Ways Jazz and Metal are alike

Posted in Contemplation with tags , on 7 August 2012 by Nick Higgs
  1. They both range from mainstream accessible radio friendly song structures, to barely listen-able avant guard experimentalism.
  2. They both require a high level of technical proficiency from musicians.
  3. The essence of both is almost wholly musical, without social, ideological, or demographic requirements.
  4. They both have a prominent escapist, if not fantasy aspect.
  5. They’re both well suited for fusion with other musical forms.
  6. They’re both derided as niche genres.

Survival Conspicuously Absent

Posted in Contemplation with tags , on 7 August 2012 by Nick Higgs

Conspicuously absent from the aural backdrop to the 2012 Olympic games is the official song of London 2012, Muse’s Survival. I’ve watched countless hours of TV coverage of this Olympics, and haven’t heard a single bar of it. It seems the track has failed to capture the the public mood surrounding the London 2012.

Maybe it’s because because the composition is just too down-tempo, too slow burning, to really fit into any kind of public broadcast situation. Whatever the case, the song isn’t exactly a Muse classic. It’s my theory that Muse were approached about writing an official Olympics song only after one of the organisers heard the band’s 2009 single Uprising, with its rousing momentum and themes of determination and defiance, and noticed that it would have made an incredible Olympic anthem.

The pseudo-political lyrics might lay it on a bit thick (“They will not force us, They will stop degrading us”), but would they have had more success with a re-released Uprising as Official song?

Slipknot’s full hype return

Posted in Contemplation, Music Reviews with tags , on 22 June 2008 by Nick Higgs

Slipknot are back and Roadrunner Records along with the band themselves are in full on hype mode in the lead up to the release of their new album All Hope Is Gone. I’ve been a big Slipknot fan since they broke through back in 1999, but I’m not feeling excited about this record. Maybe it’s because my tastes have veered away from heavy metal over the years, or maybe it’s because we heard too much of this kind of talk from Corey Taylor and co: “It’s going to rip your face off, I don’t think the world will be ready for this album” …what else is new?

Also, we seem to be getting some mixed messages from the band. They’ve been putting out “eerie” teaser pictures for weeks showing the band in a rural American setting wearing oversized, stone-look masks. They seemed to be telling us to expect something new, something that’ll confuse and mesmerize, but now they’ve revealed the title track for the record that sounds like…well…good old Slipknot.

Having said all that, and as I write this while listening to the new track, a strong political message is emerging loud and clear and awakening that excitement I’ve been talking about. Slipknot may still have something to offer; they may still have a lot to offer, but all the marketing crap is seriously getting in the way.

Maybe some songs are too important to cover

Posted in Contemplation with tags , , on 15 June 2008 by Nick Higgs

When Billie Holiday recorded Strange Fruit, it was an important moment. The powerful atmospherics of the composition profoundly expressed the horror of the lynching of black men that occurred primarily in the south of the United States of America during the 100 years proceeding the American civil war, and has become synonymous with the American civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s.

Lately I’ve come across a couple of recent covers of the song by contemporary singers, that have artfully reconstructed the atmosphere of the early recordings, and deliver powerful vocal performances. Check them out on my space:

Killing Mood

As well as these covers are delivered, I’m left wondering what it is these performers believe they can add to a song of such importance. Can anyone covering this song in this day and age be anything more self indulgent posturing, and ultimately disrespectful to the seriousness of the issues the song confronts? Perhaps some songs are just too important to cover.

Newspapers blame Emo

Posted in Recent Events with tags , , on 11 May 2008 by Nick Higgs

My Chemical Romance have joined the ranks of The Beatles, Ozzy Osborne, Metallica, Marilyn Manson, and many others who have had the blame for a suicide, murder, or massacre laid at their feet, and the genre of emo has in the mainstream press’s eyes been escalated from an annoying, overly sensitive, teen sub-culture to international “suicide cult” (The Daily Mail).

The case in question is that of Hannah Bond, who committed suicide at the age of 13 in the autumn of last year. An inquest heard that the young girl tragically decided to hang herself a mere two weeks after becoming a fan of My Chemical Romance (The Daily Mail), and many British newspapers have been eager to report how a British child came to believe suicide is cool as a result of involvement with the dangerous youth cult that is emo (The Telegraph, The Sun).

The coverage, as you might expect, is ridiculous; The Daily Mail quote the line “Although you’re dead and gone, believe me your memory will go on” from My Chemical Romance hit Welcome to the Black Parade, as if it demonstrates the band’s unique and dangerous glamorisation of death (didn’t Elton John say something similar about candles and legends?). The same paper quotes the investigating coroner as saying that the death was “not glamorous, just simply a tragic loss of a young life”, the paper and the coroner apparently both believing he had authority not only in investigation the circumstances of death, but also in matters of glamour. Is the notion that death is romantic an invention of the Emo scene? A cursory glance over the fictions of Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde would suggest not.

The most bizarre thing about this sort of coverage is that every time a case like this emerges, the press report it like nothing like this has ever happened before, like they’ve never before discovered that someone involved in a suicide (or other crime) was a fan of a particular band or artist and put 2 and 2 together.

My Chemical Romance frequently explore themes of romance and death, but their contemporaries… not so much. Additionally their music and performances generally have an upbeat and life affirming quality to them, which makes it difficult to believe for a second that a young girl would decide to commit suicide simply as a result of exposure to what is known as the emo scene.

Reznor slips us another album

Posted in Music Reviews with tags , , , on 10 May 2008 by Nick Higgs

Leading up to the release of With Teeth in 2005 (a whole six years after the release of The Fragile), Trent Reznor made indications that he intended to release material more frequently. In the last thirteen months he’s made good on that promise, having released 3 Nine Inch Nails records (plus one remix album), and produced and orchestrated the release of Saul Williams’s Niggy Tardust….

He has chosen to make the latest release, The Slip, available for free in a range of digital formats, perhaps, believing he did a little bit too well out if the release of Ghosts I-IV in March. After the worrying indie rock drum intro of first song, The Slip turns out to be a solid album with a clear and strong emotional arch, and a worthy addition to the NIN catalogue (which also answers any questions you might have about what Ghosts… was all about). However, the rate at which Reznor is releasing albums, along with his minimalistic approach to album promotion, may leave a few nagging doubts in the minds of fans:

Can music created at this rate be ready for public consumption? Fans might suspect that they are being spoon-fed lesser material to maintain an income stream from their loyalty. Indeed, despite the positive review I’ve given The Slip in this post, some tracks like “single” Discipline seem overly radio friendly and have a bite-size feel to them, particularly so close to the musical, emotional, and political challenge of Year Zero.

There may also be concerns that without the typical promotional activities leading up to a release, appreciation of the material will suffer from a lack of anticipation. Additionally without any feel for the context of the creation of the music it may be more difficult to engage with it.

Like I said, these are just nagging doubts; the last year has been an exciting time for Nine Inch Nails fans, and I look forward to Reznor’s next move.

Niggy Tardust

Posted in Music Industry Commentary, Music Reviews, Recommendations with tags , , on 1 November 2007 by Nick Higgs

Trent Reznor’s war against the major labels continues today as protege Saul Williams releases his new album direct to the public. Similar to Radiohead’s latest album, if you don’t want to pay for “Niggy Tardust“, you can still get it legally. However, if you’re willing to part with a mere 5 US dollars you can get it at a massive 320Kbps.

Earlier today I laid my money down via my PayPal account and can report that the record is a “Ghetto Gothic” masterpiece. Reznor’s involvement is perfectly obvious throughout. He contributes music, vocals, and production to the record that ends up having an industrial hip hop feel very similar to Year Zero.

It’s great to see the Reznor / Williams partnership blossom in this way. I remember the spectacle of Williams and his DJ winning over a Nine Inch Nails audience in Manchester with his powerful aural / poetic assult. He amusingly introduced one song by saying “This is a song about when at the end of the day, you take off your black shirt, and your still black”.

“Niggy Tardust” is an excellent record available extremely cheaply. I hope the gamble pays off and we start seeing a lot more records released this way.