Category Archives: Music

Gas The Hit

A screencap of the Veronica Mars Kickstarter page, shortly after crossing the $2 million mark.

Around 12:30 PM EST, I joked on Twitter (as I’m wont to do) that I was going to grab my lunch as soon as the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign broke the quarter-million mark. It was about $10,000 away from that benchmark when I started typing; by the time I clicked on the Tweet button to post those bon mots, that threshold had been passed. Two hours later, I took to Twitter to make with the funny & say I was going to grab my daily post-lunch snack once Veronica hit the million mark. At the time of that social media blurt, the Kickstarter campaign was at a mere $941,000. (Let’s note that the campaign earned almost another SEVEN HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS in about two hours.) This time around, I was able to wait a whole 20 minutes before that barrier was broken. Pardon the shit syntax in the following Tweet:

About 55 minutes ago (as of this typing), less than 12 hours after the Kickstarter campaign had started, the $2 million dollar goal was met. That’s about the time I took the screencap at the top of this post. In that timespan, I ate dinner, watched the fourth quarter of the Heat / 76ers game, and started typing this thing. In that time, another $131,000 has been contributed to the campaign, with the contributor count going over 34,000. Clearly, the numbers show creator Rob Thomas crunched (as described in the description text for this Kickstarter project) to gauge the feasibility of this crowd-sourcing effort were pretty accurate:

The average pledge on Kickstarter is $71. Hell, if we could get 30,000 people to give the average donation, we could finance the movie, particularly if the cast and I were willing to work cheap. The most common donation amount on Kickstarter is $25. Surely, 80,000 of our three million viewers would find that price-point viable!

Then there’s that semi-damning line at the start of the next paragraph: “Of course, Warner Bros. still owns Veronica Mars and we would need their blessing and cooperation to pull this off.” So what this endeavor boils down to is fans subsidizing the making of a creative work based around a property owned by a multi-million dollar corporation. If you believe that corporations are people, maybe this situation doesn’t rankle so much. For perfect-world folks that believe crowd-sourcing should most benefit those that don’t have the funds to create the thing they so desperately want to make, though, it’s a little disconcerting. Folks with their nose to the film industry grindstone have consistently bemoaned the death of the “middle class” of film; most studios either want to throw lots of money at potential tentpoles (which leads to one Avengers for every ten Battleships), or go super-small in the hopes of turning out a comparatively decent profit (or in the case of the Paranormal Activity franchise, blockbuster-sized hauls). The price tags might not be the same in other industries, but the mindset’s the same: Go big or go homegrown. There’s very little interest, at least from the folks holding the purse strings, in supporting any kind of not-too-big, not-too-small endeavors.

For Warner Bros, then (and any other cockeyed fear-adverse media conglomerate), an opportunity like this Veronica Mars situation is a shrewd investment, if it can even be called an investment. Instead of putting up their own money to produce something based on an owned property that might not recoup its costs, these companies can just farm out the lion’s share of the cost (and the attached burdens) to interested parties while maintaining the benefits of ownership. If said effort flops, the  books stay relatively clean, and at worst all you have to show for it is some market research findings. If it succeeds, congratulations on your sweat-free profits. If there’s going to be any sort of creative-arts revolution spearheaded by the rise of crowd-sourcing, it’s the gradual transformation of these TV / music / movie companies from the entities that produce and distribute the content to simply distributors.

That’s what Nonesuch Records (coincidentally, a subsidiary of the Warner Music Group) are seemingly doing with Nataly Dawn. Way back in the summer of 2011, the singer / songwriter (better known as one-half of YouTube sensation / Hyundai holiday pitch people Pomplamoose) started her own Kickstarter project to help fund the making of a solo album. To quote her pitch text, “Every dollar will go towards the album: paying the musicians and the people who will be filming the recording process, reserving the studio and hotel rooms, renting gear etc.” The original goal was $20,000; she ended up with five times that amount. She also ended up with a Nonesuch Records contract. Again, for the folks with the deep pockets, it’s a no-brainer; Nonesuch not only signs an artist with a sizable (and passionate) fanbase, but they sign one with an album already in the can. That’s one less expenditure to worry about, both for the artist and the label.

Of course, this is nothing new; larger labels routinely put out finished albums by an act that already had arrangements to release the album through a smaller company. The big difference, though, is the issue of compensation. In most of these cases — like with (pardon my indie rock bias) Merge Records reissuing the Sugar catalog, or the partnership made between Matador Records and Capitol Records to co-release albums like Liz Phair’s whitechocolatespaceegg — the big guys make arrangements with the little guys so (ideally) everyone that should get compensated gets compensated.  When Nataly Dawn goes corporate on the back of fan funding, however, where’s that leave the person that ended up supporting a musician that no longer needs the support? (Based on the recentish comments on Dawn’s Kickstarter page, it leaves a fair number of them more than a little disgruntled.)

It’s one thing to give to an artist like Kristin Hersh, a well-established artist that’s been fan-funded and wholly independent since 2007, or Bowerbirds, who recently turned to Kickstarter to help with the building of their own studio and the recording of a new album. In those situations, there’s an unspoken (or possibly explicit) trust and bond between patron and artist that transcends the financial portion of the transaction; you’re helping people whose art you enjoy have the opportunity to make said art without compromise and on their own terms. When the patron turns into nothing more than an investor, though — especially when that turn occurs without the patron’s knowledge and without the possibility of any kind of non-aesthetic return on the investment — it’s an outrageous betrayal of that trust. Offer all the swag and insider access in the world, but while it might make short-term sense on the balance sheet, making fans feel like one-way banks isn’t a great long-term strategy.

Is Beautiful

I don’t know much about black metal, but I’m pretty sure saying I prefer my BM to sound like Burzum’s Filosofem is like saying I like my punk rock to sound like Never Mind The Bollocks; it’s an unnecessary distinction to make, since it’s the blueprint that folks of that persuasion are either going to follow or willfully disregard when doing their thing. But while the folks I’ve heard that take after Filosofem (and presumably other black metal acts I’m not well versed it) nail specific sonic aspects — the monotonous double-time drumming, the wall-of-noise amplified strumming, the scorched-earth bellowing, the sepulchral ambiance — there’s often something missing to really make all these bits come together satisfactorily. (Thinking specifically of Xasthur, an act I like just fine, but often at a bit of a remove.) That’s nothing new, of course; folks emulating other folks don’t often reach the heights of their predecessors, at least not immediately.

That’s what impresses me the most about the out-of-print tape made by Atlanta’s Uberchriist. The Bandcamp stream above is available courtesy of the fine folks at Fan Death Records, who oroginally released the tape; the band has their own Bandcamp page, but it only features a couple of tracks from the tape (both for sale), as well as an alternate version of “Lord Of Paiin” from a self-released, and I assume out-of-print, CD-R. Both versions of the track — the best song I’ve ever heard about a sadistic monarch (sorry Sting) — are proudly lo-fi, but where the CD-R version is almost too murky to let the song see any light, the version on the Fan Death tape sounds crappy in just the right way. Instead of the poor sound being simply a matter of circumstance, the sonics are put to use in favor of the songs.

According to Wikipedia (which pulls its info straight from Burzum’s site), good ol Varg Vikernes wanted Filosofem to sound shitty on purpose. “No guitar amplifier was used; Vikernes plugged his guitar into the amplifier of his brother’s stereo and used an old fuzz pedal. He also asked a sound technician for the worst microphone he had and ended up using a headset as the microphone.” The poor recording conditions gave the songs a harsh texture, infusing even the most serene moments (like the 25-minute ambient track) with a certain dread. Uberchriist doesn’t mess around with any meditative detours, though; their songs come ready to kick down doors, make parents check their children’s rooms for demonic paraphernalia, and lodge themselves into listeners’ heads.

The black metal community, like most any musical subculture, is notoriously cliquey when it comes to standards and practices (see the kerfuffle that broke out when Liturgy deigned to release an album on Thrill Jockey), but by the sounds of tracks like “Frozen” or “Black Svpremacy,” they’re willing and able to winnow their way into the hearts of Kylesa / Torche / Converge / etc. fans. This assumes Uberchriist is still an ongoing concern, of course; search the web for them (don’t forget that second i), and you’ll find the group’s Bandcamp page, the group’s MySpace page (which features a song that’s not on the tape), Fan Death’s Bandcamp, and some discussion board posts about the group from a couple of years ago; no recent news to speak of. I’m holding out hope there’s more music to come, or my websearch skills are sorely lacking. However, if Uberchriist is a thing of the past, they left behind quite a corpse.

Thank Heaven

Things I remembered about the video, prior to rewatching it today: The shimmering red building in front of which the music-playing action takes place, and that “of course” moment where the viewer catches Louise Post & Nina Gordon separating from a just-completed kiss. Selling records was never not a hustle.

What I didn’t remember, or possibly just never saw — there’s a version floating around that features a lot more dismembered baby dolls — were the bits where Post & Gordon frolic and cavort in slips or white dresses, giggling and crying and (in case you forgot this was a video for an alternative rock band in the 90s) feeding each other what looks to be raw meat. In that context, the kiss takes on a slightly less prurient air & suggests our intrepid frontwomen are pretending to be at that age where young girls bond tightly with other girls and create their own cryptic orld with its own rules and traditions that are completely alien to outsiders. (I’m guessing there’s a proper academic term for this kind of social occurrence; all I can do, though, is mention that I’ve seen Heavenly Creatures a few times & take the scenic route to get to my point.) From what little I remember about Veruca Salt lore / gossip, Post & Gordon reportedly formed that kind of inseparable bond when they first met, which lead to the formation of the band, and (when that bond began to fray) ultimately lead to Post & Gordon going their separate ways.

This being the group’s first album, however, that bond and that insular girlish vibe is all over American Thighs. “Seether” walks the walk as much as any other track on the album, but given its relatively chipper mien and spry gate, it’s a bit of an outlier. It’s those very things that make this a song that almost anyone of a certain age and certain listening habits remembers, even if they didn’t realize Veruca Salt actually made three more albums after this. But when you disregard the four singles (especially “Victrola,” a shoddy “Seether” rewrite), this record takes on a totally different complexion.

The internet won’t corroborate this, but I’m pretty sure that snugglebunny Steve Albini, when talking about working with the band on their Blow It Out Your Ass EP, was impressed that there was more to the group than just some radio-friendly unit shiftiness. (I’m paraphrasing, of course.) I’m also pretty sure he dropped Slint’s name when talking about the group’s sense of spacing and dynamics. There’s no real Spiderland moments anywhere in their discography — maybe the discordant “Disinherit,” from the aforementioned ass-blowing EP, comes closest — but most of Thighs finds Veruca Salt making like an honest-to-goodness (and heavy) slowcore band. It’s not a sound that would stick, of course; as they proved on their follow-up LP, Eight Arms To Hold You, all it takes is a drummer upgrade and some Bob Rock knob tweaks to turn a staid and somber track like “Spiderman ’79” into an arena rock behemoth like “One Last Time.”

An attitude adjustment doesn’t hurt, either. On Eight Arms‘ “Awesome,” Nina Gordon (in full-on self-referential “Glass Onion” mode throughout the entire album) says goodbye to 25, presumably referencing the 8-minute track that it essentially Thighs‘ closer; in its wake, the gorgeous “Sleeping Where I Want,” Thighs‘ actual finale (at least on CD), feels more like an epilogue than an actual conclusion. (“Sleeping Where I Want,” with its Guyville guitar tone, is also the one track that serves to remind listeners that Brad Wood produced the album.) The apotheosis of the album’s insular members-only vibe, its boots walk at their own somber funereal pace while its simple yet elusive lyrics employ images and allude to things — loss of innocence, sexual promiscuity, whatever else your own personal baggage highlights — that are never quite spelled out. It’s a tactic employed by most of these tracks, and it’s a tactic those with a less favorable perspective might see as a move cribbed from a dogeared copy of Kristin Hersh For Dummies. I prefer to see it, in combination with the music’s peculiarly slow gait, as a way for the group to carve out their own niche, positioning themselves as a just-right Baby Bear that fits snugly between the anger and aggression of your Hole / Babes In Toyland types and the more measured and thoughtful expression offered by the Breeders / Throwing Muses types. It’s definitely not the best of both those worlds — there’s often a little too much melo in their brand of drama, and the musicianship sometimes fails to do right by these downshifted songs — but as someone that had written this album off as a spotty top-heavy slog of a debut, I was surprised to find that there’s something interesting, if not peculiarly beautiful, in that slog.

Sick Sick Sick

The following is the entirety of the AllMusic / Rovi text regarding the German post-punk band Malaria! (at least as it’s represented on everyone’s favorite fraction-penny purveyor Spotify):

“Malaria! was a group of five German women, together from 1981-1983.”

Descriptive! My original intent was to quote that in a sassier fashion, saying something along the lines of, “Thank god for Trouser Press.” Then I went and saw what Trouser Press had to say about Malaria! Unfortunately, it isn’t isn’t the sort of text that ends up being used for PR pullquotes. (There’s no good way to spin “tedious” or “uninvolving.”)

Anyway, as I mentioned previously, this is post-punk that was actually hot on the heels of original recipe punk, meaning it sounds an awful lot like that band & the other band that you think of when you think of post-punk. Except, since these ladies are from Germany, there’s a certain Teutonic lilt, language notwithstanding, in the way they issue their polemics. Maybe it’s the harsh consonance that causes Spotify’s Related Artists algorithm to offer up RIYLs like Boyd Rice and Throbbing Gristle, but these ladies aren’t quite that abrasive. Hell, a track like “You You” is almost ready-for-flashback-weekend new wave, though its sour aftertaste  might pucker your lips some. (The sax and sample attack on the track that follows it, on the other hand, is decidedly less user-friendly.)

If you’re looking for the purest post-punk thrills, then you want “Thrill Me” or “Your Turn To Run (I’ll Be Your Only One).” (Thanks to Alternative Press EIC Jason Pettigrew for the heads-up on the former.) If you’re in the Advanced Studies program when it comes to the angular banging and strumming, though, this entire compilation is worth a listen. It’s doubtful these ladies will get the red carpet reissue treatment that peers like The Au Pairs and LiLiPut and Delta 5 did — their catch-all approach doesn’t quite catch all that often — but sometimes going down the road less remastered and repackaged offers its own rewards.