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Saturday, May 3, 2008
Improbable as it may sound, Black Sabbath is quite possibly the most misconstrued super group of all time.

Question: Is it possible that a band could sell over one hundred million albums, be referenced constantly by groups spanning multiple genres, and whose very name is considered synonymous with an entire type of music be underrated?


Improbable as it may sound, Black Sabbath is quite possibly the most misconstrued super group of all time. This certainly is not to imply anyone should feel sorry for these very loved—and very wealthy—avatars of heavy metal. Shed no tears for Tony Iommi. He is widely—and appropriately—acknowledged as one of rock music’s seminal guitar gods, the architect of a sound that, while distinctly his own, is anything but stagnant or formulaic; indeed, his body of work, considering only the music he made in the ‘70s, is varied, nuanced and deep. No, really. Of course, he’ll always remain in the shadow of Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page—just to name two of the undisputed heavyweights (not unlike Ray Davies will forever play bridesmaid to Lennon/McCartney and the Glimmer Twins). And that is as it should be. Still, there are two crucial elements working against a more sober and salient appraisal of his genius: the name of his band, and Ozzy Osbourne.


The all-too-easily disparaged (and, for the easily offended, objectionable) appellation Black Sabbath ensures that the band could never really be taken all that seriously. Not only is this a damn (albeit not a crying ) shame, it is enough to make one wish they had simply stuck with their original name. Earth, as the band was initially known in industrial Birmingham, England, is, incidentally, a much more appropriate word to associate with this very blue-collar and bruising band. Earth is the opposite or air, the ground is not ethereal, and water turns it to mud; if ever a band basked proudly and beautifully (and always unabashedly) in the mud, it is Sabbath. And despite all the silly mythmaking, the only thing demonic about this band was its proclivity for employing the musical tritone (also known as the Devil’s Interval) in its music.


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Friday, May 2, 2008

Countless style section profiles and GLBT weeklies have recently noted the slow and steady demise of the gay bar as a cultural institution of the queer community.  Of course, news “trends” can frequently amount to one person with a deadline and ten with Google skills but still, in my own experience, I’ve seen a welcome transformation in the culture of the gay bar, especially musically.  A few years ago, my boyfriend and I started booking bands at this affectionate leather dive bar, known mostly for its assless chaps and a back patio that had something a bit beyond mood lighting.  And frankly, there was a palpable level of hostility to women that I quickly dispensed with by sheer force of numbers and a few shaming asides.  Any gay man who is not a feminist is miraculously moronic. 


The nights became something of a hit, precisely because it wasn’t exclusively queer space and it definitely wasn’t gay bar music (I know plenty of gay people who never want to hear “Rhythm Is A Dancer” ever again for as long as they live).  Although gay bars and gay music have an importance in gay culture that’s difficult to underestimate, I like the evolution of identity that doesn’t mean that a particular category of oppression compels anyone to adopt a specific set of tastes. Sure enough, all over Austin there are now bars that are considered “mixed”, or at least places you could hang with your significant other and not have to miss a kiss.  At least in my experience, there’s a soft, meaningful transformation that happens when queers and straights share the same space, drink a few cheap beers in a bar with a whipping crucifix on the wall, and listen to a great local band like White Denim.  As always, I’m open to the arguments of the importance of “gay music”, but I honestly don’t know what that even would considered anymore, unless it’s those horrible circuit party CDs where “California Dreaming” is given a hi-Nrg workover by an anonymous diva.  I guess this should come as no surprise since hip hop has become owned by no one in particular even while it clearly began in one community.  Does identity music even have a place anywhere anymore?  Or are these treasures(old school gay bars) that weren’t a particularly important part of life, something to be territorially protected.


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Tuesday, Apr 29, 2008

How is it that a song made of all the worst things possible is endlessly awesome? Contemplate this while enjoying Komar & Melamid’s “Most Unwanted Song” (link via Scott McLemee). The song was produced based on the results of a 1990s poll asking Americans what features they like least in music. Michael Bierut at Design Observer suggests the result is a triumph of design: “If working within limitations is one of the ways designers distinguish themselves from artists, America’s Most Unwanted Song is a design achievement of a high order.”


And naturally, the most wanted song is unlistenable. If American Idol is the future of pop music, this poll-produced contrivance suggests the future will be bleak indeed.


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Monday, Apr 28, 2008

God, how I wanted to love the new Portishead record, to the point of erring on the side fandom: making excuses, exceptions, at times pretending to love a song that was actually causing vertigo. I understand that the progenitors of a genre that quickly descended into high-end frock shop soundtracks would want to make their long awaited comeback something of a departure. But why a decapitation?  I know that psychologizing people you don’t know is usually just an exercise in projection, but I do get the impression that Geoff Barrow resented Beth Gibbon’s centrality in their previous work. Her voice is abraded and assaulted, on this track trying to mournfully bleed through cold, staccato bullet beats. This is hardly the album exception: “Hunter” strangles and scribbles on her voice, backdropped with a lullaby rhythm where the cradle has fallen and been shattered by the 18-Wheeler from the “Enter Sandman” video.


The video helps little, framing the song in the cold mechanization of a factory studio, like H.R. Giger built it for them. I’ve been in a lot of studios and they don’t have to look like the torture rooms from Hostel. The song and visuals offer nothing but the experience of occlusion and abjection, a sad descent for a band that at the very least used to be able to do depressing well. This isn’t depression, it’s an adverse psychiatric drug reaction. Even more distressing, it’s not interesting, the very least you can offer a listener if you choose to be intractably difficult about rejecting your past. Both the video and song simply alternate between flat planes of abrasion while Gibbons clamors for air. It’s dull and lifeless. I’m open to having my mind changed on this; sometimes all it takes is for a thoughtful person to offer an alternate view that wholly alters your perception. But for now, at least, I think this is pure cantankerous clamor.


Tagged as: portishead
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Monday, Apr 28, 2008
by PopMatters Staff
John Andrew Fredrick of the Black Watch owns Donny Osmond's guitar and he's really happy about it.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
I dropped an unabridged Random House dictionary on my foot while wearing flip-flops. Needless to say, the tears welled up big time.


2. The fictional character most like you?
I am Holden Caulfield.  My penchant for italics proves it.


3. The greatest album, ever?
The greatest album ever is Revolver, but if you quote me, The White Album and Rubber Soul are going to be seriously miffed.


4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Starsailor. (Just kidding: they’re the worst.)


5. Your ideal brain food?
I’ve never tried the sesos tacos at any truck in Los Angeles.


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