Thursday, 29 April 2010

Blacklist : 'Midnight of the century' (2009)

Ok, so yeah, I have to admit that being unemployed right now does grant me an inordinate amount of free time. On top of that, for the past few weeks I've been having a really hard time sleeping... these days I sleep maybe about three/four hours a day, and that's it. That means that a lot of my waking time is spent during the night - very often I spend whole nights writing, or reading, or whatever. It's a sort of forced procrastination due, in part, to the mere fact that there's nothing else to do at night, so I take the road more frequently traveled and just stay home.
So what do I do at night? Well, when I'm writing or reading I actually prefer to remain in silence. It helps me to concentrate, and also gives me one less unwitting source of inspiration... I find myself writing parts of things that I'm listening to or watching into whatever my project is, and though I don't have a problem with that, insofar as it helps things move along, when it actually becomes detrimental to my stories, then I'd rather be in total isolation.
Given that, whenever I'm doing something else, like playing Solitaire or SFIV, I like to be listening to something. I've already posted about some of the really neat stuff I've been listening to lately, with the promise that I'd write about something really peculiar I've been listening to as well, but that particular post will only be done sometime around next week.
Ok. With all that out of the way, I am very pleased to say that this here band - Blacklist - are plain awesome. This is one of the best things I listened to in ages, and considering that I hated, hated, hated it the very first time'round, that's saying something.
Wow, there, hoss! 'Hated', you say? That's right. So what happened is that when I downloaded these guys I don't know, a year or so ago, maybe, they were considered the band du jour, the bee's knees and all that. First time I listened to them, I was in Sister Ray, one of the best record stores I've ever had the pleasure of spending money in, and I went up to the counter where asked a really nice looking girl if we were listening to the new Interpol or the new She Wants Revenge. The girl - suddenly not nice at all - looks at me all disgusted like, disgusted!, I say, and tells me, 'Like, no?'
Ah. 'So... what is it, then?, asks I. She shook her head sadly, and replasked, 'Blacklist?'.
How hard was that? I make a note of it, go home, download it, and listen to it. I could only think : 'Utter Shite'.
What was on offer, was more of the derivative post-punk revival in the vein of Interpol, She Wants Revenge, Editors, Catpeople and god knows how many. Worse, this sounded to me something so badly ripped off of White Lies, that I almost threw up.
Never again did I pay any attention to them. And then a few weeks ago, while pondering on what I'd listen to next... Sure, why not?, let's give these guys another chance. And after only a few minutes, I was asking myself what drugs I had been taking months ago, because these guys are really good. Yes, the sound is derivative of their own influences, but they take no shame in showing off just how influenced they are by the darker bands of the 80's... in fact, I think that Blacklist are the band that managed to out-80's the 80's themselves.
From beginning to end, they take us on a trip where you can see some Duran Duran, some U2, a lot of Joy Division, certainly a good deal of Manic Street Preachers, and ridiculous as it might sound, I see a little bit of Paradise Lost there as well... it's not very recognizable, but it's there. Where these guys shine is in the lyrics department. A far cry from the tired and tried words of most other bands today, and certainly even farther away than the nonsensical childish musings of White Lies, they incorporate the words and works of famed philosophers and authors, embuing them with an overtly political charge, making them all the more relevant and poignant.
There are a number of really great tracks here -  my favourites being the darkly anthemic 'Language of the living dead' and 'Frontiers', and 'When worlds collide'. The very last song, 'The Believer' is one of the most The Smiths - like songs I've ever heard, and that's always a plus.
Once again, I highly recommend these guys. The whole album is on repeat right now!

'Midnight of the century' (2009)

1 - Still changes
2 - Flight of the demoiselles
3 - Shock in the Hotel Falcon
4 - Language of the living dead
5 - Odessa
6 - Julie speaks
7 - Poison for tomorrow
8 - Frontiers
9 - The cunning of history
10 - When worlds collide
11 - The believer

Monday, 26 April 2010

Burzum : ‘Dauði Baldrs’ (1997) & ‘Hliðskjálf’ (1999)

Hey kids! Black Metal! And all that comes with it! So, bring out all your ‘Satan’s, in your best Ghaal, all your church burning, your corpsepaint, your ‘Fuck them! You know what I mean?’s, and let’s go for a wild, wild ride with this Burzum twofer.
And I’d really, really like to give you a detailed account of the life and times of one man band Varg Vikernes (a.k.a Count Grishnackh, but to be fair, I think I’d be better off trying to explain almost fifty years of convoluted X-Men continuity, alternate realities and all.
Long story short? Crazy boy Vikernes hooks up with equally demented Satanists, joins band, forms band of his own, burns churches and probably tortured cats too, has a falling-out with former band, kills former band mate Euronymous, goes to prison for a long time like all psychos should, and while in prison, the Norwegian tax-payer’s money was partially spent (however marginally) on the recording of these works of art.
So there you go, and that’s all you need to know. Sort of. Well, let’s get on with it, let’s review these two landmarks of Black Met…. Er. What? What do you mean ‘these are not Black Metal records’? By god, man! You mean to infer that this paragon of darkness somehow produced anything else other than one of those legendary antichristian manifestos of his? I say thee : nay!
I can only imagine what dumbstruck, diehard, hardcore Burzum fans must have felt like when they first listened to these records… quite possibly many retched in disgust, while others shook their heads sadly, proclaiming Black Metal to be Dead. With a capital ‘D’ and all, so it becomes all the more ironic. (Wiki Mayhem and Dead if you want to know what I’m talking about.)
So it stands that while imprisoned, Mr. Vikernes here wasn’t allowed any other instrument other than synthesizers, and as such, he felt upon himself to release these two pieces of art to the sensitive ears of mankind the world over.
I’m pretty sure that by now you must have noticed the sarcasm in what I write. These two albums – while far from really bad, considering the pick of the crop from Black Metal – are actually as far from Black Metal as anything can be, at least in terms of sound. What we’ve actually got here are two attempts at creating something maybe in the vein of Dark Ambient music, with some splashes of medieval folk and classical music. And, you know, all things considered… it could have been much worse. The first album, ‘Dauði Baldrs’, made me laugh out loud at how childish everything was, from execution to outcome. I’m sure the guy’s intents were good in the first place, but the roughly forty minutes that make up this record are unbelievably juvenile in the listening. Of course, I knew, going in, that this man here normally comes up with a basic and catchy hook for his songs, almost like a pop song, and then repeats said hook for however long he wants. In the record ‘ Filsofem’, there’s a song that’s about 25 minutes long called ‘Rundgang Um Die Transzendentale Säule Der Singularität’ that’s exactly that…. And so it remains, but at least now (or ten years ago, really) he didn’t go for much longer than seven or eight minutes at a time.
And yeah, I know that what with him being in prison, and having to record everything (presumably) in midi format, severely limited his ideas, but this work dedicated to the death of Norse god Balder is so poorly conceived and executed, it hurts. I don’t mind the repetitiveness of the songs, it’s only that for most of the time it sounds as if the guy actually had no idea what he was doing.
But give him a couple of years practice, and by 1999’s ‘Hliðskjálf’ things were a bit different. It saw a more – dare I say it? – mature (musically speaking) Vikernes, who, this time round seemed to know just what he could do with the tools at his disposal. Not only was me more mature, he was also more ambitious. He even attempts some orchestrations and arrangements. Of the two records, this is by far the better one.
It’s a fine attempt at something grander than the previous effort, but that still falls short of actually being what could be considered a good record. No-one in their right minds could ever consider this guy a musical genius, (after all, he is batshit crazy, though in some respects also a guy that must be really interesting in a VERY disturbing kind of way), but if anything, he is wildly successful at creating droning, sleep-inducing music. All in all,these are interesting – if ultimately rather pointless and not really on the rewarding side - listens, so if you ever find yourself with forty spare minutes, and you’ve got nothing better to do or to listen to, check these out. Or, alternatively, don’t. I hear silence can be rather good, too…

‘Dauði Baldrs’ (1997)
1 - Dauði Baldrs (1997)
2 - Hermoðr á helferð
3 - Bálferð Baldrs
4 - Í heimr heljar
5 - Illa tiðandi
6 - Móti ragnarokum

'Hliðskjálf' (1999)
1 - Tuistos Herz
2 - Der Tod Wuotans
3 - Ansuzgardaraiwô
4 - Die Liebe Nerþus
5 - Frijôs einsames Trauern
6 - Einfühlungsvermögen
7 - Frijôs goldene Tränen
8 - Der weinende Hadnur

Friday, 23 April 2010

Valravn : 'Valravn' (2007) & 'Koder pa snor' (2009)

To whit : for the past week and a half, I’ve been undergoing a musical endavour that has proved to be much more of a crucible than I was expecting. Even though I won’t say what it is right now, I’ll tell you that, to be sure, it has proved to be one of the more trying auditions I ever experienced.
So much so that to keep myself sane, I decided to listen to other stuff in between. I guess I’m still a few days away from deciding whether or not I liked that particular ordeal I’ve been putting myself through, so in the meantime I’ll be reporting on the great stuff I’ve been listening to.
So, first up, and all the way from Denmark, we have Valravn. And what do these guys sound like? Well, they sound like a celtic/folk combo, with some splashes, here and there (more prominent on the second album) of minimalist electronica. Sung in, you guessed it, Danish. And you know what? Against all odds – or probably despite them… - it all works out smoothly.
To be fair, there isn’t anything terribly original at work here, after all, and to some degree, bands like Subway to Sally, In Extremo, Saltatio Mortis, and even Skyclad are guilty of ateempting this kind of stuff before. But this… this is different. It’s, for one, a much gentler type of sound, and that’s mainly due to the great vocals of the lead singer. Unsurprisingly, for so it would seem that pretty much everyone that comes from Northern Europe sings just like her, she has a Bjork-ish voice, but only very slightly. The beauty of her voice is how angry she sometimes seems – there’s some nifty pieces of yelling to be found here. Musically, well, if you’re into folk music, then you know what to expect here. The twist being the excellent programming and deft use of electronic elements to add even more depth to the songs. Sure and you’ll find your foot tapping to these jigs in no time, and as much as you could wish otherwise, expect a good dose of the shaking of the hips. You’ll not understand a word of what she says (unless you’re Danish or speak it fluently, that is), but that’s ok. Valravn are bloody good, and it’s one of the best finds in recent years.
They have released a couple of albums, as far as I can ascertain. The first is self-titles, and the second, issued last year, has the promising name of ‘Koder pa snor’, whatever that means. I enjoyed them both a great deal, and though on the second one you find much better production values and a more widespread use of the aforementioned electronics, I somehow found myself more drawn to the first album, but that’s probably because I only just recently downloaded the second album and still haven’t listened to it as much as I did the first one.

Valravn – Valravn (2007)

1: Hedebys
2: Dromte mig en drom
3: Krummi
4: Svend i Rosengaard
5: Marsk
6: Vallevan
7: Under bolgen blaa
8: Olavur Riddararos
9: Kom alle vaesener
10: Bialowieska
11: Harra Paetur og Elinborg

Valravn - Koder pa snor (2009)

1:Koder pa snor
9:Farin ut tan at vera vekk

Monday, 19 April 2010

O.M.D. - Architecture & Morality (1981)

I have often said to any who would listen to me that one of my favourite songs ever to come out from the ‘80’s was O.M.D.’s ‘Souvenir’. Now that I come to think about it, this is quite probably one of my earliest musical memories. I recall being inside my father’s car when I was very young, and listening to this song on the radio. It stayed with me for a long time, but somewhere in the early ‘90’s, I guess, it just faded away from my memory, and only some four, maybe five years ago did I start listening to it again. A while ago it struck me that, while I had listened to this song hundreds of times, I knew nothing about the album in which it originally appeared. I had downloaded some time ago a file with the complete O.M.D. discography, and immediately sought out which album contained it. Seeing as it was included on their third album, I then had to make a choice : I’d either listen to their albums chronologically… or I’d take the lazy way out, which was just listening to the album straight away. So I did, and for the past few weeks I have been listening to it almost on a daily basis.
The tracklisting is as follows :
1 – The new stone age
2 – She’s leaving
3 – Souvenir
4 – Sealand
5 – Joan of Arc
6 – Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans)
7 – Architecture & Morality
8 – Georgia
9 – The beginning and the end
The version I have is the 2003 remastered reissue that contains a number of remixes, B sides from the album’s singles and outtakes for songs would appear in following albums. They are :
10 – Extended Souvenir
11 – Motion and heart
12 – Sacred heart
13 – The romance of the telescope
14 – Navigation
15 – Of all the things we’ve made
16  - Gravity never failed
So, going in to the original version of the record, the 1981 edition, once you first listen to it you can see that this is very much a two-sided record, if you’ll pardon the now semi-anachronistic pun. On the A side, things begin in quite frantic manner with the first couple of tracks. There’s a dark element there that’s highly reminiscent of some Joy Division, and the band seem eager to have their music reach you, and take hold of you. So these first two songs do that just fine, setting up the wonderful ‘Souvenir’ quite nicely, to be followed by the majestic ‘Sealand’, the album’s best song, alongside ‘Souvenir’. As we move on to the B side, and following the cue set by ‘Sealand’, the next few tracks seem to fizz out a bit when it comes to their energy and relevance. It struck me as odd that I didn’t find myself able to like what are considered to be some of their best songs, though not at all famous, like the ‘Joan of Arc’ suite, and ‘Georgia’. Don’t get me wrong, they are fine songs, yes, but nowhere near as good as the songs found on the other side of the record. The song that lends its name to the album’s title is a drab little instrumental that seemed more like an experiment with sound and noise than a proper piece of music. The last song, ‘The beginning and the end’, though, kicks things up a notch, and sort of redeems what I considered to be a less than stellar B side. But, and at least for my part, the real gems are the songs found on the 2003 reissue. Here you’ll find songs that are just as good as any of the best in the original issue, and actually better than most of the album’s songs. You’ll also find a not really necessary extended mix of ‘Souvenir’, wherein you only find minimal changes to the original version. But songs like ‘The Romance of the telescope’ and ‘Of all the things we’ve made’, the video to which can be seen below, are real gems worthy of repeated listening. In truth, these days when I listen to the album, it’s always looking forward to the last few songs. Sure, I could just play them outright, and forget about the others, but for the moment I’m still willing to give them a chance to grow on me.
When all’s said and done, I’m sure this won’t be the O.M.D. album that I’ll like the most, but it’s worth it for the handful of songs I mentioned. Apparently, this has been their most successful album ever, both commercially and critically, but I wouldn’t rate it overall more than maybe 3.5 out of 5, though some songs here are absolute gold.

To want this,
Of everything we've made.
The times it's worked before.
Of all the things we've said,
Times that worked before today.
Of all the things we've said,
They've always worked before today.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

This is not how the world ends.

This is not how the world ends.
That is the recurring theme of one of the best first issues of a comic I have ever read, Marvel Comics’s ‘S.H.I.E.L.D.’, by the team of writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Dustin Weaver. Hickman, himself responsible for another of my favourites – the uber- ambitious Secret Warriors -, also from Marvel, as well as some indy gems like A Red Mass for Mars and Pax Romana, draws heavily from the long-running history of the Marvel universe here; but not only that : he posits quite valid questions, the answers to which are just as surprising as they are logic. One of them is, who were the protectors of the earth before the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the X-Men or Captain America were around? Who fended off the constant threats – be they internal or external – and kept humanity on course for the realization of a potential only known by a few? The answer is : Imhotep. Galileo. Da Vinci. Isaac Newton. Nostradamus. Men of unsurpassed knowledge and creativity, along the ages they found themselves a part of something bigger than themselves. Their weapon was the spear, and their sigil was the shield. And so throughout the centuries the shield became that which bound them to this eternal duty : the protection of humankind.
Of course, it helps if you know decades of Marvel universe lore, but it’s not, in fact, something that is wholly necessary to fully enjoy this story. All you need to know is that, sometime in our past, the fathers of Tony ‘Iron Man’ Stark and Reed ‘Mr. Fantastic’ Richards also found themselves an integral part of this covenant of the shield, and, in turn, they would eventually plant the seeds of what would become S.H.I.E.L.D., thereby furthering an already legendary legacy.
The genius of this story is, really, how writer Hickman takes these seemingly random characters and eras, and ties them beautifully together. The seeming disparity twixt these figures of our own world and those of the fictional Marvel world are rendered moot by the realization – and explanation – that, since these aforementioned characters were, in a very real way, already larger than life during their own time and even unto this day, it only made sense that these would have been our guardians over the ages.
The artist, Dustin Weaver, is someone whose work I recall only from here and there, but in this series he shines. Already I consider him one of the few worthy of note to appear in these past few years, and if the work presented in this first issue is testament of what lies ahead, then this is an artist whose work I’ll be following for a long time. The way he brings to life – so to speak – all characters, whether they’re fictional or merely the whimsical archetypes of this world imposed on the Marvel world, is absolutely outstanding. His command of illustration as a language, coupled with a superior sense of storytelling, make him the perfect fit for this story. I read an interview with Hickman recently where he talked about what he has in store for the series, and he revealed that it was the artist’s decision, as well as his own, to pepper this debut issue with subtle references to both the works of our own world’s geniuses, as well to some longstanding characters from the Marvel Universe. Sharp-eyed readers will notice the deft inclusion of both En Sabah Nur and Moon Knight (or rather, the avatar of Konshu), in a very specific scene.
This is not how the world ends. And, indeed, so much more than a mere catchphrase, it serves as a mission statement for the whole series. Through the eyes of the characters introduced to us on this first issue, we see a number of scenes, taken directly from the lore of the Marvel universe, and brought to the forefront via the interaction of said characters, where our world seems at peril. Alas, as time and time again they would say, ‘This is not how the world ends’. For these purveyors of the Greater Science, the Quiet Math, the Silent Truth, the Hidden Arts and the Secret Alchemy know, mankind’s destiny is not to perish anytime soon.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

You can't take a picture of this. It's already gone.

And one morning,  a morning just like so many before it, he woke up and suddenly knew what to say : all the words that had been welling up inside him were fighting a desperate struggle against each other to just come out spewing forth from his mouth, wanting to be heard. They felt in such a state of uproar because at long last they were the right words. So he picked up his phone, and it rang three times on the other end before she picked it up. He had no doubts whatsoever that this was the right thing to do – after all, they hadn’t spoken in months, well over a year, because it seemed as if they were afraid to just talk to each other. He was afraid of saying the wrong thing, and she was afraid of hurting him once again. So when it all came crashing down, the fact that they drifted ever apart was only natural. But it was wrong, and this he’d known for a long time; they weren’t meant to be apart, not now, not ever, not on this lifetime or any other. The ocean of silence between them was wrong, and he was to blame for that.
When her voice spoke from the other end, wherever she was now, it was as if she was standing right next to him, it was as if everything made sense again. His voice rich with emotion, she asked that she bear with him for a moment. There were things he needed, no, wanted, to say, and those words took their own time, after all the feelings he had of an uncontrollable, torrential diatribe. He sighed, softly and inwardly, and then he spoke. And she listened; raptly, she listened to each and every word he said, and for the longest time said nothing. When finally he did stop, he asked her a question. She said yes, and a few days after that conversation, they’d meet for dinner somewhere, and talk some more.
And talk they did, at great length, until they finally agreed that the time had finally come when the past was just the past. All that was left was now, and the future. It beckoned to them with such puissance that the mere idea of it edged them onwards.
Months after that, she was getting home – their own place at last – and quickly went to find him. He was sitting at his desk writing another chapter of his novel while his muse still served him. She kissed him behind his neck, and as he swiveled his chair sideways, she sat down on his lap and whispered quietly in his ear that she had a surprise for him. Giddy with anticipation, and with a little bit of dread thrown in as well, for he was normally wary of such things, he asked her what it was. She sat on his lap looking at him, stroking his hair, holding him close, praying to god that he never went away. She made him feel as loved as any human soul ever had the right to feel, and when she told him that soon, yes, soon enough the two would become three, they both saw that everything was finally right.
When  the time came, they named the child Hunter. And so did the three of them finally felt what true happiness meant; even though the both of them – together or alone – felt like they’d gone through heaven and through hell, they now knew that all trials they’d experienced were but the stepping stones that brought them to this perfect moment. 

I am lost, in our rainbow, now our rainbow has gone,
Overcast, by your shadow, as our worlds move on,
But in this shirt, I can be you, to be near you for a while.
There's a crane, knocking down all those things, that we were,
I awake, in the night, to hear the engines purr,
There's a pain, it does ripple through my frame, makes me lame,
There's a thorn, in my side, it's the shame, it's the pride...
Of you and me, ever changing, moving on now, moving fast,
And his touch, must be wanted, must become, through your ask,
But I need Jake to tell you, that I love you, it never rests,
And I've bled every day now, for a year, for a year,
I did send you a note on the wind for to read....
... Our names there together must have fallen like a seed...
... To the depths of the soil buried deep in the ground,
On the wind, I could hear you, call my name, held the sounds,
I am lost,
I am lost, in our rainbow, now our rainbow has gone,
I am lost, in our rainbow, now our rainbow has gone,
I am lost.

[And if never you felt curious enough to listen to one of these songs I post here, do yourself the favour of listening to this song. This is, by far, the most beautiful song you'll hear this year, and quite likely, one of the most beautiful songs ever written as well. These precious few minutes will redefine genius and beauty as you know it.]

Saturday, 10 April 2010

And then you whisper in my ear, 'I know what you're doing here'...

I wanted to write something today, but I'm just too tired... no energy whatsoever for little stories. Likely they'll only come out again after I have finished this current project. I'm thinking that today should be a really productive night. And tomorrow, too. But... and before I go, I just want to plug this song... In truth, I listen to the  the self-titled Azure Ray debut album at least three times a day now, after quite a few years of neglect. This harrowing song is called 'Rise'.

Today I'll crawl out of bed
I can't stand your shadow is too heavy to lift
Maybe we'll go for a ride
You said you'd take me nowhere
I said that suits me just fine
I know you've always been near
Whispering secrets i know I'm not supposed to hear
Hold your heart with two hands
Give it to me only to disappear
Look how low I've sunk
Don't ask me to rise
I'll only lose you when I'm high
All alone in the dark
Love survives only when we are apart
Your voice still sounds in my ears
Soft explosions that blossom with the beat of my heart
Hey hey look how low I've sunk
Don't ask me to rise
I lost you when I was high.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Holy fuckballs, YES!

I knew that this day would come sooner or later. I felt my mind on the cusp of making or breaking for a long time now, and guess what? I'm on fire, I'm on a roll. It's not ready yet, but it should be done in hopefully under a week. Then I'll take another pass at it, polish some stuff, check for consistency and congruency, and then unleash it on the chosen few.

[And Silvia, I truly can not help but think about you a lot when I hear this song. I have always loved it, even when I hated it years ago because everybody liked it. This song reminds me so much of you, that I... nah, that would be telling. Wait and see. This is 'Butterfly : dance!']

Friday, 2 April 2010

The sound of galaxies playing the music of our lives.

Underneath the world built by reason lay the foundations of a different perception , putting light on a brand new horizon. Remodeling our own life's conception, opening views of another dimension, revealing a home of outstanding proportions.
Radiating from one's own reflection, energy's nucleus : height, density, concentration.
Feeling incomplete before the meeting while the rest of me wants to gather.
Sociability, sensibility, clear out charm of world illusions. Philanthropy to felicity, so why can't we live with one another?
Dissolved, diluted, restored and regrouped : waiting for crystallization.
Reunion of different principles leading to cohesion and different conclusions.
Fundamental and perennial, the law of movement intersideral.
One small step, one giant step, interdependent and connected thought.
Omnipotence giving the access to your own soul, to other galaxies, at your own depth, reality subject to hazard.
Susceptibility, emotionally, physically bound and tied.
Understanding before standing, always digging your views a little deeper. Vision and dream accorded with one another.
Giving an answer to all you wonder, sun on your soul is significant to your own environment. See through the night with an open mind, catch up with the light, your way, you'll find feeling.

Incomplete before the meeting while the rest of me wants to gather.