December 10, 2011

Playlist Week of 12-10-11

Mastodon - The Hunter

* Dowland: Complete Lute Works Vol.3 (O’Dette) (Harmonia Mundi CD)
* Dowland: Complete Lute Works Vol.4 (O’Dette) Harmonia Mundi CD)
* Geminiani: Concerti Grossi (After Corelli, Op.5) (AAM/Manze) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)
* J.S. Bach: Trio Sonatas (London Baroque/Medlam) (Harmonia Mundi CD)†/‡
* Cage: The Seasons (American Composers Orchestra/Davies/Tan) (ECM CD)
* Thelonious Monk: Live At The It Club – Complete (Columbia/Legacy 2CD)
* Sun Ra: Live At Montreux (Inner City 2CD)
* Anthony Braxton: GTM (Knitting Factory) 1997 (New Braxton House FLAC>2CDR)
* Anthony Braxton: Tentet (Wesleyan) 2000 (d.1) (New Braxton House FLAC>2CDR)
* Bill Laswell: Permutation (ION CD)†
* DJ Spooky: The Secret Song (Thirsty Ear CD)†(‡)
* George Harrison: Cloud 9 (Dark Horse/Capitol CD)
* Grateful Dead: Lyceum Theatre, London, England 5/25/72 (GDP/Rhino 4CD)
* Pink Floyd: Obscured By Clouds (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)
* Yes: Fragile (Atlantic/Acoustic Sounds LP)
* Elvis Costello: My Aim Is True (Columbia/Mobile Fidelity LP)
* Chrome: Alien Soundtracks/Half Machine Lip Moves (Siren/ Touch & Go CD)
* Thurston Moore: Demolished Thoughts (Matador CD)†
* Hüsker Dü: Metal Circus (SST LP)
* Bad Brains: I Against I (SST LP)
* Spacemen 3: Sound Of Confusion (Glass/Fire CD)†/‡
* Spacemen 3: The Perfect Prescription (Glass/Fire CD)†/‡
* AFX: Analogue Bubblebath (TVT CD)†
* Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works 85-92 (R&S CD)†
* Aphex Twin: I Care Because You Do (Warp/Sire CD)†
* Seefeel: Polyfusia (Too Pure/Astralwerks CD)
* Future Sound Of London: ISDN (Virgin CD)
* Sigur Rós: Ágætis Bryjun (Smekkleysa/Fat Cat CD)†/‡
* Buckethead: Day Of The Robot (SubMeta CD)†/‡
* Buckethead: Monsters & Robots (CyberOctave CD)†
* Tool: Salival (Tool Dissectional/Volcano CD/DVD)†
* Mastodon: Leviathan (Relapse CD)†
* Mastodon: Blood Mountain (Reprise CD/2-45RPM LP)(†)
* Mastodon: Crack The Skye (Reprise CD/2-45RPM LP)(†/‡)
* Mastodon: The Hunter (Reprise CD/2-45RPM LP)(†)
* Fleet Foxes: Sun Giant (Sub Pop EP)
* Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop LP)



Perhaps it’s just a case of arrested adolescence, but I have to admit to having a taste for heavy metal. The truth is, when I was an actual adolescent, I was a total jazz snob. While I thought Led Zeppelin was sort of OK, I hated the pop metal bands like KISS, Van Halen, Mötley Crüe and the rest of their ilk. It was the sort of lunkhead stuff the jocks and cheerleaders liked and was therefore dismissed out of hand. Mostly, I disliked it because it was popular. It was only later, when I went way to music school and fell in love with punk rock that I (re)discovered the power of metal. In the mid-1980s, bands like Black Flag, The Bad Brains and Hüsker Dü were reinventing the form enough to make heavy metal-ish music “cool” again, paving the way for the spectacular rise of Metallica and Nirvana to the top of the charts in the 1990s. Believe it or not, I saw AC/DC at the Boston Garden and Metallica at the Centrum, in Worcester, the latter of which rendered me partially deaf for most of a week (I’m serious! WORST sound quality ever!). Then there were local Boston bands like Gang Green and The F.U.’s ripping it up at The Rat or Green Street Station. Heavy metal is dance music for white guys who don’t know how (or refuse) to dance. The mosh-pit can be fun and exciting as long as you’re hale and fit and it doesn’t get completely out of control (of course, it often does). Ah, those were the days when I was young and foolish; I physically couldn’t do it today. After the peak of the “grunge” era, heavy metal retreated back into its various underground scenes and I haven’t bothered to keep up with it.

Nevertheless, I still have a fondness for the genre and the way it makes me feel when I am in a certain mood. It is, if nothing else, visceral music. I can’t listen to it all the time and I do not have very much of it in my record collection, but sometimes it is just the right thing. Through my Bill Laswell fixation, I discovered Buckethead, who (besides (sometimes) playing guitar with trash metal superstars, Guns & Roses) makes crazy instrumental albums with a heavy metal bent. Then, around the turn of the century, I discovered Tool via King Crimson, who were making metal-ish records of their own and toured with them in 2001. The shared billing made a certain amount of sense since Tool are what you might call prog-metal, lots of tricky meters, wide dynamic swings and elaborate compositional structures. Great band (as is the more pop-ish spin-off, A Perfect Circle) but they haven’t released a new record in years and I found myself hungry for more. After reading some rave reviews which made favorable comparisons, I recently decided to check out the heavy metal giants, Mastodon. I was not disappointed. While not as self-consciously arty as Tool, Mastodon unabashedly celebrates in heavy metal’s every excess and make records which consistently demonstrate what is so great about this much-maligned genre.

The first thing that hits you is drummer, Brann Dailor. At least that’s how it is on Blood Mountain, their 2006 major label debut. The opening track, “The Wolf Is Loose” starts out with a drum solo—a dubious beginning, for sure—but right away, you can tell this guy can really play. He’s like the Elvin Jones of heavy metal, playing a million notes-per-second yet right in the pocket. When the band comes in, it’s just exactly what you expect—what you need—from heavy metal: crunching power chords, ominous tri-tone riffing, growling vocals—every cliché in the book—but, hotdamn, it swings! Everything about these guys is over-the-top, from the hyper-detailed artwork and vaguely sinister iconography to the ridiculously overwrought concept albums, the best of these being Crack The Skye, their 2009 album about astral travel, wormholes and Rasputin—or something like that. My inner thirteen-year-old derives endless pleasure from poring over the liner notes and scrutinizing the images. But however silly it all seems, the music is deadly serious: densely layered compositions full of shifting time signatures and shredding guitars, all held together by Dailor’s superb drumming. Vocalist, Troy Sanders, has steadily moved away from the guttural shouting of earlier records, like 2004’s Leviathan (their loose take on Moby Dick) and now he sings more than he screams—which is fine with me (and probably better for his aging vocal chords). Their new record, The Hunter, moves even further in a more accessible direction, abandoning the concept album conceit altogether and varying the tempos a bit more. Fans of their heavier sound may be disappointed, but the slightly softer approach should win them a wider audience. Make no mistake, songs like “Black Tongue” and “Spectrelight” are plenty heavy but leavened with soaring hooks and textured production that make them much more interesting and listenable than the usual metal assault. And while songs like “Stargasm” and “The Sparrow” sound like they could have easily been turned into mawkish power-ballads, they remain fittingly dark and creepy—these ain’t no sappy love songs. And, all along, Dailor carries the day: whether he’s pummeling and trashing or slowing things down to a crawl, his deeply grooving drumming lifts every song.

Interestingly, Mastodon not only releases their music on CD and standard vinyl, but also on limited edition 45-RPM double-LP sets, a pricey format usually reserved for ultra-high-end audiophile jazz and pop reissues (although Metallica’s catalog received this treatment when it was reissued in 2008). Are there enough well-heeled metalheads out there to justify this extravagance? Well, the 45-RPM edition of Crack The Skye is long out-of-print and commands big bucks on the secondary market, indicating someone (beside me) is buying them. But more importantly, does the music sound good enough to bother? In my opinion, the difference between the CD and the 45-RPM vinyl is like night and day. The CDs are over-loud, compressed and brittle and while that might suit this sort of aggressive music well enough, the fast-spinning vinyl is dynamic, warm and involving, with vivid, high-resolution sound—even on my humble turntable. If you want the headbanging without the headache, these 2-LP editions are definitely the way to go.

It may seem a little pathetic for a 48-year-old married guy to be listening to a band like Mastodon, but I am not ashamed. It’s good stuff! Heck, even Liz likes it (much to my surprise and delight)! But while Chuck Klosterman’s brilliant book, Fargo Rock City, makes a compelling and highly entertaining case for 80s hair-metal, I still can’t get into Van Halen or Mötley Crüe or any of the rest of that stuff. I guess I’m still a jazz snob at heart. Bands like Tool and Mastodon display a high level of creativity and instrumental virtuosity which transcends the trashiness of the heavy metal genre and make music even adults can appreciate. Well, me anyway. Plus, it’s fun to rock out like a teenager once in a while.


Sam said... know, I can get into metal superficially, meaning I can appreciate the artistry, but it usually leaves me cold emotionally, although I like the metal aspects of Praxis, Mars Volta, etc. Too much of it, though, strikes me as being like bluegrass: all about the chops. And I ain't so interested in chops anymore! What Tool would you recommend?

Here's my list from last week:

Playlist 2011-12-12:

*John Cage: 2007-09-28: Milano Musica Festival, Event 11 (Evangelisti/Boulez/Mozart/Cage/Berio) CDR
*Mozart: The Complete String Quintets (The Nash Ensemble) disc 2
*Anthony Braxton Small Ensemble: 2009-05-04 Echo Echo Mirror House Music, Wesleyan, set 2 (CDR)
*Billy Cobham-George Duke Band: Live on Tour in Europe (side 1)
*Trevor Dunn Trio Convulsant: 2004-10-14 Hemlock Tavern, SF (CDR)
*Vince Guaraldi Trio: A Charlie Brown Christmas
*Billie Holiday: The Complete Billie Holiday on Verve 1945-1959 (disc 9)
*Freddie Hubbard: The Artistry of Freddie Hubbard
*Nine Strings: Open Circuits/Communicating Fields
*Sun Ra: The Eternal Myth Revealed, Vol. 1 (discs 11-13)
*Henry Threadgill's Make a Move: 1999-06-27 Warsaw, Poland (CDR)
*David S. Ware Quartets: Live in the World (disc 2)
*George Clinton & the P-Funk All-Stars: T.A.P.O.A.F.O.M.
*Deerhoof: Deerhoof Vs. Evil
*Bob Dylan: Theme Time Radio Hour No. 34: Christmas & New Years (CDR) disc 1
*Grateful Dead: 1973-12-06 Cleveland (CDR) "Dark Star"
*Grateful Dead: 1974-10-18 Winterland (CDR) "Dark Star"
*Grateful Dead: Dick's Picks 7 (1974-10 London) "Dark Star"
*Brenda Holloway: The Motown Anthology (disc 1)
*Mahavishnu Orchestra: 1974-08-11 Wichita KS (CDR) disc 2
*Pointer Sisters: The Pointer Sisters (Blue Thumb)
*Elvis Presley: The King of Rock 'n' Roll: The Complete 50's Masters (discs 3)
*Phil Spector: A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector
*Stew: Harm & Ease
*Tad Thaddock: Gimme a Car!
*Tad Thaddock: Munch Surfin'
*Tad Thaddock: 1986-03-20 Anderson Gallery, VCU, Richmond VA (CDR)
*Various artists: District of Noise Vol. 3 (Sonic Circuits DC)

Reading List 2011-12-12:

*Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights (transl. Malcolm C. Lyons) Vol. 2 (in progress)
*Bate, Jonathan. The Genius of Shakespeare (in progress)
*Bradbury, Ray: Bradbury Stories (in progress)
*Bride of Dark and Stormy, compiled by Scott Rice (in progress)
*Esslemont, Ian C. Stonewielder (in progress)

Rodger Coleman said...

Sam, I agree with you re: chops & bluegrass (& neo-bebop, as well). And metal can be such a tight-assed genre, with little use for improvisation and so, yeah, a lot of it can seem cold and calculated. I'm very picky! Except for their first EP, all of Tool's albums are great (there's only four of them). If I had to choose, I think "Lateralus" might be my favorite.

You gotta check out this Brann Dailor dude, though!