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Neurosis Redux

Posted in Articles with tags , , , , , on January 7, 2013 by Magadh

Owing to technical difficulties,  as well as Washington’s cannabis laws, the footage and review of Neurosis/Tragedy/Blackbreath/Stoneburner from January 5th at Seattle’s Showbox is irretrievable. Suffice to say the line up was mind blowing and nobody feels worse about the loss than me. That said, I did want to address some of the nonsense directed a Neurosis from sections of the local chattering class.

Let me preface the rest of this piece by saying that nobody will accuse me of being  a shameless Neurosis fan boy. Prior to receiving a copy of Honor Found in Decay (an excellent record by the way) from a friend the last Neurosis album I purchased was Enemy of the Sun. I’ve found their more recent material to be most compelling live, so I haven’t made the effort to augment my collection. Still, they’ve always been a band I have tremendous respect for.

My respect for the band is why the misguided ramblings of a few local types can’t be allowed to go unanswered. Specifically, the notion that the band is “out of ideas”, “cashing in with this tour” and “not challenging audiences, just playing what people want”. Where to begin addressing this idiocy?

Firstly, Scott Kelly, Jason Roeder, Dave Edwardson and Noah Landis all spent time living in the New Method Warehouse located in Emeryville. New Method was dirty, bleak, tough, DIY and empowering. Neurosis has embodied those traits throughout its existence. The bands added to the bill for the Seattle Show, Black Breath, Tragedy and Stoneburner, certainly confirm the band remembers its roots. Kelly was quoted as saying that Neurosis is fundamentally based in Black Sabbath and Black Flag. The bands chosen to share the stage with them confirm they are not alone. Further, the evening’s lineup, and indeed the lineups throughout the tour, reflects a strong commitment to supporting the DIY community. In addition, if cashing in is reflected in an 8 show US tour, they seem to be doing things wrong.

Addressing the idea that the band is just, in essence, playing the hits I present the set list from January 5th.

  1. Eye
  2. My Heart for Deliverance
  3. At the End of the Road
  4. Times of Grace
  5. Distill
  6. At the Well
  7. Left to Wander
  8. We All Rage in Gold
  9. Bleeding the Pigs
  10. Given to the Rising
  11. Locust Star

A plurality of tracks were culled from Honor Found in Decay, with the rest drawn from The Eye of Every Storm, Through Silver in Blood, Given to the Rising and Times of Grace. This certainly doesn’t speak to a band pandering to its audience. Rather, the set list is well curated with each track flowing into the other as the band builds to the amazing “Locust Star”. 

Finally, the band’s willingness to part ways with Josh Graham and the visual experience is laudable. I’ve seen the band on the Word as Law, without visuals, as well as during the evolution of the projections from film to digital elements. The visual elements were extremely well selected, enhanced the live performance and became as exulated as the band’s music. This is why I find their decision to strip them away commendable. A band content with the status qua does not make that sort of decision

I’d like to leave you with footage from the show. The band is performing “At the Well” and the power of the performance does more to rebut the nattering of the perpetually discontent  than all of the preceding text.

– Captain of Games

2012 Top 10 List: Shawn Kock

Posted in Articles with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 15, 2012 by Magadh


Shawn Kock, of Absolute Monarchs and Mass Games, has been a great friend of mine since he was an alum of the infamous 1812 punk house in Seattle. I asked him to give us his top 10 records of 2012. He included 2 albums released in 2011 (not surprising really…Shawn doesn’t like your rules man!) so I allowed one to stand and took the liberty of inserting Absolute Monarchs in the #10 slot as it’s really a stand out record.

-Captain of Games

1) Constant Lovers True Romance“(yeah, it came out in 2011 but its two years good)
2) Santigold Master of my Make Believe
3) Nacho Picasso Exalted
4) Sandrider Sandrider
5) Naomi Punk The Feeling
6) Alaric / Atriarch split (Alaric side only)
7) Gaythiest Stealth Beats
8) The Intelligence Everybody’s Got it Easy But Me
9) A Place to Bury Strangers Worship
10) Absolute Monarchs 1

Solidarity With Pussy Riot

Posted in Articles, Heads Up with tags , , on October 12, 2012 by Magadh

One October 10th the 3 jailed members of Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot found themselves back in front of the Russian judges who first imprisoned them. Yekaterina Samutsevich was  released from prison after suspension of her sentence. However, the tribunal ruled Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina will be forced to serve out their 2 years sentences for hooliganism.

Shortly after her release from prison Christiane Amanpour interviewed Yekaterian Samutsevich. The short interview is well worth your time and is available here.

In solidarity with Pussy Riot, Tobi Vail (ex-Bikini Kill and Frumpies) released a song entitled Free Pussy Riot. The song was inspired by Free John Sinclair by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. It’s a great tune and Vail encourages listeners to spread it far and wide as a message of support for the jailed members of Pussy Riot. Check it out here and then pass it on!

Free Pussy Riot!

– Captain of Games

Tattooing Legends: George Burchett and Amund Dietzel

Posted in Articles with tags , , , on October 10, 2012 by Magadh

King of Tattooists: The Life and Work of George Burchett

These Old Blue Arms: The Life and Work of Amund Dietzel Vols. I, II

Solid State Publishing

Long time readers of this blog will have, by now, concluded Mags and I can be a bit obsessive. Perhaps it’s the monotony of the bunker, perhaps it’s some form of intellectual monomania we both share. In either regard, it’s fair to say when we latch onto something we really latch onto it. My obsession with the history of tattooing owes a great deal to the fine folks at Solid State Publishing and their sumptuous histories of George Burchett and Amund Dietzel.

Both Burchett and Dietzel came to tattooing through their early careers as sailors. In the case of Burchett, I may have things reversed. He was forced to join the Royal Navy at age 13 as we as expelled from school at age 12 for tattooing his classmates. Both men would begin to hone their craft on their sea faring colleagues and both would take up tattooing when their sailing days were over (Burchett absconded from the navy, the Norwegian Dietzel nearly drowned in a merchant marine ship wreck).

Burchett would settle into an apprenticeship before opening his famous studios on Mile End Road and 72 Waterloo Road. His career would see him draw upon the rich history of tattooing, often incorporating elements of South East Asian, African and Japanese tradition into his work. Before his death in 1953, he would tattoo European kings and pioneer cosmetic tattooing. His autobiography, Memories of a Tattooist, is a brilliant read and fetches a handsome price from collectors.

Dietzel, following the previously mentioned shipwreck, found himself in Connecticut where he met British ex-pat tattooist William Grimshaw. They would fully tattoo each other before hitting the carnival circuit in order to draw income by exhibiting themselves. In 1914, Dietzel ended up in Wisconsin and began to put down roots. He continued to perfect his craft with two world wars providing a steady stream of soldiers and sailors from the nearby Great Lakes Naval Station eager for his attentions. Milwaukee banned tattoo parlors in 1967 with Dietzel commenting, “At least it took the city fifty-one years to find out it doesn’t want me. Milwaukee used to be a very nice town.” Seven years later, Dietzel passed away.

The amazing lives of these tattooing pioneers are presented in exquisite detail by Solid State Publishing. The historical photos and flash are worth the price alone. If you’re a fan of tattoos and tattooing history you owe it to yourself to pick these books up.

-Captain of Games

Leatherface: A Love Story

Posted in Articles with tags , , , , , , , on September 26, 2012 by Magadh

Part 1.

I’d been fascinated with Leatherface ever since I’d been turned on to them in 1991 or so. I’d listened to my first copy of Mush until the CD delaminated. When I heard they’d broken up a couple of years later it sent me into a real funk. I collected their records fanatically, even the stuff that former members did outside the band like Pope and Fatty Jones and Doctor Bison. Most of it was just ok, but it was hard for me to listen to it without feeling an intense sense of loss. Frank Stubbs and Dickie Hammond were both very good, but together they were much more than the sum of the parts.

In 1999, when I heard Leatherface had gotten back together and were touring the US. I was extremely excited. Ok, Dickie Hammond wasn’t in the lineup, and they were touring with Hot Water Music (for whom I do not really care), still it was like a dream come true. They played at the old Mississippi St. house in north Portland. The day of the gig I was really amped. As it got toward evening, I realized that I hadn’t told my wife that I was going to need our car, and it only dawned upon me that it might be a problem long after it was too late to undertake the epic bus ride from where I lived in southeast up to the peninsula. By the time my wife arrived at about 8:00, I was pretty sure my chance had gone, but she convinced me to give it a shot anyway. I drove like a psychopath up 99E, blowing about every other light. Of course, when I got there I found out that they wouldn’t be playing for another hour or more.

Their set that night was not all that great. The mic kept giving out and their second guitarist didn’t seem to have a very good grip on the songs. Worse yet, there was a really large, sweaty guy in the pit who insisted on both taking his shirt off and moshing all over the diminutive woman standing next to me, all the while shouting at the band like they were some bunch of frat boys covering “Tequila.” This was really beginning to bum me out. I was mulling over the probable consequences of punching him when the woman, sick of getting slathered in this guys bodily fluids, turned to him between songs and said, “If you barge into me one more time I’m gonna knock your fucking teeth out.” She couldn’t have weighed more than 95 pounds, but I had no doubt that she was serious. And neither did the sweaty moshing guy, who settled right down.

I spent the show in a state of extreme nervous excitement. Leatherface was certainly my favorite band in those days, and I expected that actually getting to see them would be cathartic. But it wasn’t. I kept waiting for the mic to cut out again, or for the sound to die completely, or for some other bad thing to happen. I suppose it was because I assumed that this was going to be a complete one off. By the time they finished, I was about ready to have a seizure. I went out on the sidewalk in front of the storefront where the bands played and smoked a cigarette, trying to calm down. I stood by, watching the band load their gear out of the door. Finally, I worked up the courage to go over to them. They were sitting in the side door of their van. I walked up to Frank Stubbs, grabbed his hand, and shook it, saying, “That was great. It was really fucking great.” Then, without so much as waiting for a response, I turned around and headed to my car. Even in that moment, the prospect that the image might be shattered was too much for me to bear.

The next year, I was living Chapel Hill, North Carolina when I heard that Leatherface was touring again (with Samiam). This time I wasn’t quite as psyched out about the whole thing. I lived within a short walk of the Cat’s Cradle, where they were playing and, more importantly, I’d already seen them before so I was a little more relaxed about it.

I got to the club just as the opening band was finishing up, got a drink, and positioned myself about three feet back from the center of the stage. Leatherface came on after a short changeover and played a couple of songs off of Horsebox, their most recent record at that point. This was ok. They were playing well, even though that stuff wasn’t my favorite material. Then they stopped. Frank Stubbs looked down at me and said, “This next one goes out to the guy in the Arsenal jersey. That is what that is, right?”

I think I managed a stunned, “Yeah.”

“We beat you guys,” he said, meaning Sunderland, their hometown football club. “We got beat by Ipswich, but we beat you lot.” I was right on the verge of having a stroke. Then they broke into “Not Superstitious,” my favorite of their songs. This was, quite possibly, the best thing that’s ever happened to me at a show. They went on to do a whole bunch of other songs from Mush, and generally played an absolutely raging set.

When they were done, I resolved that I was going to actually talk to Frank Stubbs. The backstage at the Cat’s Cradle was a tiny area off to the right of the stage, shielded from the rest of the room by a curtain. Veteran ligger that I was, I decided to just walk in there and see what was going on. Stubbs was sitting on a stack of gear, talking to a girl who I gathered from the conversation was doing a zine. I waited until she was done and then introduced myself. To my intense relief, he turned out to be very pleasant. He offered me a beer from the open case next him, and we talked about football and music. I got the chance to ask him a lot of questions that had been buzzing around in my head for years, like about what writing process of their songs was like, and why Dickie Hammond wasn’t in the band anymore. He told me that their relationship had kind of soured when Leatherface got well known because Hammond felt like Stubbs got too much attention. He also claimed that he wrote most of the songs and minimized Hammond’s contribution to the writing. I took this all with a grain of salt, since people will say a lot of things when they are angry at each other. He did say that both he and Hammond really respected one another, and I’m sure he meant it (especially since Hammond subsequently rejoined the band).

We sat around for half an hour or so, drinking beer and chatting. Then he said he had to get something from their van. I followed him out into the parking lot, shook his hand again, and told him I had to split. He asked why I wasn’t sticking around for Samiam. I told him they were from the US and I would have plenty of opportunities to see them. In fact, I was so stoked from the conversation that I wanted to get out of the area quickly before something happened to tamp down my euphoria.

Part 2.
I’m not going to talk about every single thing that they have released, just the ones that have had particular significance to me.

Cherry Knowle (1989) Meantime Records
Fill Your Boots (1990) Roughneck Records
I bought these two records on the same day in 1993. At the time I thought that Fill Your Boots came earlier, and you could almost believe it given the way that the two records sound. Although the song structures are pretty comparable on both, the guitar mix on Fill Your Boots is muddier, which gives songs like “New York State” and “Peasant in Paradise” a sort of whooshy, distant sound. The crisper guitars on Cherry Knowle make it seem a bit more advanced, and you could argue that the lyrics are a bit more direct, in the way that they would be on Mush. Of the two, Fill Your Boots the one that I like better overall, but I think Cherry Knowle has that better individual songs. “Discipline” will always be one of my favorite songs, particularly because it is an early illustration of Frank Stubbs’s capacity to understand human character. “Cabbage Case” takes on the theme of drug abuse, one to which the band would return repeatedly, particularly in the powerfully moving “Little White God” released five years later. “Smile (You’re In a Free and Pleasant Land)” has a powerful melody and allows Stubbs to flash his culture, which from the lyrics of their songs is clearly extensive. Still, it is Fill Your Boots to which I listen more often. It has a darker, more depressive quality than Cherry Knowle, one that I find particularly appealing. Fill Your Boots also shows flashes of another of Leatherface’s great skills: the cover song. They reprise the cover of Elvis Presley’s “In the Ghetto” that featured on Cherry Knowle (which is not one of my absolute favorites) and add a version of Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” (which is).

Mush (1991) Roughneck
I got the version that came out on Seed in North America, but that’s a minor point. In my opinion, this is about as close to a flawless punk record as I have ever heard. The songs are powerful and well-arranged and there isn’t one filler cut in the bunch. The thing that really struck me the first time (and the first hundred times) that I listened to Mush was the excellence of Frank Stubbs’s lyrics. He writes songs for adults, songs that deal with things in ways that are complex and nuanced. From the desire to be more than one is (“I Want the Moon”), to the complexities of belief (“Not Superstitious”), and the stories that we tell ourselves to live (“Baked Potato”), Stubbs creates lyrics that either turn clichés on their heads, or dispense with them completely. The song that really stand out for me is “The Scheme of Things”. There, Stubbs returns to the theme, first approached in “Discipline” of people’s search for something to give their lives meaning. Stubbs focuses on people involved in religious movements, but rather than just calling them stupid or implying that they are simply deluded, he tries to address the underlying loneliness that motivates believers. As the lyric finishes, Stubbs moves from compassion to anger at the people promulgating these systems, “Show me a savior, after all, that’s what you’re selling.” For me, this is a cut above the standard fare.

Dreaming b/w Eagle 7” (1992)
I can still remember buying this in record store near South Street in Philadelphia. “Dreaming” is an ok cut, but “Eagle” is arguably the best cover tune they ever did, all the more so because it’s originally by ABBA.

Minx (1993) Roughneck

This was the first Leatherface album that I got after Mush. I bought it when it came out in 1993 and I was a bit disappointed. The songs are a bit longer than on Mush, sometimes surpassing the quality of the licks on which they are based. Also, if you listen to Mush and Minx back to back you will notice that Frank Stubbs’s voice becomes rather huskier between the two records. His singing was (and is) always gritty, but it sounds to me like he is singing in a bit higher register on the earlier records and this gives them a directness that Minx sort of lacks. That said, Minx really grew on me, especially when I read in a fanzine that Leatherface had broken up. I figured that this was the last thing that I would ever hear by them, so I decided that I would do my best to understand what they were trying to do. There are some really beautiful tunes on Minx, particularly “Books,” “Do the Right Thing,” and “Pale Moonlight” which I think rank as classics in the Leatherface catalog. I think my favorite song is probably “Fat, Earthy, Flirt,” both because it’s melody is a great example of Stubbs and Hammond combining chords with ringing individual strings, and because I really have no idea how the title relates to the rest of the song.

The Last (1994) Domino Records
Buying The Last was, for me, a little like receiving a letter from a dead friend. The band was gone, forever for all I knew. It has the feeling of a last will and testament, but it also seemed like a fragment. It contains some of the band’s finest work. “Little White God” is a compelling melody paired with a very moving lyric about drug addiction, one which I found particularly compelling as I heard it around the time that a friend of mine died from a heroin overdose. “Daylight Comes” flashes a harder rocking side that wouldn’t have been out of place on Mush, while the Snuff cover “Winsome, Losesome” is more rollicking and upbeat than a lot of their other material. Then there are cuts like “Shipyards” and “Ba Ba Ba Ba Boo” which really seem like filler to me.

After hearing The Last, I really felt at sea. And then there followed a weird period when the main creative forces in the band released projects with other bands. Frank Stubbs did two bands that I knew of: Jesse and Pope. I never heard the Jesse 7”s, but I bought Pope’s Johnpaulgeorgeringo when it came out. I wanted very much to like it. It featured the familiar powerful melodies and thoughtful lyrics, but it seemed somehow empty. Perhaps it was an effect of there only being one guitar, but it made me think that the songwriting team of Stubbs and Hammond were more than the sum of their parts. Hammond had formed Doctor Bison with former members of the Welsh band The Abs. Their two records, The Bloated Vegas Years and Dewhursts – The Musical, we decent, but they had a different flavor from Leatherface. Baz Oldfield is a talented songwriter and lyricist, but he operates in a much different creative space than Frank Stubbs. The melodic overlays that Dickie Hammond added to their songs sounded like the dying echoes of what had gone before. Hammond went on to form Fatty Jones (later just The Jones), and although I don’t know for sure I suspect that it had something to do with the fact that Newport is a long way from Sunderland, which must have made getting Doctor Bison together kind of a hassle. The Fatty Jones EP is actually not bad. In particular, “Ashebrook” is an enjoyable cut, but it was once again the sort of thing that made one wish that Leatherface would get back together. Gravity Blues, the album that they released once they became simply The Jones is not bad, but it is really uneven and, once again, illustrates the degree to which Hammond and Stubbs writing together were better than they were apart.

Horsebox (2000) BYO Records
I’m passing over the split album that they released in 1999 with Hot Water Music, mostly because it’s greatest importance was that it let people outside the UK know that Leatherface were back together again. Still, it contained the sorrowfully beautiful “Andy,” a tribute to their bassist Andy Crighton who had committed suicide in 1998, and it showed that the band had lost none of its fierceness. I have trouble listening to Horsebox these days, the reason being that I bought it about a week before I moved to North Carolina to do a degree program that necessitated a) living apart from my wife for 22 months, and b) leaving all but about ten or twenty of my records on the west coast. I listened to Horsebox obsessively in those days, and it became suffused with my loneliness. Now, hearing songs like “Sour Grapes” and “Choice” has the power to put me into a funk that can last for days.

Dog Disco (2004) BYO Records
I think that the day that I bought Dog Disco at Singles Going Steady in Seattle was one of the worst of my life. This is one of the few things that Frank Stubbs ever did that I really don’t like at all. In fact, it is the only one of Leatherface’s full LPs of which I do not actually own a copy. It was as if Stubbs had distilled all of the mistakes in his songwriting into one large mistake. I mean, it’s not quite Bad Religion Into the Unknown, but it is not up to the band’s normal standard. Hearing this record was like a punch in the gut. It was like the breakup all over again, but worse since there seemed to be every prospect that they would continue to release bad records. It took me months to get over it.

The Stormy Petrel (2010) No Idea
Given the intense disappointment that I’d experienced after buying Dog Disco, I was really hesitant to shell out the cash for another round. But then a friend of mine told me that Dickie Hammond was playing with the band again, and that piqued my interest. I bought the actual disc at a store in Cambridge and walked home in a state of expectation strongly tinged with fear. As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. The Stormy Petrel is a titanic return to form. Where the songs on Dog Disco seem to lack direction, those on The Stormy Petrel are punchy and compelling. As noted above, Frank Stubbs once discounted to me the degree to which collaboration with Dickie Hammond had on his songwriting. I have to say that, on the basis of the available evidence, it is clear to me that Leatherface produce much better music when Stubbs and Hammond are in close proximity. From the opening cut, The Stormy Petrel brings forth music that is at least as good as than on Horsebox, and if it is the case that they don’t reach the heights achieved on Mush, it is also worth noting that the vast majority of bands have never written anything nearly that good. While Frank Stubbs’s lyrics have been consistently excellent, on The Stormy Petrel they are once again paired with breathtaking Leatherface hooks from the old school. “God is Dead” is a good, rocking opener, while “Never Say Goodbye” is an outstanding illustration of Stubbs’s persistent ability to plumb the human condition. Perhaps the album should have ended with “Isn’t Life Just Sweet,” especially since this is a cut that they often use to open their set, but tacking the lower key “Hope” onto the end of the record creates one of those attractive nuances that make Leatherface records so appealing.

Of course even this gargantuan post really only scratches the surface. There are lots of other things that could be talked about in this connection, such as Dickie Hammond’s pre-Leatherface band HDQ (whose awesomeness is too often forgotten), or the live records that Leatherface has released, or Frank Stubbs work producing other bands, or even the short lived band Stokoe that Dickie Hammond played in while in exile. The fact of the matter is that, for me, Leatherface is a practically inexhaustible vein of compelling music. I thought that writing this piece might be a way of working through this, but in the end I find that I am more fascinated with them than ever.


Barcelona D-Beat

Posted in Articles with tags , , , , , , on July 20, 2012 by Magadh

I’ve finally managed to procure a copy of the self-titled 12” by Barcelona’s d-beat warriors Instinto and it was definitely worth the wait. A friend of mine from over that way recommended them, but it took me a while to get around to locating an actual copy of it, and of course then I found out that it was available on Bandcamp for free.

The first thing that should be said about this record is that it rocks with supreme fury. It has a sound that is quite distinctive, differing in many important respects from the take on this musical format that one tends to hear from bands originating in more northerly climes. Although by my calculations they are tuned down to D, There is much less of a reliance on downtuning to generate musical force. Instinto’s music is lighter in terms of tone and atmosphere than bands like Martyrdöd or Disfear. This is not to say that the music lacks power. Quite the contrary, actually. There is an aggression and melodicism here that gives the music real guts. They sing in Spanish, their lyrics hitting on a lot of the sort of anti-capitalist themes that make this music important

Perhaps this might be the time to note that there is a sense in which Instinto’s take on the d-beat form harkens back to the origins of this particular variety of hardcore. In the days of Crude SS and Anti-Cimex, there wasn’t the fixation on using low tunings to create heaviness. Rather, the force of the music was created through belligerence and passion. Instinto is very much an updated form or this approach and they use it to great effect.

This more light and airy take on d-beat made me a bit curious about other bands in that region. There seems, at least looking from the outside, to be a pretty active d-beat scene going on in Barcelona. Going through Instinto’s material, I found a couple of other bands that will definitely appeal to fans of aggressive, politically conscious hardcore.

A good place to start is the Kremón Records comp Barcelona Käos that came out in 2009. From start to finish this is an excellent release. It features cuts from 20 bands, none of which I had heard before, but all of which merit further study. High points include Avoid Notes “Tambores de Guerra,” Atxanta “Virus” (which bears a resemblance to early Ratos de Porão), and No Conforme “Nightmare,” but the thing that really impresses about this comp is the overall quality of the cuts.

Infäme, who apparently share at least one member with Instinto, have a sound that is similar in a lot of respects to Instinto, but with slightly simply song structures and a somewhat cleaner sound. They put out an LP in 2008 (self titled) which rocks most excellently. But for the fact that they are sung in Spanish, these songs wouldn’t have seemed out of place on that Varning För Punk collection of early Swedish hardcore that Distortion issued in 1994. Well, except for the fact that the production values here are much better than those found in the early Swedish hc recordings.

Since their LP came out, Infäme have put out a couple of ep’s. They seem to just title their records in the order that they came out, so that their most recent release (which came out in May of last year) is simply called III. It does reflect a certain amount of stylistic development, but it’s pretty much in line in terms of content and approach with their earlier release: d-beat in a standard tuning played with precision and enthusiasm.

Last, but not least (at least in terms of this all too brief exposition) is Totälickers. These guys have a ton of releases out (they’ve been around since 2005 or 2006 as far as I can tell), and everything that I’ve heard so far rocks like a hurricane. Clean and aggressive hc with a little less focus on melody that Instinto and a bit more directness in terms of song structure as well. Their El Poder Absoluto Aniquila La Vida, released in 2010, features ten cuts of catchy, angry, anarcho-hardcore. The vocals are clearer than a lot of music in this genre, which is a good thing if one is trying to understand lines sung in one’s third language. Earlier this year they released live album recorded in Prague, and the bits that I’ve heard of that are really first rate. This is definitely a band from whom I want to hear more.

Ok, that’s all of got on this, although I know that there is a lot that I’ve left unsaid. I am by no means an expert on what goes on in Barcelona. If there is anyone out there with more immediate knowledge of what the scene there is like and how these bands fit into it, we at A Thousand Trivs would certainly welcome your input. On the strength of what I’ve heard so far, there looks to be a lot of interesting stuff going on there.


I’ve Been Called A Sinner: Brian Cook Muses on Time Spent With Daughters

Posted in Articles with tags , , , , , on July 16, 2012 by Magadh

[When Brian Cook offered us the chance to publish his musings on time spent on tour with Daughters (RIP) we jumped at the chance.  Cook is a real talent and it is our great pleasure to share this with you.]

In the summer of 2008, my band toured with the now-defunct noise-punk band Daughters. I had been a fan of the band since their first 7”, and my previous band had played a handful of shows with them over the years. I remember playing a show with them in Tokyo and winding up at a tiny bar in Shibuya at 4am, talking with their drummer Jon about the failings of modern punk music. “There’s no danger anymore. No one can do what The Stooges did or what Black Flag did in their time.” I understood his sentiment, though it seemed to me that Daughters were doing a pretty good job at capturing that kind of intensity. On that summer tour, I got a much closer look at the band, both as a unit and as individuals. By the end of those five weeks, I was convinced that Daughters were no ordinary run-of-the-mill empty-gesture arty hardcore band. They were legitimately fucked. They were good people—pleasant to be around, entertaining, humorous. But they were still damaged—angry, dysfunctional, perpetually plagued by bad luck. There was a book’s worth of stories just from that one tour. Talking about the band in the months after the tour, it seemed that everyone I knew who’d interacted with Daughters had their own tales of depravity and chaos. The idea of Daughters biography seemed more and more viable.

When Bloomsbury announced that they were taking pitches for new books in their 33 1/3 series, I saw an opportunity to tell Daughters’ story. I knew my chances of getting the green light on my proposal were virtually non-existent, but I figured it was worth a shot. I sent in the required proposal materials, including a 2000-word introductory chapter. Bloomsbury wound up receiving nearly 500 submissions. Mine didn’t make the cut. Perhaps one day I’ll get around to finishing the project and finding another avenue to publish it. In the time being, I figured I would put the introductory chapter online as a testament to an amazing band. Enjoy.

A draft introduction/opening chapter for the book, of around 2,000 words

Chapter 1: Daughters Spelled Wrong

“Yeah, I’ve been called a sinner…”

And so begins Daughter’s 2006 sophomore album Hell Songs–with a declaration of degradation. Vocalist Alexis S.F. Marshall, or Lex for short, wears the insult proudly, announcing it with the kind of defiant pride of Hester Prynne and her scarlet letter. And then a cascade of noise descends upon the final syllable. The song, “Daughters Spelled Wrong”, is one minute and 42 seconds of Lex’s self-flagellations delivered in a slurred Southern Baptist preacher’s drawl. In that short parcel of cacophony, Lex lists off every slanderous label he’s endured.

“…wrong-doer, evil-doer…”

As the front man for Daughters, Lex was the human element to the band. And while his performance on Hell Songs was unnerving enough in its own right, his tirades become exponentially more menacing live. With his stringy hair running down to his lower back, his tall and gangly frame, a wiry handle-bar mustache, hopelessly tattered black pants (apparently the only pair he owned), and an ill-fitting stained white dress shirt, he gave off an aura of someone who didn’t give a fuck about the pageantry of rock music. He wasn’t even fashionably unfashionable. Grooming, hygiene, and composure were neglected. He looked disheveled, poverty-stricken, strung out. Most Daughters sets found Lex in less attire, usually just a pair of briefs. Far from the industry-standard display of muscle and machismo seen in chiseled frontmen like Henry Rollins, Anthony Kiedis, and Chris Cornell, there was nothing erotic about near-nude Lex. Sexual? Certainly, but only in the most degrading, animalistic sense of the word. Lex’s stage presence only served to make the audience as uncomfortable as possible. He would claw red lines into his belly, cram his entire fist into his mouth, fellate the microphone, and drool on himself while fondling his genitals. In moments where audience members chose to interact with him on stage, the results were equally filthy. People vied for his phlegm. Women pulled at his briefs. Fans fondled and licked his exposed cock. A confessed “sex addict”, Lex would swap spit with both men and women mid-set and fuck fans in venue bathrooms. His tally of sexual conquests was startling, given his anti-social behavior. Claiming a bad acid trip as the root of his social anxiety, Lex was nearly bipolar in his daily interactions. He was relatively friendly and talkative one moment, withdrawn and angry the next. A ninth-grade drop out and former homeless teenager, his bleak world-view was legitimate.

“…worker of iniquities…”

There’s no verse. No chorus. No rhyming scheme. No melody. It’s just one musical phrase repeating for the entire duration of the song. The instrumental accompaniment sounds like a broken machine filtered through the ears of someone simultaneously shuddering through a panic attack and immersed in vertigo. The sound underneath Lex’s litany is a study in all things wrong and counter-intuitive. The band–comprised of entirely capable and talented players—sounds like they’re deliberately unlearning their instruments. Cymbals crash without a kick drum to punctuate them. The bass guitar dives and climbs with little regard for actual notes. One guitar avoids the lower octaves completely and opts instead for atonal high-end screeching and skronky discord. The other guitar remains stuck on one warbled, seasick riff through the whole song, sounding off-balance and broken even when the whole band locks in around it. It’s confounding, ugly music.

“…transgressor, bad example, scoundrel, villain, knave…”

The annals of rock music have no shortage of bands showcasing the darker side of human nature. Ever since Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil, ever since Jerry Lee Lewis set his piano on fire, ever since Iggy Pop rolled in broken glass, there has existed a certain sector of the rock community dedicated to exorcising it’s demons on stage. It’s the reason that concerned parents and church groups still argue that rock music is evil. This flagrant display of bad behavior, self-destruction, and reckless abandon is at the very root of rock music. And perpetuating rock’s legacy of danger requires raising the bar of rebellion. As rock music nears the age of retirement, it’s old tricks no longer impress young audiences. Chuck Berry and Little Richard carry none of the threat they did in their heyday. Black Sabbath, who’s very name suggested black mass and the occult, now seems downright Christian in comparison to the blasphemous content of black metal bands like Gorgoroth. So prevalent is the anti-social contingent of music in today’s market that it’s hardly noteworthy for a band to parade its malice for an audience. The harder edged realms of rock music–metal and punk, for example–depend on that kind of antagonism. Daughters looked for one of those last few buttons to push, one of those last few taboos to break, one the last few ways to make people cringe. Perry Farrell noted well over two decades ago “nothing’s shocking.” Daughters challenged that statement.

“…miscreant, viper, wretch, the devil incarnate…”

It takes a certain brand of individuals to make nihilism translate into music, and it requires their contempt to be believable. Words like “genuine”, “sincerity”, and “honesty” get thrown around by critics and fans as signifiers of good music. How do those qualities apply to antagonistic musicians? Do the artists have to be genuinely miserable people to make convincingly ugly music? The artists who are typically the most successful at this kind of dark art manage to convey that wrath and misery in both content and form. It’s not just a matter of singing about the pasty underbelly of the human psyche or throwing a few skulls on an album cover; it’s about the thoroughness of pessimism. It’s about creating a genuine sense of danger. And it requires a misanthropic honesty that carries itself both on and off-stage. It used to be that the image set forth by an artist on stage and on record comprised nearly the entire public perception of said artist. In the age of the internet, this is no longer the case. Even more so for a band of Daughter’s stature–a band that rarely had a backstage to slink off to, a band that still had to unload their own gear off stage, a band that still had to run back to the merch booth after their set to sling t-shirts for gas money, a band with no place to hide and sustain a fabricated mystique.

“…monster, demon, fallen angel, murderer, and thief…”

The Catch-22 is that being in a successful band–a band that can write music together, play shows, tour, record, maybe even make a little money—requires unity, solidarity, positivity, compromise, and sociability. In other words, a band that’s genuinely driven by angst and hostility is doomed for failure. Proof of the unsustainable nature of these kinds of acts is most evident in the dearth of popular nihilistic bands. Even the somewhat well-known misery peddlers tend to be tragically stunted. Notorious shock rock icon GG Allin made a career out of anti-social behavior and bilious lyrical themes. He was known to take the stage naked, ready to fight the audience and fling his feces at the crowd. He wrote songs with titles like “I Want To Rape You” and “Fuckin’ The Dog”. He famously promised to kill himself on stage, which would have been the ultimate display of the self-destructive nature of negative music, but a heroin overdose beat him to it. Glen Benton, the vocalist and bassist for seminal death metal band Deicide similarly promised to off himself at the age of 33 as a mockery of Jesus Christ’s year of death. Benton failed to live up to his word. And while he will always be remembered for the controversy he created in his early career by branding an inverted cross into his forehead and advocating animal sacrifice, he tempered out in his later years when he became a family man with a wife and kids. Not surprisingly, the quality of Deicide’s albums declined, as did their album sales. Allin went to close to the edge and fell into the abyss. Benton mellowed out. Neither managed to sustain the malice of their classic records over a protracted career. Daughter’s brand of ugliness had none of Allin’s overt misogyny and violence, none of Deicide’s Christian-baiting Satanism. Instead, they specialized in a kind of implied depravity. Lex wouldn’t attack the venue patrons or shove objects up his ass, but he’d do everything else in his power to make the audience take a squeamish step back. Even though their album title references Hell, there was no trumpeting of a contrarian religion in their lyrics, no acknowledgement of moral consequence. Instead, Lex sang about emotional voids. It somehow made Lex scarier than GG or Glen. He seemed smarter. Colder. Less confrontational, but also less vested in cheap stunts and outlandish behavior for the sake of winning over anyone’s approval. He wasn’t interested in violence. He was interested in degrading himself on stage, forcing the audience into an unnerving kind of voyeurism.

“…lost sheep, black sheep, black guard, loafer, and sneak…”

Even the millionaire “bad boys of rock”—KISS, Alice Cooper, Motley Crue—aren’t exempt from the perilous balance of nihilism and authenticity. For one thing, these cultural giants never tread so far into the blackness that you feared them as people. Their worst crimes were their hedonistic appetites. They still came across as people that would be fun to party with. Marilyn Manson managed to up the ante of anti-social behavior in the ‘90s, but the controversy was calculated. Manson always knew how to articulate his more vitriolic statements in a calm, well-spoken, intellectual manner. It was obviously theater. Daughters didn’t come across as the life of the party. They didn’t come across as having any sort of deeper, thoughtful meaning to their art. They came across as genuinely bitter, crass, resentful individuals.

“…good-for-nothing ass-fucking son of a bitch.”

Daughters were a band that tried to find that balance between thorough, real ugliness and some kind of self-sustaining functionality. They wanted to be successful; they wanted to tour the world and make money. But they also wanted to make something truly hideous and uncomfortable. Their debut album, Canada Songs, was an 11-minute surge of hyper-paced noise-driven hardcore. Occupying the kind of punk/metal hybrid territory instigated by bands like The Locust and Dillinger Escape Plan, Daughters found an immediate audience among fans of frenzied, technical music. It was well-received, but not entirely unconventional for that particular style. But Hell Songs was different. The band ditched their lightning-speed tempos, metal-steeped instrumentation, and shrieking, indecipherable vocals for disjointed mid-tempo lurches and Lex’s drunken oratory. They weeded their old material out of their performances. The fans felt betrayed. They had gone from sounding like the arty descendents of the powerviolence and grindcore scenes into a tightly wound meth-fed version of The Birthday Party. There was a much stronger adversarial vibe to their new approach. Their sound was less tethered to any particular scene. It alienated a fan base that was already built on embracing disenfranchisement and being at odds with everything.

But deservedly, the record found an audience, albeit a small one. For as caustic and abrasive of an album as it is, there’s a surprising catchiness to the material. The low end groans; the high end piercingly buzzes like a swarm of insects; the drums flit from spasms of hyperkinetic pulverizations to deconstructed thuds and clatter; and Lex moans and howls over all of it. Yet somehow, Hell Songs is rife with hooks. There was a discipline to what they did. It could’ve easily devolved into white noise, but there was always a clarity and separation to the instruments. They were a tight band. And for the three years that followed the release of Hell Songs before the group imploded, Daughters came about as close as any band can get to being a total train wreck without rattling apart at the seams. There was fighting, a rotating cast of guitar players, drugs, infidelities, van accidents, hospital trips, lost money, rivalries with tourmates, promoters pulling guns on the band, and tangles with the law. They were a fascinating, glorious mess, and they perfectly captured it over the course of ten songs.

“I’ve been called a sinner.”

– Brian Cook