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.
Saturday, December 31, 2022
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.
Friday, September 30, 2022
Song Highlight: Melvins - If I Had An Exorcism
When it comes to heavy music, my preference is for it to be slow, heavy, and abrasive. I was not attracted to metal for flashy guitar solos and theatrical vocals. Of the myriad of subgenres in heavy music, my favorite is sludge metal. Music of this style takes the slow, down-tuned aspects of heavy metal music and combines them with the aggression of punk rock. One of the early practitioners of this style was the Melvins. Guitarist Buzz Osborne started the Melvins when he was in high school, playing fast hardcore punk music in the style of Black Flag. That all changed when Black Flag released My War in 1984, and slowed tempos down to a crawl on the second half of the album, in the vein of Black Sabbath. Osborne and drummer Dale Crover began to experiment with slower music themselves and helped give birth to sludge metal and drone metal. In the band’s almost 40 years of existence, they have released a lot of albums and have experimented widely with sounds and styles, though it is primarily for their slow and heavy material that they are known.
Monday, August 8, 2022
Cadabra Records: Thomas Ligotti's The Clown Puppet "Live"
One of the most affecting and memorable live performances of my life was seeing Jon Padgett doing a reading of Thomas Ligotti’s short story “The Bungalow House”, accompanied by live guitar and electronics performed by Chris Bozzone. It was my first introduction to the work of Thomas Ligotti, a contemporary horror writer who espouses a particularly dismal world view, and uses his work as a means to explore this outlook. Padgett, a fantastic author of weird fiction himself, did an amazing job invoking the crushing loneliness of the narrator of “The Bungalow House”. I was utterly spellbound, hanging on every word, caught up in a horror that was far more affecting than the hackneyed violence that is the hallmark of many modern horror tales. I came away from the event as a fan of Ligotti’s fiction, and of Jon Padgett, as well. He read his own story “20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism”, and I was astounded at his ability to take something as mundane as a guide book (the story is presented as a guide to becoming a skilled ventriloquist and beyond), and turn it into something deeply unsettling. This event was hosted by Cadabra Records, who had just released a spoken word vinyl record of “The Bungalow House”, with Jon Padgett doing the reading and Chris Bozzone handling the instrumentation. This event was a live recreation of that release, and the first event of its kind hosted by Cadabra Records. Although it is hard to believe now, this event occurred back in May of 2019, more than three years ago! I have been eager for Cadabra Records to host similar events, but the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic prevented that.
Friday, July 29, 2022
Song Highlight: Chat Pile - grimace_smoking_weed.jpeg
Today is a special day for anyone enthralled by noisy and harrowing music, because it is the release date of Chat Pile’s first full length album, God’s Country. Chat Pile resurrect the churning noise rock menace of Big Black and the Jesus Lizard and combine it with the feedback-drenched sludge of Eyehategod. As I mentioned in my post about their song Dallas Beltway, Chat Pile have a knack for writing songs that are actually unnerving. They tackle subjects that are not uncommon to extreme metal bands, like murder and depravity, but they are able to present it in a way that does not feel exploitative. These are not subjects that they are presenting to seem edgy or “cool.” They are drawing attention to some of the wretchedness that festers in the United States of America, and society in general.
Thursday, June 30, 2022
Song Highlight: Leatherface - Cabbage Case
Leatherface is one of those bands that never gained the following that they deserved, but to those who know them, they are a big deal. The UK-based punk band combined the melodic sensibilities of Hüsker Dü with the hoarse bite of Motörhead. Unlike many punk bands of their time, Leatherface put a great emphasis on melody. Their songs are immediately catchy, with infectious guitar lines all held together with a pounding rhythm section. And while that is not necessarily unique to Leatherface, their vocalist Frankie Stubbs has a vocal rasp unlike any other (the most apt comparison being to Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead). It is not a harshness that feels forced or put on, like you might find in genres of extreme metal. Of all of the aspects of Leatherface’s music, it is Stubb’s vocals that can be something of an acquired taste. But to me, that is just part of Leatherface’s unique charm. Even if you cannot always make out exactly what Stubbs is singing, you can feel it. The emotive impact is always present.
Tuesday, May 31, 2022
Song Highlight: Armchair Martian - You Deserve This
When I consider the songs that had a profound impact on my life, and ones that made me a music enthusiast, the music of Armchair Martian sits towards the top of the list. It was 2007 and I was midway through college. A friend of mine was introducing me to the world of punk rock outside of The Clash and The Ramones. In particular, he showed me Bad Astronaut’s cover of the seminal NOFX song, "Linoleum". Bad Astronaut was the side project of Joey Cape, the singer of the California skate punk band Lagwagon. Cape wanted an avenue to be more exploratory with the music he was writing, and work beyond the confines of the punk that Lagwagon was playing (the members of Lagwagon would balk at the notion of incorporating a keyboard into a song). Bad Astronaut’s version of Linoleum is less abrasive, and slower, focused more around Cape’s great voice, and mounts to an explosive second half. I loved it and I was immediately looking for more of Bad Astronaut's music, which brought me to War of the Worlds, a split album between Bad Astronaut and Armchair Martian, where each band played the other's songs.
Saturday, April 30, 2022
Song Highlight: Black Sheep Wall - Metallica
It is hard to write a compelling 33 minute song, especially if the song features a handful of repeating guitar riffs extending ad nauseam. Remarkably, this is exactly what the Southern California-based sludge metal band Black Sheep Wall have done with the song “Metallica.” The song is of their 2015 album I’m Going to Kill Myself, which features memorable album art of two colorful monsters, as if out of a children's book, with one telling the other “I’m going to kill myself.”
Thursday, March 31, 2022
Song Highlight: Nine of Swords - Wild Strawberries
As I have started to get older, I yearn for bands to play shorter sets, such that I can get home from a show at a more reasonable hour (better for a set to be short and sweet than to drag on). And to go along with this, I sometimes find myself wishing that a show will not have very many opening acts, so things can progress to the headliner more quickly. I need to stop wishing this, as I have discovered so many amazing bands/artists playing as opening acts. Case in point, I recently was introduced to the incredible hardcore band Nine of Swords when they opened for Portrayal of Guilt.
Monday, February 28, 2022
Song Highlight: Timeshares - Ladder
About 10 years ago, I first heard the Menzingers as an opening act for The Bouncing Souls. The Menzingers were the highlight of that show, and they have gone on to become one of my favorite melodic punk bands. This month I saw the Menzingers in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, almost 10 years later. The highlight of this show was their first opening act, a New York state punk band called Timeshares. They combine the punk aggression of early Menzingers material with some alternative country leanings, ala the Drive By Truckers. Anyone who has followed this blog for a while will know that I have a special affinity for rock music with a country-tinge to it. Hearing a sorrowful twang in their music was cause for much excitement, and I went home and bought some of their music straightaway.