Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Frances found me a four-way split LP from 2002! It's a pretty noisy one. The bands are JonnyX and the Groadies, Corpse Fucks Corpse, Gift of Goats, and Get Get Go. Overall this LP is a pretty special project, actually - it's way less common than you'd think to find a compilation album with four bands that complement each other so well. They are all noisy, and they all live in that weird world where bands put tons of thought and care into musical arrangement and creation - so much that they aren't "political" enough to be truly "punk", like His Hero is Gone or This Bike Is a Pipe Bomb or whatever - and yet, what comes out sounds to your average listener like a bunch of dog vomit that you just stepped in and then you wiped your shoe on the grass but it was actually a mud puddle and it sucked your shoe off and you put your sock down on a rotten apple and slipped and your head came down on the sidewalk, hard. But that doesn't mean they didn't work really hard to make it sound that way. I mean it sounds way more like that than Tragedy do. That's why I like stuff like this and I don't like Tragedy. Tragedy sounds more like your dad or your teacher or someone shouting at you, and they are drunk. I mean they want you to do the right thing or whatever. It just doesn't have the novelty of the dog-vomit scenario. But again, appealing to the average person on the street, I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone who wanted to listen to either one for long enough to define the stylistic boundaries.

I mean these kids are punk, for sure! They're just the house-dwelling, potluck-having, mustache-sporting, bike bike bike bike bike bike bike bike riding kind, not the spiky-jacket wearing, bar-going, dog-named-Beer having, train-riding kind. Sure, there's overlap.

Grind grind grind! All these bands are what you might call "grind" or "grindcore" - they *are* it, but they don't "play" it, because you can't play a genre, you can only play music. There's a Quintessence that is Grindcore, and it's got no earthly existence save for these and some few hundred or thousand other attempts at realizing it, and is the form the thing or is the thing the bands and then, where do you draw the line? Why do they call it grind? The music has a tendency to sound like a meat grinder, a grating percussiveness like super hard metal chugging and bouncing. In many ways, this is a quintessential grind record - it's got the bike-punk vibe, the chaos, the screaming, the earthiness. It truly IS grind. It sounds funny, saying it like that. Like, "Hey, I dig grindcore. What's your bag, man?"

JonnyX and the Groadies, who have been called "cybergrind" because they have a keyboard, grind away at the pole position, thudding drum-machine beats, dark-charcoal guitar-morass, and painful shrieks swirling and coalescing like a poached egg around Super Haunted House organ lines. I saw them play one time - actually I saw them play twice. The first time the main dude, JonnyX I suppose, got totally naked, so there was like, sweaty naked-man horror invading the punk basement. For some reason I remember candles too, even though I don't think they actually had any candles. (The only bands I specifically remember having fire at a set that I saw are the Butthole Surfers, Milemarker, Landed, and Portraits of Past. PoP were the only ones that used actual candles, and man oh man was it pretentious.) Yeah so JX:ATG, as they seem to prefer to render their name - the second time I saw them, the guy wasn't naked, and they had upped the scariness. Maybe they did have candles that second time. I remember they were less awesome cause they had honed their attack in more of a black metal direction, and less of a horrifying naked man direction. But, we all grow up.

I played this record a few times when I got it, and mostly what I heard was SCARY ORGAN JX:ATG ok ok, whatever, sounds great, a little too "scary", then three more bands GRINDGRINDGRIND lotsa guitars and throats. Real screamy. Waauuughghhguggh... It turns out the bands are all really different though! I had to read this right-on-the-money review of the record (actually the only review I could find online) and have the obvious pointed out to me - Gift of Goats rule and they sound a lot like Born Against and that's why they rule. Cause Born Against rules. How did I not notice this before? Probably because I would have on the record and be like, doing my work or the dishes or something, and then I would turn into average guy on the street - I hear guitars, screamy noise, sounds great, whatever. I mean I guess I would be average guy on the street that likes noise rock and grind. Letting the sound flow over my head, and not really paying attention. I was hearing the genre, rather than the music. The general and not the specific. The more music you listen to, the more you let the shorthand of genre appreciation define your taste, and the less able you are to hear individual sounds. In most cases, the people creating the sounds are hampered by the same prejudice - so the genre creates its own feedback loop and slows its own evolution.

I've found that writing and reading about music helps me to break that habit and liberate my hearing.

The other awesome band on this thing is Get Get Go. They're the only band where the male screaming is so hysterical and high-pitched it sounds like female screaming half the time - and also they can't really play in time and they keep on speeding up and slowing down so it sounds really chaotic. Awesome.

Gosh this record just sounds great. Thanks for picking it, Frances! The production rules. It's clear as a bell, guitar and throat (and in JX:ATG's case, Scary Organ) standing out in crisp relief. You can almost smell the bike grease.

I'm pretty busy this week with some other irons I keep in the fire that aren't this blog, so I don't have the time or energy to post my usual excess of verbiage. So rather than an extended meditation on genre and demographics and the use of ugly, abrasive sounds, and the slipperyness of finer and finer distinctions of stylistic practice between subgenres, or even a further polishing up of the confused meditation I've just produced, I'll just post this pretty awesome video I found of Gift of Goats playing at Gilman, and finish up with a couple of brain-teasers.

Do artists play "in" genres? Or do they define them from without?

Does the orthodoxy of genre have the ability to completely define a musical artist? Is there a quintessential "rock" band?

Is Mozart famous because his music sounds exactly like what we think of as "classical" music? Or is it because he's really good at breaking the rules?

Is strict adherence to genre-based rules the opposite of music? Is attempting to create music that sounds like a genre always doomed to produce stale, lame music? What if it's a genre like "grind" or "drumnbass" or even "rock" that is defined in part by its ability to excite?

Is Rock dead? Is Girl Talk Rock? What the heck is Girl Talk, anyway? Is Jazz dead? Is "Classical" dead? Is Classical a genre? Is "World" a genre? How about "Worldbeat"?

Final thought. In the classical music world, the term "genre" often refers to a particular instrumentation or ensemble, like "string quartet" or "choral music" - and music written for the instrumentation might traditionally share a set of stylistic similarities, over and above the obvious sonic kinship.