Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Swans, We Rose From Your Bed With The Sun In Our Head

Until the audience responds at the end of the 23 minute long opening track "intro/no words no thoughts", you wouldn't assume Swans' new album We Rose From Your Bed With The Sun In Our Head is a live concert recording. The thick solid wall of droning sound is as finely crafted as a perfectly mixed studio album as it navigates ferocious guitar storms, church bell chimes, the occasional soft spoken keyboard, and front man Michael Gira's chanting of cosmic Freudian wails ("Father! I want you to be my father!").

Culled from 2010-'11 performances in Melbourne, Australia, Berlin, Germany and New York City, the album is a prelude to the forthcoming The Seer, an album that is being partially financed from sales of a special edition of We Rose From Your Bed. The handmade limited edition of 1,000 units sold out in under 24 hours.

It seems a musical listener will either dig Swans music or eagerly dig themselves out from under the weight of their metal machine "god is dead" pretensions. I first discovered them in the early days of the internet when I would troll record company web pages looking for free music to download. Swans gripped me with their progressive noise rock and bizarre elusive persona.

They are certainly an influence behind Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, and a host of unheralded noise rock bands. Founder and front man Michael Gira, who is the proprietor of Young God Records (Akron/Family started their gig there), has a commanding voice and aggressive presence that suggests what Jim Morrison might have become if he had abandoned his college boy psych philosophy and embraced the concept that all conflict and oppression stems from the battle between religion and science. On stage, Gira is a dominating and spooky sight, ranting cheery sentiments like, "Kill the child!" and "God is dead!", as his band pounds out drenches of noise at such an ear splitting decibel, the sound has been known to induce vomiting in the audience.

But they are more than just a thrash metal band with a good gimmick ("They were so good - I puked!"). They create an echoic chamber of sound that can suddenly become hypnotic and soothing, like the warm adrenalin rush after escaping a dangerous fate. It's very much like the image of their namesake, which looks godly and majestic while floating on a lake, but on closer inspection, is a mean mother that will certainly peck your eyes out and beat you with its wings.

For the initiated, We Rose From Your Bed With The Sun In Our Head captures a vital and exciting Swans. For newbies, it should make for an exhilarating listen. The album is a rush of energy tempered by hollow and hopeless beats that seem on the verge of self destruction. Droning guitar storms blast into trance-like passages. Dual drummers pound out punishing and complex beats that can suddenly be reduced to an odd and improv-like drumbeat that sounds like the last kernels popping in a bag of microwave popcorn.

Some of the songs are from previous Swans projects and some are apparently from the yet unreleased The Seer. The 72 minute album is best listened to as an entire suite of music for an exhausting, yet rewarding, sonic adventure. In the press notes Gira suggests listening to the album at a loud volume, not for an aggressive intent, but to be genuinely immersed into the soul of Swans, who apparently want to be louder than God.

this review was first published by me here

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Cult's New Album is a Politically Charged Hard Rocker

It wasn't so long ago that The Cult were dismissed as dead in the water. Created in Britain in 1983 on the heels of the post-punk movement, the band split up in 1995, bailing out of a South American tour and citing unspecified reasons for the breakup. Read: alcohol abuse and hateful riffs between members. After reforming in 1999, in 2002 they announced themselves again "on ice" indefinitely and by 2008 the band was an unsigned outfit. It seemed The Cult were destined for a minor entry in a hard rock bands of the '90s google search.

So it is a bit of a surprise that their new album, their ninth, Choice of Weapon is a class act brimming with confident musicianship, luscious but never too heavy metal, and crisp "She Sells Sanctuary" guitar riffs. Original members, front man Ian Astbury, whose distinctive wailing voice has settled pleasantly into a rich deeper register, and guitarist Billy Duffy, an ace at memorable guitar riffs, have created an album rich in Metallica atmosphere that boasts a topical integrity addressing the current state of our information overloaded society confronting political oppression.

In the Gothic draped, Bowie-sounding "Life > Death", and indeed throughout the album, the defensive choice of weapon used to ward against the godzillas of the corporate world (all money threatens rock 'n roll don't you know?) is a personal belief system that can alter the political landscape. In lyricist Astbury's view, that belief system is a devoted fascination with indigenous culture and animal mysticism, as seen on the cover of the CD which pictures an ancient shaman masked as a Middle Eastern rebel. Astbury sings to the powers that be as if wailing vengeful sentiment to the wind - "You can't destroy them / the beauty and the youth / you'll never beat them / you'll never hide the truth".

In "For The Animals", global economic conquest threatens to quell any movement that rises against the system, as a flash of brilliant guitar plays rebel to Astbury's devil advocate - "Dark cities you crawling in / dark prisons your living in / you losing millions of cells / spit your mantra go to hell".

"Lucifer" is a powerful hard rocker that is perfectly ripe for modern rock radio, and "Wilderness Now", is dreamy and poignant with a touch of "Dream On" Aerosmith velvety smoothness. It boasts a memorable lyric - "Death walks right beside me / the light shines bright behind me" that files itself permanently into your memory under "lingering refrain".

Given the politically heady themes so pertinent to the current "take-over" movement, the album refuses to abandon its hard rock likability for the sake of indulgence. It crawls with idealistic philosophy on the verge of intolerance, yet foremost it remains an engaging listen with a driving beat and blistering guitar work.

The four CD bonus tracks are songs from previous Cult projects and are a fitting bookend to the collection of music. The CD packaging is impressive, in not environmentally sound, with a glossy book-like hard cover bounding a 24-page booklet of lyrics, artwork and credits.

Choice of Weapon is scheduled for release on May 22.

this review was first published at blogcritics

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


I was at the flea market rummaging through a box of old records when I could feel the merchant coming up behind me and I knew exactly what he was going to say -

"I'll sell you the whole box for five dollars".

This is the reason I have hundreds of old records stored in boxes. Yep, I said. There was about 150 mostly sleeveless 45rpm records, and the first one I looked at, a mint condition first pressing of Lou Christie's "How Many Teardrops" (Roulette R-4504), a 49 year old record, suggested there were more nuggets in the box.

I've since gone through the boxes and although an interesting lot, I shan't be retiring tomorrow.

Picture me on American Pickers -

"I bought the records for five dollars. I think I can get $10,000 for them."             $5.00
                                                                                                                             + $9,995
So with Record Store Day behind me, and now a few boxes of orphaned records to add to my collection, I attended the twice annual Record Show at the local VFW post.

... and managed to get out of there with merely 4 picture sleeve 45rpm. This pic was taken when the doors just opened up at 10 AM. A few minutes later the place was swarming and crawling with record fans.

I was drifting through a thrift store and came across an Iron Man action figure, and casually pressed a button on its chest and nearly jumped out of my socks when the thing lit up and a voice announced, "I AM IRON MAN!".

He also says, "REPULSOR BLAST!", and "AUXILLARY POWER ON!". And the sound of a super-gun blasting as his hand lights up. He's a 2007 Hasbro-Marvel toy that cost me a whopping 99 cents.

Not as much luck with The Thing action figure that I also bought for 99 cents. New batteries didn't do a THING for him. It's a circa 2005 Marvel toy tie-in with the "Fantastic Four" film of that year.
Although he doesn't talk and is supposed to, he has great detail and looks cool and, well, I love him.

As you can see in this pic, he just knocked out Iron Man.

POSTSCRIPT 5/4: The Thing DOES TALK! Apparently my new batteries weren't so new. He says, "Back off, Buttercup!", "I'm just the Thing!", "Watch it, Punk!", "Thank you, I'm one of the good guys!", and groans, burps, and then says... "Excuse me!".