Last looping-related material today: Owen Pallett live performing a song called "This Modern Love." Pallett is also known in his solo work as Final Fantasy, because he's a huge dork. This makes searching for his music just about impossible. But in this live video, you can see him playing around with the loop, not too different from what I do, and messing with the audience, which I really should try. He has a drummer, which I have to admit would be nice at times--note how it allows him more leeway with dynamics while maintaining the basic loop, something I can't do as easily.
One of my favorite bands, Clatter, has updated their website. It's a beautiful design, based around images from their farm in Missouri. You should check them out, if you haven't before. The band is composed of two married musicians, Amy (bass, vocals) and Joe (percussion). They're fantastically talented musicians who support each other well onstage.
Clatter has been a real inspiration to me. I picked up a lot of unconventional techniques from Amy, including fingernail strumming, which is a big part of my sound. Most importantly, Clatter is a two-person band that doesn't suck, and there are no guitars. Most solo bassists play jazz (Michael Manring) or crazy pyrotechnique stunts (Vic Wooten), which is great if you're into that kind of thing. Unfortunately, I'm not. Amy's bass playing isn't flashy, but it's solid and it rocks out. It really helped to have that as a model when I was forming the concept for my solo stuff.
And they made it okay to use a ton of distortion. I'd kill to have her amp setup--an SWR with 8x8 cab for the clean sounds, plus a Super Redhead just for effects and a Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier guitar amp set to obliterate for distortion.
There's a CD, which is great for bassists and non-musicians alike, and a DVD, which is oddly mixed but a lot of fun. I think you should buy them.
Mentioning Hideki Naganuma's work got me nostalgic, and both Jet Set Radio soundtracks are less than $20 together here.
They get played in the Dreamcast first.
On the infrequently updated "current" section of nin.com, Trent has posted the following:
Apparently it's a very good year for political speech in popular music. Who would have thought that George Bush could be so divisive? Obviously, I don't have any real problem with this on the surface of it--after all, I bought American Idiot in large part because of the political sentiments contained within, and I think it's probably the best music I heard in 2004. So it's perfectly fine with me if Reznor decides to use his soapbox--and it's not like he'd hidden his viewpoints before. His website has a link to MoveOn and Noam Chomsky, and I seem to remember an interview where he said that political apathy was unforgiveable.
No, what takes me by surprise is the idea that The Hand that Feeds has a political subtext. I've never been under the impression that Reznor writes well toward a story or a concrete idea--I like to talk about how each album has a theme, and you can sense larger narratives emerging from the songs as a group, but it's a rare NIN song that can be said to be about anything in particular. The only ones that come to my mind, honestly, are Starfuckers, Inc. and Big Man with a Gun.
So what are the lyrics for The Hand that Feeds? Does Trent Reznor Hate Freedom?
Right: so, Bush is a bad man, and possibly a puppet. But really, couldn't this be just about anyone? I think this describes a couple of co-workers, actually.
You know, when I first heard this single on the radio, I wasn't terribly impressed with it because of this chorus. Resnor has a habit of abusing the rhyming dictionary when writing his lyrics. As I've said before, if you're listening to Nine Inch Nails for the wordsmithing, you're probably in the wrong place. He's gotten better, and it grows on you eventually, but this is still a little over-the-top.
Where was I? Oh, right. I have no idea how this is supposed to have a political meaning. It just barely has semantic meaning. Trent, buddy, for someone who used to hang out with Tori Amos, you really haven't picked up much about non-traditional lyrics over the years.
I keep holding on to what I want to believe
I can see
But I keep holding on and on and on and on
Well, that's a little bit more direct. A crusade, justified in the holy and the divine, and a heavy price to be paid. Sound familiar? I probably would have figured that out for myself if this weren't coming from an artist with a history of blasphemy and ambiguity. As it is, you'll have to excuse my failure to leap to the obvious conclusion, especially considering the vague nature of the rest of the song.
So decide for yourself. Personally, I would have never really made the connection on my own. Congratulations to Trent, who will probably get a lot of mileage and publicity out of his principles. Always a nice combination.
For three minutes, With Teeth had me worried. The first track, "All the Love in the World," begins like an outtake from The Fragile: staggered synth beat, wandering piano, reserved vocals. Trent Reznor's voice cracks in the first verse, then recovers. Gradually, the song grows until it's good, but not great. And then, almost exactly at 3:13, the bottom drops out. The extra noises vanish, the piano reverts to power chords, and the synth beat is replaced by a classic cheesy NIN kick, pounding out quarter notes. Reznor reemerges vocally, stronger, surrounded by a chorus of thousands. It's like watching Keanu Reeves walk into the lobby of the Matrix for the first time.
At that moment, I knew that With Teeth was going to be just fine.
What you need to understand about With Teeth is that it is a collection of singles. I have a personal rule about NIN CDs: I never shuffle them. On the last two full releases, The Downward Spiral and The Fragile, the songs are part of a cohesive whole, blending from one to another. The Fragile in particular uses instrumentals to move between songs, changing moods, tempos, and styles. With Teeth doesn't do any of that. It's not a concept album, and it's easier to listen to, although perhaps less ultimately rewarding.
That being said, there's hardly a bad song here, no matter what order you play them in. Reznor isn't taking any huge steps forward technically, but he sounds absolutely comfortable with the tools at his disposal, and it lets him stretch out sonically. Tracks like "The Line Begins to Blur", "Every Day Is Exactly The Same," and "Getting Smaller" are vintage NIN, with heavy distortion and vocals wrapped around a complicated but ultimately danceable beat. They're great, but it's oddballs like "Sunspots" and "With Teeth" that stand out. The former sounds like the Pixies run through a blender, and the latter struts monstrously through the overpronounced but oddly catchy chorus ("uh-WITH-uh-TEETH-ah!"). The radio single, "The Hand That Feeds," has grown on me with repeated listenings. Its rhyming dictionary chorus is its weakest link and a throwback to Reznor's sometimes clumsy writing skills, but the rest of the song is solid, enjoyable industrial pop.
By far my favorite song on With Teeth is it's most unique offering, "Only." The drumbeat is funky even by NIN standards, and it's got one of those two-note basslines that induce chronic toe-tapping. But it's the lyrics and their delivery that cracks me up, since Reznor speaks his lines like some sort of manic beat poet.
The weakest points of the CD are songs that don't take advantage of Reznor's new range. "You Know What You Are?" and "The Collector" almost stall With Teeth after "All the Love in the World" as solid but unremarkable NIN. They could easily be tracks from The Downward Spiral or Broken. Besides that, it's hard for me to find much fault here. The production is, of course, flawless, and the DVD side of the dual-disc format offers a "Hand That Feeds" music video and a 5.1 mix, which is very nice. The lack of a theme means that With Teeth may not hold up as well as previous NIN releases in the long run, but that's not the intention. Instead, it's a great set of songs collected for shorter listening times. Fans of Reznor's work should definitely pick it up.
One last note: the dual-disc version may have some decent features, but it also doesn't always play nice with various CD and DVD players. My car unit (a cheap Panasonic) and home computer optical drive (some bizarre Korean import technology bought on a whim) handle it just fine, but the Dell computers at work don't like it. They refuse to even see the CD side, and have trouble reading the DVD side. If you have a choice, and you don't plan on listening to it in a 5.1 setup, see if a copy on standard CD exists. The extras aren't worth the hassle.
Can someone explain to me why it is that Beck wants to be Eddie Vedder? There are about three good songs scattered around his new album, Guero: "Que Onda," which has a fun little latin beat and (for some reason) a Mexican accent; "Girl," a sunny Beach Boys vamp; and "Scarecrow," which is funky enough to almost redeem the whole thing. On these tunes, it doesn't sound much like Beck--but it doesn't sound bad either. The rest of the album ranges from generic to terrible. And the vocals... oy.
No-one would ever, I think, claim that Beck is a particularly talented singer. Flat is probably a good way to describe him, but it always seemed to work well for his brand of folk/rap. Mix in his gift for arrangement and rhythm, add judicious chorus and distortion, and the result on Odelay and Mellow Gold (the two other albums I own) was distinctive, to say the least. Maybe he's decided to add more "character" to his singing, because on Guero he's adopted that mumbling, mouth-never-opens-all-the-way delivery of Pearl Jam or Creed. It annoys me, and it sounds terribly generic.
In fact, that's really the worst part about Guero: it just sounds plain. In its best moments, it tends to evoke other artists, not its own sound. "E-Pro," the album's single and opening track, just isn't very interesting. Some of the songs, like "Farewell Ride," start out slow and labored, and will sometimes gradually improve during the choruses. But those choruses are often wordless "la la la" singing. Combine that with the Vedder Gargle, and my hand instinctively darts toward the track forward button whenever I hear "Missing" or "Emergency Exit," almost the worst songs here...
And then there's "Hell Yes"--what's going on here? Why are there stereotype-accented Japanese women cooing phrases like "Hi. I rike your bass. Your beat is nice." throughout the song? It's a little offensive, and more than a little ridiculous. This wasn't a good track to begin with, what with the vocoder and the gratuitous harmonica and the utter lack of the melody. Add a constant half-whispered request to "prease enjoy" and it almost becomes "Muskrat Love" comical.
Maybe Beck's busy. Maybe he's pulled a John Carmack, off firing rockets instead of creating product--and that's fine. But Guero sounds like his attention just wasn't there, and I don't like being sold a product that the artist didn't care about. Music is littered with albums, like John Popper's sad little solo effort Zygote, that aren't good--but aren't lazy either.
Guess who just preordered the new Nine Inch Nails album?
I can't wait.