Tag Archives: electronic

Skinny Puppy, “God’s Gift (Maggot)”

MTV’s once golden empire has long been reduced to a mere polished yellowing turd. Which isn’t much in the way of a revelation, but it’s my clever way of introducing the review. It started off so promising back in 1981, when nobody really knew what they were doing, but more than made up for any misreads with unbridled enthusiasm. And thanks to a college circuit that was beginning to churn out the bucks, they had a lot of good music to share, which gave you insta-cred back in the dark pre-Napster era.

But all good things must come to an end, by which I mean that all creative output eventually gets filtered through The Corporation, often re-emerging as something mostly inhuman (Lady Gaga, Nicky Minaj, Ke$ha, Adam Lambert), little happening beneath the surface other than botox poisoning and cow-tissue injections — but also because corporations AREN’T REALLY PEOPLE.

But hell, the United States limped its way into the 1970s before the American Dream completely came out of the closet as fiction, propped up by little more than Richard Nixon and “Mr. Ed” reruns. Then Dickhead packed up his angoras and tape recorders, and headed back to Oz, leaving Gerald Ford to sign the ownership papers over to the People’s Republic of China.

I’ve always believed that — like a one-two punch — MTV’s collapse began with the realization in 1993 that “The Real World” would last longer than one season; the follow-through coming a year later with Kurt Cobain’s suicide, exposing the grunge gravy train for the dog and pony show that it was, egg-faced network big wigs from that point on creating their own reality to eliminate the element of chance.

Which is a long way to get to my Skinny Puppy review. But relevant, because it was thanks to the MTV program, “120 Minutes,” that I saw a video for Puppy’s song, “Stairs and Flowers,” in late 1986. The network had launched the 2-hour late-night weekly program in March of that year, featuring songs that were doing well on the college charts. I can also thank the show for introducing me to the likes of Husker Du, The Replacements and Smashing Pumpkins before they became household names.

I quickly went out and bought the album with “Stairs and Flowers,” Puppy’s wonderfully titled, “Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse.” Living in my very Christian home at the time, it was the sort of album I could only listen to with headphones on, which made it MUCH MORE INTENSE. So intense, in fact, that by the time the second song, “God’s Gift (Maggot),” rolled around, I got scared and had to turn it off. I didn’t get the courage to listen to the album again until two years later, after I’d tried LSD. At which time, it became essential listening, and I quickly bought up the rest of the band’s catalog.

“God’s Gift” has been a favorite since my early-’90s industrial rock conversion. It’s also about as sludgy and provocative as electronic music ever got before Ministry opened the floodgates with “The Land of Rape and Honey” in 1988. By the way, many ecologists and health specialists probably do consider maggots to be a gift from our creator, but the fact that Puppy’s song contains references to eye sockets makes it a safe bet the band mates just happened to be watching a lot of old Vincent Price movies.

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Gauntlet Hair, “Lights Out”

Likely stoned when they attempted to describe the hairstyle made popular in ancient Rome and later perfected by Johnny Winter (who?), it still remains that Gauntlet Hair is one of the best band names in the business. And this comes from someone who just coined the band names Pimps in Hose and Gomer’s Piles on the spot, so you can take that noise to the bank.

The self-titled 2011 debut by this Denver-based duo is slathered in reverb and distortion and echoes and on and on. The vocals get the treatment, as well (but thankfully no Auto-Tune). I say all this as a warning, not a reprimand. In any case, if you’re a purist, you’ve probably left already, so I guess it’s just us chickens.

Gauntlet Hair is a guilty pleasure — like Hot Pockets (which sadly will probably never be a band name). But at least band mates Andy Rauworth and Craig Nice seem to be in on the joke over their excessive laptop noodling. A giddy whimsicality permeates Gauntlet’s music — like the feeling just before your body tells you you’ve eaten too much cake. This is psyctronic rock in the vein of Animal Collective and Yeasayer.

“Lights Out” is the standout track. Its nicely paired goth and disco textures, the off-kilter guitar work, a bass groaning, the pulsing and hissing beats — heard with headphones, it becomes a partly visual experience, possibly prompting fears that one might be suffering their first real acid “flashback.”

My apologies regarding the YouTube link above. The only version I could find from the album carries on in silence for about 5 minutes after the song ends.

I really like this live version filmed in Portland about a year ago, in which you can actually hear Rauworth’s voice and the processing is toned down, letting the rock shine through. I’d like to see the band continue in this rawer direction.

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Liars, “Loose Nuts on the Veladrome”

The part-man, part-machine Liars straddles the annals of sonic adventure about eye level with Animal Collective, staking out fresh turf with each new album — and making it palatable for laypeople. It’s refreshing to be able to trust a band to challenge and titillate your ear hairs on each outing, and it’s a quality few ever inherit or achieve.

By inherit, I mean that Liars formed in late 2000 and just months later recorded its first album over a brisk two-day span. That’s kismet. Long before it had the confidence and technical dexterity to craft the nearly flawless “WIXIW” — easily among the top five releases of 2012 — Liars was already chipping away at the boundaries of dance punk in its rookie year.

And while Liars’ 2001 debut “They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top” is ultimately a mixed bag (a 30-minute long closing track that after the first eight minutes becomes a repeating loop, guys?), it resulted in a few gems, such as the Gang of Four-inspired “Loose Nuts on the Veladrome.”

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The Stone Roses, “I Wanna Be Adored”

The Stone Roses is perhaps the most influential and over-accoladed bands at whose altar you’ve never worshipped. Which is fine with me, but it shows a lack of initiative on the part of executives charged with doing shit about such things. I mean, you can’t with a straight face say that the Roses are not as accomplished as retrospectively financially viable acts such as Toad the Wet Sprocket and Barenaked Ladies.

I never personally rode the SR bandwagon, but I’m sure there were s’mores at the end. I skipped the whole overcooked post-Joy Division acid house (Ding Dong! the Wicked Witch is Dead!) dancefest that stormed Manchester in the mid-1980s, dubbed Madchester, and which would lead to the rise of overly soapy acts like Oasis in the 1990s.

But we’ll always have “I Wanna Be Adored,” from 1989, an airy bit of English soul, and also an early foray into blending rock and dance elements in a way that feels organic rather than Eno’d  — something My Bloody Valentine would do in a more profound manner on its indie-world-shattering “Loveless” two years later.

In fact, that’s all we’ll have by SR. Seriously, you can skip every other entry on this or any other album. The reason you’ve never heard of the Stone Roses is because it was a one-trick pony.

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Forest Swords, “Hoylake Misst”

This is about as visual as sound ever gets. Forest Swords constructs undulating mindscapes from layers of deep-fried sound.

British sound collagist Matthew Barnes, sole Sword, must have dug somewhere deep to whip up his spectral tinkerings, as evidenced on “Hoylake Misst,” from 2010’s “Dagger Paths.” Somehow, Barnes is able to take disjointed, occasionally harsh sounds and give them a groove, like sandpaper smoothing splintery wood.

I don’t even know how you classify stuff like this: Psych-ambient? Hauntcore? Power trance?

The drums are primal on the nearly 8-minute-long “Misst,” and the guitars droning yet sharp-edged, like Sigur Ros’ bully older brother. This is a pulse-pounding meditation that feels a bit like slowly traversing a spent battlefield — perhaps one in a forest where swords were used.

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