Day 4C: Detroit Metal City, Round One
Another day of battle and bloodshed is upon us as the third redraw bracket gets underway…
#1 Dog Lady, “Children of the Torn Snare”
#16 Jaded Era, “Invisible”
You’ve heard this refrain twice before, and you’re most likely going to hear it three more times after this. Once the RNG had picked the sixteen tracks for each bracket, I started at the top—which of these sixteen songs has the most chance of sticking around till the very end? Once that song was gone, I asked the same question of the remaining fifteen, and so on. The sixteenth seed in every bracket is still in the top 10% of the entire competition, but something had to end up with the sixteen seed every time. “Invisible” has been on the fence the last couple of rounds, but as much as I enjoy it, it ended up being the last kid picked for dodgeball in this bracket, and going up against the juggernaut that is “Children of the Torn Snare”, well, there was really no chance. Jaded Era’s miracle run ends here, as Dog Lady moves on once again.
#8 The Dresden Dolls, “Sing”
#9 Edward Ka-Spel, “Tanith and the Lion Tree”
I mentioned back on Day 4A that (a) I finished up a first run of the entire bracket before going back and tackling some of these, and (b) the #8 vs. #9 matchups generally sucked. Case in point: here’s the second 8v9 bout that waited until everything else was done. (And this is child’s play compared to the one in the next bracket, which almost made me cry.) I know where I should be looking here. There’s something not quite right about the tracking on Tanith and the Lion Tree, so that this song begins with a blast of guitar that simply doesn’t fit, fading out from “”O” from the Great Sea”. And every time the song comes on it jars me, but there’s really no way to erase it, since the first notes of “Tanith” are overlaid by it. (If it makes the final mix, I’ll probably fade up on that bit to minimize the jarring, or jam it up against something metal so it doesn’t sound quite so obnoxious.) But apart from that it is an impeccable melding of psychedelia, pop, and poetry. And then there’s “Sing”. There are very few songs that make me cry nearly every time I hear them. Fewer still that I can say I have listened to over one hundred times in the past three or four months that still have the same effect. And I just figured out where the point of comparison is—Ka-Spel’s track fits in perfectly with his catalog, while Yes, Virginia is an album with two heart-wrenchers on it and the rest is bitterness presented in the form of excellent, excellent comedy. Ka-Spel has the slightest of edges here based on consistency, and “Tanith and the Lion Tree” lives to fight another day.
Alternate official video.
#5 Saltfishforty, “The Bride’s Lament”
#12 Black Flag, “Wasted”
Oh man, what do I do with this? “Wasted” is one of the all-time greats, one of the songs that defined the entire hardcore movement, possibly Keith Morris’ best vocal performance (you may gripe, but take a listen to Dez Cadena’s and Henry Rollins’ versions and tell me Morris did not nail this track in a way no one else could), backed by a band who were playing faster than anyone had ever thought to before and still managing to be tighter than the lock on a tampon dispensary in the Texas statehouse. In 1979, this was life-changing. (Not that I actually heard Black Flag until 1982, but trust me, it had the same effect three years later on a kid who was raised on American Top 40 with Casey Kasem.) You put that up against one of the rarest things in music—a modern rendition of a traditional ballad where the band have made minor-but-significant lyrical changes and improved on the original. Saltfishforty are one of my favorite bands on the planet right now, and their version of “The Bride’s Lament” is the duo at the top of their already very considerable game. I can’t imagine life with neither of these songs in it… but that has been true of “Wasted” since the early eighties, whereas “The Bride’s Lament”, as much as I love it, has only had that status since the release of Netherbow in 2010. Black Flag springs a minor upset, and unimaginably, Saltfishforty head for the bleachers.
#13 John Lee Hooker, “Madman’s Blues”
#4 Skinny Puppy, “Killing Game”
How close are the seeds in this redraw? “Killing Game” is a #4 seed. This is a song that spent many, many years atop my list of the best songs ever written…and it’s a #4 seed. The quality in this bracket is staggering, all the way from top to bottom. And you’ve got it going up against “Madman’s Blues”, and you know, if you had asked me which one of these songs is “better”, from whatever perspective you care to name, in March of 2013, Skinny Puppy would have gotten the nod without a second thought. And that’s a lot of what this competition has been about, for me: thinking a lot longer and harder about the songs I have loved for so long. (In this case, “Madman’s Blues” has been in my collection since 1987; I bought Last Rights the day it was released in 1992, so both of these songs have over twenty years of playtime at Goat Central.) As a tangential point, one thing it’s done is pointed out some of the glaring errors I made on selection day (not a single track from a lot of the incredible multi-disc box sets of ethnic folk like Angola Soundtrack or H Poihsh Sto Elleniko Tragoudi? What the hell was I thinking?), but for the purposes of this matchup that’s beside the point… neither of these tracks is perfect by any means, but both are so damn good lyrically that most of the time I don’t care. But when I focus on the gaffes—Ogre’s voice cracking in the last verse and sliding into that off-key shriek vs. Hooker losing the rhythm almost entirely in the guitar solo—I find that Hooker’s is slightly more overlookable in the grand scheme of things…and the biggest upset by far in this competition has just been registered, as Skinny Puppy head for the sidelines, while John Lee Hooker moves on the next round.
#3 Current93, “Hooves”
#14 Shora, “The Never-Ending Exhale”
“The Never-Ending Exhale” was not a song I expected to make it too far, to tell you the truth; like many bands I’ve discovered since 1994, I found Shora because they did a split with Merzbow (which is fantastic and you need a copy of it), and I was sufficiently impressed enough with that that I hunted down a copy of Shaping the Random, which I never really got round to listening to nearly as often as, I now know, I should have. This is incredible work, and I now know very well that Shora deserve a great deal more press than they have ever gotten. But they ran up against “Hooves”. There are some great comparisons to be made here lyrically; I’d refer you back to Day 3’s lyrical battles, but C93 ran into an instrumental so I didn’t post. But if you’re familiar with David Tibet’s work, you probably know exactly what to expect; a lot of religious imagery, bits that go off into personal realms no one has any idea about, nonsensical forays into dadaism, all formed into a (barely-)coherent worldview that, as the band’s name should tip you off, is intimately tied to Thelema and the works of Aleister Crowley. All of which sounds extremely specific, and it is, but anyone who reaches into the ether for lyrics is bound to find places where their lyrics can go head-to-head with C93’s. Shora do it very, very well, but they haven’t had the time to really hone it that Tibet, who’s been doing it since the very early eighties, has. The journeyman meets the master, and as usual, the master wins, by however slight a margin. Shora depart the field after a TKO.
#6 Horse, “Red Haired Girl”
#11 Michelle Branch, “Washing Machine”
This one ended up being quite simple; Branch’s song is frustration about a relationship that won’t get started, while Horse’s is frustration about a relationship forced to bow by outside pressure. While it’s obvious to me that the song’s context puts it square in the sights of governmental opposition to gay marriage, it doesn’t need any reconfiguration to be about any outside force that hinders a relationship, from Romeo and Juliet’s parents to Social Services to…well, anything, really. Horse once again cruises through to another round.
#7 Elhaz, “Glory”
#10 Nine Inch Nails, “Last”
While obviously some songs had easier paths than others to get this far, it’s still the case that everything that made it through the utter chaos of those first few rounds into the Final Ninety-Six is pretty much sterling. But that doesn’t mean that every once in a while you’re not going to run into a case where one song just beats another in the teeth so hard it goes flying out the other side of the arena even faster than it came in. “Last” may be my favorite NIN song of all time, but “Glory” stands about five notches above anything in the NIN catalog…and it’s not even my favorite Elhaz track (it was a third choice behind the nine-minute epics “Devil” and “Blessed”). Elhaz cruise through with no effort at all.
#15 Kishida Kyoudan and the Akeboshi Rockets, “Highschool of the Dead”
#2 Enter the Haggis, “One Last Drink”
While I can’t see myself pulling two massive upsets of #2 seeded songs in a row (note: I haven’t actually finished the 2-vs-15 writeup from the second bracket yet, so that’s not a foregone conclusion as I write this), but “Highschool of the Dead” is a fantastic track, and “One Last Drink” has one very minor chink in its armor (I can never really think of it as its own song—it pairs perfectly with the instrumental “Lancaster Gate” that precedes it on the album, and listening to it on its own over the course of this competition has felt kind of weird every time it comes on). That may end up becoming an issue in a later round, but “One Last Drink” on its own is still strong enough, I think, to withstand the challenge from the Rockets; it is one of the few pieces of music left in the competition that is relentlessly, overwhelmingly positive, and you need that sort of thing now and again. Enter the Haggis squeak through by a much, much smaller margin than I would have thought.
Another day of bloodshed is in the books, and half of Round Four has gone by the wayside… Day 5C will feature the following bouts:
#1 Dog Lady, “Children of the Torn Snare” vs. #9 Edward Ka-Spel, “Tanith and the Lion Tree”
#12 Black Flag, “Wasted” vs. #13 John Lee Hooker, “Madman’s Blues”
#3 Current93, “Hooves” vs. #6 Horse, “Red Haired Girl”
#7 Elhaz, “Glory” vs. #2 Enter the Haggis, “One Last Drink”