Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Crownhate Ruin - Until The Eagle Grins



Probably the most crucial, as well as earliest, of the post-Hoover full length albums, 1996's Until The Eagle Grins is a pure beast of a post-hardcore record. Personally, it's not my favourite (that would be Radio Flyer's slightly later In Their Strange White Armor) but its quality is nevertheless undeniable. And what's more, it is as forceful an album as anything by Hoover.


This here is the vinyl version of Until The Eagle Grins, one of the last in the shop (see this post). The way my turntable is set up is slightly odd, as the only outside speakers are connected by a 3.5 mm phono cable linked via an adaptor. Anyway, sometimes I disconnect the turntable to use it with the laptop or mp3 player, in which case it is a phono-to-phono connection - i.e.. what the speakers are designed for, while the rest of the time I have to turn the volume nearly all the way done to get a 'normal' level from the turntable (either that, or I play the turntable through the laptop.)

Yesterday the speakers were set up to play the new Envy/Jesu split from my mp3 player, with the volume set about mid-way up. Late Sunday morning - today - I put Until The Eagle Grins until the turntable and switched around the phono leads. I've never played the turntable at 10, since that would likely blow the speakers or at least damage them somewhat, not to mention my ears. But there was no-one else in the house, so I thought I'd give 5 a go (that being 7 or 8 on a normal speaker). Hearing the vinyl hiss at high volume as the needle went over the guide track was impressive enough, but the throbbing, explosive and incendiary opening bars of 'Ride Your Ride' just sounded fantastic.


That rambling, nerdy introduction out of the way, here are a couple of good summaries of what the Crownhate Ruin and Until The Eagle Grins are all about:


- from Zen and the Art of Face Punching;


"...The Crownhate Ruin were formed immediately after the demise of Hoover in 95. With Fred Erskine on Bass and Joseph P. McRedmond on guitar and vocals and Vin Novara from 1.6 band on drums. The sound is pretty much the same as Hoover, with the record starting off with one of those fat funky Erskine basslines. Some of the passages are more drawn out, giving the band room to explores some of the terrain that Hoover savagely broke through. I guess you could say its got a bit more electrolux than Hoover but not as much as Regulatorwatts. Can you even speak of these bands without talking about all the bands they went on to be in? Hardly. I believe Erskine was in June of 44 at the same time as TCR. What a time for music."


- from Dischord Records;


"Hoover broke up after returning from a US tour, at a time when they were probably at the height of their popularity. They split leaving a number of new songs unrecorded and many people disappointed. Ex-Hoover members Fred Erskine and Joe McRedmond continued to play together, and joined by Vin Novara, formed a new band: The Crownhate Ruin. They played their first show barely two months after Hoover's demise. The band's music moved into a darker area, with more challenging arrangements and time-signatures, and while they didn't immediately connect with some of the Hoover fans, The Crownhate Ruin began to develop its own following through touring and the release of a single and later a single album on Dischord in early 1996. After Crownhate Ruin, Erskine moved to Chicago and played in many more projects, including June of 44."


- lexdexter, Organising Grievances:

"the crownhateruin's face-burningly great "until the eagle grins".... It's got one of my favorite opening tracks on anything ever. So tough, in the way that caffeine-saturated, post-Positive Force vegans can be. Bass tone?"





'Ride Your Ride' live video

Also, you can download another great video, this time of 'Piss Alley', from the excellent The Sound of Indie.



Analysis from mr. x indeed:


"In many ways the key to Until the Eagle Grins is balance. Maintaining a strange trudging agility for the 40+ minutes of its entirety, it balances simplistic hardcore style and repetition with elaborate complex time signatures; the vocals swing seemingly uncontrollably from a despairing whine to screams of sheer ferocity.

Each song seems to track an unchartable path through these disparate styles. ‘Late Arriving Rock Dudes’ careens on the back of what sounds like a Fugazi bassline played at light speed with indistinguishable screaming until crashing into a dreamlike waltz, with Erskine moaning desperately over the top.

From the first moments of the pulsating bass of ‘Ride Your Ride’ and the extended verses of ‘Tornado Season Finale’, there is a clear sense of something powerful coming. It is this tension created by anticipation of the onslaught of such an elemental band that holds this extremely volatile album together. 'Tornado Season Finale' begins switching between grooving and marching rhythms before turning to arpeggios broken by the 2/4 refrain, always imposed on by the “take care” refrain. Then the verses switch to furious grinding trudge before returning to the initial groove.

Even the most “straight-forward” rockers of the pack, ‘Stretched Too Thin’, ‘You Will Wish Me Dead’, ‘Every Minutes Sucker’ and ‘Better Still If They Don’t Know’ (the latter two appearing of the CD version only [and the like, totally limited 7” record – Ed.]), are still heaving with inventiveness. The under-produced vocals embody both senses of discomfort and anger, and the 7/8 time signature of ‘Stretched Too Thin’ keeps halts the rhythm constantly before it springs back with the missing beat in the refrain.

Elsewhere ‘In the Four Years To Come’ edges between defeat and rage, launching from delicate verses at the beginning to a raw thrashing anger that still embody the same crushing defeat “I shake my fists at walls/It’s only afterwards…”.

Although The Crownhate Ruin were one of the shortest lived band in the genealogy of Hoover, Until the Eagle Grins leaves a lasting imprint. It works as a defining document of a group, something that is so wide ranging and powerful that it can be seen as the only full glimpse of something brilliant that existed briefly before disappearing again. And it’s also full of awesome tunes as well."



Now, dwell in the hardcore ferocity and dark emo sonic complexity of it all. And don't forget to rock out.


The Crownhate Ruin - Until The Eagle Grins (ZaFP link - CD version)


Until the Eagle Grins - Dischord Records 98 CD (LP temporarily unavailable)

Until The Eagle Grins on eMusic



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(Click to expand)


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The Hoover Genealogy Project so far (in reverse chronological order of posting):


9. The Crownhate Ruin - Until The Eagle Grins

8. The Crownhate Ruin: Vol. 1-3

7. Abilene - s/t (after eggcityradio.com)

6. The Boom - Movin' Out

5. [The Hoover Mixtape]

4. Radio Flyer - In Their Strange White Armor

3. Regulator Watts - 'New Low Moline' 7"

2. Hoover/Lincoln - Two-Headed Coin 7"

1. Hoover - s/t reunion EP


Although there are only 9 posts in total, if you count the three separate Crownhate 7"s (and discount the compilation mixtape), this makes the tenth individual release of the series posted. Woo!


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Envy - some more Envy (incl. Envy/Jesu review)





Envy / compiled fragments 1997-2003

Front cover / record on turntable / insert


The metallic quality of the cover or the insert doesn't really come across, but where it's washed out in the top right-hand corner is from the glare of the reflection. Seriously, this whole package is impressively put together - but then it contains some very impressive music.


Previous post



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If you want to get some more Envy, then the quick way is to go to this post on Zen and the Art of Face Punching - key quote "vinly is just cooler". And to buy, go to Temporary Residence Limited as I did. They used to be on eMusic, but apparently not as of this moment - fickle are the ways of nascent progressive (reasonably-priced) download music providers.



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('initial attempt' from aaronbturner.blogspot.com. Click to see full-size; likewise with back cover, at bottom)


Ok, so the new Envy/Jesu split. It's good. It's not officially out yet (Japan in July, and October in the US + elsewhere via Hydrahead, I think), but there are few downloads floating around which sound like they're the finished item. I mean, as far as I know. I've never been up to speed on this 'leaking' business. All I know is that I'll be sure to buy it when it comes out (vinyl or CD, I'm easy), and that's its good.


Maybe it's better than Abyssal, maybe it's not. I'm not going to make any sort of final judgement here, but develop some first impressions a little further. I know people who appreciated the full length of Insomniac Doze struggled to get into Abyssal; others, including myself, see it as a sort of Insomniac redux, a concision of that statement album (previous post on Abyssal here.)

What that EP did was, track by track, to neatly showcase several different elements of Envy's sound: their complete, post-rock assault; an earlier hardcore sound; meditative, melodic post-rock soundscapes; and spacey electronics, which tied up a lot of Dead Sinking Story so nicely. Envy's three songs here follow a similarly broad spread, but it's neither so balanced nor so reflective.

As that carefully couched phrase suggests, I don't think that difference between this and Abyssal is either that important or reflects too badly on either record. Envy/Jesu seems to give more than a nod on Envy's part to what Justin Broadrick/Jesu have done with heavy, melodic music; in that way, Envy's spread is somewhat less traditional than what they've done before.


Strangely titled opener 'Conclusion of Existence' begins with quasi-electronic beats and an ambience not too far from Insomniac Doze-type territory, but as the song develops it's clear that Envy aren't still inhabiting the same soundscape. The intro steps up into a minute or so of more garage-y beats, which give way for a moment into familiar Envy melodic guitar - back into Insomniac Doze. But then the song fills up with crashing waves and, yes, strings. The whole thing - best listened to loud, for full effect - isn't as epic or as rambling as previous Envy post-rock efforts, and sounds a whole lot different. It's almost like Envy have gone slightly Portishead.

'A Winter Quest For Fantasy' treads more familiar ground, with a long melodic lead-in and then a soaring crescendo. But again, the sound is subtly adjusted - the percussion seems slightly more prominent, strings add initial colour and the transition from meditative quiet to ear-shattering loudness is aided by some more unusual electronic touches. Glissandos, even (not really.)

Finally, their third song, 'Life Caught In The Rain' at first seems even more traditional, a melodic rocker in the off-key screamo vein. But soon there is something insistent and obvious about it - the combination of a heavy, stomping rhythm and melody line which is not only catchy, but that you could almost whistle it. If 'All that's left has gone to sleep', the second track from Abyssal, connected with the old-school Envy with its turn-on-a-dime transition from calm to shrieking chaos, 'Life Caught In The Rain' harks back to the early Envy tracks which pulled out a deeply melodic hook from noisy, grandiose hardcore.


After the variety of constructions that precede it, the initial offenings of Jesu's 'Hard to Reach' seem glaringly minimalist. Quickly, however, the opening beats are supplemented by the rich shoegazing texture, as combined with strong touches of post-rock instrumentation, which defines the group's sound. I would contend that Envy have adopted a lot of the qualities of modern shoegaze, particularly on Insomniace Doze, but nowhere near as obviously as Jesu. My main problem with Conqueror was that the shogaze side was too obvious, and the inclination to channel My Bloody Valentine just wasn't matched by any really interesting exhibitions of melody or heaviness (they were there, I just didn't find them interesting.) It became too boring, in other words.

"truth be told, it's nothing special"

Ah well, it's more than that

Of course, I was aware that Justin Broadrick had developed the Jesu sound gradually, taking it by steps away from the extremity of its metal predecessors. Sun Down/Sun Rise worked better for me, as a more experimental/conceptual stretching of the sound. Without trying to fashion an album out of ethereal heaviness - a problem My Bloody Valentine themselves had with Isn't Anything compared with Loveless - it became easier to enjoy. Earlier I simply described the Jesu side of this release as 'solid and interesting', and that's still about the way I feel.

'Hard to Reach' winds its way through various sonic realms, all of them in general quite interesting, but the ultimate pleasure remains in accordance with the title. 'The Stars That Hang Above' is a bit more open and upfront about its goods, fairly dripping with melody insofar as minimalist electro can do, before opening up into shoegazing heaviness. At the end of the day, when Jesu opens up - heavy, cyclical style - and sits between the sounds of shoegaze and post-rock, this is where I sit up and take notice.



Friday, June 27, 2008

in lieu of real posting - 'desk tattoos'



You may have noticed some subtle changes about the blog recently. With my newfound knowledge of CSS templates along with the usual Blogger interface, I've indulged in a bit of tweaking. Partly to revert some changes that happened a few weeks ago, and partly to shake up the aesthetics of the site a little. A very little - mainly brown hyperlinks. Anyway, I though I needed a fresh header to top it off, so here it is.

The drawings are all my own (it's a drawing board I use) but none of them are original, so this is the list in case you don't recognise them all:


(clockwise from left)


- The Ramones, 'Hey Ho, Let's Go' banner/eagle with baseball bat crest, designed by Arturo Vega. The chevrons in the centre are very sloppy for some reason I can't remember, but hey, it's not my national seal of office. And I actually don't have the Ramones shirt with this logo, somewhat out of principle. I have a different one, of course.

- Hot Water Music, flame logo. Not only are they an amazing band, but they have a great, great logo too. I'm not sure if it was designed by Scott Sinclair (sinc), who does all their album art; they also had a less stylised version on their first releases.

- The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground and Nico Andy Warhol banana picture. And yes, I do have the 'peel slowly and see' tag written in above. Such a great album - which leads on to a bunch of other stuff which is just as good, but is still one-of-a-kind.

- AFI, Art of Drowning demon drawing (just the tail of it, and a bit of wing, are in view). That album is good, along with the ones on either side of it. Everything before that, pretty much, is too punk - at least for my tastes - and everything after it nowhere near enough. I remember having serious goth issues when I first decided to buy this album, but really, it rocks.

- Black Flag. Duh. After (or possibly before) HWM, that's one of the best punk rock logos ever. I don't even listen to them that much, and at the risk of heaping opprobrium upon myself, I'd be a Rollins-era kind of guy.

- The Bouncing Souls, the 'bouncing soul'. In real life it's half black, half-white, but since the former (the left-hand side) is difficult to do in outline, I just left it to the strength of the lines to tell the story. That's from one of their earlier albums, but the version on the cover of How I Spent My Summer Vacation really defines the image for me.

- Operation Ivy, 'ska man'. With porkpie and weirdly-fingered hand. I've hardly ever mentioned Operation Ivy on the blog, but Energy or the Op Ivy discography CD are a real must for anybody's punk record collection. It's ska without horns, as well as fierce early Bay Area punk rock. Tim Armstrong (aka 'Lint') and Matt Freeman from the band went on to perform in the more widely recognised Rancid, while Jesse Michaels released several excellent records in Common Rider, which had much more ska feel.


(Also on the board but out of shot are the Pennywise logo, Husker Du 'Metal Circus' logo, the flower from Green Day's first album, and the skull from Rancid, Life Won't Wait. As you can probably tell, most of this comes from my younger days; but what the hell, they're all still important bands to me even if I have to remind myself to listen to their albums from time to time)


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Envy - (some of) the splits



(Homemade CD cover, image used is En (Round) by Morita Shiryu - avant-garde calligraphy, from the Thames & Hudson World of Art: Japanese Art by Joan Stanley-Baker.)


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!

There's a new Envy split coming out this year, with Jesu. I'd already heard about the one with Thursday, whom I don't actually know that much about (so I won't say anything about), and may in fact be set for release even later in the year. Jesu, however, is an act that I'm interested in although I may not qualifying as liking them per se. Either way, mega bonanza, right?

I just had a listen through the whole thing, and it's good. The opening Envy track is a real further progression on what they've been doing the last while, and the Jesu side is solid and interesting stuff. Another listen is required to say anything more detailed, but so far I'm quite impressed.


Sordo link

(cover art and tracklisting)


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A little under two weeks ago I got my hands on a full set of Envy LPs from Temporary Residence. That is, All The Footprints You've Ever Left And The Fear Expecting Ahead, A Dead Sinking Story, Collected Fragments, Insomniac Doze and Abyssal. The first two are reissues, from HG Fact and Level Plane. In total that makes 8 12" records, since all three of their last full-lengths are double LPs. Both Collected Fragments and Dead Sinking Story came in clear stoney-coloured vinyl with some rather nice burst patterns.

Artistically, the albums are brilliant - part of the reason for buying them, of course - but especially Collected Fragments. It's only recently and for the first time been released on vinyl, so some extra effort was put into packaging the full-length compilation. Apart from the record itself, the cover is a metallic grayscale silhouette, which is reproduced to the same silvery effect on the labels of the records and on the sheet for the liner notes inside. I'll see about getting some nice photographs up.

Musically, Collected Fragments is a mixed bag. The majority of it is taken from various split releases, so it spans the full range of Envy's hardcore sound. And as such, my favourite part of it is the A side which features the tracks from the then most recent splits. Let me explain it thus: I like the Envy hardcore sound, from A Dead Sinking Story back, but I adapted to their more post-rock-y bent - which a lot of fans are reticent about - pretty quickly. So it's the stuff on the cusp of this transition which I like best; and getting this compilation originally as a bunch of mp3s, it made sense to select those favourites and burn them onto an EP-length disc for easy listening (the full-length also has a brace of live tracks recorded from the 2004 ATP festival in the UK, the second of which, 'Go Mad and Mark' from A Dead Sinking Story, I included for good measure).

You can enjoy the selection below; like I say, I think it captures quite well one span of Envy's artistic development. It's actually in reverse order to the LP, as I though the earlier of the two splits - the one with French band Iscariote - is more immediately the better sounding. 'Invisible Understanding' and 'Chacun de tes pas' (especially the latter of which, being the first Envy song I ever heard) could probably be the best of the ir pure 'screamo' songs, while 'A Far-Off Purpose' and 'An Adventure of Silence and Purpose' take more time to build, but ultimately rock out just as hard.



(again, homemade cover. Fifth [live] track not listed)


from Collected Fragments


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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Small Victories for the Common Man (Grant Hart x 2)




Finally got some proper layout back on the blog. Paragraphs are now somewhat subtly placed apart, and block quotes have ordinary line spacing. Maybe I'm a perfectionist, but the absence of those features was really wrecking with my head and my ability to write a good blog post.

(It turns out there was a p missing in my .post-body {, and hence the margin settings weren't affecting my paragraphs. The blockquote line spacing had just been reset. All thanks to a universal Blogger update of the CSS template... darn mysterious interweb.)

I only know a little HTML - pidgin HTML if you will - so it took a couple of weeks before I finally sat down and realised what I had to do. Not much thanks to the various blogger support groups, but at least the various instructions for editing CSS pointed me in the right direction. That's not really the reason why I haven't posted in a little while, but it can do for now.


The above two albums are post-Husker Du releases from Grant Hart, the drummer and other creative powerhouse of the band along with Bob Mould. I posted his first post-Husker Du release, the 2541 EP, here already. These are full-length albums, one under his own name and the other with his relatively short-lived band, Nova Mob. Good News For Modern Man in particular is absolute pop gold; the 'concept album' of Last Days of Pompeii is less successful, but it's still a lot of fun to listen to. The prime Grant Hart solo release, as I understand it, is his first full-length, Intolerance; and while his post-Husker Du career isn't quite as productive as Mould's, even these two albums represent some brilliant moments.


Good News For Modern Man is an album I picked up from eMusic some years ago, after having heard Metal Circus and possibly Zen Arcade. On that basis, it comes as quite a shock - it's pure pop kitsch. Considering Husker Du's later albums, and the direction Hart took his share of the band's songs into, it's less surprising, but still it stands out as twee, jangly nostalgic pop - something I have a soft spot for when it's done with the right kind of style. And whatever about style, this is also one of the most likeable albums you could ever hear.

Probably my favourite song on the album is 'Run Run Run To The Centre Pompidou' for the infectious exuberance of the chorus, but in truth all the songs are just as catchy and hook-laden as each other. 'A Letter From Anne Marie' and 'In A Cold House' are wonderfully and simply evocative, alternately loud and meditative, but the sonic masterpiece of the album is the atmospheric 'Teeny's Hair'. Lyrically, it has something to do with Apollinaire and Duchamps, but musically it's like an apotheosis of Zen Arcade-type experimental pop.


Grant Hart - Good News For Modern Man (Pachyderm, 1999)


Less directly or accessibly pop, and far more experimental, is The Last Days of Pompeii. Preceding Good News for Modern Man by about 8 years (it came out on Rough Trade in 1991, a few years after Intolerance) this is a frankly bizarre debut for the band. The idea seemed attractive - after all, Zen Arcade was a concept album of sorts - and I spent some time hunting this down as the second addition to my Grant Hart collection. After the effort, it turned out to be a bit of a disappointment although when I go back to it, I still quite enjoy it.

The Last Days of Pompeii is unfortunately, much more disjointed and patchy than the sublime genius of the other album. It's, essentially, a bunch of atmospherics, weird songs, a few weirdly catchy songs, and a theme about the destruction of Pompeii amongst other historical events. On the last part, these sort of meanings tend to pass me by, but Wikipedia mentions an 1834 novel by the same title

"written by the baron Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1834. Once a very widely read book and now relatively neglected, it culminates in the cataclysmic destruction of the city of Pompeii by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The novel uses its characters to contrast the decadent culture of first-century Rome with both older cultures and coming trends."

which sounds quite close to the apparent 'concept' of this album. Musically, it has some pop moments as good as anything on Good News for Modern Man. It has that great Grant Hart sound, perhaps not crafted into the strongest of albums, but still there nevertheless. From the stirring introduction and bombast of 'Woton', the lighter exuberance of 'Getaway (Gateway) In Time', 'Wernher Von Braun' or 'Where You Gonna Land (Next Time You Fall Off Of Your Mountain', to the evocative atmospherics of 'Lavender and Grey' and the closing song with its 'Benediction' of an erupting mountain (sorry to give the ending away, I guess), it's a fun ride. It doesn't hang together perfectly - it wanders off into a track pretty upfront-ly entitled 'Space Jazz', for example - but the parts that it is intended to hang on, like the two versions, regular and 79 A.D., of 'Admiral of the Sea' are memorable enough.


Nova Mob - The Last Days of Pompeii (Rough Trade, 1991)


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This doesn't have anything much to do with Grant Hart - although Nazi Germany might be a sub-theme of Last Days of Pompeii, in which case this video fits right in: it's a mash up of one of the scenes from Der Untergang (Downfall), the recent excellent film about Hitler's last days in his bunker, and the imagined reaction of Irish Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, to the Lisbon treaty result as it came in. It's just brilliant.

This issue (Lisbon) being another part of the reason why I haven't felt quite like posting recently, I'll post it up just for the laugh. It's so very wrong, perhaps, but the matching of the dialogue to the emotions is hilariously and subversively perfect. If you're not au fait with Irish politics, you'll probably miss some of the more specific references, but the gist of it is pretty clear*. Satire at its novel (though this has been done for other situations, apparently), focused best. Especially the first 1:00...





* And yes, Brian Cowen or Biffo, as we call him**, is a notorious swearer. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Cowen#Public_image)

** Biffo - 'Big Ignorant Fellow*** From Offaly'

*** Rephrase as to taste.

Taoiseach = prime minister, head of government, by the way.




Friday, June 13, 2008

Vinyl Photography - The Record That Wasn't Played: Lisbon, 2008; a few more words



(you know the ‘clunk’ that happens when a record player stops playing and returns the arm to the rest position? That’s a bit like what Irish politics sounds like now, only more ominous)


Previous image here; and explanation for why I'm doing this here. Some more recent wider reactions are covered in the second half of the post.


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[Friday, June 13th]


The Lisbon Treaty has been rejected in a referendum in Ireland, by a vote of 53.4% No, and 46.6% Yes, and on a turnout of 53.1% (reasonably high for an Irish referendum... and, um, not low enough for the government to do a 're-run' like they did the last time). My own constituency of Dun Laoghaire in Dublin county bucked the No trend, as it usually does on European referenda, and returned a Yes vote of 63.5% - the highest in the country. In total, only 10 out of 43 constituencies voted Yes, making this a seriously bad result for the government (and major political parties).


Ireland.com - Breaking News - Lisbon Treaty Rejected By Irish Electorate


I bring you this news, partly to show I'm not immediately abandoning the issue because of an unfavourable result, and partly because the result means it now becomes even more important. Not only does it have a lot to say about the state of politics in Ireland - the blunt analysis is that rural and working-class voters voted No, and that middle-class urban voters voted Yes but in an insufficient degree to swing the result - but also for the progress of the European Union. Put it this way:

1. 862,000 voters (just over 1,600,000 if you include both sides; from ireland.com) have individually halted the ratification of a treaty for 495.5 million people (the total population of the 27 EU member states, according to Wikipedia.)

2. If that wasn't irrational enough, a large number, if not the majority, of those people have no tangible or constructive reason for voting No, and hence no points on which to 'renegotiate' the treaty, if that was even possible. That's not an entirely a criticism of the No side - I don't think this should really have been put to a referendum, at least not as the only country. The Yes campaign, in the most part at least, was willing to offer a constructive campaign - for a more effective, more efficient, more democratic Europe.

Instead we had commissioners, commissioners, abortion, neutrality and micro-chipping babies. Okay, so the last one was probably not a real No poster. But it sure fitted in well...


I feel an unhelpful rant coming on (as opposed to the preceding, well-constructed one) so I should stop now. I kind of want to come back and expand on a few points; my ire was originally meant to be directed at this Fox News report on the rejection - it's funny, because it's got most of its facts right, but slips in subtle anti-EU colour whenever it can; "the EU's power base of Brussels and other European capitals" makes it sound like an 'evil empire', while glossing over the whole 'political community' thing:

"Voters cited myriad fears over the rapid growth and ambitions of the EU. Anti-treaty groups from the far left and right mobilized "No" voters by claiming that the treaty would empower EU chiefs in Brussels, Belgium, to force Ireland to change core policies — including its low business tax rates, its military neutrality and its ban on abortion."

Here's it's description of the Dublin result in the constituency adjacent to mine: "In suburban south Dublin, a largely wealthy and highly educated district, the "Yes" camp triumphed with 63 percent of the vote. But a neighboring, scruffier district voted 65 percent "No."

While quoting Joe Higgins, no longer in fact "the sole Socialist Party member in the Irish parliament", as he was voted out over a year ago in the last general election, it gives the last word - or rather, curiously mixed metaphor - to a closet Socialist Worker's Party (SWP) member from my constituency (narrowly beaten from taking the final fifth seat, by the Green Party candidate, whom I voted for):

'"People felt a convincing case for the treaty had not been made, and they felt hectored and bullied into supporting it while the wool was being pulled over their eyes," said Richard Boyd Barrett, leader of a hard-left pressure group called People Before Profit.'

(You can read a much better international report from the NY Times here)


What next for Europe, and for Ireland?


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[Saturday, June 14th]


Some interesting things coming out in the news this morning. For a start, there's a realisation that I probably shouldn't have been reading the Irish Times if I want to understand the No vote. On the blogosphere,

No Ordinary Fool reckons South County Dublin should secede from the rest of the No-voting country; (he's joking of course)

Unarocks reckons, of course, that it was the Micro Chips wot did it;

Head Rambles reckons yesterday was "a very good day for democracy" and "a quiet rebellion by the People of Ireland for being treated like fools".


In today's Irish Times, Richard Sinnott - a professor of political science in UCD whom I had as a lecturer during my first year there - has a very good analysis. He was the commentator who worked out the mainstream interpretation of the Nice I and Nice II votes (namely, that the number of No votes stayed the same, but the Yes vote increased dramatically with turnout, winning the second referendum). Using an Irish Times/MRBI poll that predicted accurately the result of this referendum, he attempts to tease out some of the demographics behind the No vote: (full article here)


"Among the myriad of individual reasons underlying the actions of individual voters, two overall categories stand out.

The first was a lack of confidence in people regarding the issues. Those who felt they had some understanding of the issues indicated an intention of voting Yes by a two-to-one ratio.

Among the very substantial proportion that didn’t know what the treaty was about, Yes voting fell to one in 10."


I think the last line of that is especially telling. Arguably, voters who felt they had insufficient knowledge of the issue at hand should have abstained - or spoilt their vote. The fact that so few did - spoiled votes making up, I believe, 0.3% of the total - indicates the success the No campaign had in convincing people that "if in doubt, vote no". A lack of knowledge, whether one can blame it on failings of the Yes campaign or even on the unworkability of a plebiscite of this nature, was fatal to the treaty

There were, however, further obvious divisions between the constituencies which supported and which opposed the treaties. On these, Sinnott remarks:


"substantial voting contrasts across the social spectrum… are particularly striking in a political system with almost no class differences between the main parties. However, it is also possible that social class differences in support for the Lisbon Treaty may reflect occupation-related differences in exposure to and vulnerability in the face of globalisation."


Sound advice for all dismayed Yes voters:


“There will be a temptation to blame the voters – a temptation that should be strongly resisted. Rather, the reasons (and emotions) that lie behind the No vote need to be determined, as well as the way in which the Yes campaign failed to persuade a large swathe of the electorate of the merits of the case for ratification."


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Si Schroeder, Matmos - Live @ Andrew's Lane Theatre, Dublin 12/06/08




Last night was a surprisingly good gig. So good, in fact, that I don't much mind now not seeing the other acts in the Future Days festival (Jape & Dan Deacon, Low and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy). I'd wanted to see Si Schroeder for a while now and didn't much mind who was on the top of the bill. Matmos looked interesting, but a bit like Xiu Xiu last month, I wasn't expecting much. (And like Xiu Xiu, this was Matmos's first visit to Ireland)


Andrew's Lane Theatre (A.L.T.) is a new venue in Dublin. The new hip venue, to be precise. A former play theatre, it's been revamped and redecorated with a new coat of purple paint and - inside and outside - graffiti murals by 'Maser'. It's shockingly hip - but apart from that greasy undercurrent of attitude, it's a perfectly pleasant place to spend an evening. The sound quality was very good - having heard some negative, but generally mixed, reviews on that front - especially as both groups on the bill could be considered audiophilic.


Si Schroeder, in the form of his debut album Coping Mechanisms, is one of the most talented and interesting Irish electronic/alternative artist around today. It's a sort of 'fits between' (for me) Xiu Xiu, Lungfish and My Bloody Valentine.

A review on another blog of his support slot for DeVotchKa was unimpressed by his solo show. I was hoping myself for the full band, as that's the way it works on the record and because live videos I had seen (such as this one for 'Lavendermist') with the band were indeed quite impressive.

As it happened, he came on stage for his first song alone. Normally I'm not too receptive to that sort of thing, but considering as well that the last solo guitar player I saw performing was Lou Barlow, I found nothing to complain about. I'm not sure what the song was - I've heard it before, I think - but he played well, attentively, even locking into a breakdown groove on his semi-acoustic. Then the full band came on, and they played a series of songs from Coping Mechanisms - 'C4' I think, 'Lavendermist', 'The Reluctant Aviator' and 'Eyes Wide' - followed by a couple of new songs. The latter were quite interesting; one with metallic, swiping guitar played off against a drum roll, another with waves of shoegaze-y guitar glancing off repeated waves of drums.

Permit me, since it was just my birthday, to try and coin a new - to me, anyway - term: post-shoegaze. Because that's what Si Schroeder sounds like to me; the whole waves of sound are there, but only towards the end. The band seem more interested in the quiet parts that lead up to and surround it, though not to any detriment to the end result, which is a seriously impressive and loud experience of ensemble playing. My friend and I worked out that the songs operated on a continous curve, right from finger-picking quiet to shuddering loudness - gradually increasing and never at any time dropping back down. It's a curious dynamic. but one that works to great effect on their songs. And live, which is where a band's sound can take on a really distinctive and vibrant form, it came into its shimmering, blissful own.


Si Schroeder, 'A Little More' (video) and 'The Reluctant Aviator', Airfield Sessions








Si Schroeder, being both singularly impressive and deceptively quite loud, allowed us to retreat from the floor for the interval in happy knowledge of a good gig so far. At this stage, I still didn't know what to expect from Matmos - which is often a good way to go into a show. A San Franciscan duo, who recently moved to Baltimore to continue their work, they seemed rather inexplicable. Their latest album, Supreme Balloons, was released this year and is being stocked in sweetbabyjaysus's record shop 'Under The Mooch' as "their latest offering of found sound scavenger hunt stylized schizophrenic video game soundtrack perfection". The AV Club review wasn't too positive, declaring the songs "jubilant... but slight in a way that suggests much of Supreme Balloon would have been a lot more fun to make than it is to listen to. That certainly applies to an ambient title track that goes nowhere beyond wiggly test-tones for 24 minutes - a long time to go nowhere, no matter the concept." (Reliably astute, an AV Club commenter pointed out that ambient tracks, by definition, aren't meant to go anywhere).

There was a lot of interest in Matmos, however, when we went back in to find the floor at least half-packed with people ranging from a few teenagers right up to one behatted man in his 70s with his wife (well, at that age, one presumes). On stage, in darkness, were the duo - joined by noted collaborator J Lesser, and dressed at least patially in suits, shirts and skinny ties. Various glows and sounds emanated - there's no other word for it, really - from their tables of equipment. A few initial adjustments were required - having taken apart some of their 'playhouse' to facilitate Si Schroeder, which they reckoned was 'well worth it'. Matmos were surprisingly personable chaps, which is probably a good thing considering their music.

They played four songs before an encore, each accompanied by stunning visuals. Stunning isn't the right word, quite - more like mesmerising, or mind-fuck. The first song - which built up from an initial assortment of totally alien, tactile screeches and bloops - was an inverted, almost motionless shot of a test subject, her eyes cupped and ears covered by headphones, apparently reacting to auditory stimuli. The second was a soft-porn video of a guy pleasuring himself in a hot tub - but with the grainy video distorted, chopped and generally messed around with, while aural destruction and aggravation went on around us (there's a live video of it at the end of the post). Ironically, because it is in fact the source of Matmos's name - "the seething lake of evil slime beneath the city Sogo in the 1968 film Barbarella" - this reminded of the scene from that film, where Jane Fonda is trapped by the evil genius in the sort of whole-body organ, which tries to play/pleasure her to death. You'll either know the scene or you don't, I'm not going to try to explain it any further.

The third song was probably the best, a bizarre blend of country and funk played out against a backdrop of maps of America, which was interesting right from the start but got seriously heavy and, um, funkalicious - J Lesser was performing duties on bass, by the way - for a large section. The following song, however, I have to describe as torturous. [Upon listening to it, I reckon this was the title track to the album.] It may have been the after-effects of my slightly less-favoured blend of malt whiskey, but the combination of bass frequencies and shifting matrix of black-on-white dots - fascinating to the mathematical mind, though - for the visuals left me feeling physically uncomfortable.

As the song unfolded, I literally spent five minutes following a conversation in my head about the nature of 'entertainment' and art - why one expects a gig to entertain you, but will read an uncomfortable book, watch a depressing film or play or even listen to a discomforting album. Here the experimental nature of the music, and the ambient nature of the music and visuals, come together into an artistic experience you have to decided yourself whether you want to enjoy or not. In a way, Matmos gives its listeners a profound sense of agency while appearing to alienate them. Reviews say you can't dance to Matmos, but I think you can; only when you're not, and you see people who are, you wonder what they hell they're doing.

It was at that point in the gig - coming up to 11 o'clock - that people started drifting out. I won't say I wasn't tempted to join them, but at the same time Matmos remained quite fascinating. Challenging, yes; and difficult, extremely; but musically, there is plenty there to interest you. (Perhaps less musically than sonically so, but there is a bit of both) The gentle exodus allowed movement towards the stage, and so I had a pretty good view for the encore, which involved a gong in Drew Daniel's lap. At this point, I realised that Matmos is something like Battles for advanced learners - devoid of almost all commercial accessibility, but still profoundly innovative.

While the gig had elements of science fiction bizarreness about it, man and machine, performer and audience coming together in a brave new music venue, there was still something touchingly human about it. It was enjoyable in the sense that it was an odd soundscape, tough going in parts but rewarding with some beautiful aspects.



Matmos, 'Exciter Lamp and the Variable Band' (video) from Supreme Balloon, and 'Public Sex for Boyd McDonald' (watch if you dare) with saxophone, live performance








The excellent Sigla Blog: Musical Room series: part 31 - Matmos (and also, Part 32 - Dan Deacon)


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Shooting at Unarmed Men, Foals - 7" x 2




Two 7"s, no relation between them - that is, none other than they both come from two of my favourite albums of the year so far, Triptych and Antidotes. Shooting at Unarmed Men's Triptych is a conceptual masterpiece of punk and post punk, executed with admirable brio, I think is the word; Foals, Antidotes an equally impressive indie take on math-rock, mixing Q and not U with Battles and remaining fairly idiosyncratic.


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'Sometimes The Only Thing You Can Do Is Die' is the first song from the first disc of 'Triptych', a ferocious song quite typical of what one might expect from the former bassist of Mclusky. It's brief - as you might be able to see by how little of the space on the 7" it takes up - and the jerky speed of the intro was I think the reason it kept skipping, although a new record.

In full, the song - which merges into 'This Song Comes With A Picture', featured on this mix - is gloriously fast and heavy. It's punk not metal, but the riffs could almost be described as 'punishing', and by the screaming halfway-through you can tell Jon Chapple is enjoying himself.

The B-side, 'Missed Opportunities' is the very last, hidden track from Triptych. It's also quite short, a little acoustic ditty but with a strong harmony, great echoing percussion, and a sort of Sixties guitar-pop sense about it. Between these two songs, this 7" showcases the strength of the album - brevity, diversity and a powerful sound.


Shooting at Unarmed Men - 'Sometimes The Best Thing You Can Do Is Die'. PURE224S, 2007 (vinyl rip)


(And be sure to head over to the Fight Like Apes Myspace where from today they have all three songs from their upcoming single to stream, including the 'Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues' cover - which is very impressive. It's much less of a straight cover than their live version, and they've really done something different with the song)



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Just by comparison, I'm less impressed with the Foals record than with Triptych, but in itself it's a fine, even excellent, interesting album. Antidotes as a whole is a step beyond their singles, like 'Hummer' which didn't make the cut, and 'Cassius' and 'Balloons' which did. 'Red Socks Pugie', the third song on the album after quality opener 'The French Open', and 'Cassius', is a much better introduction to the album's sound.

While 'Cassius' - one of the 7"s of which I posted here - takes a jazzy, punky attitude to its central hook, 'Red Socks Pugie' is much more atmospheric. I heard a DJ on Phantom one night describe it as having 'a really good beginning, an okay middle, and a really good ending'. It's a sort of nebulous song, shifting gears without having an obvious centre. Yet, it works very well, making some really interesting and enjoyable math-rock-influenced music to listen to. Just like the album, really.


Foals - 'Red Socks Pugie' (side A only)



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Oh, and it's my birthday today. XXI

Off to see Si Schroeder and Baltimore experimentalists Matmos in Andrew's Lane tonight - the first gig in the excellent 'Future Days' festival in Dublin this weekend, featuring Low, Bonnie Prince Billy and Dan Deacon. Unfortunately, it's the only one I think that I will be going to.

But that's okay, because I have the entire Envy discography - on guess what format? - winging its way to me from Temporary Residence. A belated birthday present.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Vinyl Photography - A Penny For Your Thoughts




Okay, last time! The moratorium begins tomorrow morning (Thursday), when Ireland goes to the polls to decide the future of the Lisbon Treaty. Fellow Irish blogger No Ordinary Fool has already made his subtle last post. I don't even know if many Irish people read this blog, but really at this stage it's just about personal expression, in addition to my ballot. Or in this case, artistic expression (my inner amateur graphic designer).


A lot of people argue that the Yes side lacks a positive central message, and has been pushed on the defensive against the claims of the No side. Lisbon is a reform treaty, designed to modify institutions, and it's hard to 'sell' to the public compared to previous treaties. Not that it's without benefit - for a more efficient, more effective and more democratic Europe - and at least the benefits outweigh the dangers. Maybe 'don't let the record skip' is a little negative as a message, but believe me when I say I feel positive about this treaty.


The coin at the visual centre of the picture is an Irish euro 1 cent coin. It shows the reverse side of the coin, with the Irish harp surrounded by twelve stars to symbolise the EU flag (which only has a symbolic number of stars, unconnected to the number of member states, which currently stands as 27), the year of mint and the Irish name for Ireland, Éire. My friend, mr. x indeed, told me about this trick, and putting a penny on top of the stylus really does stop the record skipping (It does reduce the sound slightly, however).


The record, incidentally - and obviously it has no connection to the political statement, of course - is Shooting at Unarmed Men's latest 7" single, 'Sometimes the Best Thing You Can Do Is Die', from the excellent Triptych album which I've been bigging up in the last post, below. Like their previous 'Girls Music' single, it's very sparse on graphics although the reverse and sleeve have some identifying markings. I also picked up Foals' 'Red Socks Pugie', so expect a 7" post on those sometime this week.


Monday, June 9, 2008

Future of the Left, Fight Like Apes & Shooting at Unarmed Men - collected tuneage


A Veritable Mcluskism of Mcluskyites:


Future of the Left - 'Manchasm'


Future of the Left - 'Small Bones, Small Bodies'


Fight Like Apes - 'Something Global'


Shooting at Unarmed Men - Triptych


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I


Don't worry, this isn't about politics. There's a moratorium from tomorrow [polling day], anyway. (So, vote Yes if you want to improve the European Union, make it work more effectively, and to keep the ball rolling - rather than letting it drop.)


'Future of the Left' is the name of a band, and a rather good band at that. Formed from 2/3rds of the great Mclusky, and a member of the akin and supposedly pretty good other Welsh band Jarcrew, they came out in 2007 with their debut album, Curses. I went to see them perform with Fight Like Apes earlier in the year, a gig you can read about here. At the show I bought two 7"s from the merch stand, which you can see above.


Manchasm is the latest single from the band - I saw it for sale in Tower today, by the way - and probably one of my favourite songs from Curses. This is how I described it in my gig review: "A simple, nearly tinny melody played over waves of aggression and anarchy - this is a lot of what Future of the Left is about, the nearest you are going to get to a signature sound, if you will. Abrasive post-punk, in an hyperactive, speeding fashion and with an overbearing sense of doom twisted up in the mind-warping lyrics". 'Manchasm' is a really intense, heavy song but not without its own pop hooks - contributed by the keyboard, which Falco introduced at the gig by referring to Rick Wakeman. The synth - specifically a Roland Juno-60, I believe - works as a separator from the Mclusky sound, as well as an obvious avenue for experimentation.

However, it is only heavily featured in about half of their songs - a point neatly illustrated by the first B-side, 'Suddenly It's A Folk-Song'. A second of my favourites from Curses, it is primarily a guitar-driven track. Lots of shredding, bass-heavy distorted guitar and ridiculous vocal hooks - in some ways a pure Mclusky throwback, but evincing its own Future of the Left style too.

The second B-side, 'Sum of All Parts', is conversely a quiet Mclusky song - similar to 'Fuck This Band', though not quite as astounding. In fact, it's like a hidden Mclusky b-side, which were often excellent. What makes it sound so similar, I guess, is the prominence on all their quiet tracks of Mclusky (and Future of the Left) drummer, Jack Egglestone, whose percussive rhythms start to take over from Falco's subdued guitar in a particularly distinctive style.


An earlier single, 'Small Bones, Small Bodies' is again a ferociously guitar-driven song about bodies, miniturisation, courage and exoskeletons. It has the aggression and the definite Falkous mannerisms of the best songs of Mclusky Do Dallas or, moreso, their final album The Only Difference Between You and Me Is That I'm Not On Fire (yes - seriously! That is the album title). It crescendoes towards the end, in an arc of violence drawn within the confines of rhythm and melody. In other words, the band seriously rocks out but it doesn't lose sight of the hook while it's at it - rather, it just rolls with the rhythm.

As if in a nod to that sensibility - Mclusky always were a meta-referential, ironic band - b-side 'The Big Wide O' contains little, musically, but a snappy drum beat and bit of sparse guitar strumming. Yet, it proclaims "this is the song for anyone, anyone who wants it"; "this is the song to bring along/when no-one understands you... if you only buy one song, make it this one". Even the joke songs are musically solid, and even beautiful - this was true of Mclusky, and evidently of Falkous's latest endeavour as well.


(One of the greatest successes of this blog was to introduce a fellow blogger to Mclusky. Josephlovesit of Geek Down took to the singles and Mclusky Do Dallas with a shine, and in the meantime made some very discerning comments. It is always gratifying when other people are able to articulate something about an interest of yours, in a way that you've never quite managed yourself. 1 was - Mclusky - "One of the few instances where humor can completely work in the context of actual good tunes." And 2 was - on There Ain't No Fool In Ferguson -"does this band always do something really heavy and innovative with rhythm?")


Finally, the third song on Small Bones, Small Bodies is the irrepressibly jokey, yet irresistibly punk rock 'I Need To Know How To Kill A Cat'. Super-rhythmic, with strong echoes of 80s punk and post-punk - e.g. Minutemen and, of course, Husker Du's 'How To Skin A Cat' (which violates the 3rd Law of Thermodynamics, but it's a metaphor for Capitalism, so that's ok). Er. 'I Need To Know How To Kill A Cat' - good song.



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Ia


Below, the reverse of the covers and scans of the records - showing an, um, idiosyncratic approach to cover art. Well, not that idiosyncratic but pretty definitely 'punk'. Pushing boundaries, like...









(Future of the Left - 'Manchasm' video)



Future of the Left - Manchasm & Small Bodies, Small Bones vinyl rips


(Note: 'Small Bones, Small Bodies', the song, is cut off prematurely. I'll post a replacement tomorrow)


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II


Dublin band Fight Like Apes are set to release their first full-length album this autumn (September 26th), and have a single set for release on download and CD July 13th/18th. Premier Irish blogger Nialler9 has an exclusive audio stream of the song on his blog. I listened to it several times straight through, and I have to say it's good stuff.


Nialler9 - 'Something Global' (First Listen)


Make no mistake, it's a fair jump from the sound of the EPs, but the same Fight Like Apes sound is in there, albeit differently packaged - better sound production, and at first a misleadingly conventional song structure - but still ready to burst out. Nialler 9 describes it as "...a 3 minute stomper. Flapes version 1.1, just tweaked to sound cleaner and shinier but with a large menacing bite safely intact. A barrage of wailing, rushing synths ride along a bolting beat". It may seem ridiculous to read too much into one single, but I'm just looking forward with great interest to FLApes 2.0, the album. It should, really, be a fascinating listen; I can still remember the first time I put in the earphones for the first two EPs, and each of them (the EPs, not the earphones) growing on me with every listen.


Phil Udell from State magazine, which is also carrying the stream - making it marginally less exclusive, since Nialler9 is on their team too - adds his analysis that "In truth, ‘Something Global’ doesn’t mess massively with the blueprint but the subtle changes are hugely important. It sounds great for a start, balancing their quirky edge with an undoubted pop sensibility, the core conflict that has been at the heart of their music from the very start. Thankfully, and unlike the last EP, it is the approachable, melodic side that wins out here - manifesting itself in a song that rages against the disposable world of pop music by creating a tune so catchy, so universal that you wonder how this can possibly fail to propel them to a whole new level." A small touch of hyperbole there - and what was so wrong with the last EP (David Carradine...)? But indeed, here's to progress.


The single - 1,500 limited edition numbered CDs, but apparently no 7", bah! - also will have as one of its B-sides a recorded version of Mclusky's 'Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues', which is a big boon for me and all other true FLApes punk rockers.


I'm fearful of flying...





And flying is fearful of me!...


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III


Finally, I want to put in a mention for this, other, ex-Mclusky album. Shooting at Unarmed Men (Jon Chapple, bassist for Mclusky) first released Triptych, a triple-disc CD album, in Australia last year, but it got a full worldwide release in March of this year and from first listen became one of my favourite albums of 2008 so far. I like Future of the Left and all - Curses has been growing on me since seeing them live - but Triptych is sublime. It's revolutionary, pure and subvertingly simple.


Shooting At Unarmed Men - 'Sometimes The Best Thing You Can Do Is Die (I have changed my mind; this is the 7" single for the album - first and last song on Triptych. Further post here)


Triptych is a three-part set of mini-albums - about twenty minutes or so each, and twelve tracks in all. According to Road Records, "the album features a collection of three extended singles in a slight homage to the minutemen according to mr chapple ... from totally explosive garage rock to shouty post punk to a couple of slightly more mellow math rock kind of sounds". The first disc plays like a hardcore mini-record, like a condensed version of Husker Du's Metal Circus. A mixture of lo-fi, garagey punk sounds, like a mixture of 70s punk and 80s hardcore, but still definitely modern and Shooting at Unarmed Men-like (if you've heard their previous albums).

The Mclusky edge is in there as well, although probably a different side to it than is evident in Future of the Left. Each disc on Triptych as at least one, generally two songs on it with really strong hooks, while the rest is devoted - but not abandoned - to experimentation. Disc two switches from the more straightforward, atavistic rock'n'roll sound into later, early Slint-like post-rock styles; and disc three, with the maniacal, jerky post-punk opener to freakout jam 'Happy Birthday Placenta' explores the fabric of the album's varied sounds even further.

The previous album, Yes! Tinnitus!, while good, tended to drift into repetition and lengthy rhythm pieces (except the rip-roaring Girls Music single). Hence the idea of a triple album came with some foreboding, but it is the very brevity of its songs which makes Triptych so exceptional. In the end, I dig this album on many levels: the stripped-back intensity of its punk and hardcore sound; the concept of its concentrated, shaped 'bursts'; and the variety and diversity to be found within it. Triptych, I think, is a must for any Mclusky fan and for anyone interested in a progressive take on punk rock.


Shooting at Unarmed Men at Road Records (€16.99 for the excellently packaged album)


Shooting at Unarmed Men at eMusic


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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Indie Rock Is My Social Democracy; Videos - Wilt, Kerbdog & Helmet



(I'm being ironic! I do not agree with this brash, nationalistic, illogical, practically anonymous - and hence illegal - poster. Mind you, this legitimate Yes one is hardly much better)


This is a blog about music, not politics. However, it is about a particular type of music which is either explicitly or implicitly connected with politics. Call it punk or call it hardcore, or even (to some extent) post-hardcore, it becomes - generally - hypocritical to remain apolitical. Not least because the majority of its afficionados have similar sensibilities, but much more importantly because its very ethos encourages not only independent thought, but the expression of that thought.

I came up with a strange metaphor and/or analogy last night, between my musical tastes and my political preferences. This is in part the title of the post; that my broadening of taste out from typical punk/hardcore into more widely considered, yet still independent-minded, rock music mirrors the maturing of my political sensibilities from youthful radicalism to an acceptance of more nuanced, pluralistic and conventional politics. The process, in both cases, is complementary but not without tensions. Can you listen to DIY, uncompromising hardcore and the latest indie rock hype (when justified, of course) - just like believing in the ultimate tenets of (humanistic) socialism or radicalism, while appreciating the movement of day-to-day politics? I don't believe it's hypocritical as much as it is beneficial, progressive and, above all, educated. And let's face it, we all do it.

For the record, my current political preference is for environmental (Green) politics. Not only on account of the dangers of climate change, but - if you were to go down the considerably worrisome route of denying climate change's veracity - its multiple other worthy attributes (a good number of which can be found by reading either Kerouac's Dharma Bums or the infamous Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance). Green politics are neither particularly punk rock nor indie, nor radical or social democratic - they're more postmodern; so, to overextend the metaphor - post-rock perhaps?


What prompted these confessional remarks is what Peter Sutherland, former Irish commissioner to the EU, described recently as the most important decision of international affairs ever to be decided by the Irish people: the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty (June 12th).

For my multiple American (and other non-European) readers, the Lisbon Treaty is the latest document involving the organisation and maintenance of the European Union (EU), agreed between the governments of all 27 current EU member states. Ireland, due to the particular nature of our constitution (and the 1987 Crotty case in the Supreme Court, but I won't get into that here) is the only country to put the treaty to a public referendum. All other 26 countries are very likely to, or already have, ratified the treaty by parliament.

Hence Ireland (4 million out of an over 200 million plus European population, incidentally) stands between full ratification of the treaty and a possible tortuous revision of the current EU political programme. As a student of politics - first in my class last year, I might add, as a personal detail and a small mark of self-aggrandisement - I had foreseen the dilemma of this unique referendum, in which a rejection does little constructive, but so much destructive. Essentially, I was from the start a cautious Yes vote, believing on balance in the merits of this reform treaty - adapted from but realistically differentiated from a proposed and defeated EU constitution - the importance of the European program, and the overwhelming support this receives from parliamentarians of all major parties.


Conversely, the No campaign - split between Sinn Féin, the minority republican party, a right-wing shady think-tank by the name of 'Libertas' and various ultra-Catholic groups, socialist parties and the minority wing of the Greens/radical movement - not only failed to inspire but perpetually aggravated. Narrow, factually inaccurate, uninformed, nationalistic and disingenous claims were presented to repeated and oft unheeded rebuttals from the Yes side - a problem not least because it drowned out much constructive criticism and opposition to the elements of European politics, much of which could be better organised and applied in between times at European and national elections. In brief, over the last month or so of campaigning my initial, informed choice was only further confirmed.


The above comments may well seem partisan, but they are my honest reaction to the political situation. The latest pair of national polls have shown that the result could in fact go either way, in a large part because of people who want to vote No because they feel uninformed or confused. To those people, I say three things: first, look to any or all of your elected representatives, and any political parties you may support - their wide support for the Treaty is less a mass conspiracy than it is a recognition of political realities and ideals; secondly, remember that our referendum is a unique and unusual occurrence, probably not best suited to the ratification of an exceedingly complex legal document; and thirdly, as such you are hardly expected to specifically read it in order to do your democratic duty - only if you have serious concerns about what is being presented to you, in the treaty and in your parliament and media.


For what it's worth, Hardcore for Nerds (that is myself, gabbagabbahey) is advocating a Yes vote. Let it not be said that I don't have the courage of my convictions.


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As a respite from the politics - which is, you know, only the discourse of democratic individuals, the expression of true personal freedom and agency, and the highest level of human communication - here's some (Irish) indie rock, shading towards (American) hardcore:


Wilt, 'Distortion'





Kerbdog, 'Sally'





Helmet, 'Bad Mood'





(^ that's John Stanier, the current drummer for Battles, in the video above - in case anybody doesn't know their punk/hardcore history. History is always nearly as important as politics :)