ringing ears

because sometimes you can't turn the volume knob down

Sunday, April 13, 2008

oly music and its empathy: a self-destructive path

The dialectic discourse that transpired tonight. Between beers and cigarettes, standing on the back deck of a dance party/birthday, the discussion of Cap'n Jazz's influence on our youth and young manhood (and I do mean manhood), the influence of afrobeat on indie and the lack of enthusiasm in the Olympia scene, heads nodding, shoe staring (not gazing) and alcohol uninfluenced. Where did the excitement go in live music? The thrill of a show, the debauchery, the masochism, the heat, the sweat, the crowd, the entity and untity that is the crowd, the unabashed youthful joy of a band and the crowd's interaction with them, the inexplicable language that exists without a stage, without a physical barrier separating "us" and "them". Maybe we were not so evolved and enlightened on the right coast, especially in that strange melting pot of the southeast, but we were not afraid to show our fervor. The visceral effect of a noise band on our skin, ears, face, body. The gyration of a "indie-punk-no-wave-dance" band and our shameless, rhythmless thrashing. I hope I can hold fast to those feeling and that inspiration. I used to judge a show by how long my ears rang, how long I felt my head was underwater, muffled from the reality of life and my own life. I found solace in those show. I found solace in those songs, if you call them songs. But I will forever be an outside in a man's world, a world of hardness, "tough guy" music and masculinity. I still wear the same bruises, share the same 40 of malt liquor, wear the same sweat-stained t-shirt, but I am a woman. I am forever trying out to make the team. And that's fine with me. At least they, those boys, cared enough to have tryouts.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

really? really.

I wrote this rather angry blurb back in January. Reading this sentence now, with fresh eyes, I can forgive him for "atonal scaffolding", but "submerged rock" still leaves a thorn in my side.

"And, of course, the music itself, a nebulous but forceful concoction of sopping wet harpsichords, detonating percussion, submerged rock, atonal scaffolding, and unhinged electro-pop."

-Brian Howe's review of Xiu Xiu's "Women as Lovers"

"Atonal scaffolding"? "Submerged rock"? I now believe that Brian Howe enjoys writing purple prose for the same reason people enjoy watching internet porn or others put preachy bumper stickers on their own cars: for their own selfish enjoyment and self-indulgent joy. There's a preening present in his words, like a bird showing of its colorful feathers. Mr. Howe does not want to impart any knowledge and certainly doesn't want to give you any concrete impression of this album, sonically or otherwise, because he knows what "sopping wet harpsichords" sound like and screw you if you don't.

True, writing about music, explaining it, expressing it, is a foolish task. Music relies on no set form, rules or description. Trying to describe music is like trying to hear what honey tastes like. But writing like a pompous, pretentious shit certainly isn't the way to go.

don't forget the volume pedals

Here's a piece I wrote for a portfolio a few months ago. It could definitely be expanded tenfold but hey, I threw it together last minute. Enjoy.

The Earth Is Not A Cold Death Place opens up with a single guitar note. First the attack and then the slow, echoing decay, a heartbeat on a VCU meter. That single note grows, getting faster and growing more percussive. A soft melody dances over this racing heartbeat, a heartbeat racing so fast, it turns into a constant stream of sound. Now, I can hear the palpitations of a second heartbeat, strong and steady, a kick drum resounding, guttural. As the sonic mass crescendos, we can now hear the pulse of the heartbeat switches to snare drum strokes.

Post rock is characterized by swelling dynamics, the wordless capability to build and create emotion and depth with “rock instruments”—bass, drums and guitar. The first track, “First Breath From A Coma”, outlines the events that precede someone gaining lucidity, clarity, either figurative or literal. They don’t have strings at their disposal to set the scene of a hospital room. They don’t have timpani or flutes or horns. They have brash, crude, electronic instruments, usually utilized to get laid or exert teenage angst. The only tool they have to bridge the gap from gyrating garage rock to fluid, orchestrated music is a volume pedal.

With a track list similar to an EP’s, The Earth spans almost an hour, each of the five songs displaying a gamut of emotions. The rubato tempo and dynamics emote everything from exuberance to desolation to wonder. Three guitars intertwine throughout, taking turn playing melody, rhythm or simple repeating the same phrase or note again and again. With no singer, no front man, the band remains a truly collaborative effort, producing seamless sonic walls for songs, ebbing and swelling with every soaring climax and every subtle silence.

An echoing, otherworldly, guitar opens up on the second track, “Six Days At the Bottom of the Ocean”, with a repeated flanging melody. The slight delay on all of the guitar parts gives a sense of space, as if they recorded the song in a large hall or in a subterranean cave. At the 3-minute mark, there’s a slight pause, as if they all took a communal deep breath before a percussive, arrhythmic pulse jumps in on the snare drum.

Compared to the past two albums, The Earth reflects a far more optimistic and subtle approach. Their first album, Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Live Forever, relied more on percussion to drive the songs along, standing out as its own entity rather than the democratic role it played in The Earth, with just its sparse presence and occasional flourish. Those Who Tell The Truth contains the only track with vocals, a monologue from The Thin Red Line questioning the origin of evil. The track titles reveal more about the band’s headspace than anything else—“Have You Passed Through This Night?”, “With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept” and “The Moon is Down”.

How Strange, Innocence, their sophomore album, finds them discovering an understated, refined sound. Gone is the need to overshoot the mark with garish drums and spastic guitar parts. They introduce their collection of effects pedals and even tone it down with an acoustic guitar at times. Still, the guitar parts can feel cluttered with sonic toes being stepped on, as if the boys just needed a few more band meetings. There are moments of brilliance, if fleeting, to make up for the confusions.

The culmination of all the lessons learned resulted in The Earth. Fluid, subtle and controlled, the tension builds organically in each song, rising and falling of its own accord. The band finally find solidarity in their composition, feeling like the album was created by one mind, with no more power struggles of who can crank it up to 11. Explosions In The Sky finally found their natural sound with The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place.


After careful consideration and some advice, I've decided to start a music blog, just like everyone who dreams of the "golden gates" of Brooklyn* and reads too much Pitchfork. After enough drunken rants about post punk's dissonance and "angular guitars" (a cliche I love dearly), the shameless simplicity of Foreigner and why !!! will outlive the indie-dance-punk surge, I've decided to make my rants legit.
I'll probably post album reviews, show reviews, serious discourse about music trends, pet peeves, likes, dislikes, hopes, dream and my favorite color. (It's neon green) So, let the show begin....

Living the dream,

*Sarcasm does not transcend the digital word well, so bear with me.