By Bill Ketzer
Drive, drive in your nails, oh ye waves! From the opening
realization that I think that someone is trying to kill
me! to the final, swirling, drowning instrumental Joseph
Merrick, Mastodon have given new hope and direction
to what was slowly becoming a very ho-hum genre. Unlike so
many have mentioned during recent reviews in the various metal
rags, I wasnt awfully keen on the bands initial
material, rabid as their fans are. I had seen them live a
few times, and to my consternation it seemed like just another
Frank Oz voiceover in the thick and hairy onion soup of todays
standard-issue armament. On Mother Puncher, for
example, from the bands first full-length CD Remission,
the passage Change, stand, grow, these things youll
never be sounded too goddamn much like All me
know, Id do anything for cookie! for my taste.
But something has evolved beneath the patina of this new Southern
godsend, morphed into a roiling, fanatical constellation that
piques the intellect and rocks your gut cave like a bad steak.
like Leviathan are the ones that will save metal, the ones
that will keep it viable and astute. It graciously empties
its waste pan on the loose vermin of commercial-formula cattle
silage like, oh, say Nickelback or Saliva. Like the Melville
novel that inspired it, Leviathan at times appears bizarre
and obscure, yet proves to be infinitely open to interpretation
and discovery. Unlike Moby Dick, however, its genius is instantly
recognizable. There is a consistency to this album; its soundscape
gives one the sensation of constant pursuit, of being continuously
battered at sea during an impetuous storm. It is prevalent
in the hiss of Blood and Thunder, the hurtful
down-picking and wondrous harmonies of Iron Tusk.
It is in the stabbing upward might of Megalodon
and the crushing final riff of Seabeast. The drummer
Brann Dailor (originally from Rochester) is clearly at the
peak of his powers with a tempestuous, churning business that,
rather than detracting from the overall composition, only
enhances the spray of the ocean in the mind, the mimicry of
sea-induced mania beneath the ceaseless creaking of the bow.
Twin guitar harmonies, at once voracious and hypnotic, join
a murder of voices, souls at absolute zero, attempting to
embody the bodiless. Like Ahabs wind, the whole package
just whispers and roars all the things that most possess and
exasperate the commoner and the elite alike.
beauty of this record is that its fidelities, its bursting
prayers and damnations, are dangerous, meaning risky. Basing
an entire CDs worth of material on the white whale (insofar
as it taps into the whirlpool of human monomania, limits of
human intelligence and the deceptiveness of fate explored
in the novelthe whole disc isnt about the whale)
is a risk in the most handsome interpretation of the word.
But one that pays off in spades. While listening, you get
the feeling you are hearing something very, very old. Yet
it is so very young. The downside is that it will be hard
to trump, lads.
Chris Stamey Experience
A QUESTION OF TEMPERATURE (YEP ROC)
Last year's Travels in the South was Chris Stamey's first
new album in more than a decade. Where that work bore some
of his finest characteristics, it also had the marks of being
too fussed over (Stamey has remained quite busy since the
nineties, as a producer). Well, less than a year later he's
back with a complete winner. Accompanied by Yo La Tengo and
a few other pals, Stamey delivers a set of well-chosen covers
and a few originals. It opens with a minutelong blast of instrumental
fury and then jumps right into The Yardbirds' "Shape
of Things" with the original bass line, fuzzed up a bit,
played with unshakable glee by James McNew. Television's "Venus"
is given a quieter setting, but for the most part this is
flat-out celebration of loud combo interplay. When they come
to their version of Eddie Harris and Les McCann's "Compared
to What," Stamey skips the "goddamnit!" But
who could ever equal McCann's explosive three-syllable punctuation?
Stamey's own "The Summer Sun" is revisited for a
robust update, clearly a favorite number of YLT's, who used
it as the title of their last album. With A Question of Temperature
(a song they did not cover here), Chris Stamey is really back.
THE LIBERTINES (ROUGH TRADE)
Plenty of rock musicians have struggled to get their acts
together; few have so boldly resisted the very concept of
recovery as Pete Doherty of Britains Libertines. In
the 16 months following the release of the bands revelatory
Up the Bracket, Doherty admitted to having a crippling addiction
to crack and heroin, entered and fled rehab facilities (twice),
burglarized bandmate and close friend Carl Barâts
apartment (for which he spent a month in prison), and was
suspended from his own band (the group have yet to tour at
any length with the proper lineup).
what of The Libertines, the groups not-so-long awaited
follow-up? Up front, its not as good as Bracket, or
at least not as immediately arresting, but its still
damn good. The album is bookended by two stunning meditations
on a friendship tattered by drug abuse. On Cant
Stand Me Now, Doherty and Barât play call-and-response
over lines like Have we enough to keep it together,
or do we just keep on pretending? What Became
of the Likely Lads closes with the pair wondering What
became of forever? Well never know! These are
truly touching moments, quite beautiful in their honesty.
In fact, the albums best moments are its most diary-entry-like.
Music When the Lights Go Out and The Ha
Ha Wall find Doherty waxing apologetic and confessional;
on The Saga, hes come to the conclusion
that when you let down your friends . . . only fools,
vultures and undertakers will have any time for you.
He sounds damaged and hoarse, struggling toward notes and
falling off, not necessarily giving the impression that hes
going to get straight, just that he recognizes the spoils
of his chosen lifestyle.
being such a topically troubling album, Libertines is a blast
to put on. The spastic sounds of the bands previous
release are somewhat tempered, but that works to the listeners
advantage: A relatively straightforward tune like Music
simply wouldnt have flown before. They justify the Clash
comparisons on What Katie Did and Tomblands,
then revel in abandon on Arbeit Macht Frei and
Campaign of Hate. Weak spots (Dont
Be Shy, Road to Ruin) are few and far between,
and dont sully the albums overall quality. Its
just good, good, good. Heres hoping Doherty gets his
shit straight, or at least learns to regulate his intake,
so we might get another one out of him.