Tuesday, June 28, 2016


All sound is the invisible in the form of a piercer of envelopes. Whether it be bodies, rooms, apartments, castles, fortified cities. Immaterial, it breaks all barriers. . . . Hearing is not like seeing. What is seen can be abolished by the eyelids, can be stopped by partitions or curtains, can be rendered immediately inaccessible by walls. What is heard knows neither eyelids, nor partitions, neither curtains, nor walls. . . . Sound rushes in. It violates. 
- Pascal Quignard,  The Hatred of Music (1996) 
According to Alex Ross, sound is all the more potent because it is inescapable: it saturates a space and can pass through walls. This explains why reactions to undesirable sounds can be extreme. We are confronting faceless intruders; we are being touched by invisible hands.

It's all the more remarkable when we consider that sound is not a "thing" - it's just the movement of other things.  Sound waves pass through a wall, but no "thing" actually passes through the wall, just like when people do the wave in an arena. everyone stays in the same seat yet the wave moves the whole circle round.

Music is sound, and when music reaches your ears, there's nothing really there - it's just that your eardrums start vibrating to the same frequency as the air in the ear canal, which is vibrating at the same frequency as the air outside, which is vibrating at the same frequency as the air coming from the singers' throat, which is vibrating at the same frequency as the singer's larynx. Your ear and the musician's larynx, your body and theirs, have become entangled, have merged.  You have been violated.

Monday, June 27, 2016

"Although music has a tremendous ability to create communal feeling, no community can form without excluding outsiders. The sense of oneness that a song fosters in a human herd can seem either a beautiful or a repulsive thing—usually depending on whether you love or hate the song in question. Loudness heightens the tension: blaring music is a hegemonic move, a declaration of disdain for anyone who thinks differently."
- Alex Ross, writing in The New Yorker

Also in The New Yorker, but a couple years ago, Malcolm Gladwell noted that in order to give their followers a sense of identity and resilience, countless religious innovators over the years required their followers to maintain certain fictions of cultural apartness.  This game of establishing an identity by accentuating their otherness, often in the most obnoxious way possible, is a very American pattern that extends from Joseph Smith and the early Mormons to David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. 

The communities that form around certain bands or, more broadly, certain types of music, also have to exclude outsiders every bit as much as they need to reward the loyalty of fans.  This is often accomplished by taking the music to extremes that might repel the uninitiated, but are pure nirvana to the adherent. Playing that music loudly, very loudly, is doing it in the most obnoxious way possible.

Swans will be creating a communal feeling among us adherents while repelling the apostates at Terminal West on July 22.  

Sunday, June 26, 2016

John Grant: Global Warming

You people and your cute little terms - 
You like to throw 'em around and make everybody squirm:
Upper class, middle class, lower class, sassafras.
Everybody these days thinks that they're a bad-ass.

How am I supposed to live in a world with no Madeline Kahn?
My favourite girl is gone.
Bonny Dune's is now an Auto Zone.
Thirty-one is trash. Now I just want to be left alone.

Global warming is ruining my fair complexion,
Augmenting all my imperfections,
And Brazil does not need more encouragement.
Global warming encourages slack-jawed troglodytes
To leave their homes with guns and knives
In search of quality refreshments and some homicide.

So sick of hearing people talk about the sun.
They sound like a bunch of Aztec Indians,
And all they do is hang out clogging up the streets,
Congratulating each other on their pedicured feet.

Sure I like to see the fellas skateboard in their Vans,
Stripped down to their shorts so they can work on their tans.
I know I shouldn't care cause I'm a taken man
But I guess you can look, nobody said that you can't.

All I've got are first-world problems.
I guess I better get some of the third-world kind.

John Grant at Shaky Knees 2015

Saturday, June 25, 2016


From the 1987 Swans LP, Children of God, with Jarboe on vocals, showing how far ahead of the times Swans were even back then.

While we're at it, here's Her from 1992's Love of Life, featuring a very Atlanta-specific sample.

Swans will be performing at Terminal West on July 22.  They won't be sounding like these clips (which is neither good nor bad, just is).

Friday, June 24, 2016

RIP Great Britain

Irish folk, sung in Gaelic.  Scotland is likely to vote again to leave the United Kingdom, this time to join the EU, and the referendum will likely pass.  Northern Ireland will likely be encouraged by the Scots' example and follow suit, voting to peacefully reunite with the rest of Ireland and also get back into the EU.  Meanwhile, England and Wales will slide back into pre-1970s irrelevance and wonder what the hell just happened.

Or as Donald Trump would have it, "They've secured their borders."

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Black Mountain at Terminal West, Atlanta, June 23, 2016

It's been almost 4 years since we've last seen Black Mountain, the pride of British Columbia, and it's been over 10 years since we first heard them, but there was no time better than last night to finally catch up with them again.

We had never heard of opener Majeure before and had no idea what to expect, but we certainly didn't expect a solitary drummer to come on stage and play a full set of drum solos.  I mean, how many ideas can one drummer have?

A lot as it turns out.  Majeure played three songs, each accompanied by different recorded backgrounds.  The first was a tape of some very tribal sounding percussion, second was a synthy EDM track, and I don't even remember the third.  But Majeure dominated each piece with aggressive and interesting drumming, and provided an exciting and unusual start to the evening.

Black Mountain didn't waste much time taking the stage after Majeure.  They opened, as we suspected, with their new anthem, Mothers of The Sun, the opener of their recent album IV, and followed that with an urgent version of Florian Saucer Attack, the second track off IV,  played at breakneck speed.

The set leaned heavily on their new album, which is fine as it's as good as anything they've recorded, but they also played their other material as well, following Florian Saucer Attack with Stormy High from 2008's In The Future

As usual, Amber Webber provided dead-perfect backup and lead vocals, and even conrtributed some guitar playing as well.

Black Mountain managed to fit Roller Coaster from Wilderness Heart (2010) into their set as well as Wucan from In The Future, and they closed their encore with Don't Run Our Hearts Around from their 2005 debut LP, but more than any other Black Mountain show I've seen, their performance really was a showcase for Stephen McBean's guitar playing, which was great because he was playing with fire.

Here's a clip from his guitar solo during the regular-set closer Space To Bakersfield:

With all the extended solos and ambitious set list, Black Mountain played for nearly two hours, but the time and space lost all relative meaning during their psychedelic set.  It was a loud, wonderful night, and I hope it's not another 4 years before we hear these folks again.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Wye Oak

Wye Oak will be at Terminal West on Sunday, June 26.  Who needs to see the season finale of Game of Thrones?