Monthly Archives: March 2009

Review: Mastodon “Crack the Skye”

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After all the commotion created by claims that Crack the Skye is Mastodon’s “eerie classic rock album” or a swan dive into full-on progressive rock, fans could be forgiven for approaching this album with a degree of trepidation.    Add producer Brendan O’Brien (unofficial sixth member of Pearl Jam and, lately, producer of some kind of ho-hum Springsteen albums) to the equation and this could’ve easily turned into an ill-advised toning down of Mastodon’s metallic force.  It’s true, there is some very prog-ish stuff about Rasputin’s religious sect, as well as a greater emphasis on Brent Hinds’ clean singing style, but they haven’t turned into Coheed & Cambria.  Thankfully, Mastodon are still at least one castrated furrball from anything like that happening.

At this point, Mastodon have placed themselves at the top of the heavy metal mountain, and this makes them an easy target for criticism from infinitely fickle (and often close-minded) metal fans.  Any time a well-loved metal group attempts to expand their style, there are always those ready to shout “sell-out”, and internet trawlers are already claiming that Crack the Skye is the weakest Mastodon album…presumably because it isn’t a carbon coby of “Remission” (“you know, cuz I was into Mastodon way before all these hipsters.”)  Whatever.  Mastodon have progressed with every subsequent album.  Their career trajectory reminds me in some ways of Death, another band who continued to expand their technical profeciancy and embrace increasing melodicism with each release, much to the chagrin of the hardcore death metalheads.  On the other side, you do have lemming indie rock fans who will eat up taste-maker approved Mastodon or Isis, but who wouldn’t dare go near other great (if less hip) metal groups like Entombed, Candlemass, or Morbid Angel.  However, it’s not Mastodon’s fault that Stereogum-smackers don’t know shit about Immolation and suck their thumbs to The Postal Service at night.  At this point I would like to note that I’m typing this while wearing a polo shirt…but I did have a dream the other night that I got a flame-engulfed skull tattoo that said “Heavy Metal”.  And I’m chugging Jack Daniel’s.  My metal cred sounds like a fucking Holiday Inn Express commercial.

Anyway, Crack the Skye is bursting with riff after soul-crushing riff.  Brent Hinds came up with the majority of his parts while recovering from serious brain trauma.  (I had a serious head injury when I was ten and all I could do was lay in bed and watch cartoons.)  The guitar parts on this album manage to balance technical dexterity, monstrous heaviness, and an ever-increasing catchiness.  Brann Dailor’s drumming is as brilliant and precise as ever, going a good way towards proving that percussion is the most important element of a truly successful metal record.  Personally, I’ve always thought that Mastodon’s one weakness was their lack of a truly distinctive vocalist, but they manage to, for the most part, make up for this by a deft interweaving of Dailor, Hinds, and Sanders’ vocals.

I have to admit that this album didn’t fully reveal its’ power until after close to ten listens, but since then it has only become more and more addicting.  I highly recommend throwing down a couple of extra bucks for the special edition which includes a DVD with a surprisingly engrossing making-of documentary.

Chris

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Last Week’s Party Pics

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Chris

The Life and Times at Rubber Gloves

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The Life and Times will be playing on April 8 at Rubber Gloves in Denton.  Doors open @ 9:00 p.m. and tickets are $8 in advance and $10 the day of.  Their new album, Tragic Boogie, comes out April 14.  I have never experienced a tragic boogie.  All of my boogie times have been magic.

Here’s an older video (for “My Last Hostage”):

[The Life and Times Official MySpace Page]

[Full tour dates here.]

Chris

VEGA to Open for Crystal Castles

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As Jezy has already pointed out, Alan Palomo’s new project, VEGA, is way worth paying attention to.  “All Too Vivid” is the jam of the Spring and has been getting major love from allovertheblogosphere.  Now we have some more exciting news to report: VEGA will be opening for Crystal Castles at the Grenada in Dallas, April 14.  Doors open at 8 p.m.

Here’s a fan-made video for “All Too Vivid” to satiate your dreamlust:

[VEGA’s Official MySpace Page]

Chris

Walter Benn Michaels: Bad Economy, Better Books

In 1987, the year Beloved appeared, the top tenth of the American population made about 38 percent of the nation’s income. (The bottom fifth made about 3.8 percent.) That top figure was substantially up from the relatively egalitarian numbers that prevailed from the end of World War II until the late 1970s, but that rise was nothing compared with the jump that has taken place since: In 2006, according to the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, the top tenth earned about half of all the money made in America, more even than in 1928, till then the highest figure of the century. The bottom quintile got 3.4 percent.

For Walter Benn Michaels, renowned literary theorist and author of The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality, American literature has long suffered from a severe case of cultural short-sightedness, an affliction which he thinks may be remedied by our current economic distress.

In “Going Boom” (Bookforum: Feb./Mar., 2009) Michaels contends that the social problems we see confronted in our most celebrated novels of the last quarter-century all share a point of comonality in their refusal to acknowledge the perpetually widening income gap created by the free market. Moreover, he takes issue with the American tendency to re-examine the atrocities of our past in terms of ethnic identities, moral failures and speculative historical revisionism rather than confronting the social realities which have come by way of our very economic  foundations.

“What the neoliberal novel likes about cultural difference,” he writes, “is that it sentimentalizes social conflict, imagining that what people really want is respect for their otherness rather than  money for their mortgages.” And, while a large part of me is leaping to defend the Roths and Morrisons of our literary landscape, I’d be lying if I said he doesn’t have a point.

Since September. . . things have gotten so bad that not just poor people but relatively rich people—up till now, the beneficiaries of the boom—have begun to feel the pain. And disapproval of holocausts is getting serious competition from fear of poverty. Which is just what the vast majority—the victims of the boom—have been worrying about all along. So maybe it’s time to forget about the Holocaust for a while and focus on the free market instead, to stop congratulating ourselves on being against genocide and to start questioning what it means to be for free trade.

In the last three months, I’ve read the following contemporary American novels: The Tortilla Curtain (Boyle), Names on a Map (Saenz), What Is the What (Eggers), Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Foer), The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Diaz), Lost in the City (Jones), Beloved (Morrison), The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Chabon) and I’m currently working through Lahiri’s The Namesake and Danticat’s The Dew Breaker.

That’s a lot of books, right? Theoretically, with each author’s individual background and vision so drastically varied from the next, this should make for a thematically diverse reading list. But while each novel has its own method and voice, its own unique textual universe executed with varying degrees of success, they are all  — every last one of them — essentially about the same thing: reconciling one’s ethnic identity in the American social scheme.

To substantiate Michaels’ claim even further, the following historical atrocities are all on display: 9/11, slavery, the Holocaust, the Vietnam war, the brutal reign of Trujillo, and the civil war in Sudan. Furthermore, the only two books which don’t apply their energies toward examining any big-time suffering from the past (The Tortilla Curtain and Lost in the City) are also the only two works which even attempt to talk about the mechanisms of class. They also happen to be two of my favorite texts on the list.

While it’s tempting to forge some causality here and say that these two books are superior to most others because of their attention — however muted by the theme of ethnic identity — to inequality in the American social strata, the truth is that they just happen to be the products of tremendously gifted writers. And, if pressed, I would have to say that Michael Chabon’s  The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, a staggering 700-page novel about the Holocaust and the comic book industry, trumps them all in terms of artistry and enjoyability.

Still, I think Michaels is on to something. While exploring the themes of identity and America’s brutal past does not, in my opinion, make a particular novel inherently worse than one which focuses instead on the economic discrepancies created by American hyper-Capitalism, it should cause us to stop and question its relevance in a world that is so drastically changing. But, if Michaels is right and our literature writ large  begins to follow suit with the American television series The Wire, “[a series] about the world neoliberalism has actually produced rather than the one our literature pretends it has,” then — even if we’re living in boxes, sustaining ourselves on twigs and berries — we just might be in for some damn good reading.

Jezy

Slade – “Run Runaway” (1983)

I had forgotten all about this song (and, more importantly, the video) until Mr. Foglton posted it on Facebook today.  So I thought, heck, I’ll re-post it.  After all, it’s impossible to overdose on Slade.

Confusingly, the song was released on The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome in the UK and was re-released on Keep Your Hands Off My Power Supply a few months later in the US.  The song became the band’s first Top 20 hit in America.

Chris

VEGA: Interview with ABC News Online

Since I’ve been in the business of promoting my friends’ bands lately, it seems appropriate to share with you a little gem from ABCnews.go.com. It’s an interview with my good friend Alan Palomo, who fronts the Austin-based “dreamwave” trio VEGA.

I’m not smart enough to figure out the embedding function on ABC’s video player, so you’ll just have to follow the link here.

Once again, I’m too close to the person behind the music to give you an unbiased review; but, as with Febrifuge’s excellent A Short Instance of Separation, you should really do yourself a favor and check out this big, sticky mess of badassity for yourself.

[VEGA’s Official MySpace Page]

Jezy