Day 2I: The Land of Rape and Honey, Round Two
The East subdivision kicks off with…
#1 Ministry, “You Know What You Are”
#9 Danielle Spender, “Tickle Me”
This was a ridiculously easy decision until I was pulling into work this morning and “Tickle Me” popped up on the mp3 player. I sat and listened to it and remembered all those little details about Danielle Spencer’s vocal performances that seem like they’re second-nature to her that other musicians would never even think about recording—the way she does vocal layering in the chorus of this song, how all those disparate phrases cohere into something magic, not to mention taking layers of nonsense syllables or snatches, a word here and there, and turning them into texture rather than intelligibility, and then you add that to the general nastiness of the subject matter, which is…affected, though how it is affected seems to change from verse to verse…by Spencer’s incredible gift for lyricism, which dispenses with the artificiality one finds with song lyrics—you can easily take most of the lines from this track and imagine them being used in a conversation you overhear on the train. All of which makes this almost a polar opposite of “You Know What You Are”, which revels in its artificiality, everything from the extreme amount of the vocoding on Al Jourgensen’s voice to the fact that Jourgensen and Barker jettisoned the traditional metal-band instrumentation they had been using on The Land of Rape and Honey to bid a final farewell to Jourgensen’s keyboardy-new-wave days and re-adopted the keyboards here…and still ended up with the loudest, ugliest track on an album chock full of loud, ugly tracks. They took a risk with the instrumentation of this song, and it paid off in spades. This ended up being a very difficult decision, but it still seems sacrilegious to post an upset here; Ministry are one of the cornerstones of my existence both as a listener and as a musician, and despite Danielle Spencer coming up with a showing far stronger than I expected, Ministry moves on to Round Three, while Spencer heads for the sidelines.
#12 Fire * Ice, “Corpus Christi”
#13 Amaran, “Crow Me”
I was afraid it was going to happen, and it did… you listen to the first twenty seconds of Amaran’s “Crow Me” and you know exactly why this song is here… that guitar line is just sick, and the song only gets better from there. But man, that title is awkward. To be fair, there are definitions of “crow” that are verbs, but none of them really fits either with the title or with the lyrics. (The most likely definition for such a phrase would be “to gloat, boast, or exult (often followed by over“, but that’s pretty much the opposite of the lyrics.) Which may seem like a silly, minor point to jettison a song over, and it is, but the hairs that we’re gonna have to split in this competition just keep getting thinner and thinner, you know? Both of these songs are tremendous, and both deserve a shot at the title, but that’s not the way this works…and so one must fall, and today, that one is Amaran. Fire * Ice move on to Round Three.
#6 The Damage Manual, “Sunset Gun”
#3 Murderous Vision, “A Whisper Becomes a Shiver”
How does one sideline an industrial supergroup like The Damage Manual, especially when they bring their A game to the table? “Sunset Gun” is a massive piece of work, the only song from the band’s sole release that approaches the greatness of Murder, Inc.’s eponymous signature track (which was basically the same band under a different name). “Sunset Gun” may be one of the best things in my collection. But so is “A Whisper Becomes a Shiver”, recorded during a lull in Murderous Vision’s otherwise ridiculously prolific record-and-release schedule, which saw seemingly dozens of releases come to fruition between 1993 and 2006, both under the Murderous Vision moniker and through various side projects. Once the project roared back to life, most of Murderous Vision’s output has been collaborations with other artists; of the eight tracks on Black Hellebore, only three are not collaborations. This is one of them, and true to form, it has more of that “classic” MV sound from the years after Petrus moved past the proto-black-metal sound of earlier releases and embraced dark ambient and death industrial—but with the technical know-how that comes from having recorded all that material in the interim. At this point, Murderous Vision has been around longer than a number of dark ambient/death industrial bands’ members have been alive, and it shows. Murderous Vision advance.
#7 Tia Knight, “Raindance”
#10 Lantlôs, “These Nights Were Ours”
The only real problem with hiring Neige to do vocals on your track is that you invite comparison with the great Alcest, Neige’s own band. Lantlôs are a fine act, to be sure, but Alcest they are not. Neige’s voice thus ends up sounding a bit out of place here; I keep expecting the band to kick into one of those smooth, complex breaks that defines Alcest’s best work, and it never happens. I don’t have this problem with “Raindance”, which is probably Tia Knight’s most fully-realized track (if it is second to anything on the first three albums, it would be the over-five-minute “Away”, on Smoke and Mirrors); this is a song that knows exactly where it wants to go, knows how to get there, and does so with a minimum of stuff and nonsense. It is a fine thing indeed, and it moves onto the Sweet Sixteen easily.
The midwest subdivision opens with…
#1 The Orphan, the Poet, “Black and White Photography”
#8 Bob Mould, “Fort Knox, King Solomon”
Bob Mould started off playing guitar for one of the best bands on the planet. Given the bar Mould had already set, after the dissolution of Hüsker Dü in 1988, it wouldn’t have been a surprise to see him back off a step when he launched his solo career, releasing something that was, okay, maybe a little less incredible, especially given that he did quite an about-face musically. But man, Mould did not lose one. single. step. when he transitioned to his solo career; 1990’s Black Sheets of Rain is one of hard rock’s most blistering offerings. (I read when researching this track in Round One that …Sheets… sold a grand total of seven thousand copies. That, folks, is a crime against humanity; go buy yourself a copy right now.) Then he formed Sugar, whose Copper Blue was one of the best albums of 1992, before going back to solo material and coming up with his eponymous release, which is one of the best coming-out documents ever produced, and all of this stuff stands right up there with HD’s best offerings vis-a-vis just being damn good music. “Fort Knox, King Solomon” has a pedigree a mile long. But sometimes you get to the dog show and what ends up taking Best in Show is the mutt from Dayton. “Black and White Photography” is, in some ways, a distillation of everything Bob Mould has done over the past thirty-odd years. (I don’t know for certain that HD/Mould/Sugar was a direct influence on The Orphan, the Poet, but I would put a sizable chunk of change on it.) And David Eselgroth and co. have taken all that punk attitude and social consciousness and image-centered songwriting and amazing storyelling skills that typify Mould’s career, along with that of a number of other punk stalwarts who have gone on to successful solo careers (Paul Westerberg, natch), and distilled it into “Black and White Photography”. This is, quite simply, a great song, possibly the best song released in all of 2011, and it’s one of the competition’s gorillas. Mould’s track is fantastic, but it’s not this fantastic, and TOTP advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
#5 Elijah’s Mantle, “A Call to Prayer”
#13 Bile, “Lowest Form”
Elijah’s Mantle are goth gods, or damn well should be, and I love this track something fierce, but the fact of the matter is that as I mentioned in Round One, it is a lot more electronica than most of Mark St. John Ellis’ compositions. (Elijah’s Mantle are also one of those bands who do a lot of their best work right around the ten-minute mark, when all the chanting has a chance to really build up.) Bile are industrial metal gods, or damn well should be, and here are doing exactly what they do best: industrial metal. And so this ends up being a very easy decision, with Elijah’s Mantle hitting the showers and Bile hitting the Sweet Sixteen.
#11 MacKeel, “On That Day”
#14 Jonathan Coulton, “Re: Your Brains”
This one caused me some grief over the weekend. MacKeel’s track never reveals the “it” that happened “On That Day”, which I’ve always assumed was intentional (though it’s a pretty easy guess form the imagery in the song that said “it” has something to do with the water—a drowning, a shipwreck, etc., something personal to the speaker that spiralled into a deep depression); the song is about the process of moving on, rather than being the usual Child-esque ballad focusing on the nasty incident in question. But when I was listening to it, I ended up wanting to know more than the song actually gives me. Be that is it may, though, it’s a corker of a song, one of my favorites from Plaid, which is a very strong release given that it was the band’s only one. Coulton, on the other hand, has had a long and prolific career that straddles joke-rock and nerdcore (and if I am not mistaken, Coulton is one of only two joke-rock artists standing at this point, Submachine being the other), and when I look at such things, the word “lightweight” always seems to apply. But then you put it up against MacKeel’s track, which sounds lightweight, but you listen to those lyrics, and my Edmund Fitzgerald, but they’re depressing. Coulton, on the other hand, takes a normally depressing situation and makes light of it in just about the best way possible, using the imagery of zombies to lampoon weaselspeak in the corporate environment. These two end up being so similar, and yet so different, and both of them are the bees’ knees. It took me a while to decide this one, but there’s an internal consistency to the Coulton track that MacKeel’s, given the contrast between the rousing music and the dark subject matter, lacks; thus, I’m sending JoCo on to the Sweet Sixteen, while MacKeel’s fine run must unfortunately end here.
I wholeheartedaly agree with this song description. You need a copy of this.
#10 Bodychoke, “Ideal Home”
#2 Fields of the Nephilim, “Shiva”
I keep framing this in my head as two anomalous tracks, but it’s not, really. “Ideal Home” is nothing Bodychoke hadn’t done before, what with the slowing down and going for the low and slow (viz. “Living with Pain”, which is actually structured almost identically to “Ideal Home”)–but here they do it better than they ever did, plus adding in that final vocal bit that shows a very uncharacteristic vulnerability to Bodychoke narrators. (That it’s psychology 101 does nothing to dilute its power.) Similarly, “Shiva”’s eroticism wasn’t exactly new for a band whose debut EP put a wonderfully-built naked chick on its cover, but man, it comes across so much better in that track than it does anywhere else. So I’m not exactly in my right mind when mulling this matchup over, which is something to note. And it’s a tough, tough call; both of these tracks are pretty much the artistic pinnacles of the bands in question. And so it comes down to a personal call for me, and that is that I’m not a big fan of the sort of power games Bodychoke are on about in “Ideal Home”, as much as I love the song (and as much as that last vocal bit just hamstrings the entire operation), so I’m giving this one to the Nephilim. And thus, in Round Three, there were giants on the earth…
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