Monday, June 18, 2007

Broken Hearts are for Assholes.

I may have ONLY JUST got back from Spain (bringing with me as a souvenir nothing more than a particularly mucus-fomenting Iberian strain of head cold of the kind that so obligingly wiped out sixty percent of the natives of Bolivia and Peru ( leaving the gallant conquistadores nowt to do but swan around appearing as extras in Herzog movies)) but which should worry a man such as myself, descended from thirteen generations of flint-ribbed and granite limbed, sheep-shagging Northern peasant stock, for a mere day or so before he is restored to the full proud vigour of his customary sanguinity) Nonetheless I feel immediately obliged to answer the question recently posed to me, to wit: do I like the Melvins?

Well the immediate answer is no, though I am a bit of a lover of all things metal and haven’t actually heard them for about fifteen years, since their "Ozma" and "Gluey Porch Treatments" era, though I did see them live, twice, during what’s affectionately referred to round Impostume Heights as The Full Head Of Hair Years. What I didn’t/don’t like about them (actually I should be careful here as having just checked out their mySpace page to confirm my prejudices I ended up thinking, ahhhh, this is pretty good, damn them!) is where they seemed to be positioned in regard to their art (though of course, precisely because of where they’re positioned they would curl their lip at my having described it as Art.) They always seemed to be slightly above it, attitudinally. They know it’s just dumb rawk and revel in that dumbness but in a self-conscious way that also doesn’t actually suggest to the listener (as does most po-mo) that you too can be in on the joke, yet is also resolutely un/anti-intellectual. It’s kind of autistic po-mo, deliberately un-savvy, willfully ghettoised. The Melvins think that people either think too much or don’ t think enough and don’t want to be found guilty of either, they also think people take shit too seriously but don’t want to be caught being naïve about like how much life sucks either (because, dude, they’ve seen their share, walk a mile in THESE shoe bro, and then come back and lay your shit on me!) and the result is a certain debilitating, deadpan irony, a kind of sluggishly aggressive facetiousness. The evil that is The Sardonic.

Hey man, what about the music, it’s all about the music at the end of the day, right? No it’s not, fuck that. It’s never just about the music, how could it be? That's like suggesting literature is all about the font. It’s about the whole deal! And that's why I can't really assent to the Melvins. It’s about the personas, attitudes, positions that the music incarnates, that’s the whole package, that’s the point. What’s at stake in any "creative" act is a worldview, a set of beliefs about culture, the articulation of a position, an ethic.

The tutelary figure in all the anti-Academy, auto-didact one-upmanship of both the critical establishment and the dumb punters too, is of course, Zappa. Now while Zappa at his best managed a kind of delirious irreverence (Joe’s Garage / Sheik Yerbouti/ Only in it for the money) allied with bravura musical theatrics and studio innovations few others ever quite manage his moments of sheer, almost staggering chutzpa* .

The sardonic must contain scatological and violent elements, jarring discontinuities and interjections, deliberate juxtapositions of high and low cultural sources, it must be continually trying to thwart your expectations, to pull the wool out from under your feet, the carpet over your eyes**, it is a close cousin of the zany but while the zany rolls its eyes, foams at the mouth and chortles, squirts you in the face with its big plastic lapel flower, then dries you off with its revolving bow tie, the sardonic is sadistically bland in its delivery***, it must be equivocal, is it homage or pastiche? More than anything it wants you to be unable to pin it down, wants your cosy assumptions to be shaken, to play cat and mouse with you, to set you reeling and amuse itself at your expense. I’m taking the piss, mate, calm down. Or am I? Yeah of course, I am, chill out. Nah, I’m not actually. Or am I? Maybe not, eh? But then again maybe I am? The sardonic doesn’t just feel contempt, it needs you to know it feels contempt, though this neediness in no way redeems it. Naturally, just as you determinedly avoid these kinds of characters in real life (unless you're a masochist) you’re not exactly going to invite them into your cd player, are you? Making the effort to come up with something original is beneath them so they squander their talent on pastiche and being visibly unimpressed, it’s the romance of squandered potential, sure I've got the chops, but I don't buy all your corny liberal Art bullshit, just look at all this talent being wasted on taking the piss, scandalized aren’t you? The sardonic sees through everything, Holden Caufield style, sees the phoneyness, realizes that none of them really mean it, they just do what’s expected of them, a bitter realization. Their sovereign egoes wont allow them either to submit to the ordeal of the social or attempt to supervene it, so they cling to a wounded authenticity, they’re disabused Romantics, or rather, cowardly Romantics, anti-revolutionaries no matter how much they try to shock****, and just as the old saw goes that there’s a disappointed idealist in every cynic, so there’s a shamefaced sentimentalist cowering in every hard-faced piss-taker.
* Thereby answering Zappa’s question “Does humour belong in music?” with a resounding NO, errr… unless it’s you, and then only sometimes.

**You know me, mate I’m an Original Thinker, innit, I avoid cliche like the bus-stop. I avoid cliché like the potato. There’s no marmosets on me. I see clichés coming 13.2 furlongs away, I do, let’s call a spade a gerbil……

*** Towards a definition of the sardonic. Actually, I make it a policy to avoid reading anything entitled either, “Toward a definition of…” or “attention-grabbingly unlikely title (semi colon) X as X OR X as X (semi colon) unlikely thesis”, for example, “Habermas’ Haberdashery:Millinery as Praxis” or “The Ontic Sublime: toward a definition of Ena Sharples”. The worst of all would be something that combined the two, “Thrown-ness as mantic encomium: fistula, caesura, wo/men: toward a definition of milk.”

Hang on, am I no better than those I criticise???? Again???????
****Some will argue that’s its strength: Dada's always looked like a dead end to me. You can epater le bourgeoisie until the half-cows in formaldehyde tanks come home without a jot more justice having been put in the world, they love the delightful frisson of being “shocked” by crazy artists, don't they, yer orfentic booshwazee, stops 'em getting bored, nice break from counting the money. What they don’t like is having their assets seized and their houses torn down. Who’s caused the most genuine consternation among the international bourgeoisie over the past decade I wonder, Dinos Chapman or, say, Hugo Chavez?

Now, it’s not much of a surprise then that the Melvins have ended up on Ipecac, arch sardonic Po-Mo metal guru Mike Patton’s horribly uneven label. Patton’s a kind of Rawk John Zorn, (or possibly Robbie Williams) with whom he sometimes collaborates, his label a kind of Rock Sounds reader’s Tzadik, (I say this while acknowledging the excellence of both the Young Gods and Dalek, of course.) Patton, following in Zappa’s smugsteps, has come up with cut-and-paste abominations* like Mr Bungle, the terminally unexciting, low-brow avant-garde of Fantomos and unfunky, pastiche-pervs Peeping Tom. Now Patton’s gone and ruined about the only thing he had going for himself with the otherwise-passable Tomahawk’s latest release “Anonymous,” a certain candidate for a Golden Fosbury as most spectularly executed artistic flop of the year, an apparent tribute to the indigenous peoples of North America, a collection of folk songs, chants, rain dances and other ceremonial pieces that sounds, as usual, as if the hyper-productive Patton cobbled it together out of the overused set of samples and sound effects, along with the same variety of trademark “experimental” vocal techniques, that he’s been using to increasingly stultifying effect on every-bleeding-thing he’s turned up on since “Faith No More” went tits-up. Not much of a tribute, that! No doubt Patton prides himself on having educated metal and metal fans by dragging in all kinds of outside elements, but the real innovation has been going on elsewhere and Pattons ironic, chop-sockey cartoon ethic has been totally surpassed by the grimly serious, sacramental intensity of the likes of Nadja, The Angelic Process, Jesu, Grails.

* "Nurse with Wound" are rather in this category too, aren’t they? (and isn’t the NWW list among the smuggest acts ever perpetrated by a, well, let's not say human being let’s say, err…cattle-shed dwelling, milk-and-dung-scented Magus.) I mean, “The Sylvie and Bab’s Hi-Fi companion.” I ask you, what a sack of Cow's-cack. I must have owned it for nigh on two decades and listened to it halfway through twice.

And it's not only Patton that’s been frankly getting on my nerves.

Ladies and gentlemen I am about to confront you with two of the most unpleasant words in the English language, cover the children’s eyes, peep between your own fingers if you must. The first one is…….


seems innocuous enough so far, doesn't it?

but now here comes the second…..

Are you ready


Don't say I didn't warn you!


Yep, Steve Albini. There he is.

What Albini has in common with Patton, other than a certain determination to not give in to their audience, who just want to pigeonhole them and dumbly rock out (equals: have a good time for their hard-earned entertainment dollar) instead of understanding that they are important artists (though they wouldn’t make this claim explicitly. However, there is something in Shellac’s interminable thwarting of gig dynamics live/ Fantomos’s really un-groovable micro-thrash moments and long stretches of noodling that suggests a certain haughtiness, a certain custodians-of-the-tradition aloofness*) is a certain, boring Frat-boy sexism masquerading as straight-guy, warts-and-all honesty, an asanine, knee-jerk political incorrectness as a kind of self-aggrandising psuedo-reportage on the shadowy-corners of the human psyche**

Both of these tendencies intertwine on Shellac’s “ A Geniune Lullabelle” from their latest release, the predictably obtusely entitled " Excellent Italian Greyhound" which not only breaks down into silence half-way through and then spends half of it’s nine-minute running time with Albini expounding on a particular woman who “knows her way around a cock”***(not an expert poultry farmer, presumably) amid a chorus of radio presenter style voices intoning the song’s title. It’s deeply unedifying. An Italian women speaks at the end of the track and that, along with the album's title, suggests that this is Albini getting back at an ex-girlfriend, which also renders it pitiful, but not, hey, in any kind of revealingly interesting way. The whole feel of Shellac, indeed all of Albini’s post Big Black stuff is increasingly arch and dessicated, the beauty of "Songs about Fucking" and "Atomizer," apart from the propulsive disco drum patterns was the sheer range of guitar sounds, the immense Lysergic surge of "Kerosene", the irradiated intensity of their version of "The Model." While Shellac are democratic, intricate, nimble, galvanized, springy there's also something negligible, throwaway about them, something scrawny and par-boiled, that brings Albini’s paucity of character as a lyricist, and the poverty of his persona to the fore, all of which undermines the whole project fatally.

*Witness of course also "Terraforms" relentlessly dull and undynamic ten minute long, two-note thudalongs through which you could practically feel Albini smirking at your increasing dismay.

** And if we’re being self-aggrandising, then listen, lads, I don’t need YOU to investigate the mind’s tenebrous hinterland on my behalf, I’m perfectly prepared to pull on me waders and slop through that marshy, infested terrain of my own accord, ta very much!

*** Same goes for his neurotic anti-art-phag assertions, one of those guys who finds it impossible to say whether another man is handsome or not as they just literally CANT SEE IT , because they are TOO STRAIGHT. Now I don’t wan’t to suggest that all homophobes/mysoginists are repressed homosexuals/sexual inadequates but Albini’s world has had a slavering obsession with big dicks/phallic power from the start, “Big Black” was taken from the Tenessee William's story about a slave who rapes a girl (no doubt an immaculately-manicured, finely-boned Wasp princess) the grimacing animes on the cover of “Songs about Fucking” sealed his Hentai credentials, then of course he formed “Rapeman.” Conclusion: he’s a geeky sexual inadequate who slavers over big, cervix-pummeling cocks. Suffer you bitches, suffer!

Is that too obvious? Rememember the maxim. Sometimes trite is right!

At which point, it's only fair to say that anyone who has had the great good fortune to have met the Impostume in the flesh ( his blog) will be musing kettleblackpottishly re the Impostume’s own deployment at momets of heightened anxiety (ie. when interacting with others) of strategies that could well be described as sardonic. True enough, but this is the least appealing aspect of his character and if you were to determindley avoid him, you’d be absolutely in the right. And besides, to paraphrase the resolutely unsardonic Minor Threat, " At least I'm fucking trying, what the fuck have THEY done?"


Anonymous said...

I'm really trying to find out if your posts are better when you LIKE sb/smth or when you DISLIKE... lol
Just tell me... were you in a good or ill humour when you wrote it?

Anonymous said...

Carl, it's as though you'd been reading my own diaries (albeit with frayed, yellowed pages intact, as I'd not given much lip service to any of these characters in many a moon.). Zappa has always rubbed me the wrong way, in the way that he seemed to disdain any and all of his fans, many of whom I have always found to be saddo musos, obsessed with 'technique' and utterly devoid of joy, which is in itself a paradox, as Zappa's lyrics always tried to be 'funny'. What is odd is that I do like the good Capn' Beefheart, who probably fits somewhere in here, except for the fact that his music had a bit of a primitive 'oomph' that Zappa always made sure to underplay on his horrible records in favor of yet another tedious 10 minute noodle. Mike Patton is beyond smug, as though he'd never gotten over the fact that his most popular gig, the erstwhile metaller contingent Faith No More, would always remain much more of a beloved entity than any gut-aural, post-DNA shriek that he may throw on the pile. His fan base, and it is somewhat sizable, is exactly the same as Zappa's, but also quite different. I cannot imagine that anybody listens to any of the Patton-headed catalog with even an iota of interest; he's just the sort of investment that they have decided to make in impressing their circle of unhappy friends. Once they've started, it's simply too late to turn back now.
--Does Scott Walker somehow fit into this equation, as well? I say not, because despite his increasingly difficult experiments, I have never read one word from him wherein he felt that people were stupid if they didn't love 'The Drift'. Perhaps this is because Scott is a genuine artist, and not someone who is just going for the cheap laughs long after they had stopped being 'funny'.--
Albini's just an asshole. He is unlikely to deny that, and while I admire the fact that he will aid young bands in the recording process for very little money, his quarter century of indie misanthropy is rather sad.
The Melvins, to me, are a bit of a metallers Ramones; they have a fanbase that never grows and rarely shrinks, and while they are worthy of the increasingly 'legendary' tag that they have acquired from sheer dint of work ethic, I can't imagine why anyone would care if they get a new Melvins album; it's just one more 'Melvins record', as inherently interchangeable as spark plugs in the auto, and about as joyful. What is curious to me, and I suppose admirable in an odd way, is that their fanbase is rabid. So, somebody's buying in to their shtick, although my years in record stores reminds me that it was always the same goat-bearded fat guys with bongs and thirst for B-Movie Italian horror flicks. It's a living, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

What is your source for Big Black's name being derived from a Tennessee Williams story? Albini said that other band names at that time were suggestive of things that were "big" and black" and he just decided to go directly to the source, rather than oblique. This obviously applies to their music as well.

Anonymous said...

...and do Tzadik belongs here?

Anonymous said...

luciano, i was, i confess, in a good mood. I'm ALWAYS in a good mood!

cf Kane...

"goat-bearded fat guys with bongs and thirst for B-Movie Italian horror flicks. It's a living, I suppose"


yeah Beefheart does escape the trap somehow...maybe just geniune non-contrived nuttyness.. and also weirdly heart-felt sentimentality ie Clear Spot stuff like " Too much time..." and Scott Walker, due i guess to being profoundly serious.. ever read the Camus quote on Scott Four.? no time for irony there

source for Big Black.. SOURCE.. ye gods i'm only a hobbyist ranting blogger.. my source is my memory of something i read in melody maker twenty years ago....

Anonymous said...

Well that *is* a pretty major accusation to level at somebody! I'm 100% certain about my own recollection of Albini's explanation (for what it's worth)

Hayden Childs said...

Hey, this is brilliant! Would you be interested in adapting this as an article in The High Hat online magazine? We could promise you literally about a dozen or so more readers. A whole dozen, no kidding! Send me an email to highhatsubmissions AT gmail period com.

Hayden, Co-Editor