Today is the final round of Day Four. I had opined way back at the end of Day 1B that this series would finish up in early February. I’m going a little quicker than I had expected, in no small part because I was planning on dropping the frequency to once a week after the redraw and I totally forgot. Now I’m thinking it would be quite fitting to have the final post of the series (the long, and completely optional unless you were an obsessive tape-maker in the eighties, tracking and order post, which is the only part of this series I have yet to write–two and a half months after I selected the final songs I’m still playing with the order) as the final var.ev. post of 2013. Am working on a schedule that will enable that to happen.
Day 4F: Rubber City Noise, Round One
The final Day Four division gives us the following points to ponder…
#1 Racermason, “Liar’s Life”
#16 Machines of Loving Grace, “The Soft Collision”
In 1998, I had a brief, extremely dysfunctional romance with a young woman who lived most of the way across the country. Let’s say she had issues (which, unfortunately, I blinded myself to until after I bought a plane ticket, flew across the country, and had ten miserable days to spend there). One of those issues revolved around MLG vocalist Scott Benzel. Fifteen years later, I don’t remember what triggered it, what it had to do with, etc., but the end result was me fleeing back home and not listening to Machines of Loving Grace again for many, many years. (It was a really bad ten days. But hey, I did manage to get a bunch of books read!) At one point last year, I realized I was still doing it and said to myself “you know, you really liked these guys a lot back in the Industrial Revolution days”, and I pulled out Gilt and Concentration again, and well, you see the result; anything that made it into the Final Ninety-Six certainly belongs there. I will always wonder what would have happened had I chosen differently–”Golgotha Tenement Blues” or “Ancestor Cult” or something like that—but “The Soft Collision” made perfect sense given my personal history. And it’s a damn good song, empirically. But, when things got shuffled, stacked, and prioritized, “The Soft Collision” found itself a #16 seed, and faces the same fate as every other #16 seed after the redraw. This bracket turned up something tough, with five songs all clamoring for the #1 seed (but now, a few weeks later, I’m thinking there’s a possibility that two of them may be upset before this day is done), but on the other hand, that gave me some freedom; by this point, there are certain pieces that have become titans of titans, and I know they’re going to make the final mix unless they run into another track of that stature. Two of them made it here, and I was confident enough about them to not make them #1 seeds. “Liar’s Life” is almost as assured a place in the pantheon; where those two tracks are at the 99.8% level, this is about 99.3%, a perfect blend of that phenomenal Julee Cruise/Angelo Badalamenti sound that so obviously influenced Racermason and what we’ve now come to know as “trip-hop”. Other folks might argue for Devo (and have, with me, within the last week) (and we won’t even mention The Pretenders, who everyone in NEOh seems to revere but me; I’ve loathed them since the very first time I heard “Brass in Pocket” on a jukebox at a little diner somewhere in Pittsburgh), but for my money, Racermason is the single best band to ever come out of Akron, Ohio. And making them the #1 seed also allowed me to name-drop the Rubber City Noise collective (whose venue, the RCN Cave, is an absofuckinglutely amazing place to see shows—and I understand they have redesigned and improved the sound system since last I was there, so if you’re ever within driving distance, GO) as the bracket title. While we know which way this battle is going and have since I (and you) saw that matchup, it is an interesting comparison, with both of these songs being as languid as they are (and both of them, in that sense, being minor anomalies in the catalogs of the respective acts); the point of comparison, then, is light vs. dark, with the bright, shimmery atmosphere of “Liar’s Life” edging out the murkier darkness of “The Soft Collision”. And Racermason live to fight yet another day.
#8 Vanessa Paradis, “Tandem”
#9 Tearoom Trade, “Bathhouse”
Here’s another 8-vs-9 matchup that’s just painful to think about. Vanessa Paradis’ perfect jangle-pop takes on Tearoom Trade’s first-person assessment of a piece of our culture that most people would prefer to never think about…and the matchup just resolved itself in one sentence. When you think about substance here, Vanessa Paradis wilts, and Tearoom Trade barrel through with very little resistance.
Be warned, this (official) video is NSFW. I’m surprised youtube haven’t pulled it.
#5 The Legendary Pink Dots, “Ghost”
#12 Fire * Ice, “Corpus Christi”
Two titanic songs from the nineties clash here, and I find myself once again questioning my song choice. Would “Blood on the Snow” have been a better Fire * Ice choice? (It’s over five minutes, so I passed it up.) F*I and LPD are two interesting acts in that you kind of have to wade through some swine to find the real pearls; I have mentioned before a comment made on a mailing list probably back in 2000-ish where some wag said of F*I that there are two kinds of F*I albums: the good ones and the ones that were recorded well. Arguable, but the point stands that their output is inconsistent. LPD release one album roughly every four to six years that blows me the hell away, and the rest of their incredibly prolific output I can take or leave most of the time. But finding the Gilded by the Suns and Nemesis On-Lines is worth it, every single time, because when these two bands bring their A games, they make some of the best psychedelic rock/dark folk you will ever hear. “Ghost” is LPD at the absolute height of their powers. “Corpus Christi” is Fire * Ice maybe a shade below the height of their powers, 99% as opposed to the 100%s of “Gilded by the Sun” or “Blood on the Snow”. And thus it is that the Legendary Pink Dots have found their way to Day Five.
#13 Sieben, “Factory Floor”
#4 Steel Hook Prostheses, “Burning Out Their Eyes”
You can probably tell by the seeds which way I thought this was going to go back when I did the redraw (I didn’t consciously think “this band is going up against this band” at all, not remembering who was who except 1 vs. 16, and putting songs on the lists in exact order rather than slipping things into slots willy-nilly, but the basic idea was “band X goes above band Y because they have a better chance at survival”), and Steel Hook Prostheses are one of the giants of dark ambient/noise. “Burning Out Their Eyes” is just plain fantastic, and it has hammered everything that has come before it with very little problem. And then there’s “Factory Floor”. Going back to the (inevitable, with me) horse racing metaphors, back in 1995, one of the first years I followed racing with any seriousness, Thunder Gulch won the Kentucky Derby at 24-1, and from being entirely overlooked in that field, he went on to become regarded as one of the best American racers of the nineties. One of the reasons he was overlooked in the Derby (well, aside from having finished fourth in his last start) is that Thunder Gulch was the first real example I saw of what I call a “just good enough” horse. He’s not one of those guys who goes out there and blows the rest of the field away; if you look at Thunder Gulch’s lifetime PPs, you’re going to see a lot of victories by less than a length—just good enough to win. It certainly makes for exciting races, but most of the time, you know that guy’s going to finish first. Sieben, ever since Round One, has been a just-good-enough horse; unlike SHP, Sieben has found its place in the Final Ninety-Six thanks to a series of edge victories, very close, very tough decisions that mostly rely on one factor: while Sieben are recognizably, and proudly, part of the dark-folk movement, Sieben’s music takes dark folk into realms where it doesn’t normally go. It’s the brightness of the violin that gets me every time. That’s not supposed to be there, but it is, and it works. There’s more to it than that, of course; there’s a lot more going on under the surface of this song than you might think if you’re only a casual listener, as I have discovered these past few months. Getting rid of either of these is a crime, but once again I find myself being slightly more loath to send Sieben packing; Sieben pulled one of Round Three’s biggest upsets in knocking off Hüsker Dü, and they do it here as well. Steel Hook Prostheses head for the bleachers.
#3 Jack Smiley, “Arabesque”
#14 Shiro Sagisu, “On the Precipice of Defeat”
Instrumental vs. instrumental here, and even though the RNG redrew it’s still the battle of the sub-three-minute tracks, so there’s no time factor to play with here. Sagisu’s track has been a mainstay ever since I started watching Bleach five or six years ago, while Smiley’s is a relatively recent addition to my collection, and one that really didn’t grab me by the throat and say “LOVE ME, YOU LAZY BASTARD!” until I started really listening to it on heavy rotation back in April. I haven’t really sat down and thought about the why of that until now. It’s not the kind of material I’m used to hearing/seeing from Jack; the sax is smooth and mixed-down here, being in service to the driving beat rather than being the melody, where one would expect it to be. The echo effects on the sax also put me in mind of something very distinctive that’s not coming to mind; hopefully between now and the time you read this I will have figured out what and replaced this sentence [ed. note: obviously that didn’t happen]. But that is also a factor in this piece standing up to the incredible number of repeated listens. Point being there’s all kinds of stuff going on in “Arabesque”, up to and including the title, that keep my attention. Whereas pretty much everything I remember about “On the Precipice of Defeat” after it’s over is the flute, the flute, and the flute. Which makes it painful, but still relatively easy, for me to send Shiro Sagisu to the bleachers and Jack Smiley on to Day Five.
#11 Venom, “Possessed”
#6 Waterglass, “Sleep (Song of Oberon)”
Venom have made it as far as they have in part because they have been massively influential. This is true even well outside the realm of heavy metal, and you could probably make a case for at least five hundred of the 688 songs that started off this competition having been influenced in some way by Venom. They’re not just titans in the scope of this competition—like them or not, they are rock and roll royalty, and I don’t care if your favorite band is Deicide or Ke$ha, you owe Venom props. But when it comes right down to it… this may be the last time the bad-recording-quality specter appears in this competition. (I am writing this before making the decision on “A World on Fire” back in Day 4D.) But when you listen to the actual music, and divorce it from “wow, I’m 14 years old and someone is playing me Welcome to Hell for the first time and it is the best goddamn thing I have ever heard!!!”…well, the recording quality really does blow, despite what I said back on Day 2H about Possessed vis-a-vis their older albums, and Venom were never the world’s greatest lyricists, even when you remember that you’re supposed to keep your tongue firmly planted in your cheek when listening to them. Waterglass are a much smaller band working with a much smaller recording budget, especially back in the Found days, and they managed to make “Sleep” sound as polished as they could given their limited means, while “Possessed” is murky and muddy. Which is part of its charm, but given this matchup, and the desired outcome of the competition, there’s no real way Waterglass does not go on here.
#7 Rie Fu, “Tsuki Akari”
#10 Jonathan Coulton, “Re: Your Brains”
I’ve been dreading this matchup, the penultimate of Day Four, ever since I first saw those two names land in those two slots. And getting rid of Coulton, as I have done with so much of the competition’s joke rock over the previous four days, would be the simple choice here. And if I were not a cube slave in a large corporation, I can tell you that this would have been a one-sentence write-up (in fact, Coulton would never have gotten this far in the first place). But “Re: Your Brains” nails the corporate mindset. It’s certainly not like this sort of thing has never been done before, but never as a song, which requires succinctness, wit, and top-notch writing ability if you’re going to do it well and still cram in all that weasel language. It is truly a remarkable piece of music. It’s up against the absolute magic that is consistently weaved by Japanese-by-way-of-the-East-Coast (born in Japan, raised in Virginia and Maryland, then returned to Japan for college and still lives there [ed. note 5Dec2013: though she just married a British guy so who knows?]) singer and multi-instrumentalist Rie Funakoshi. While Funakoshi has never achieved the global success of a number of other Japanese vocalists who were represented here, as far as I’m concerned she’s got the finest voice of the lot, and one of the finest in the entire competition. (And she is famous enough to have played a few select dates in the US back in 2012, so maybe we’ll get a tour soon.) And here we are, with the penultimate matchup of Day Four also being the penultimate matchup, now, I am writing; the only one that has caused me more grief is the Jesus Lizard/Pigface bout. Both of these pieces deserve a place in the final mix. There is no time consideration, since in duration they are a second apart. The only thing I can say is that it would be slightly harder to imagine life without “Tsuki Akari”…and thus Rie Fu survives what may have been one of the toughest battles of the entire competition—it has taken almost four weeks to resolve this one—and heads for Day Five. Jonathan Coulton heads for the sidelines.
#15 8BallRack, “Charlie”
#2 Plague Mother, “Obsessions Part 1”
If you’ve been following along, I’m relatively certain you know which way this matchup is going without me needing to actually say anything about it, but just to put something here: I have grown to believe over the course of the past few months that side 1 of Plague Mother’s Obsessions C10 is one of the harshest pieces of powerelectronics ever committed to tape. It is relentless, it is brutal, and the chances that it will not be in the final mix (spoiler alert!) are absolute zero. 8BallRack had a very good, and well-deserved, run, but anything vs. Plague Mother is going to die a horrible, fiery death in this competition, as three of the greatest bands on the planet (Cunting Daughters in Round One, Killdozer in Round Two, and Author and Punisher in Round Three) have already discovered. “Charlie” is funny and clever and upbeat and well-written, and like all of Cathryn Beeks’ outings, 8BallRack is a band who deserve to be WAY more popular than they are. Plague Mother, on the other hand, deserve to take over the fucking universe on the strength of this one track alone. Powerelectronics does not get better than this. Plague Mother once again leaves a molten trail in its wake as it progresses to Day Five.
…and so it is that the Final Ninety-Six is now a Final Forty-Eight, with a combined running time of three hours and thirty-three seconds. And this means that yes, you will be seeing MORE carnage as we go into Day Five. Assuming we do not hit the eighty-minute threshold before getting to Day 5F, you will be seeing the following weary but determined gladiators beating on one another for those precious, precious minutes on the final mixtape…
#1 Racermason, “Liar’s Life” vs. #9 Tearoom Trade, “Bathhouse”
#5 The Legendary Pink Dots, “Ghost” vs. #13 Sieben, “Factory Floor”
#3 Jack Smiley, “Arabesque” vs. #6 Waterglass, “Sleep (Song of Oberon)”
#7 Rie Fu, “Tsuki Akari” vs. #2 Plague Mother, “Obsessions Part 1”
While in theory, this means that we should be able to complete a Day Five and still need to eliminate approximately ten minutes of music, this is where I will start keeping track of the running time song by song.