Day 2J: Somewhere in Europe, Round Two
In the West subdivision, we have…
#16 Iron Maiden, “Innocent Exile”
#9 Slow Head, “Remnant of Foxblur”
Over the weekend (and for the record I am writing this during the third week in June, 2013), I picked up Wraith Couture and Gaza, the last two Slow Head releases I didn’t previously own. (Slow Head is reportedly dead, and the project’s name has been changed to Anna Heat—but there are rumors of a new Slow Head album coming this year, so who knows?) Slow Head has become the new face of witch house to me—a guy who took a genre that was always meant to be a joke, according to the guys who originally came up with it, and turned it into something marvelous. He generally treads more experimental roads than most witch housers—he is at heart a cut-up artist, or so it has always seemed to me—but “Remnant of Foxblur” is much more traditionally-structured, which puts it in better shape than it would be coming up against “Innocent Exile”, from Iron Maiden’s finest moment, Killers. (Yes, I know, that’s heresy. Deal with it.) Thing is, it’s also my second choice for Maiden—the over-five-minute “Prodigal Son” was my first choice, and I ended up jettisoning it for length reasons…and that is the chink in the armor that Slow Head needs to get past one of the greatest metal bands to ever walk the earth. Slow Head move on to the Sweet Sixteen, while Paul Di’Anno and his band of merry men head for the sidelines.
#5 Porcupine Tree, “Halo”
#4 Kishida Kyoudan and the Akeboshi Rockets, “Highschool of the Dead”
Two wonderful, catchy, metal-edged, hard-driving tracks from two bands with more than enough chops to pull them off. Oddly, since this is usually something I go the other way on, it struck me that I have seen both of these tracks performed live (albeit I saw footage of “HSotD” live on Youtube, while Porcupine Tree used “Halo” as the final song of their second set when I saw them in 2007), and I kind of can’t help but look at the flashiness factor here. I may have mentioned at some point during this competition that while I’ve been doing noise for fifteen years, I spent seventeen before that as a drummer, and so when I listen to traditional music, I’m always paying attention to the drums. Gavin Harrison’s work on “Halo” is damn close to perfect, as one would expect from a drummer who oned his chops playing with the legendary King Crimson. But Micchan’s work on “Highschool of the Dead” is just ridiculous. Listen to that break just before the first verse. It’s flashy as hell, but he pulls it off perfectly. It’s showboating, but it’s great showboating. My gold standard for showboating has always been the quints Alex van Halen stuck into the break on “Hot for Teacher”, and this just plain outdoes that. Kishida Kyoudan pulls a pretty big upset here and heads on to the Sweet Sixteen.
Live in Chicago.
#11 Fluxmonkey, “Untitled (B1)”
#14 SSQ, “Tonight (We’ll Make Love Till We Die)”
Fans of Stacey Q’s late-eighties dance-club standards who were not already fans in the early part of the decade would probably be surprised to hear the kind of stuff she was turning out back then. This is never more true than on “Tonight”, a song that throws together all kinds of different fetishes, some of which may not even have names yet. It’s kind of a mixed bag of stuff that really doesn’t have all that much internal consistency (save “horny”, of course). Fluxmonkey’s offering here, on the other hand, is all about consistency; it’s low and growling and still contemplative, and it earns itself a pass to Round Three.
#7 The Cult, “Rain”
#2 Allerseelen, “Santa Sangre”
This was actually a very easy choice—I had a hard time coming up with a way to explain why it was an easy choice, though. I go back to what I was saying above about being a drummer. Allerseelen have always struck me as a very inconsistent project, but the one thing that always comes through, in every Allerseelen track, is Kadmon’s attention to the rhythm. When one of those uniformly excellent rhythms crosses paths with a melody where Kadom’s brought his A game, that’s when Allerseelen becomes one of the best industrial bands you will ever hear, and “Santa Sangre”, to me, has always been the pinnacle of that marriage. It’s just a monster of a track, the right amount of sampling, the big-big percussion line, the chanted lyrics, everything works perfectly, and I just plain like it better than “Rain”. Which is saying something, since “Rain” has been a staple on playlists I’ve made since 1985. Allerseelen advance to Round Three with a minimum of fuss.
And finally, in the South subdivision:
#1 Soul Coughing, “Super Bon Bon”
#9 Korperschwache, “Charlotte”
And the final matchup I am writing on Day 2J is this one. It’s not that it’s all that difficult a call, I just don’t want to get rid of either of these bands. Soul Coughing took both the stoner-rock and jam-band aesthetics and showed that they were both easily moldable to commercial success, though that commercial success was not nearly as long-lived as it should have been given the band’s wittiness, creativity, and talent. Korperschwache have labored in obscurity for fifteen years, but churned out album after album of consistently high-quality doom-drone with just enough noise, industrial, and electronica mixed in to keep anyone from ever mistaking them for any other doom-drone band on the planet (and if you’re not a fan of the subgenre, you might well be surprised at how many of them there actually are). I am a huge, huge fan of both of these bands, which is why it pains me that I have to leave the brilliant Korperschwache standing by the curb while Soul Coughing, pretty much arbitrarily, pile into the VW bug, fill it with pot smoke, and send it weaving on down the road to the Sweet Sixteen.
#5 The Replacements, “Here Comes a Regular”
#4 Bethany Curve, “Brighter Still”
Bethany Curve do shoegaze—fuzzy and distorted and loud, loud, loud, but with elements of delicate beauty contained therein. In other words, it sounds a lot like a much more refined version of early Replacements. It was on towards the mid-eightes, when Paul Westerberg’s poppier vision for the band started slowing things down, that we started seeing the dovetail into the brooding, low-key acoustic tracks that would come to be one of the anchors of Westerberg’s later solo career. “Here Comes a Regular” is where Westerberg honed things to an edge that could cut diamond; there has been a lot of media over the years focused on what is called in the addiction/recovery world “hitting bottom”, but I’m not sure any of it is as powerful as this song—not because it hammers its points home, but because it doesn’t. The bleakness in this song doesn’t come from the narrator saying “omg look how bleak I am”, it comes from taking the theme song from Cheers and looking at it in the cold light of day rather than the warm glow of neon… that fuzz that pervades every note on Skies a Crossed Sky. I initially wasn’t going to take “Here Comes a Regular” because the song is so damned depressing, but there’s no denying how powerful a piece of music it is, and while Bethany Curve put up way more of a fight in this round than I expected, there was really no question The ‘Mats were going on to Round Three.
#11 Wolf Eyes, “Burn Your House Down”
#3 Sugar, “Slick”
Listening to “Slick” on the way to work in the car this morning, I got to thinking about the lyrics, which happens probably once a month when I’m listening to this song. It’s nothing pervasive—the impressionism of the lyrics plays as a strength in this case rather than a weakness—but there are little problems here and there that get under my skin, both of the logical variety (the lyrics note the narrator is able neither to hear nor to speak, but the first two lines of the chorus being with “they said” and “I said”) and the word-choice variety (the repetition of “eyes” in successive lines in the second verse). It’s not much of a weakness, but it’s enough of one to send Wolf Eyes on to the Sweet Sixteen.
Bob Mould and band live in 2012.
#10 Climax Golden Twins, “Seclusion”
#15 Fucked Up, “Twice Born”
There wasn’t much of a matchup to be had here. Fucked Up do what they do and they do it exceptionally well, but Climax Golden Twins not only do what they do, they do it well enough to throw up on a screen in a Brad Anderson movie and help make that movie better than it would have otherwise been. Climax Golden Twins breeze on through the abandoned asylum and come out the other side, headed for the Sweet Sixteen.
And so, in the Sweet Sixteen for this division, the final matchups look thusly…
#16 Luna, “Tiger Lily” vs. #5 The Mission, “Into the Blue”
#3 Antaeus, “Those with No Eyes” vs. #2 Bruce Cockburn, “Saara Gold”
#1 Wire, “Reuters” vs. #5 Brian Straw, “Veins”
#14 Black Bloc, “By Any Means” vs. #7 Rainbow, “Kill the King”
#9 Slow Head, “Remnant of Foxblur” vs. #4 Kishida Kyoudan and the Akeboshi Rockets, “Highschool of the Dead”
#11 Fluxmonkey, “Untitled (B1)” vs. #2 Allerseelen, “Santa Sangre”
#1 Soul Coughing, “Super Bon Bon” vs. #5 The Replacements, “Here Comes a Regular”
#11 Wolf Eyes, “Burn Your House Down” vs. #10 Climax Golden Twins, “Seclusion”