Day 2C: Way, Way West, Round 2
The top 8 as seeded by the RNG may have advanced to Round Two in the Midwest subdivision… but the top four did not advance to the sweet sixteen. Mighty! The west subdivision begins with…
#16 Sawako, “April ~ from Sea Shell”
#8 Channel 3, “True West”
My first thought in my second round of listening to “April ~ from Sea Shell”—both in the context of this matchup and in the context of Radiosonde’s “Cumulonimbus”, which was nosed by Bethany Curve in Round One, was that I can’t really tell this is a Sawako tune; Radiosonde’s guitar work is often the dominant player in this collaboration, and I should probably be considering that a weak point. My second thought was “I don’t care”. The track balances out about halfway through, with Sawako’s field-recording-y bits coming through with little pieces of birdsong and wind and stuff, and a beautiful little situational thing happens; I’m listening to this track and writing this matchup in late spring, and if this were the dead of winter CH3 would have already won this and gone on, but the song works with the weather and everyone’s happy happy. It’s very quiet and serene and meditative up against the driving power-pop (one might even be tempted to call them the first pop-punk band) of Channel 3’s “True West”. I adore both of these songs, and as I have found in the toughest matchups, the repeated listening I have been subjecting myself to with these tracks has really made me appreciate both of them all the more. I seem to be in a soft mood today; I took S. L. Makita over Mission of Burma when writing that Day 2B matchup about half an hour ago, and now I find myself going for Sawako pretty strongly in a matchup that I’ve been pondering for a week without coming to any major conclusions. Go figure. CH3 head for the bleachers.
#12 Skinny Puppy, “Killing Game”
#13 Devil Doll, “Bourbon in Your Eyes”
On the other hand, there is “Killing Game vs. anything you throw at it.” This is a song that distills everything there is to love about Skinny Puppy in one searing, hateful track that should have come packaged with razor blades. It’s full of layers of ugliness, drug overdoses and Ogre’s near-constant obsession with animal rights and little lyrical grace notes that almost seem as if they were lifted from the lyrics of Key’s more psychedelic side project The Tear Garden, laid over the usual Skinny Puppy synth, but with horror-film piano and one of the few recognizable guitar lines in a Skinny Puppy track that didn’t come off the Rabies album. “Bourbon in Your Eyes” is one hell of a cautionary tale, to be sure, but Devil Doll is dealing in the currency of cheating, while Ogre is dealing in the currency of death. The Skinny Puppy juggernaut once again obliterates anything in its path on the way to competition domination.
#11 Paul Sabu, “Cassie”
#14 Body Count, “Cop Killer”
Body Count’s eponymous debut CD was released twenty-one years ago as I write this, on March 31, 1992, and I’ve been listening to it fairly regularly ever since. And you know what? I still don’t get one line in the chorus of “Cop Killer”. Specifically, the third. “I know your (family’s/mama’s) grievin’. Fuck ’em.” Eh? Is this track about revenge or dismissal? And it’s not like that was extemporaneous—or if it was, Ice-T liked it enough to repeat it every time the chorus pops up. It’s always struck something of a sour note with me, as it doesn’t fit with the rest of the song’s lyrics at all. It may seem a minor thing, but we are now getting very close to the stage where every decision is going to be a hair-splitter, so looked at from that angle, this is actually a pretty major beef; it’s enough to send Body Count to the sidelines, paving the way for a cheesy hair-metal band to head on to the Sweet Sixteen.
Live at Lollapalooza, 1991. I can’t tell which gig this is, but if it’s Jersey, I’m in the crowd.
#7 Skin Graft, “Regret”
#15 Prurient, “Memory Repeating”
Two powerelectronics titans—Prurient is one of the very few American noise acts to get any amount of mainstream press coverage (the only other one I know of is Wolf Eyes), while Skin Graft is far and away the best-known Cleveland-based noise act outside the greater Cleveland area. Both of these guys are ridiculously prolific, with Skin Graft releasing, often, dozens of items per year—it’s less than halfway through 2013 and I’ve already got five Skin Graft releases from this year in my collection (the Enemy LP, the Crippling CD-R, and three cassettes), while Dominick Fernow is so prolific he’s got at least a half-dozen other projects we know he releasing stuff with, and I’m relatively certain at least half the “mystery” bands that release through Hospital are also Fernow projects/side-projects as well. And what’s really amazing is that all of it is top-quality stuff (well, most of it. I’m still not a fan of the whole drum-machine-Prurient shindig that is Vatican Shadow). Putting these two tracks up against each other this early on is perverse at the least, and yet here we are… and after listening to them over and over and over again this week, and probably damaging my hearing semi-permanently in the process, I gave the slightest of edges here to Skin Graft. “Memory Repeating” is a track that blasts you against the wall from the very outset; it’s one of the outright loudest in my entire collection. “Regret”, on the other hand, starts off loud but dynamic; it’s a pit full of spikes rather than a cloud of acid, and because of that, it’s a touch more interesting. But honestly, had they not met here, it is entirely possible both of them would have ended up in the final eighty minutes.
And finally, the south subdivision pits the following combatants against one another…
#1 Better than Ezra, “A Lifetime”
#9 Tori Amos, “Me and a Gun”
I am not even going to attempt to justify the decision I made as soon as I saw this matchup, and have stuck to for the past week while listening to these songs in the car—Better than Ezra are taking this one over Tori Amos for the exact opposite of the reason that, in Round One, Tori Amos took a nose decision over Sol Invictus. The damn thing’s just too depressing for me to imagine it being four of the eighty minutes of music I would be left listening to for the rest of my life. Not that “A Lifetime” is full of happy fluffy bunnies either, but my god, it doesn’t make me want to kill myself on behalf of my entire sex. That “Me and a Gun” occasionally does is testament to the power of that song—but I find it best appreciated in smaller doses than I have taken this week.
#12 Kylesa, “Hollow Severer”
#4 Jeremy Soule, “Distant Horizons”
The first of two crushingly difficult battles pits stoner-metal giants Kylesa, one of the best bands around from a technical standpoint, up against Jeremy Soule, the current undisputed king of videogame composers. And I found a chink in Soule’s armor relatively quickly here, as much as it pains me to send him to the sidelines as early as the second round. I mentioned when writing up his Round One battle that “Distant Horizons” is in what I would consider to be the second tier of Soule compositions; it doesn’t quite have that big, stick-in-your-head-for-weeks hook that you get from “Far Horizons” or “Wings of Kynareth” or “The Road Most Travelled”, nor, coming in at under five minutes, does it have time to develop its minor hook quite enough to turn it into something as big and bold as you get from Soule’s A-list compositions. And then you put that up against “Hollow Severer,” which DOES have that instantly-grab-you hook, not in the verse but in the break, and it becomes patently obvious which one of these tracks should advance; Kylesa are on to the Sweet Sixteen.
#6 Enter the Haggis, “One Last Drink”
#14 Arsonist’s Prayer, “Remembered Iniquities”
And then you send Enter the Haggis, who had a ten-year run as not only the best Celtic rock band in North America, but pretty much in the entire world, up against Arsonist’s Prayer, the first powerelectronics project from Roman J Leyva, who has come pretty damn close to being the entire catalyst for the revival (and rise once again to global prominence) of the Cleveland noise scene. And it is in there I find the razor blade I need to separate these two (and I am totally playing with the “he’s got another horse in this race” subtext as well here): Arsonist’s Prayer was in fact an early project, and while it is almost as accomplished as the work Leyva would do later with projects like Plague Mother and Strangled Cop and Mailbomb Solution, it’s not quite there yet, while “One Last Drink” is Enter the Haggis five years after they’d found their groove and ascended to the top of the Celt-rock pack. Arsonist’s Prayer heads to the sidelines to cheer on Plague Mother, who will be facing almost as difficult a Round Two matchup on Day 2D, while Enter the Haggis move on to the Sweet Sixteen.
#7 Dirty Wormz, “Big Bad Azz”
#15 Lab Report, “For Mother”
During the writeup for Round One, I mentioned what I assumed was the method of recording used for “For Mother”. It almost seems to have been the first salvo fired in what is now being called the loudness war; this style of recording has become increasingly common as the nineties and ’00s progressed. Certainly unfair to blame Matt Schultz for that, when the chances of the bigwigs in the studio booths having ever even heard of Lab Report is pretty minimal (how many copies of Figure X-71 did they sell? Whatever the final number was, there are a couple of zeros off what it should have been, given how great an album it is), but still, you can’t listen to this song at this point in time, if you know about the loudness war, and not think “loudness war”. Which raises the nasty recording-quality spectre once again…and as we all know, once the recording-quality spectre appears, the band in question almost always finds themselves headed for the bleachers. Such is the case here, and Dirty Wormz advance once again.
MAN, that south subdivision is a killer, isn’t it? Day 2C is in the bag, and when we come back with Round Three (in which we will see each division in a single day!), the following matchups will unfold before your very eyes:
#16 Horse, “Red Haired Girl” vs. #5 Cruachan, “Tèir Abhaile Riú”
#6 Hammemit, “A Joy So Near to Melancholy” vs. #2 The Dresden Dolls, “Sing”
#8 Short Dark Strangers, “Flowers of April” vs. #5 Ghost (B.C.), “Ritual”
#3 Death in June, “Come Before Christ and Murder Love” vs. #7 Chris Connelly, “What’s Left but Solid Gold?”
#16 Sawako, “April ~ from Sea Shell” vs. #12 Skinny Puppy, “Killing Game”
#11 Paul Sabu, “Cassie” vs. #7 Skin Graft, “Regret”
#1 Better than Ezra, “A Lifetime” vs. #12 Kylesa, “Hollow Severer”
#6 Enter the Haggis, “One Last Drink” vs. #7 Dirty Wormz, “Big Bad Azz”