery, few were sure if Basic Channel were a group or simply a label. They continued to release EPs and 12-inches under a variety of different aliases with little to no extra information aside from the audio etched into the grooves – appropriately in tune with their minimal aesthetic.

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Peaceful Valley Boulevard

I should probably disclose the fact that I’m a Neil Young tragic. Everything he has done, is doing, or will do is fine by me. That may be somewhat of an overstatement; I think even I’d be sorely tested if he started stalking the night, plucking children from their beds and leaving their bloodless carcasses in a heap by the village fountain. But then Neil has never been about pleasing his audience. Though the greater public tends to associate him with the delicate country-tinged acoustic music found on records such as Harvest (1972) and Comes A Time (1977), his career has embraced all manner of styles from hardcore country to proto-grunge to electronica. While not all these experiments may have worked, not one of Neil’s real fans (getting a ‘Greatest Hits’ collection doesn’t count) would willingly do away with his willful inconsistency, because it is out of this restlessness and indifference to public expectations that Young’s greatest music emerges.

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So What’s Your Point?

As I discussed here, we’re stuck with a largely stagnant mainstream, because mainstream is no longer under competition from the alternative, the underground, the elite and the plain weird. While it’s true that seminal works don’t necessarily need to be popular to be influential (Velvet Underground & Nico; case in point), counter-culture itself is a lot like guerrilla warfare; while you can chip away at your enemy for a long time, you do need to eventually win a conventional battle to be victorious. Yet when everyone’s tastes are satiated, when there’s no real counter-cultural movements because everyone who would otherwise contribute their input into what gets played isn’t engaged, then from whence does any counter-cultural movement come?

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Nottingham Lace

“Oh god, Buckethead.”

Yeah I know how alternative and indie purists are bound to react, mainly because it occurs all the time. You have a dichotomy between those to whom the electric guitar is some musical god and those who flinch at the notion of a guitar solo with even basic tonality. Would that there were more who could simply appreciate metal music for what it is. We don’t have to compare Buckethead to Eric Clapton (who’s like so much better because he plays with feel and soul!), Wes Montgomery or Yngwie Malmsteen, and really to do so would be a futile effort, because honestly, nobody really sounds like Buckethead.

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Galaxie 500 – ‘Today’

Some records defy any attempt at myth-making. You can push them and pull them, you can threaten and cajole them, but no matter the amount of pressure to which they are subjected, they stubbornly refuse to be anything but themselves. Thus it is with Today, the 1988 debut of rock’s dreamy semi-obscurities, Galaxie 500. So confident, so accomplished and affecting were the trio’s subsequent studio albums, 1989’s On Fire and their 1990 swansong This Is Our Music, that there is an overwhelming urge to see something in Today that isn’t there. Surely it is a lost classic, an unpolished gem, lost in a sea of public indifference, like the masterworks of so many alternative rock bands (an awful term) of the mid to late ‘80s? Or perhaps it is a flawed masterpiece, brought down by band tension/unsympathetic production/financial constraints? It isn’t, and it doesn’t need to be.

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Swamp Lizard at the Lansdowne

It sounds depressing, but sometimes it pays to lower your expectations. Not every gig can change your life; in fact if they did it would be pretty damn exhausting. That’s not to say you shouldn’t always aspire to hear something special, just not to be too disappointed when you don’t. Accentuate the positive and so on. If you’ve already got that down then you would have been pretty ideally placed – at least mentally – to catch Swamp Lizard playing at the Lansdowne Hotel. It was a young local band playing in an early slot to a small crowd of moderately interested patrons, and that was how it sounded. Looking somewhere between fourteen and twenty-five years of age in their vaguely pop-punky attire, they took the stage and played some forty-five minutes of loud, grungy, oh-so-slightly poppy rock. There were a few good ideas and a lot of what people seem to call ‘attitude’. They had their thing, and they got up and did it. Providing your expectations weren’t set too high, they weren’t bad.

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So it’s 1979, you just bought The Wall on LP (paying double for the four sides). About twenty minutes in, you’re wondering why Pink Floyd’s latest record is such a buzz-kill, what the hell all the liner-note is supposed to be representing and why all the songs seem to be about some kid. About three listens later you begin to understand the narrative, about some kid whose dad dies, mother is repressive and ends up becoming an unsatisfied rock star. Three months later you’ll read some magazine expose and be wondering how the listener was supposed to understand that Pink becomes a fascist dictator, let alone how is it relevant plot-wise. The moral of this story being that life sucked before Wikipedia.

The Context

Indeed, life before the internet is unimaginable to me.  I’ve heard tales from Baby Boomers and Gen X that seem ludicrous today; having to wait months to order particular albums from your local CD store (at significant expense) when all it requires now to acquire the one and only release of obscure prog rock band “Mirkwood” is about $20 on Amazon (including shipping) and two weeks’ patience. Even better, I can look the tracks up on YouTube so I know what I’m buying. Like the drumming on John Coltrane albums? Look up Elvin Jones, discover Larry Young and proceed to download all of his albums from The Pirate Bay and have some Grant Green thrown in for free (oh wait, it’s all free!). Don’t understand how to play a reggae groove? One of YouTube’s dozens of ‘drum cover’ stars or tutors will teach you how within five minutes.

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