I’m sitting on the side of the road on a stormy October morning. The clock reads 3:52. My car is bathed in a flood of ominous blue police lights from the car behind me. My speakers are pinned on 50 blaring “Holiday in Dystopia”, the new record from Lion Splicer. Suddenly, a loud knock on the window….
Officer: License and registration.
Me: I was listen to the new Lion Splicer record, Officer. It’s quite good. They shown some genuine progress from their earlier stuff and I already thought that was pretty excellent. They’re really thrashy with a punk rock edge. They remind me a lot of the stuff that used to be on K Records years back like Karp and Fitz of Depression…..
Officer: License….and registration.
Me: I don’t know what you think of the whole crossover scene, but I really dig it. Lion Splicer has moments where they remind me of D.R.I. or, if you are a bit younger, Municipal Waste. It’s never been my favorite scene, but when it’s done well, it’s a lot of fun to listen to. Great party music. The song they have on this record called “The Whip” really gets into the spirit of….
Officer: Listen Son. I just need your license and registration.
Me: I understand that. One of the things that really grabs me about “Holiday in Dystopia” is the band’s willingness to mix in genres you wouldn’t expect. I know a lot of bands today do that, but they really have a knack for how to make it work. The solo on the first song “Jezebel” sounds like something off of a Dick Dale and The Deltones record. Pure surf. I was blown away when I…..
Officer: Okay Son, I’ve had about enough of this talk about this Lion Slicer band….
Me: Lion Splicer. I’ve been assured by the band that they mean no harm towards animals. Particularly lions. They love lions and mean to use their music to….
Officer: Whatever. Listen, I’m not interested in whatever this is you are trying to talk to me about. You were doing 79 in a 35. That’s the issue, Son.
Me: No, no, I understand. I just think that if you went to the bands Bandcamp site and check them out, you wouldn’t be so concerned about minor details.
Officer: Minor det….Son, you were going 43 miles over the speed limit…
Me: 44 actually….
Officer: YES! EXACTLY. So let’s stop with all the talk about this Tiger Beat band….
Me: Lion Splicer.
Officer: Stop interrupting me!
Me: Sorry, I just think that the bands ability to blend bizarre, dissonant noise with catchy rhythms is unique and borders on sheer brilliance. If that’s a crime, ARREST ME! Put the cuffs on me and take me away!
A wise man once told me not to pay for what you can get for free. He’s currently doing a stretch of 2 to 5 years at Rikers Island for passing bad checks, but his point was well taken. After my ticket for Saturday night’s Ghost, Opeth, Mastodon show at The Masquearde in balmy Atlanta, Georgia fell through, I was faced with two possible futures. One involved me jumping in my car, heading over to The Varsity and drowing my sorrows in 12 pimento cheese sandwiches and the other involved me standing out in the parking lot and craning my neck around some light poles to get a glimpse of Ghost, the current greatest band in the history of the universe. The choice was obvious.
By the time I got to a spot that allowed me to view 1/12th of the stage, they had already launched into a rip-roaring version of their Mercyful Fate tinged masterpiece “Elizabeth”. Apparently, I was not the only person leery of actually paying to see a concert. There were two 15-year-olds staring over the fence with expressions of cold, awe-struck horror. One of them had his “throwback” Bullet For My Valentine “Scream, Aim, Fire” shirt on and the other one looked like he was dressed for the eventual random onset of a golf match. They clearly were in the wrong place:
Metal Kid #1: Why is the singer of Mastodon wearing a Pope hat?
Metal Kid #2: I don’t think that’s Mastodon. That’s probably Opeth.
Me: No….that’s Ghost. Ever heard of them?
Both Kids at Once: No????
Me: They are completely crazy. Keep watching. You’ll see some terrible things.
Metal Kid #2: What do you mean?
Me: Well, first of all, you know where he got that hat from?
Metal Kid #1”: No.
Me: He stole it from the real Pope.
Metal Kid #1: No….No way! Is that true?!?!
Me: Oh yeah. These guys are pure evil. The drummer punched the Pope one time at an IKEA in Munich and the singer took the hat and ran. They mugged the Pope for Godsakes! They were supposed to play America a year ago but they were banned from the United States.
Metal Kid #2: Whoa! What for?
Me: They are into trafficking and selling animal organs. The singer got caught trying to sneak 150 sheep livers into his suitcase when they went through customs. It was a big international incident. That and the whole thing with the walrus got them into a bunch of trouble….
Metal Kid #1: (horrified) Walrus??? What happened with the walrus???
Me: Jesus, doesn’t anyone read the newspaper anymore!!!! They did a concert in Poland and at the end of the show they brought a walrus on stage and beat it to death with hammers. They cut it up and gave pieces to everyone in the audience. It was unbelievable. They put birthday candles in each of the pieces! People ate it completely raw and something like 46 people died of food poisoning. Horrible! That’s what got them on the FBI’s 12 Most Wanted List.
Metal Kid #2: Oh my god! Wow! These guys are awesome!
Metal Kid #1: Do you think they’ll kill a walrus tonight?
Me: God no! They found religion and recently became Jehovah’s Witnesses. They swore off all of that praising Satan and slaughtering animal stuff and now they go door to door preaching The Word. The guitarist, the one dressed like a Jawa from Star Wars, he sold me a copy of Watchtower magazine last month.
Metal Kid #1: Whoa!!!! That’s amazing!
I quickly tired of filling the minds of these kids with insidious poison and began to focus my attention onto the mellifluous tones of Ghost. The solo from Ritual was casacading to its nearly perfect peak when I became aware of a terrible presence only inches from my right arm. As the song ended, I turned and came face to face with The Hipster With the Glass Eye.
The fella was probably six foot three and 98 pounds soaking wet. Imagine your average beardo coffee shop barista decked out in his best Piggly Wiggly tee-shirt and you’ve basically got a mental image of the dude I was looking at. Except this person had a glass eye. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Did he have some terrible accident Vespa racing? Was this some kind of sadistic, post-ironic fashion statement? Did he pull the original eye out in frustration when he couldn’t find a copy of the new Band of Horses album? Do they sell glass eyes at Urban Outfitters now? This rare specimen of humanity had my interest for a full two minutes worth of conversation. Then, things got ugly.
Me: Nobody knows who Ghost is. They’ve only done two interviews. Both of them were in caves. The interviewers were blindfolded and driven hours away to a secure location. They did the interviews wearing hoods!
Hipster With The Glass Eye: So, no one knows who they are?
Me: No one!
Hipster With The Glass Eye: (excitedly) Wow, so they are kinda like Banksy??? That’s awesome!
I looked away and shook my head in horror. An uncomfortable, awkward silence fell over us both. He stood there waiting for a response that would never come. I decided that the night was officially over. I walked to my car filled with hopelessness and despair. At least the band was good.
All that is left in my world is Sigh’s new album “In Somniphobia”. I love it. I can’t stop playing it. Over and over and over and over again. I love it so much I want to rip off my shirt and paint the letters S-I-G-H across my chest and run around the local Walgreens screaming at the top of my lungs. I want to beat myself over the head repeatedly with a claw hammer until I do such severe damage to my hippocampus that I forget I’ve heard the album just so I can have the pleasure of experiencing it again for the first time. I long to leap off of a bell tower screaming the lyrics at the horrified spectators. I dream of ripping each of my teeth out and sending it to members of the band to thank them for all the joy they have brought to me.
My love for it transcends all possible love I could experience. I want to go to a beautiful meadow, set out a picnic blanket and caress the album telling it all the things I know in my heart and have been afraid to say. I want to run through a field with it in my arms, laughing girlishly, dancing to the wonderful sounds of the wind whipping through the grass. I want to whisper lovingly into the albums ear, telling it my deepest secrets and most personal desires. Surrender unconditionally to its alluring charms. Bathe it in pure, unadulterated affection.
I feel jealous that others will have the chance to hear this album. When I think of others listening to this album I am filled with rage. I will kill them. I will grind their bones into dust. It is my album. Mine! Their love is cheap and tawdry while mine is filled with the sincerity and innocence of a child. They cannot feel what I feel for this album. They are mere mortals while I have been imbued with the gift of second sight by the god Amen-Ra. They live shallow, meaningless lives. Their love will flicker and fade the minute something else comes along. My attraction will never fade, no matter what happens. If nuclear bombs reign down on the city of Atlanta and all around me is melted and disintegrated, the only thing left will be my boney, skeletal fingers embracing the album, stroking its brow.
Don’t listen to the album. You and the mortals around you don’t deserve it. I’ll know if you are listening to it because I’m in front of your house right now. Watching you. I was at the supermarket yesterday when you bought two bags of pork rinds for 2 dollars and 28 cents. I saw you stop at the gas station and get approximately 8 gallons of gas. I know that you stopped in Hot Topic at 3:45 just to look around. You didn’t buy anything. I am watching you all the time. Even as you sleep. If you dare to listen to this album, I will tie you to a chair and feed you hundreds of pounds cheese dip until either your stomach bursts or your entire body explodes.
I’d give it a 2,389,124 out of 10. I am currently in the process of undergoing a medical procedure to add an additional thumb so I can give it 3 thumbs up. There will never be anything better. Music as we know it is over. People should not even bother to try to create anything else. This is the pinnacle, the zenith, the apogee, the climax of all civilization. It is the Hanging Gardens, the Taj Mahal, the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. There is no future, there is no past, there is only Sigh’ “In Somniphobia”.
“children guessed (but only a few and down they forgot as up they grew)”
The music review has been pronounced dead in many quarters. Some say it has lost its relevance, some argue it no longer has a story worth telling. I think there is some truth to this idea. There is a formula for a standard review and it is tried and true. A few strong metaphors, a band comparison or two, a reference to earlier work and the albums place within its genre and you’ve got a review. This is not to demean much of the writing that is out there. There are some truly exceptional writers who can take the standard form and make it deeply engaging, but there are a lot of reviews out there that simply don’t make an impact on me. I don’t believe that this is the fault of the writers but rather the fact that the medium they are using has confined its creator to the narrow world of observing and reporting. I think it is fair to say the music review as pure informational medium is probably on its last legs. While I believe that its role as informer of music fans is ending, I believe that it is in the process of going in a bold, exciting new direction that can make it relevant again and even an art form of its own.
Audiences no longer want to be informed, they want to be involved. They are not just looking for information about a band; they are looking for a deeper understanding of what it is like to experience the music. Audiences want to connect to the music, not just read about it. The dramatic shift that I believe is taking place is moving the review away from being about the artist and towards about the experience the artist has created.
The star of the review is no longer the band, but the audience as voiced by the writer. The goal of the writer used to be to melt into the background and let the band be heard. Objectivity was a characteristic to be aspired towards. The idea of the writer as passive communicator no longer has a major place in the all-at-once culture of engagement that we live in. More and more, the writing I see is coming to reflect this truth. The writer, no matter how much he or she tries, is a subjective creature. This is not a liability. The experience had by the audience is, in my opinion, the single most interesting thing about music today.
Director Jean Luc-Goddard supposedly once said the only way to review a movie is to make a movie. To me, this is a near perfect description of that the type of writing that will move the review to its next level. The review itself is an act of creation. A review can exist nearly independent of the original material. It can be a story unto itself that uses its source material as a beginning step into a labyrinth of unbridled creativity. A review can mark a unique moment in time, the moment when the artist meets the audience. Inspiration transfers from musician to writer and a new world is created. This world would not exist without the musician but it has transcended the original idea and morphed into something beyond its original intent. When the writer simply describes, it short-changes the audience of the revelatory power of the music. What has the music awakened within you? What did you see? What did you find? What did it genuinely make you feel? Instead of a medium that narrows the experience, a review can be something that becomes more than what was originally intended expanding exponentially through each person it comes into contact with.
In order to achieve this the writer must shun the formula and go beyond. The review need not be constricted by anything, even words. It can be photography, painting, sculpture, and maybe even more music. It must be an original statement of experience. A confession. That is its only qualification. It may present itself in a form that may be at times incoherent, but sometimes visions are not easily explained or understood.
The label often placed upon this type of creation is self-indulgent. There is an unwritten rule that good writing must purge the self as much as possible and fit neatly the pantheon of writing that came before it. What that really means is that in order to truly create we must forget who we are. This is insane. The unedited self, allowed breaking free of the artificial covenants that chain it to the floor, is capable of bringing a new vitality to a stilted form of expression. Imagine six billion selves illuminated, simultaneously witnessed and witnessing, all expressing unique shades of humanity and learning in fullness what it is like to human from every possible angle. This is what music reviewing can be.