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Posts Tagged ‘Melvins’

Chances are, somewhere along the way you’ve gotten cynical. I don’t know where you’ve come from, and I don’t know where you’re going, but I’ll bet you’ve found yourself staring straight at the concrete slab of ennui. There’s nothing new to hear, no new depths of extremity to be sounded. There’s no more ‘more’, anymore; no more ‘other’ or ‘also’ or ‘what?’ You start walking enough miles in this mucky thicket of heavy metal, or even its motherland – ‘extreme music’ – and many tributaries, and the dull sting of your own soured imaginings is bound to raise its grizzled countenance.

This earth has life, though. New things will stir; bold sapling shoots of equal parts frailty and reckless invention are pushing even now through the cakey topsoil, audacious and recombinant.

Cover art for 2012 album ‘Ursus Americanus’

Enough with the bullshit: Author & Punisher is the mantle adopted by San Diego’s Tristan Shone. Shone has designed and created all the instruments – all the machines – you hear in his one-man outpouring of precise mechanical destruction. Watch a few videos of him recreating these widescreen dystopias in the live setting, and you wouldn’t be alone in picturing Shone as a bleak 21st century version of Dick Van Dyke’s one-man band carryings-on from Mary Poppins.

Spinal Tapdance sent the following questions to Tristan Shone’s techno-bunker; SkyNet obliged to let through the following responses.

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Spinal Tapdance: Which came first for you, an interest in building machines or making music? Did you start out wanting to make music only to discover that you were limited by the equipment available to you, or did you start out tinkering with machines and then realize some of them could be turned toward songwriting?

Tristan Shone: I have always made gadgets (since like 2nd grade) and started piano around the same time.  I started writing songs on piano in high school, and shortly after picked up guitar and bass.  It wasn’t until I had really learned to design and fabricate real machines and robots that I even began thinking of combining the two, which was maybe 10 years ago.  The moment of clarity came in art grad school after working in high tech cubicle cleanroom hell (not all boiling hell) for 5 years when really had the chance to reflect on my connection with my own music.  I spent a lot of time with my bass, guitar, laptop and a huge soundsystem.  I was playing along with sequences and although I enjoy that and still do that now form time to time, there wasn’t enough of my own live, instantaneous, live input; the spastic, “create a clusterfuck in that exact moment” involved with the sequenced setup. I then got rid of my guitar and made a machine that I had to move to make sound…and then another…and then another.  They all had a specific purpose and design aesthetic.  That was it.

ST:  Much of Author & Punisher’s music obviously has more in common with some of the heavier styles of electronic and experimental music (dub, drum and bass, dark ambient, industrial, and so forth) than it does with metal. Do you think of A&P as having a closer affinity to one style or the other?

TS:  My base will always be the 80s/90s doom of Neurosis, Melvins, Godflesh, as I broke my teeth on that stuff and never got it out of my system, but since like ‘98 or so I have been focused mainly on all sorts of dark electronic, as you mentioned.  It’s much harder for me to find a good, innovative metal band these days, but then again, there are so many goddamn doom bands with crosses on their heads, it’s hard to pick through. 🙂

ST: Your previous full-length album Drone Machines was an all-out assault for nearly its entire length; Ursus Americanus has a bit more ebb and flow, with songs like “Mercy Dub” and “Below and Above You” providing a less oppressive (though still menacing) atmosphere.  Was that an intentional songwriting choice, or is it a result of using different hardware for each album?  More generally, I suppose, does your songwriting process dictate the types of machines you build, or do your new constructions open up new possibilities?

TS: Good question.  Each album is dictated by the machines: Drone Machines are very heavy and slow to move, so the sound is a bit more drrrroooonnneeee and heavy, whereas the new album Ursus Americanus was played on the Dub Machines, which were designed to be lighter, enable a quicker dynamic, and give me to wider spectrum.  I wanted Ursus to really be an album representing exactly what I would play live with little to no overdubs.  I love how raw and simple Ursus sounds to me; it is not clogged, and that really works out well in a live atmosphere, because with too many sequences and things that I can’t really control, the live performance loses punch.  The reason I bring this up, is that Drone Machines has some songs that I love, like “Doppler” and “Burrow Below,” that were written before I started making machines and have a lot of layering, giving them a unique sound, yet a conflicting live setup for me.  Half of the DM album is exactly like the Ursus album, all live, no sequence…When I tour the vinyl release of Drone Machines next year, I may bring my bass and do those two songs, because I miss their heaviness.

ST: Your vocals also take a much less prominent role in Ursus Americanus than they did on previous albums.  Was that a conscious decision, turning your voice even more into a supporting texture rather than a rhythmic or storytelling vehicle (as on “Lonely” and “Set Flames,” for example)?

TS: Yes, I just didn’t want to be forced to write lyrics for song structure-sake and I guess I didn’t have much to say on this album other than “Lonely”, ha.  I feel much more meaning in the mood of my music and effect of the sound.  That being said, I probably use my voice more on this album.  I like to think of it like a good dub or hip hop track where maybe there is one line and then a string track and you think: “yeah it’s Sunday afternoon and I’m going to eat fried clams,” bam. No lyrics necessary.

ST: Godflesh seems like an almost unavoidable comparison, but were there any other acts in particular that originally piqued your interest in this type of metal/heavy electronics fusion?  The absolutely massive climax of album centerpiece “Set Flames,” for example, reminds me a bit of Neurosis, albeit fed through some horrific digital wood-chipper.

TS: Exactly.  I mean, I liked those aforementioned bands a lot, along with His Hero is Gone, Jesu, Nile, Meshuggah, but I it was always alongside a lot of drum and bass, dub, dubstep, electro, some industrial.  One that sticks out was Ed Rush and Optical, they had some great dark simple tracks. I really like some gabber stuff, but I really missed the boat on that as I was listening to US metal and hardcore.  I really wanted my high school band, which was a blast and I will always remember, to play super heavy slow stuff, like the last track off of every Godflesh album that lasted 20 minutes, but it was actually really hard to find people to play with that were into that. I kind of gave into it from like ’96 to ’03, until I broke up with the last band and knew that was it, A&P from then on.  I’ll just walk around a lot of the time and come up with all sorts of different heavy riffs…the shower is a good place for that.

ST: The aesthetic appeal of Author & Punisher seems pretty clearly tied to the fusion of the human/organic and the mechanical.  What is it about that fusion that appeals to you?  Is it about surpassing the limitations of the organic? Is it a fetishization of machines and industry?  Is there anything about it that’s cautionary or anxious about the impact of technology on humanity?

TS: I am trying to be as natural as possible with my designs, meaning that I like to avoid relational aesthetics as a practice.  I like quality materials that and I like machines that are made with extreme prejudice and precision and attention to detail so that they function flawlessly.  This can be a shaft spinning smoothly on a bearing so that there is no slop, or a handle that feel cold in your hand, so you know it’s steel or brass, etc. etc.  If this is fetishistic, then I guess that can be said, but for me, as an engineer and musician, it is good engineering practice applied to the world of electronic music where things are fabricated out of total shit plastic.  I have said this before, but if I had more time I would release A&P vacuum cleaners and blenders because they are also total pieces of shit and can be designed out of better stuff.  In terms of human machine, that is also just simple HCI design (Human Computer Interaction), where you try to improve that relationship so it works better.

ST: I mean, let’s be honest: isn’t this whole machine-music thing just your attempt to be shown mercy by our new robotic overlords following the inevitable technopocalpyse?

TS: I’m afraid my robots are too simple to be even shown the slightest bit of mercy…the robot oppressors will be bacteria-powered, virus-driven, super-efficient bio-machines that will just urinate and destroy all.

ST: Is there any particular machine you’ve invented of which you’re the most proud, or maybe one that was the most difficult to get just right?

TS:I have a special relationship with all of the machines, but probably like the Rails the best: rock solid.  The Throttles is a pain the ass and needs some work internally to fix the motors and linkages, which will need to happen soon before the Spring DM tour!

ST: Do you think of your studio albums and live performances in mostly the same terms?  That is, do you think the experience of hearing Author & Punisher in the live context is a significantly different experience from listening to the album?

TS: I think of them as the same, but the listener can’t possibly, because live you are watching the sound be made by the movement or hit, meanwhile getting knocked in the gut by a wall of sound. Listening to the album you have to imagine this and you may not get the same effect, however the albums are a somewhat “perfected” version of the live songs, so that can be a more balanced experience.

ST: Are there any current plans for touring the Ursus Americanus material?  Do you think it’s any more or less difficult for you to tour than for a band with a more traditional instrumental set up?

TS: Touring is increasing exponentially right now with a few shows on the East Coast and fests coming up.  Stay tuned.  It’s pretty easy for me to tour actually, since I don’t need speakers since a lot of clubs have good sound.  I do bring my sound system for the odd bar that has tweeters blown or douchebag sound guy :).

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Many thanks to Tristan for answering our questions, and to Kim Kelly of Catharsis PR for wrangling and mediation.  Author & Punisher recently released a professionally-done (and quite unsettling) video for Ursus Americanus‘s “Terrorbird”:

For more information on Author & Punisher (and Tristan’s other exploits), head to the man’s website.  You can purchase Ursus Americanus from Seventh Rule Recordings here, or stream and/or purchase it and previous A&P albums at Tristan’s Bandcamp page.

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The Terrible Airplane, 2013 (2010)

The Future Is Now

The Terrible Airplane is a two-piece band from Kansas, formed by brothers Mark (guitar, vocals) and Todd Woolard (drums).  Their newest release is the full-length album 2013, on which they ply a somewhat unique blend of 90s-styled noise rock with post-hardcore flourishes and a taut, instrumental minimalism.

The vocals affect a number of different styles throughout the record, from a very loose 1990s rock croon, to a more impassioned tenor pitch occasionally reminiscent of Mike Scalzi (of the Lord Weird Slough Feg and Hammers Of Misfortune), to an impressively throaty hardcore bellow.

The instrumental approach seems to have the greatest affinity for the Amphetamine Reptile school of noise rock, flitting between straight-ahead rock and slightly angular metallic riffing.  Imagine the sounds of Helmet, Unsane, or even Melvins and The Jesus Lizard (albeit at their least bizarre), and you’re well on your way to grasping the sound of The Terrible Airplane.

Still, we’re not talking about some nostalgia act, here.  The band are at their best when taut, tension-building instrumental sections proceed measuredly, twitchingly, to their inevitable metallic payoff.  These sections work not by virtue of instrumental virtuosity (you’ll find no fretboard fireworks here), but rather through the patient pacing of their minimalist attack.

A few places on the record even approach the dynamics of everyone’s favorite post-metal luminaries such as Neurosis and Isis, although the muted production keeps the sound closer to the rock/hardcore side of the auditory continuum.  This is the case on “Projected Trajectory” and, especially, the 9+ minutes of “Efficiency Deficient,” the latter of which is, for my money, the best song of the bunch.

As far as other individual songs go, the vocal chants in “Television” show The Terrible Airplane at their most Melvins-ish (think especially of the double-tracked vocals throughout much of Melvins’ recent album Nude With Boots).  “Radio Song,” at a mere 1:30, is clearly intended somewhat ironically, though the fact that it sounds like nothing else so much as Soul Coughing attempting a cover of Nirvana circa Bleach muddies the ironic waters more than a little.

Moments like this inform one of my main criticisms of this record.  Every now and then, such as on “Radio Song,” and, particularly, the mellower sections of “Roleplaying the Audience,” the band veers too close to the blandness of 90s alternative rock for my comfort.*  This only crops up occasionally throughout the album, though, so it remains something of a minor nuisance.

One of the strongest showings on here is the relatively brief instrumental “Pandameet.”  Its sinuous take on song composition works very much to its advantage, jumping back and forth between off-kilter and straight-ahead rock rhythms quite deftly.  In general, however, I think the band is at its most effective when they really stretch out, as on the above-mentioned “Efficiency Deficient.”  The tune starts off noisy before falling back into a ruthlessly minimal quiet section, and eventually crashes its way back with waves of slow, crushing stomp.  It’s at moments like this that I really want to hear things through a fuller production (adding a second guitar wouldn’t hurt, either); this song could be absolutely fucking massive, where here such potential remains somewhat implicit.

This is a very strong showing from a promising band.  For the most part, their songwriting weaves together some very disparate strands of rockish skronk, hardcore bluster, and carefully apportioned metal.  My own preference would be to see these guys take their metal even further into METAL territory, leaving behind some of what sound to these ears like 90s anachronisms.  Nevertheless, their instrumental attack is, as I keep rambling on about, incredibly taut, and they have a very persuasive grasp on tense song dynamics.  Plus, their whole album can be streamed here, so really, what the fuck are you waiting for?

I, for one, would like to see some of the potential energy here go kinetic, because that shit could EXPLODE.

Overall rating: 70%.  Compact noise rock sparks with carefully contained metallic undercurrents.
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* For the record, this ‘blandness’ is quite effectively dispelled by the live version of “Roleplaying the Audience” also available on the band’s Myspace page.  Dudes are loud enough on record, but live, the loudness is louder, the drums crackle as they flail about, and the hardcore vocals rattle the ribcage.  Do check it out.

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Hello, friends.  I hope that you are well, off in your corner of the internet.  Things are off to a bit of a slow start this Monday morning at Spinal Tapdance HQ, as your humble narrator recovers from last night’s heavy metal ass-kicking courtesy of Dream Theater and Iron Maiden.

Dream Theater’s opening set was relatively short and to-the-point, dealing mostly with the harder-edged, less progressive tracks from their most recent albums (“As I Am,” “A Rite Of Passage,” “Constant Motion,” and “Panic Attack,” with a tasteful rendering of “Home” providing the only real “epic” track), with only “Pull Me Under” closing out the show to great acclaim from the old-school fans.  Jordan Rudess on the keytar battling John Petrucci’s guitar wizardry was manna from heavy metal heaven, and James LaBrie busted out some of his gruffer vocals to suit the no-nonsense material.  Killer stuff from one of the most universally-talented bands in all of music.

Iron Maiden, of course, was IRON FUCKING MAIDEN.  I know there’s been quite a lot of grumbling ’round the internet about the setlist for the current tour (of which Chicago was the second-to-last stop).  Many folks have complained that the set is too focused on Maiden’s post-millennial output, which is absolutely true (only six of sixteen tracks would likely be considered “classic” Maiden), but I for one thought the set was fantastic.  It basically goes without saying at this point, but Bruce Dickinson is perhaps the most energetic frontman in the history of metal, and his theatrics and humor presumably won over even those fans who were less familiar with Maiden’s post-reunion-with-Bruce output.

Here’s what they played (which has two alterations from what was posted on Iron Maiden’s official tour website, but I think this has been the case throughout these U.S. dates):

1. The Wicker Man
2. Ghost of the Navigator
3. Wrathchild
4. El Dorado
5. Dance of Death
6. The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg
7. These Colours Don’t Run
8. Blood Brothers
9. Wildest Dreams
10. No More Lies
11. Brave New World
12. Fear of the Dark
13. Iron Maiden

Encore:

14. The Number of the Beast
15. Hallowed Be Thy Name
16. Running Free

Obviously, it was the classic tunes that elicited the most drunkenly exuberant response, but several of these newer tracks came off really well live.  “No More Lies” was especially improved; I actually really dig the song on Dance of Death, but it’s a bit too long (like many of the songs on that record) and labored.  Blast that tune in the sweltering summer heat to thousands upon thousands of metalheads, and it’s one hell of a shout-a-long.

I know there’s been a fair bit of griping, too, about the first single to be released from Maiden’s upcoming album (The Final Frontier), “El Dorado,” and yeah, I get it.  It’s a little weak for a single, and Bruce’s vocals sound a bit strained (we can only hope that it’s an issue of mixing, especially since his vocals were in stellar form last night).  Thankfully, though, in a live setting, the band sped it up significantly, meaning that the choruses came and went quickly without grating (as they do in the recorded version).  I still can’t quite jive with “Benjamin Breeg,” but basically everything else went down a real storm.

All in all, a magnificently entertaining performance by a completely unfuckwithable, world-class band.

Also contributing to the need for recovery was my (admittedly odd) decision to blast Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz at extreme volume while driving home from the concert.  Anyone out there who’s been losing their shit lately to the double-drumming acrobatics of the metallic likes of Kylesa and Melvins (w/Big Business) really ought to check this out right quick.  Coleman’s take on free jazz isn’t as mesmerizingly dense as Coltrane’s Ascension, but the greater sense of space allows the lightning-sharp communication between the two groups (Coleman is billed here as leading a ‘double quartet’, with one group mixed in each speaker) to come through like the inerrant voice of God striking down the wayward and the unrighteous.

I’m off to continue nursing myself back to health after nearly overdosing on pure rock fury.  Have a pleasant day, and hey, why not play some Iron Maiden while you’re at it?

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