31 August 2006

I'm so prolific this week

I've been sitting here all afternoon with my eyes all over soccernet.com waiting for any good news from the Toon 'cos it's the summer transfer deadline. It's not looking so hot for the Black & White. Anyway, remember my review of the latest sunn0))) record and my mention of the guy in the casket screaming bloody murder? Well, his fifth album comes out soon. Make up yr own mind whether it's worth it. On the other hand, I was introduced to Latvian pagan/folk/black metal legends Skyforger and I need to get my hands on more of their stuff. It's like a Baltic version of Destroyer 666 with traditional costumes and flutes and whatnot. Don't laugh, it's really fucking good (and this from a guy who thinks LOTR is stupid!).

Xasthur - Subliminal Genocide
Hydra Head Industries
12 Sept 2006
2 stars

Xasthur is the solo project of black metal practitioner Malefic (aka, the dude in the casket on the latest sunn0))) release). I say "practitioner" because Malefic is, according to the press sheet I received with the CD, "one of the most innovative black metal practitioners of the isolationist sub-underground." Subliminal Genocide is Xasthur's fifth album, and, though I'm not sure what else is going on in the rest of the isolationist sub-underground, maybe some of these guys should go outside for a little while and get some fresh air. I caught myself laughing a few times at the extraordinary melodramatics presented here. Yes, I do understand that saying these things could get me ritually slaughtered--if guys like this are serious about what they do, that is.

Now I'll freely admit that there are some interesting passages on this album (tracks 4, 6 and 10 particularly), but overall it's a bit self-indulgent and claustrophobic--though one might presume this stems from a certain level of agoraphobia on Malefic's part. While I generally dig on scratchy, low-fi black metal vocals, here there is only yelling and screaming (presumably in a very tiny room, eh?) with a shitload of echo and very little reverb, given the overall vocal dryness. The drum parts, while not that interesting to begin with, are generally very low in the mix and poorly recorded. My gut tells me that this album could be about a thousand times better with some solid drumming to support the intricate guitar and key work, but it seems that's the last thing on Malefic's mind.

Anyway, Subliminal Genocide is sub-par in my mind. It goes on forever and goes practically nowhere in that span. If you want a proper taste of what it must have been like to endure the psychological trauma of solitary confinement in a medieval dungeon, this is probably as close as you'll get.

29 August 2006

London in Brooklyn

The rain keeps coming, and thanks to Electricity Bill's Premiership "Preview", everything feels a little more English around here. Now for something emphatically not English...

Lower Forty-Eight - Apertures
Monotreme Records
17 October 2006
3 stars

I'm assuming there are plenty of Avail fans reading this (and you can count me among them), but I'm wondering how many of you really appreciate their work since they jumped to Fat Wreck. It was about that time that the material began to sound overproduced, their original passion seemed to dissipate and Tim Barry's vocals just went somewhere else. I have no idea where they went really, all I know is that there are few new-millenium Avail songs that really hit me. Well, Lower Forty-Eight vocalist Andrew Lund sounds exactly like what Tim Barry sounds like now.

San Francisco's Lower Forty-Eight lays out a tight mixture of mid-90s post-hardcore and early- to mid-90s skatecore. They display mature songwriting with complex guitar and bass lines supported by very solid drumming. While this band retains a certain level of technicality, it is never reaches the point of being unnecessary; it's generally mid-tempo music that remains interesting and listenable. Unfortunately, for all these positives, the vocals ruin the album.

I'm not sure what else to say. I really miss my old Avail. I really wish this band Lower Forty-Eight would rethink their vocal styling because otherwise they're so damn good. This is all a bit depressing especially since it won't stop raining.

28 August 2006

2006/2007 English Premier League "Preview"

I’m calling this a 2006/2007 English Premier League preview even though many teams have already completed three fixtures and are well on their way… I couldn’t get this done in time for the beginning of the season and, to be totally honest, wanted to see just a little bit of the action before I started making wild predictions about everything. That said, I feel now is the time to start predicting wildly while I’m sitting at work doing nothing much. 3 Fixtures down, 35 to go, and I’ve got to pick some winners, some losers and comment on some other things on my mind while I’m at it.

First things first, I’m laying out my predictions for Champions’ League teams (top four in the tables at season’s end) and relegation (the bottom three at season’s end).

Champions’ League:
1. Manchester United
2. Chelsea
3. Liverpool
4. Arsenal

18. Middlesbrough
19. Sheffield United
20. Watford

First things first… the crappy teams:

20. Watford, who are nicknamed the hornets for their unis, but whose badge appears to be a satanic moose, are happy to be here in the Premier League after finishing 3rd in the Championship last year, but should be fairly beaten and bruised by season’s end. They haven’t been in the premiership since ’99-’00 and will not be seen there next year either. They have some young talent, particularly striker Marlon King, but too much youth and not enough talent overall will condemn them to the Championship again.

19. Sheffield United finished 2nd in the Championship last year, 9 points ahead of Watford, but I have them pegged to suffer the same fate as the Hornet Mooses (Meece?). The Blades haven’t sniffed the Premiership since 1994, and I don’t expect them to stay up long… despite the fact that they have a cool emblem with scimitar thingies and a semi-intimidating nickname (at least in comparison to the Trotters or the Toffees… really frightening). They’re already 19th in the tables after three fixtures and I don’t think they’ll move much all year.

18. This is the first semi-tough pick for me, especially since this side just finished dusting the Evil Empire (Chelsea) in the middle of last week but, pending further investigation, I’m sticking Middlesbrough here. With manager Steve McClaren gone to work on the English national team, and the only notable addition to a side that lost Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (had to work that name in somewhere) being a guy named Arca from Sunderland F.C. who is now injured (speaking of crappy…), I figured this team would take a bit of a dive. Also, the teams that finished below them in the tables last year, Aston Villa, Manchester City and Portsmouth, look better to me… Man City’s playing OK, and Portsmouth added a few old England internationals that may be past their prime, but will add something to a team that missed relegation by only 4 points last year. Aston Villa has some American billionaire money coming in, so they should improve eventually too. The teams that finished ahead of Boro last year look better too, with the possible exception of Fulham, whose early demolition by Man U got them off on the wrong foot. (Quick addendum to this entry Monday 28th Aug at 4:15 pm ET: Portsmouth is smacking Boro around 2-nil, oops I tell a lie, they just scored a third, in the 57th minute. Boro sucks, unless they’re beating Chelsea.)

The Elite:

1. Manchester United. I have the Red Devils ahead of Chelsea early in the season for a few reasons: 1) Their attack looks extremely fluid and totally overwhelming this year. Their two primary strikers, Wayne Rooney and Louis Saha, are coming off extremely lackluster World Cup performances, but both have already begun to demolish the opposition. Rooney only played one match against Fulham before being sentenced to three games off for a red-card in European competition, but in that match he scored two goals, assisted on another and generally wreaked havoc on a weak Fulham side. Saha also scored one and assisted one in that match and has kept up a torrid pace since then (another goal and two more assists in two matches) and looks eager to make the Old Trafford crowd forget Ruud Van Nisterooy in a hurry. Ryan Giggs looks good, Ronaldo is spectacular (and a complete pillock) and with Carrick coming back, and the possibility of an Owen Hargreaves transfer, Man U could have the two best English holding midfielders (even though one of them is Canadian) playing on the same side. 2) Rio Ferdinand is not injured… yet. Man U started well last year, but then the wheels fell off when injuries hit. Rio has just dodged a broken toe, and more players are coming back from injury than are going out due to injury. That’s a very good thing. This defense is not on the level of Chelsea’s, but it’s still very good. Rio can be rock solid (though hasn’t been great in recent years with all of the distractions he’s faced), and they have plenty of backs that like to attack (Wes Brown, Evra, Gary Neville and Gabrielle Heinze can all provide some attacking dimension) which should strengthen the onslaught if they can all get healthy. 3) Man U may be something of an evil empire, but I HATE Chelsea, and can’t help but root for anyone, even if it’s the old regime, who might unseat the new regime. Part of that comes from the fact that this Chelsea team is so goddamn boring. A bunch of great players who are unhappy and play like they’re pieces of a machine, headed by an arrogant Portuguese asshole. At least Man U is fun to watch. Their players are volatile and passionate and somewhat crazy, and they’re playing fun football.

2. Chelsea is here because they have to be. With this much talent, it would be foolish to expect them to finish out of the top three and it may honestly be foolish to expect them to finish lower than #1. But I’m anxiously awaiting the onset of Real Madrid syndrome, whereby an owner completely overreaches, acquires too many superstars, makes them unhappy and then proceeds to be beaten in the tables by a team that may not have as much aggregate talent, but wins because they enjoy themselves. I’m hoping that Man U (or whoever) is to Chelsea as Barca is to Real. Whether this happens or not, Chelsea have looked a little rusty to start the year, but it would be stupid to assume that they’ll be out of form for too long, especially since they tend to be strong finishers rather than setting the pace early. The new additions, Michael Ballack are Andriy Shevchenko are world class players at their respective positions, and it won’t be long before the Ukrainian is pouring in goals. However, trying to fit Ballack into a midfield with Frank Lampard, who does many of the same things only better, could be difficult and might force Mourinho to play Ballack a little further out wide or back than he usually likes. Makalele and Essien are handling holding duties, but Essien is versatile enough (as evidenced by his performance for Ghana in the World Cup) to play out wide a little or on the attack too, so they should fit into the scheme pretty well. The real logjam will start when Arjen Robben and Joe Cole come back and Shaun Wright-Phillips starts asking for some time on the pitch. What then? Someone will leave unhappy, that’s what. The reason this doesn’t spell complete disaster is the defense, particularly John Terry. With Wayne Bridge playing well (and maybe looking to get out while his stock is high) and Carvalho in decent form, as well as newcomer Khalid Boularouz looking like a natural fit, the back four should keep this team near the top. I haven’t even mentioned the best keeper on earth yet either. Petr Cech is back and makes a huge difference for these guys. Their attack may be a little muddled this year with so much talent and so few places, but they should still win a fair number of clean sheets and frustrate opposing forwards. Once William Gallas is gone and the Ashley Cole transfer saga resolves itself, the defense should be unified in purpose and that should be enough to place them near the top. I wish they’d self-destruct instead though…

3. Liverpool made some good moves during the transfer window, adding Dutch striker Dirk Kuyt, Welsh lunatic Craig Bellamy (who happens to be a striker, in addition to being a madman) and drunk driving Englishman Jermaine Pennant (who after drunkenly wrapping his Mercedes around a lamppost allegedly told authorities his name was “Ashley Cole,” his teammate at the time. Sounds like a good guy.), which gives them some extra talent as well as a few extra pains in the ass. We’ll see how these head-cases turn out as the season goes on, but for now we’ll focus on what makes this team really really good. They have a lot of very good options in front with newcomers Bellamy and Kuyt supplementing freakish robo-stringbean Peter Crouch and elder statesman (and Liverpool born and bred) Robbie Fowler. While Fowler’s best days are well behind him, he’s not a bad guy to have around as your fourth option in front, and the scousers love him from his days as a Liverpool legend (wikipedia has informed me that his nickname is “God” which I think about sums it up). In midfield, they have Stephen Gerrard, who is a local boy and Liverpool hero as well as one of the best midfielders on the planet. Gerrard’s accompanied by some other international midfield talents, including John Arne Riise from Norway, Xabi Alonso of Spain and others. The defense is anchored by one of the premiership’s best in Steve Finnan and the promising young Danish center-back Daniel Agger who scored on a spectacular rocket from 35 yards out the other day against West Ham. All in all a very promising team with a ton of talent. If Crouch can keep up the goal-scoring form he’s displayed so far in European competition, and the newcomers can be integrated without going completely berserk, then they’ll easily qualify for Europe again and maybe even give Chelsea a run if the Blues go into self-destruct mode (fingers crossed).

4. Arsenal is my #4 this year, especially after last year’s mediocre showing, beating out Tottenham for fourth place by only 2 points. I was honestly hoping that Tottenham would run Arsenal out of this place this year, but I don’t see it happening. At the moment, neither team seems worthy of the place, but I think Arsenal will ultimately perform better this year than last, not a difficult achievement for such good club, while Tottenham continue to deal with the growing pains of being such a young side. Arsenal’s strengths are rather obvious. They have the best striker in the premiership in Thierry Henry, who hasn’t hit top form yet, but will score in bunches when he eventually does. They have the best manager in the league in Arsene Wenger, and they have a myriad other talents to boot. Robin Van Persie annoyed me at the World Cup (as did most of the Dutch for some reason… they just came off as a bunch of jackasses), but is a very impressive young player in attack and Tomas Rosicky will shore up the midfield and hopefully provide a few of those missile-esque goals that he drilled in the Czech Republic’s brief World Cup showing. Emmanuel Adebayor seems like a bit of a drama queen, but at 22 is a talent and at 6’3” is a pretty good target man at the very least. The two most exciting talents may be Cesc Fabregas, 19, and Theo Walcott, 17, who should ensure that Arsenal has a great future (providing they cough up the money to keep them on board). Walcott has impressed already this year with his pace and attack, saving Arsenal a couple of times from ignominious defeat with his pace and aggression and it may not be long before we see a lot more of him. Wenger himself said it would be hard to keep him seated if he keeps saving matches for them. At the moment, the backline is almost entirely Ivorian with Emmanuel Eboue, Kolo Toure and Johan Djourou (who was born in Cote D'Ivoire, but holds Swiss citizenship) getting the minutes. Eboue is a wing-back on the right side who supplements Arsenal’s attack (or lack of attack at the moment) really well and has stood out as one of the most aggressive players on the team thus far (not a terribly difficult challenge given Arsenal’s lethargy). This seems like a good time to mention that Arsenal also employs one Philippe Senderos, whose goal in the world cup for Switzerland where he smashed the ball into the net, and his face into someone else’s head, was just plain awesome. His bloody-faced goal celebration was one of the cooler things I've ever seen. So that gives him some points with me. They also have Jens Lehmann in goal who’s getting on in years, but still performs very well. The negatives right now are: 1) They look totally uninspired until Theo Walcott steps on the pitch. Eboue seems to have more shots on goal than any of their forwards or midfielders, which may not actually be true, but it certainly seems that way, which is not great considering he’s a right back. 2) They are dealing with two whiney wantaways in Ashley Cole and Jose Reyes. The sooner they can jettison the two, and perhaps get William Gallas to strengthen the left side of the defense, the better.

So that sums up the bottom three and top four. Here are a few impressions of some of the other sides out there in the Premiership as of 8/28.

Portsmouth is currently second in the tables, which we all know won’t last, but they’ve beaten the cruddy teams they’ve played so far quite convincingly and are the only Premiership team to have yet to concede a goal. Perhaps the acquisitions of Sol Cambpell (center back) and David James (goalkeeper) have helped the defense more than anyone thought they could. Kanu has four goals through three matches to pace the team and midfielders O’Neil and Davis have facilitated well… but they’re Portsmouth, they can’t really do that well can they? Oh, Pedro Mendes nearly had his head ripped off last week by Ben Thatcher (another crazy Welshman), so he’ll be out for a while, but it didn’t seem to matter against Boro (did I mention they suck?).

West Ham have an array of young talent, including Anton Ferdinand, Lee Bowyer, Bobby Zamora and Marlon Harewood who should theoretically help them improve on last years 9th place finish.

Reading smashed the Championship last year with a goal differential of roughly +267 and will avoid relegation this year. I’m not really sure that they’ll do much better than 16th or 17th, but they’ve got some good talent. Steve Sidwell. That’s not really a complete thought, but this “preview” is getting long and I’m tired.

Newcastle appeared to be cursed as they lost not only their last match, but their prize new striker Obafemi Martins too. Luckily it seems as though he’ll be back in time for their next match a week and a half from now. They must hope that he is because Shola Ameobi is dealing with nagging injuries and needs a rest. It’s all well and good to have Scott Parker and Damien Duff, but it’ll be hard to beat anybody without at least one threat around the goal. This team is also reportedly hoping for Wayne Bridge before the transfer window closes after they sold off crappy French defender Jean-Alain Boumsong, which I think would be very good for them. Bridge has played well so far for Chelsea.

Finally, Tottenham, the team I am theoretically trying to rally behind, looks crap one match and great the next. The have nothing going on the left wing, so Aaron Lennon, who has been great, is left to create all the width himself on the other side. Apparently they’re trying to get Stuart Downing before the transfer window closes, which would be amazing. He showed in his last England cap (a 4-0 friendly pasting of Greece) that he is fantastic providing service down the left flank. The defense looks toothless without Ledley King. Calum Davenport has been crap, and has left Paul Robinson helpless a few times already. The center of the midfield looks good with Dutch legend Davids throwing himself around with reckless abandon and Jenas looking OK. Berbatov will prove himself a good signing before the season is up and Robbie Keane is on form already… That just leaves Defoe, who seems like odd man out again after being outplayed by his fellow forwards.

This is getting enormous, so I’ll stop now.

16 August 2006

When Coldness Awaits...

Across Tundras - Dark Songs of the Prairie
Crucial Blast
22 August 2006
3 Stars

For now I am going to try and overlook the fact that the cd I received to review was scratched or damaged in some way. The inevitable noise issues and skipping certainly threw a wrench into my listening attempts, nevertheless, I got a good idea of what this Colorado trio has constructed. Across Tundras takes their audience (and their album art confirms such) into mid-nineteenth century America via a time machine made of modern electronic instrumentation.
Dark Songs of the Prairie is countri-fied post-metal along the lines of what Earth did for their recent Hex album only with more juiced amplification à la Neurosis or Isis. This work is heavy and straightforward, unfettered by any unnecessary technical musicianship. As far as my current listening preferences go it's a bit lacking, though it is still quite good and I can't say that I have any qualms with the songwriting. As their name suggests, I think I would have a greater appreciation for this material if it was the dead of winter and I needed something to help melt the ice from my beard. Right now I'm not quite feeling this, but as the seasons change I'm sure this will find its way through my speakers more often.

02 August 2006

A day off 'cos of heat? Sure!

Due to the intense east coast heatwave and the fact that I work in a poorly ventilated warehouse with no AC, I was told I didn't have to come into work today. This means that I can put up another sweet post. Me posting on consecutive days? When did that happen last, what with my laziness and all?

Comadre - The Youth.
Blood Town Records

Isn't it strange that when a band stitches into its songs a patchwork of identifiable genre references and does it well we give them credit for paying homage to the innovators, but when they do it poorly they're called copycats? Well, I'm left stuck thinking about that because of The Youth. Comadre is a band of fine East Bay gentlemen who are doing the whole screamo hardcore thing at a time when the subgenre has grown out of its exuberant underground childhhood and into an uncomfortable mainstream adolescence. While it became trendy a couple years back for young guys to copycat this stuff to get girls and seemingly shirk any DIY obligations, most of the originators had long since moved on to more diverse and (surprise, surprise!) novel projects.

I'm pleased to report, then, that Comadre makes inspired, turn-of-the-millenium music and, for all I can tell, stick to their DIY guns wholeheartedly. Listening to these cats you get a near complete picture of where a band like Hot Cross could have progressed after their A New Set of Lungs EP (and if they had better drums and vocals. "It ain't bad rap, I just don't feel it. There I said it.") had they taken on some of the darkness and speed of pg99. It's great that an American band is able to capture this sound because most of the quality screamo material is coming from Europe right now (France in particular). Aside from the completely unnecessary cover of "I Think We're Alone Now" (When I saw them they covered The Refused's "Deadly Rhythm" and it got me so psyched. I'm glad it was that instead of "I Think We're..."), The Youth. gets everything pretty much dead on. It's a couple years late, but whatever, it's quality material from guys whose heads and hearts are in the right place.

This is the bands first full length from late 2004 and apparently their new release, Burn Your Bones is out now. I don't have that one, though, so I can't review it. Hopefully it's as good as this one.

01 August 2006

Nothing to do with the Middle East.

Fascist Fascist - s/t
Reptilian Records

So this is one that I got here a little while back, but didn't get around to at the time. In the months that have passed, though, this band has seen some lineup changes. Most prominently, vocalist Ellie Beziat has moved on --and hopefully we'll hear from her on some new projects, because she's what made this band for me. Her exuberance and attitude reminded me of an even more pissed off kathleen hanna fronting a band that sounds alternately like Black Flag and Career Suicide. This is no female-fronted gimmick band, dammit, she IS the band. Musically they're not really anything special, it's basically uptempo punk rock that's a bit on the sloppy side. But the vocal delivery and the message in the lyrics (and I'm not sure who is responsible for those) is what truly stands out here. If their live show was anything like the record, they must have been fun as hell. I think the remaining members will have a difficult time replacing Ellie so I'm very interested in what any new material will offer. At least check out this album, though.