Sunday, April 30, 2023

Song Highlight: The Birthday Party - Junkyard

One of the first bands that showed me that a band could be aggressive without resorting to death metal growls and down-tuned guitars was Big Black, Steve Albini's punk rock band from the early to mid 1980s. The clanging and screeching guitars coupled with the monolithic pounding of their Roland TR-606 drum machine created an intense listening experience the likes of which I had never heard before (I discovered Big Black after graduating college in 2009, while reading Michael Azerrad’s book about the American underground music scene in the 1980s, Our Band Could Be Your Life). That discovery helped introduce me to the world of noise rock, specifically to the band The Jesus Lizard, with the unmatched vocals of David Yow,  his stuttering yelps and wails ornamenting the muscular power of the band’s rhythm section and the minimalistic metallic sheen of Duane Denison’s guitar playing.

Friday, March 31, 2023

Song Highlight: The Goddamn Gallows - In League with Satan

A few months ago, I wrote about IV and The Strange Band, and their ability to combine a host of disparate sounds to make compelling music. The Goddamn Gallows from Detroit, Michigan are another band that are able to do this with aplomb. In the simplest sense, the Goddamn Gallows are a folk punk band, but they take their sound well beyond those confines by adding bluegrass and metal, all with a sort of rollicking mania. They have released seven albums since their formation in 2004, with their style gradually evolving from the rockabilly (self-described as gutterbilly) of their earlier albums to the darker and doomier sounds of their newest records. All of these sounds have been tested and perfected on the road with a relentless touring schedule (I was lucky enough to see them open for Weedeater in Baltimore in 2020).

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Song Highlight: The Mountain Goats - Autoclave


Last month, I wrote about John Darnielle of the folk rock band the Mountain Goats. Now a full month later, I am still listening to his music on a regular rotation, so I want to talk about another of his songs. He is an excellent lyricist, often coming up with clever analogies to help sell his stories. This is on display in the song “Autoclave” from Heretic Pride, where he describes his heart as an autoclave. For those unaware, an autoclave is a device that uses pressurized steam to sterilize glassware and surgical implements for medical and scientific purposes. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Song Highlight: The Mountain Goats - Lovecraft in Brooklyn

When considering prolific songwriters, John Darnielle of the folk rock band the Mountain Goats quickly comes to mind. Since the Mountain Goats’ inception in the early 90s they have 21 studio albums and countless other releases, ranging from their early recordings that were largely just Darnielle, an acoustic guitar, and a Panasonic RX-FT500 cassette deck Boombox, to more refined recordings with a full band. Darnielle has a talent for painting flawed and realistic characters in his songs, whether that is him putting his own demons on display or crafting a character to fit the story he wants to tell.

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Song Highlight: Tom Waits - Eyeball Kid

Tom Waits has had quite a career trajectory, starting out with fairly conventional folk songs in the early 1970s, before becoming a jazzy crooner grounded by one of the most gravelly voices in popular music, to eventually transitioning into what sounds like the spokesman to a carnival ushering in the apocalypse. Waits has always been interested in exploring themes of isolation and death, focusing on deadbeats, alcoholics, and lost souls, but it was really with the 1992 album Bone Machine that he truly became a troubadour of the End Times. The songs on Bone Machine are even more unhinged than his previous work, which had started to become more and more unconventional, the songs are carried by sparse instrumentation and clanging, awkward percussion. His 1999 album Mule Variations took the sonic weirdness of Bone Machine and combined it with downtrodden, bluesy ballads of his earlier work, creating an album that is much more approachable to the uninitiated. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Song Highlight: IV and The Strange Band - Train

I spend a lot of time talking about abrasive music on this website, though I did not grow up listening to such things. My younger years were spent with classic rock radio, where I harbored a disdain towards anything that was harsh. That slowly started to change when I was in college, as I began to branch away from late 60s rock. In my junior and senior years, I was engrossed with punk rock and alternative country. I appreciated how many artists in those genres were willing to experiment with sounds outside of the norm. In the realm of alternative country, I found bands like O’Death who were injecting darker and more unhinged elements into folk and country music. My delving into alternative country eventually led me to Hank III, the grandson of the legendary country singer/songwriter Hank Williams, Sr. Hank III’s music is an interesting mixture of traditional country in the vein of his grandfather and hard rock, punk, and metal. The first metal show I ever attended was a Hank III show in 2009 at the now defunct Chameleon Club in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In the first half of the set, Hank III had an acoustic guitar and played his traditional country music. He then let his hair down and replaced his acoustic with an electric guitar and launched into his hard rock songs (a style he prefers to call Hellbilly) followed by his thrash metal/death metal songs (with a band called Assjack). It was fascinating to see so many distinct musical genres on display at one show, and sometimes within a single song. It has now been approximately 9 years since Hank III has released any new music, but fortunately for us, Hank III has a son named Coleman Williams, and he released an album this year!

Monday, October 31, 2022

Song Highlight: Thou - Eulogy

It is hard to think of a band that works harder than Thou, the prolific doom/sludge metal band from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Since their inception in 2005, they have released a staggering number of releases, including five studio albums and an absurd number of splits and EPs. These have been released across a wide array of record labels, nearly all of them smaller independent labels, helping to show the band’s insistence on a “do it yourself” aesthetic, never wanting to be tied down by the constraints of an overbearing record label. They have used all of these releases to broadly experiment with the genre of sludge metal, thoroughly straying outside the bounds set by pioneering bands of the genre like Eyehategod. I can think of no band that is able to combine the wretchedly ugly with profound beauty as adeptly as Thou. For a genre largely defined by crushing and slowly churning guitar riffs, something like a shimmering post rock guitar line might seem wildly out of place, but Thou do it with a naturalness that makes you question why you ever would have questioned its inclusion.