Saturday, March 26, 2011

The K Foundation Burn a Million Quid

After seeing Bill Drummond's "The 17" earlier in the week, a lot of KLF-related things have been running through my mind. The KLF's music has aged fairly well -- a lot better than anyone would have expected if you'd done a straw poll in early 1990's -- and I think their "stadium house" fingerprints are all over contemporary dance/hip-hop hybrids by the likes of will i am and Diddy Dirty Money. And of course "Chill Out" belongs in its own separate category of timelessness. "America: What Time Is Love" turned a lot of heads at the time with the way it took the original song and remade it into a preposterously bonkers piece of epic dance-rock bedlam, and it still sounds just as wild and unpredictable now as it did then. They applied their hit making formulas to the US market and came up with a diabolically simple approach: turn down the dance and turn up the rawk, because that's what Americans love. It turns out they were a bit too late because grunge washed away pretty much all of the dance rock in the US charts (e.g. Jesus Jones) and there was no combining the two for years afterward. Rock fans had their rock, and a completely different set of fans had their dance (typically Eurodance). If even U2 couldn't sell that combination to the American public in the mid-90's ("Pop" was a huge failure by their usual standards), then it couldn't be done.

But after all these years, I'd never seen their film of the infamously self-explanatory "The K Foundation Burn a Million Quid". These days, it's all on Youtube, together with a veritable treasure trove of their past singles, remixes, interviews, and live performances. The former KLF even have a channel where you can relive their best moments for yourselves, and seeing as their entire back catalogue remains deleted, you won't find a better place for beginning your KLF-related crash course.

I haven't watched the unedited film where they actually burn the money (except for some select clips), but it can be easily found online if you want to see it. Accompanying it is a rather fantastic bit of documentary film making. It's a brutally honest document of what they did, with plenty of criticism to go around. It's not a soapbox for Drummond and Cauty to philosophize about their ideas, and it's not a testimonial to how noble and misunderstood they are by a bunch of their closest confidants and yes men. It's remarkable that it's so even handed, considering that it was produced entirely by them and not independently.

There's hardly any sensationalism on display here. The K Foundation aren't lunatics. They come across as well reasoned, articulate individuals throughout, and the calmness and rationalism that characterizes all their conversations and interactions with others is almost enough to make you forget that they're talking about BURNING A MILLION QUID.

The most illuminating part of film occurs near the end, after we've seen the K Foundation and their associates consult with a series of curators, publicists, and art sellers in an attempt to assess the value of their work (i.e. a pile of ashes in a ratty suitcase). Earlier in the film, Cauty said that normally, money controls you, but by making art out of money, then they'd be the ones in control. Sure, it sounds profound and thought provoking, until you remember that (say it with me) he's talking about DESTROYING NEARLY ALL THEIR MONEY. Anyhow, they're sitting in Cauty's house, speaking with an advisor (who I'm not sure was named in the film) and he's giving them some tough love, and Cauty suggests forging a brick out of the ashes (which in fact they did do sometime later), which led to this exchange:

Advisor: If you want to get rid of the ashes, just give the ashes to me!
Drummond: We didn't say we didn't want to ...
Cauty [interrupting]: But they're our ashes. [short pause, and a hurt look forms on his face, like a boy whose about to have his toys taken away by his parents for doing something bad] They're ours.

It might be junk, but it's his junk. The advisor goes on to say that they're scared to sell the ashes and have them on display in a gallery somewhere, because once that happens, people will laugh and say how ridiculous they are and that's something the K Foundation can't deal with. They scoff at the notion, but they don't have a comeback.

Suddenly, it all made (a bit more) sense to me. The KLF spent a career trying to get away with whatever they could. No matter how silly it might have seemed on paper, they weren't afraid to try. Take a reworking of the Doctor Who theme to #1 on the UK singles chart? Sounds ridiculous, but they did it. Storm the charts with so-called "stadium house", make fun of rock star excesses by performing live with a huge entourage, wearing strange costumes, and playing guitars that aren't actually plugged it? They did that too, and sold millions of records doing it. But they were in control of everything. They got into the music business when they wanted to, and got out when they wanted to. On the way out, they deleted their back catalogue, which might have cost them a fortune in future royalties but it was their decision, they owned their art, and didn't care if they were throwing away millions of dollars in future royalties by keeping it for themselves.

They gave plenty of interviews, and generally weren't shy about talking about burning the money*. They proudly screened the unedited one-hour film of them burning the money, and made a point of advertising that they'd be answering questions after the screenings. There's a scene of a screening in Manchester, and a polite but incredulous audience where only Tony Wilson had anything positive to say about the artistic value of burning a million quid ("it's very art", he said, and of course Tony Wilson would love something like this, did you even have to ask?). I believe the K Foundation when they said that it wasn't about the publicity or about promoting themselves. And they're obviously weren't afraid of people criticizing their art ... provided that they were a part of the process. The criticism and the giggling and people saying they were selfish or indulgent was tolerable (or even stimulating!) as long as it happened under their supervision. Showing films, music, art, whatever -- good or bad, they remained in control, it could always be about them, they could lord over the process, and when they got bored of doing so, they could always stop. But selling their art would take everything completely out of their control, and that was something they couldn't tolerate.

*For added entertainment, check out the K Foundation interview on the Gay Byrne Show (a late night talk show hosted by a legendary Irish radio and TV presenter), and be sure to watch until the end to hear Joe Elliott from Def Leppard attempting to tear them down.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Rebecca Black

File this one under "everyone else has something to say about this, so why should I comment on it too?"

I wouldn't say that I called this one (check note #5), and I'm certainly not saying that I was the first person to express that kind of sentiment, but this is obviously one of those times when I'm happy to stand by my comments. I know that people thought I was bonkers when that comment was posted with P&J. Some felt that I was implying that all the weird covers of "Dynamite" were better than, or interchangeable with the original. This is not true. The real point is that you can become a star by appearing in a half-million dollar video on MTV or by appearing in a two thousand dollar video on Youtube -- but not necessarily the exact same type of star. The point is that both the "professional" MTV performer and the "amateur" Youtube performer are both stars in some way.

People like watching stars emerge in unexpected or unpredictable ways, which is why so many millions of viewers all cottoned onto shows like American Idol. It seemed like an exciting and original way to make stars, as opposed to having stars fed to them via tabloids or by MTV. Meanwhile, I haven't watched AI even once this season. As long as certain enterprising people think of new ways to make stars, they can be assured that there will be a celebrity-craving audience there to appreciate their effort.

In one sense, Ark Music Factory are looking like geniuses right now, but on the other hand, what they're doing isn't so different from the songwriting factories that were abundant in the 60's, it's only the technology, i.e. the method of releasing the music to the public that has changed. They have a team of writers and producers who create cookie cutter pop by the bucketload, and it costs them next to nothing. They bring in cheap talent (enter a practically limitless supply of teenagers who want to be famous), and if they release enough music, then eventually they'll stumble upon a minor hit and will make some money. Or at least that's the philosophy. Costs remain low, and therefore their risk is low. Low risk, low reward, with potential for a high reward.

The song is horrifically bad, but yeah, (un)fortunately it's so bad it winds up being good. Or at the very least, you can have a good laugh at the ridiculousness that is the video for "Friday". The Usher lookalike rapping in the CGI driving scene. Thirteen year olds driving cars and picking up other thirteen year olds. The mind-numbingly mundane lyrics. And now we have new material to dissect ... it's the acoustic version from Good Morning America! Black is jamming out on "Friday", all casual like, in what appears to be her living room. In the room with her, smiling and grooving along to the song, are all her the friends from the video. Even the Usher lookalike is there, they're all there, it's like the final scene of "The Wizard of Oz"! But here's what I want to know: how it possible that Black doesn't know the lyrics to her own song? She flubs the words at least three times in this two and a half minute clip!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bill Drummond Presents "The 17" @ Levontin 7

There was a palpable buzz in the air while sitting in our chairs in a packed Levontin 7 waiting for Bill Drummond to appear and ... to do what exactly?

After a brief introduction, Drummond walked swiftly down the centre aisle and to the front of the room. He carried a few poster rolls under his arm, set them down to the side, began pacing, and glared at the people in the first couple of rows in the audience. I was a little freaked out. I kept thinking to myself, "this guy burned a million quid. He threatened to cut up a live sheep onstage at the Brit awards during a live performance. Who the hell knows what he's got planned for us tonight?"

I respect the hell out of Bill Drummond, he had one of the most unlikely, most bizarre, most unbelievable (in either sense of the word, it was both "amazing, remarkable" and "totally not believable, you would never believe his story could be true" careers in the history of pop. I went to this show partly out of curiosity, partly because I wanted to see a legend in person, and I suspect that most people in attendance this past Monday night would say the same.

For most of the performance, we listened to Drummond as he told a number of stories -- stories about his love of "Strawberry Fields Forever", about his odd listening habits, and about his endless search for great music that would affect him as strongly as the music he heard as a teenager. He tried a number of odd listening experiments, such as listening only to debut albums from contemporary bands (foregoing hearing old records completely), and deciding to spend entire calendar years listening only to bands whose name starts with a single letter of the alphabet. How much of this was made up for comic effect is anyone's guess, but if I was placing a bet, I'd wager between zero and two percent. I doubt that anything is too weird for Bill Drummond.

He put us to work with some call and response singing, and an exercise in group humming (done with eyes closed, both standing and sitting) that produced some surprisingly rich harmonies and ended after only a couple of minutes -- I was hoping it'd continue for a while longer. Drummond explained how the idea of The 17 came from a cross-country drive spent listening to (and recording) the hum of his car, hung some posters explaining the principles behind The 17 (he's been promoting his work around the world and thus had these posters translated into eighteen languages), and asked us to sign the posters on the way out as a sign of our participation in the event.

At home later that night, of course I was curious about what I had just seen, and it was only then that I discovered that The 17 is already a few years old, and that Drummond has written a stack of performance scores (here's one I really like) that expand upon his concepts. Each performance takes place with whoever happens to show up to the venue, which on this night meant me and about one hundred other people. Nothing ever gets recorded and nothing ever will (at one point, he criticized two audience members for filming him and politely insisted that they erase whatever footage they had shot) so the only way to experience Drummond's art is to see him in person. That's a powerful concept for me, that is, the idea that music just happens and nothing ever gets recorded, and before you scoff at the notion, recall that this *was* the definition of music for all but the past one hundred years or so.

There's no doubt in my mind that Drummond believes strongly in his art. I also have a hunch that he knows that getting sponsored by arts councils and getting to fly around the world and serve as a "composer in residence" to write scores where strangers shout at each other on the street is a rock and roll swindle of the highest order. Either way, it's a worthwhile experience to catch a legend in action and to watch the wheels in his head spin.

Friday, March 18, 2011

P&J 2010 (One and Done): Cathedral, "The Guessing Game"; + bonus funk!

Yep, it's mid-March and I'm still writing posts about a 2010 music poll. But timeliness wasn't really the point of this little exercise, was it?

Cathedral, "The Guessing Game (disc 1)"

30 points, t-365, voted on by Josh Langhoff

"The Guessing Game" is a double album, with one "rock" disc that pays tribute to some of the band's influence, and one disc of more conventional doom metal. I've heard just one of the discs, but it seems as though I picked the wrong one because I like my metal to sound like metal, not like "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway". Oddly enough, they are at their best when they steer clear of anything even remotely resembling metal, like the sweet, melodic, and vaguely Zeppelin-esque title track (think of the intro "Over the Hills and Far Away"). "Cats, Incense, Candles, and Wine" is also a treat, straddling the line between The Modern Lovers' metronomic pub rock and Faust's zaniness. But straight up flower child prog metal is simply not my thing. I should listen to the second disc as well, perhaps for a future.

I'm surprised that an album like this would only get one vote. You'd think that critics would take to a double album of prog and doom metal from a veteran band like moths to a flame. The reviews weren't bad either.

Since I didn't have much to say about that album (and didn't care for it much at all), I figured I'd include a BONUS one and done album that received just one vote on P&J, but it was a #2 vote. When I first compiled this list, I included it by mistake and had already downloaded it before I realized my error.

Dâm-Funk, "Adolescent Funk"

30 points, t-365, voted on by Rob Hatch-Miller

If you like lo-fi, budget funk music, then you've come to the right place. It's like they tried to reproduce some of Prince's early output using just one modern day synth. It's full of basic, pre-programmed drum loops, corny 80's synth leads, squelchy digitized bass, and sex crazed lyrics. There's a good reason that it sounds like this -- it's a compilation of material that Dâm-Funk AKA Damon G. Riddick recorded in the late 80's and early 90's (which also explains the album title). Of course you don't need a budget to make a good record, and Riddick stretches the technology at his disposal to the max, sounding very much at home in a variety of different funky guises. He pulls off radio-friendly pop funk ("I Love Life"), disco ("When I'm With U I Think Of Her"), and electro ("I Don't Want You", a wonderful FU kiss-off) and keeps the party vibe going throughout every genre he touches. The album is probably too long by 15-20 minutes (a full hour of cheap'n'cheerful funk is a tad too much for me) but there is plenty of stuff to like here.

(added note: according to Andy Kellman's review of "Toeachizown" on Allmusic, he still uses all that old gear, even today! I can totally get behind an artist who remains proudly lo-fi by choice. Incidentally, Allmusic has yet to post to a review of "Adolescent Funk".)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Grading "Glee" -- Season 02, Episode 16, "We write the hits now"

Some of these songs and performances were obviously not meant to be taken seriously, so I'm going to switch between letter grades and a simple point system where it's appropriate. More or less, if I wouldn't mind hearing a bit more of the song in question, it gets the point, but if I'd already had enough after the allotted thirty seconds, then it doesn't get the point.

"Misery". D+. Is this the first time that a "Glee" episode featured a "cold" opening and launched directly into a song? If so, why did it have to be a paint-by-numbers Maroon 5 song? I was thoroughly bored, but at least they finally addressed the issue of the Warblers being Blaine's backup singers.

"Only Child". No point. Yes, that's enough about Rachel's totally trivial ego-driven problems. You tell her, Finn. This scene was hugely important for the episode, of course, because it advanced the original song storyline, where Rachel needs to stop delivering fake emotion and tap into how she really feels if she's going to write a great song that gives New Directions any chance of winning. But I'm judging just the song here.

"Blackbird". C-. This was pretty much the definition of the type of song Chris Colfer shouldn't be singing -- a song that requires sweetness and subtlety above all else, and absolutely requires the singer to refrain from any and all embellishment. He sounded good and the harmonies were a nice touch, but the shoe didn't fit stylistically. Plus, he sung it literally in honour of a stupid bird.

However, this did lead to the A+ Blaine/Kurt first kiss, so yet again we have a subpar performance that was nonetheless completely necessary to advance the storyline.

"Trouty Mouth". No point. Yes, the mouth jokes are way, way, old.

"Big Ass Heart". No point. Wait, Lauren dug this but hated "Fat Bottomed Girls"? I'm confused. Brian Setzer may soon be suing "Glee" for ripping off "Stray Cat Strut", if it comes to pass then you heard it here first.

"Hell to the No". Point! This was money. Fun, but Mr. Schue was right, it's not Regionals material. This was really one of the best written episodes they've ever done, in that everything tied together so well.

"Jesus Is My Friend". No point. The whole "Sue coaches Aural Intensity" plotline really went nowhere, didn't it?

"Candles"/"Raise Your Glass". B. Choosing "Candles" was a major strategic error for The Warblers. If you're going to perform a duet, then why pick a song by an unknown band that hardly anybody would have heard because it was only released a few weeks ago? As for the performance, their voices didn't mesh well, and the boy/girl vocal dynamic simply wasn't there. And obviously Kurt's extended solo Celine Dion medley that won the cheerleading national championship last year has been erased from history.

However, choosing Pink's "Raise Your Glass" was a great decision. Earlier in the year, they had an entire episode about anthems and the importance of picking a great anthem for Regionals. "Raise Your Glass" is a fantastic anthem, and they nailed this half of the performance.

In the end, the Warblers lost because they put personal issues ahead of doing what it took to win. They couldn't decide on an artistic direction for their set, and were arguing about song choices, styles, and soloists right up until the end. Blaine and Kurt were more focused on each other than on winning the competition, and in Blaine's case, he chose to sing "Candles" because performing with Kurt became more important to him than choosing a song that would give them a much better shot at winning Regionals. They didn't win, but they're both "winners" because they have each other ... yep, that's as corny as it can possibly get, but it's also simple and effective romantic storytelling that works almost every time.

"Get It Right"/"Loser Like Me". A. OK, the outcome here wasn't exactly in doubt because obviously New Directions wasn't going to lose with seven episodes left in the season. The build to Regionals has been horrible, in that there wasn't the slightest bit of urgency surrounding the competition. But they did get one thing right -- Rachel's ongoing quest to recover some purpose in her life, post-Finn. And in the end, she did exactly what she said she was going to do: "focus on her career", write a great song, and win the day at Regionals. Blaine and Kurt couldn't win, but they have each other. Rachel is all alone, but stuck to the game plan and executed even though nobody (except for Finn) thought she could do it. It's beautiful storytelling, it really is. Simple and effective when done right.

These two songs have been floating around the internet for weeks, but I always make a point of not hearing "Glee" songs until the episode airs. I had serious doubts about whether they could make original songs work, but they delivered the goods, big time. "Get It Right" was a perfect vehicle for Lea Michele, and "Loser Like Me" not only captures the essence of gleek, but is also ridiculously catchy (is there anything Max Martin can't do these days? Everything he touches is a hit). And yeah, it's the anthem they were searching for during the previous weeks. These two songs -- but especially "Loser Like Me" -- accomplished what a season worth of meandering plotlines couldn't. It felt like the culmination of something.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Buzzcocks @ Barby Club

I saw Buzzcocks play once before, in Toronto in 2006, and since that gig I doubt I listened to a single note of their music. Oh, I'm sure I heard a song or two on the radio at some point, but I never sat down to listen to any of their music, never thought to myself how long it had been since I gave "Singles Going Steady" a spin and decided to dig it out. On the other hand, I probably listened to Pete Shelley's "Homosapien" about a million times over the past few years. That's because it is and will continue to be the best song released by a Buzzcock.

Now for the good news. The Toronto gig rocked, in fact, it was one of the best "surprisingly great" concerts I've ever seen. Could a bunch of guys in their 50's play this music with enough rapid-fire, manic energy to make the songs work? Well, they showed me, erasing any doubts about their abilities from the moment they took the stage to the moment they left it.

The expected norm is probably closer to what we saw from tonight's openers (Taklit? Will investigate ...). The histrionics of the singer just smacked of a guy going overboard to relive past new wave glories, although to be honest, he does still let out a hell of a scream.

The lines on Steve Diggle's face are slowly turning him into Keith Richards, and he's got the mannerisms to match. Judging purely by his looks, this grayer and heavier version of Pete Shelley should be teaching high school chemistry somewhere, although how his voice has managed to barely change in the past 30 years is one of those miracles of modern physiology. However, none of this comes off like a band trying to relive past glories because of one simple reason -- they rock so fucking hard. Harder, crazier, and more intense than the gig from five years ago (seeing them in a more intimate venue with better sound definitely helps). I can't envision that anyone would be fit to complain that they played for just under one hour (including encore) because how long can any human being keep up the pace of playing 20+ two-minute punk rock songs? And an encore of "Oh Shit"/"Ever Fallen In Love"/"Orgasm Addict" is almost impossible to beat, easily ensuring that everyone goes home happy and satisfied.

A surprisingly great gig, yet again. Next time I'll have to remember not to be so surprised.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Grading "Glee" -- Season 02, Episode 15

I felt like I was watching "Glee" during the Celibacy Club, because those were the only times it seemed like well-established "Glee" personalities were being themselves. For the rest of the episode (including most of the musical performances), I was watching some other, as yet unnamed series where Santana is a bitch because she's secretly gay for Brittany and the only name in the opening credits is Gwyneth Paltrow's. Just about the only part of this episode that featured half-decent dialogue by believable characters was during the conversation between Kurt and his dad (he gave pretty good advice too!)

"Do You Wanna Touch Me". C-. Maybe this was supposed to be a PG-13 semi-racy performance, but watching the "Glee" cast rip open their shirts and jackets over and over and over again gave me the creeps. I had a befuddled look on my face not unlike the expressions that Quinn and Rachel had during the first half of the song, not because the overt sexuality was too much for my innocent little mind, but because I was too stunned to hide my eyes from the horror. I gave this a not horrible grade because the song is great, the vocal is easy and very difficult to ruin, and Brittany and Santana's dose of genuine sexiness.

"Animal". D+. You can more or less copy/paste my comments from the previous song and put them here. I knocked down the grade because of the complete lack of anything even resembling sexy. A dozen girls wearing school uniforms, and not a single sexy schoolgirl among them!

"Kiss". D-. "'Kiss' as a tango? That's awesome ... and ridiculous". If you can't handle the falsetto all the way through, then don't even attempt the song. Or re-work the song. While you're at it, learn the difference between "doing 'Kiss' as a tango" and "doing the tango while listening to 'Kiss'". And Gwyneth Paltrow and Matthew Morrison have zero chemistry together, dancing or otherwise.

"Landslide". C. I'm all for having more Stevie Nicks songs on "Glee", but by this point in the episode, I was completely disinterested in all the forced emotion surrounding the Brittany/Santana relationship. I mean, they've had two girls making out for the past two years and have been treating it as a joke all this time, and now suddenly we're supposed to take this seriously and empathize with the repressed feelings they're supposed to be having? And it's all because Gwyneth Paltrow shows up and is entrusted with the magical powers to make things better?

"Afternoon Delight". B. The polar opposite of everything else in this episode in so many ways. The song itself? Crap. But the performance? The outfits? The harmonies? Rachel singing as if it were a Broadway performance? Emma grinning over the pure joy of singing a song about a yummy "dessert"? Puck making raunchy faces like he was starring in a hair metal video? John Stamos playing drums on "Glee", finally? The giant PIE on the video screens in the background? Loved it. This could have earned a much higher grade if the performance had been more than a minute long.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Two new releases, the Legends Edition: PJ Harvey, "Let England Shake"; Mogwai, "Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will"

PJ Harvey, "Let England Shake".

I was one of those people who never really forgave PJ Harvey for not making another ten "Rid of Me"'s. I got over it around the time I finally appreciated the greatness of "To Bring You My Love". The process took years -- after "Is This Desire?", I understood that she was serious about not ever repeating herself and leaving her past behind, then I relapsed a bit thanks to the occasional caustic moment on "Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea" (e.g. "The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore") while at the same time my conscience pestered me that she was gravitating toward Lilith Fair ("We Float") a lot faster than she was approaching the day when she'd write another "Rub Till It Bleeds". It was like a 12-step program, where of course the first step is where you accept that "Rid of Me Vols. 2-10" aren't going to happen. In the meantime, you might as well revisit the music that does exist. Incidentally, this was also around the time that I fell out with "Is This Desire?", finding it too slow going and one-dimensional compared to the more varied "To Bring You My Love".

The pre-release hype for "Let England Shake" was really intense -- it was the first PJ Harvey release in ages that felt like an "event". I read a number of the multitude of interviews she gave, explaining the concepts behind the album and how it was recorded, and it seemed like a project too ambitious for her or just about any other artist. Months of research on the First World War, writing lyrics months before picking up an instrument to put the words to music, recording everything in a church in just a few weeks? She'd disappointed me in the past ("Uh Huh Her" was particularly horrible) and I hoped that I wouldn't be disappointed this time. And it turned out that all the hype was warranted. "Let England Shake" is tremendous, easily her best since "To Bring You My Love" (and maybe *including* it -- oddly enough, there are no two more similar sounding albums in her catalogue than LES and TBYML) and an early contender for the best album of 2011.

All her research paid off. As ridiculous as that sentence looks when viewed in isolation in reference to an album, she deserves it. Parts of "Let England Shake" could pass for the kind of work that Billy Bragg and Wilco did with Woody Guthrie's lyrics -- it's like she took the words from folk tunes and various ditties sung by soldiers in the trenches one hundred years ago and put them to music. The lyrics sound like the kind of letters that soldiers used to write home from the trenches, describing the horror and loneliness of war to loved ones they thought they'd never see again. I really can't say enough about how authentic these voices are. PJ Harvey showed that she could master the art of "writing in character" on "Is This Desire?", but the words on "Let England Shake" blow away all her earlier work in that regard, not least because of the degree of difficulty involved and how little precedent there is for this type of album in "rock" music.

"The Words That Maketh Murder" is particularly chilling, spinning its yarns of limbs hanging in trees, soldiers falling like lumps of meat, flies everywhere, and it's bitterly ironic closing mantra of "what if I take my problem to the United Nations?" -- brilliantly turning the Big Bopper's iconic lyric on its head. Another line that really gets to me is the opening line of "Written on the Forehead" ("people throwing dinars at the belly dancers"), I don't know why, but it's "stranger in a strange land" sentiment, and the idea of people risking their lives one minute and wasting their money on exotic delights the next really cuts to my bones. I also love how this song starts out like "The Dancer" and finishes like The Magnetic Fields' "The Dreaming Moon". And like any great album closer, "The Colour of the Earth" (which fittingly enough, is about not being able to forget the "dull and brown-y red" colour of the ground on the day he last saw his friend on the battlefield), sticks in your head long after the album is over.

Mogwai, "Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will".

I had talked myself into believing Andrew Gaerig's review for Pitchfork even before I heard the album, mainly because of the big finish: "the band built its reputation on sonic extremes, and that purview has infected their reputation: deliver a masterpiece-- I don't think they have it in them-- or suffer indifference." That's undeniably true, and that sentiment has infected nearly everything I've written about Mogwai over the past ten years. So I prepared myself to be disappointed again.

Your opinion on the album will depend on how you view the follow-up lines in Gaerig's review - "On 'Hardcore' Mogwai sound like they're enjoying being Mogwai again. I'm ready to enjoy them being Mogwai again too." The changes are subtle, perhaps, but they're there. This is the first proper Mogwai album since "Happy Songs For Happy People" where I don't feel like they're trying harder to be Black Sabbath than themselves. I disagree when he says that "White Noise" is a vanilla opening track (was "Hunted By a Freak" vanilla too?). To me, it sounds like a seamless combination of tender melodies and crunching noise -- the key word being "combination", because too much of their output over the past five years has been focused on noise crushing melody, rather than noise attempting to get along peacefully with melody. "George Square Thatcher Death Party" is a fantastic example of how Mogwai can get heavy without trying to prove how big their balls are, while still managing something that comes close to a "real" rock song with vocals and everything.

A lot of people are big-upping non-album track "Music For a Forgotten Future" as being better than anything on "Hardcore", but I think they're mostly people who slept on their soundtrack for "Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait".