more news from nowhere

Hello! It’s been a minute. I’ve recovered from a solid week+ of unspeakable illness (seriously, you don’t wanna know) and am eager to dip my toes back into the kiddie pool called Popular Music Discourse. I figure the stuff I missed may also be stuff you missed, so without further ado, here’s some of The Good Stuff from the past week-ish.

First and foremost, I shall mildly toot mine own horn and direct you to my review of Priests’ The Seduction of Kansas, which is out now on Sister Polygon Records and very much worth your time. If you’d like a preview, check out their video for “Jesus’ Son,” a D.I.Y. remake of Nine Inch Nails’ kinetic, single-take “March of the Pigs” video with Katie Alice Greer playing the role of young Trent Reznor flailing around dramatically and getting all up in his bandmates’ shit.

Priests, in their finest goth/industrial attire.

I couldn’t find an elegant way to work it into my review, but the press sheet for The Seduction of Kansas specifically mentioned NIN’s The Downward Spiral as one of Priests’ inspirations for their new record. Other than the clever video allusion, I’m not sure how much comes through in the finished album, but it adds a fun extra layer of meaning to the way “Jesus Son” grapples with toxic masculinity and besides, I appreciate a good NIN shoutout as much as the next adult teen goth.

Speaking of the NINternet, this week’s big Nine Inch News is thus: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross technically scored their first No. 1 Billboard hit in the form of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” the unlikely but not inexplicable rap/country crossover sensation built on a hypnotic, sped-up loop from “34 Ghosts IV.” Producer YoungKio says he ran across the track on Youtube while hunting for “really weird stuff to sample,” and as a result, Reznor and Ross are credited as co-writers and co-producers on the song. I’ll save the rest of my thoughts for my long-percolating TK thinkpiece about Nine Inch Nails’- again, unlikely, but not inexplicable -influence on rap production, and vice versa. (If you would like to actually read this, let me know!)

If you’re anywhere near Seattle (I’m not), check out this year’s Pop Con, which kicks off today. The (very adult teen goth) theme is “And Only Your Ghost Will Know: Music, Death and the Afterlife.”

And, finally, while we’re on the subject of good criticism (which is always plentiful albeit mildly paywalled at Pop Con) I really enjoyed Amanda Petrusich’s “Against Chill,” an insightful dissection of why we’re so obsessed with “lo fi hip hop beats to study and relax to.”

Maybe the popularity of chill is generational, or linked, in some way, to millennial-burnout culture: always be working or relaxing with vigor! I tried listening to the Chillhop channel again, later on, in my office. It made me feel more agitated than relaxed, as if I were being placed on hold for an indefinite period of time—possibly the rest of my life.

“Against Chill” (The New Yorker)

Well, that’s it for my beloved recurring link round-up. Catch you in another 14 days!! (Kidding.) (I hope.)

Cashout

“Fugazi capitalism” isn’t a thing.


In “Salad Days,” political commentator Rob Cox fills in the blanks of presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke’s policies on – well, most things – by attempting to wring substance out of one of O’Rourke’s favorite talking points: his punk rock past and professed “reverence” for the business ethics of Dischord Records founder and Fugazi frontman Ian Mackaye. Cox parlays Beto’s Fugazi fandom into a (theoretical) economic platform for the O’Rourke campaign, which he dubs “Fugazi capitalism.”

“Fugazi was effectively a startup from which valuable lessons in governance, business and sustainability might be inferred about the way an O’Rourke administration will approach the American economy,” Cox writes, “Fugazi capitalism would be inclusive, consumer-friendly and ethical. It would favor the interests of small businesses over corporations. It would reject cronyism.”

Cox is clearly familiar with the broad strokes of the Fugazi story: the $5 shows; the ethical practices including nonviolence, veganism, and a “straight edge” lifestyle. But if he is, as he implies, a Fugazi fan, it’s not clear that he’s listened very deeply to their lyrics or spent much time learning about the radical leftist politics of the ’90s D.C. punk scene as a whole. If he had, Cox might understand why “Fugazi capitalism” sounds like such hilarious contradiction in terms.

Merchandise, it keeps us in line
Common sense says it’s by design
What could a businessman ever want more
Than to have us sucking in his store?

“Merchandise” (Repeater, 1990)

If you were putting together “Anti-Capitalism: The Mixtape,” Fugazi’s “Merchandise” would be a solid choice for Side A, Track One. Clearly, Mackaye does not identify with the “businessman” here, nor is he a fan of what “keeps us in line.” He vehemently inveighs against the kind of consumer capitalism that attempts to atomize, isolate and strip-mine the complexities of human life. “We owe you nothing, you have no control” Mackaye sings, “You are not what you own.”

Did this kind of fiery rhetoric persist in Fugazi’s later years? Yes. Yes it did. Here’s Guy Picciotto on the final Fugazi album, 2001’s The Argument:

Number one in acquisitions
There is no foreign soil
Go global like a round thing
Go global like a hole
Every money matchmaker
Splicing green as fast as you can
Let’s break it down and start again

“Oh” (The Argument, 2001)

As Fugazi moved away from the brashly didactic lyricism the early hardcore scene, the more abstract and poetic approach they developed requires some effort to decode. But “Let’s break it down and start again” isn’t exactly subtle. Picciotto doesn’t literally say “Capitalism, as it exists now, is broken” because he doesn’t have to. It was implied by everything else Fugazi said and did. As journalist Spencer Ackerman tweeted, “Fugazi literally enforced price controls.”

Fugazi priced all their shows at $5 largely to their financial detriment (“It just became perverse to make it five,” Picciotto says in Our Band Could Be Your Life, “The idea that we could undercut it and make it work was comic and it was also kind of a statement.”) They never sold merch. Dischord Records began as a punk co-op, never held artists on contractual retainer, and never employed more than a dozen people, with the goal of keeping album prices fair and directing revenues primarily to their artists.

It’s true that a rock band is, from a capitalist perspective, a small business. Dischord Records certainly is. But a band is also an art project, an idea, and a node for collective action. Fugazi did business out of a sense of mission and necessity that had very little to do with greasing the wheels of industry. They operated within the confines of capitalism, sure, but like many of us, they did so in hope of finding a better way.

30 Century Man


See the dwarfs and see the giants

Which one would you choose to be?

On Monday, my social media timeline was full of tributes to Scott Walker, who passed away over the weekend aged 76. Proper journalists have eulogized Walker far better than I could, so I’ll keep this brief.

Like a lot of people roughly my age, I discovered Walker’s music around the 2006 release of The Drift, Walker’s first studio album in over a decade, and 30 Century Man, a documentary about Walker’s career executive produced by David Bowie. Intrigued by the publicity surrounding the reclusive pop star-turned-avant-garde auteur, I began to dig in to what little of his music I could find online at the time. I still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of Walker’s sizable body of work, but what I do know, haunts me.

“30 Century Man” is an outlier on 1969’s Scott 3, an album largely composed of the theatrical, Jacques Brel-inspired pop Walker was known for at the time. While most of Scott 3 a jewel box of Baroque orchestral arrangements, “30 Century Man” is just a few stark blues chords strummed on an acoustic guitar and Walker’s compelling baritone. It’s a disarming moment of intimacy on an album that largely keeps its audience at arm’s length. It almost sounds like an accident, a demo that snuck on to the master recording. But, like almost everything Walker recorded, “30 Century Man” is composed, deliberate, and suffused with a sense of mystery.

Play it cool, and Saran Wrap all you can

Be a 30 century man

Like many of Walker’s songs, “30 Century Man” defies easy interpretation. It feels almost too pure to undergo the indignity of a critical interrogation. But if I had to force a reading on this odd, elliptical little song, I would say it’s about death and memory, two of Walker’s primary preoccupations. Should one go into the future clinging to the trappings of the present, ego meticulously preserved, a cryogenically frozen head in a jar? Or is it better to simply do good work, and let your art speak for itself? I think I know Walker’s answer.

Beginnings

E is for Enon!

I spend an inordinate amount of time putting things in alphabetical order. I work at a bookstore, where alphabetization is the thin blue line between commerce and chaos. After many, many hours of shelving books, I’ve had alphabetization drilled so deeply into my subconscious I sort things alphabetically almost without thinking.

I had alphabet on the brain when I made this mix. Normally, when I put together playlists, I focus on things like coordinating beat and key, establishing a theme, giving the whole thing a good intuitive temporal-narrative “flow”- you know, music stuff. Applying an entirely separate rule set – a rigid, arbitrary one, at that – could have been a disaster, but frankly I’m pretty pleased with the results.

Is it an obnoxious audiophile flex? Sure! But what is a music blog for, if not a series of obnoxious audiophile flexes? So, without further ado – the ABCs of herjazz.net. Share and enjoy.

fhriday fhealing: Queens of the Stone Age

This morning, like a lot of mornings, I woke up with a migraine. For the past six years or so, I’ve had what’s known as chronic migraine, a condition whereby one gets really frequent, persistent migraines for reasons no one completely understands. It’s had a huge impact on my life, personally and professionally, and it’s a big factor in why I don’t write as much as I used to. But I’m trying to turn that around, so today I’m going share my favorite album to listen to when I’m convalescing. It’s probably not on anyone else’s list of “soothing albums for hurty heads,” but for me, I swear it has healing powers.


Era Vulgaris, the fifth Queens of the Stone Age album, came out in 2007 to a mixed reception. Era was the first QOTSA album made entirely without founding band member Nick Oliveri, who was fired in 2004 under a cloud of ill will that included domestic abuse allegations (Oliveri later narrowly avoided jail time on similar charges.) The band needed a clean slate, and Era was the caustic agent to get the job done.

In a review for Rolling Stone, Rob Sheffield praised Era‘s hard-driving, unhinged atmosphere, “clobbering you instantly with guitars louder and uglier than a psychedelic biker party at Joshua Tree’s Skull Rock.” Era Vulgaris is a harsh, moody record littered with jagged edges. It radiates a confrontational “Are you in or out?” attitude that feels tailored to needle fans of accessible, Oliveri-penned jams like “Auto Pilot.” In album opener “Turnin on the Screw,” Homme solemnly intones, “I sound like this,” and proceeds to rip through a gnarly, atonal guitar solo that drops like a punch line.

I heard Era Vulgaris for the first time in 2017 during a particularly surreal summer, health-wise. Without going into too much detail, both my health and my mood were unusually unstable, and I was struggling to stay afloat. Casting around for whatever lifeline I could find, I landed on the kind of music that, a few years earlier, I would have dismissed as “Big Mood stadium rock.” I felt like I was fighting for my sanity, and heavy rock gave me the tools to render the invisible battle more concrete.

Pain isn’t subtle, and neither is Era Vulgaris. It’s a big, defiant “fuck you” of an album, but it’s also a “fuck me.” Take, for example, the revved-up, percussive skronk of “Battery Acid,” an excellent sonic analogue to the throbbing pain of a migraine if ever there was one. If you ask most people what the song is about, the likely answer is “drugs.” But its themes of helplessness and self-recrimination translate surprisingly well to other form of war against a malfunctioning mind:

“There’s nothing you can say / You can’t wish me away / Every masochist gets a turn / Sadistic twist- you never learn.”

When you spend a lot of time living with the excruciating but weirdly rootless pain of migraine, you start to wonder if it’s “all in your head.” There’s a creeping sense of unreality that comes with chronic pain, which defies the usual bodily laws of cause and effect. You start to doubt every decision you’ve made that led you to where you are, wondering if somehow it’s all your fault.

Homme probably wasn’t thinking about literal, physical pain when he wrote the line “I don’t care if it hurts, just so long as it’s real,” nor actual bodily frailty when he sang “I’m so goddamn sick, baby, it’s a sin.” But as a listener, you’re allowed to take from music whatever you need at the time. These were lyrics I could sing along to and mean it.

In some ways, I’ve been incredibly lucky. I have a good team of doctors, a supportive family, access to therapy, a day job and health insurance. Through a lot of trial and error, I’ve been able to find medications that help quell the worst of my symptoms without triggering the kind of addictive spiral that people with chronic pain are especially vulnerable to. The trade-off is I have to live with a certain amount of pain, and pain, quite literally, sucks. Pain will suck the life out of you, if you let it. It’s easy to lose perspective and find yourself mired in despair that things will ever get better.

When you’re going through something miserable, good art can be a mirror with which to see yourself more clearly. In the brain, physical and mental pain have surprisingly similar mechanisms. Beating myself up, doubting myself, isolating myself, trying to keep my pain under wraps- these things weren’t helping me get better. Era Vulgaris helped me to recognize that.

Ultimately, it’s hard to say why music does what it does. Maybe the narrative I’ve built around Era Vulgaris doesn’t make sense to anyone but me. Maybe there’s just something about the particular timbre of Homme’s guitar that resonates deeply with my ailing brain. Some people have crystals, magnets and aromatherapy. I have Queens of the Stone Age.

CHAI – PUNK

My latest review for Dusted: CHAI, the all-girl Japanese rock band taking the world by storm.

CHAI love Devo, and if you understand that, a lot of things about the eccentric J-pop band start to make sense. Their workman-like matching outfits and stiffly synchronized dance moves are an obvious homage, but on a deeper level, the two bands share a similar project: spreading subversive ideas through catchy, sloganeering pop music.

Read more.

This Isn’t Matmos

Celebrate Matmos’ ‘Plastic Anniversary’ with this (unofficial, highly subjective) career retrospective mix.

If you use Spotify, you’re probably familiar with “This Is,” a series of editorial playlists designed to help new listeners get to know popular artists. “This Isn’t” is my effort to do the same for artists who mean a lot to me but don’t meet whatever opaque, data-driven quota Spotify uses to make their official mixes. First up: Matmos.

Matmos have been making weird, wonderful experimental electronic music for over 20 years. Partners in music and life, Drew Daniel and M.C. Schmidt use musique concrète composition techniques to make songs you can actually sort of dance to. Along with more typical electronic dance music elements like synthesizers and four-on-the-floor rhythms, you’ll hear the sounds of balloons inflating, human bodies being surgically altered, things breaking, things falling apart, and a thousand other recognizable and unrecognizable noises that make their music utterly unique.

Almost all Matmos albums are built on a concept. Sometimes the gimmick is material: for example, 2001’s A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure sampled recordings of medical procedures, while 2016’s Ultimate Care II used beats generated by Daniel and Schmidt’s washing machine. I first encountered Matmos through 2006’s The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast, one of their headier concept albums, and arguably, one of their best: each track is a tribute to a queer artist that influenced the duo, with subjects ranging from philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein to Space Age ’60s record producer Joe Meek to would-be Warhol assassin and radical feminist Valerie Solanis. (I kicked off the mix with their Solanis track, a reading from the “S.C.U.M. Manifesto.”)

It’s always fun going through an artist’s back catalog to find songs that fit together, but especially fun when it come to an group as eclectic as Matmos. Each Matmos album is, in a pretty literal way, made differently, but in trying to connect them you notice the recurring patterns, themes and techniques that make Matmos sound like Matmos. Making this playlist was a worthwhile exercise just to get to know a group I love a little better, but I hope you enjoy it too.

At 17, The Rose Has Teeth blew my mind. Matmos did things with sound that seemed positively illegal, and yet the results were tuneful, catchy, campy and frequently beautiful. And that’s the great thing about Matmos: they play by their own rules, but they don’t ignore the traditional logic of beat and melody. They realize that music is just organized noise, but they don’t take the “noise” part too seriously. Artists with a noise/industrial bent often get hung up on making music that sounds cold, harsh and alienating. Matmos know how to make noise fun.

Plastic Anniversary came out March 15th on Thrill Jockey Records. Buy it from Bandcamp.