Saturday, February 25, 2006

A Product Review

irock! Beamit Wireless Music Adapter (400FM)

I don't think Amazon will put this up, but here goes:
Next time just set $29.95 in cash on fire
'cuz that's the same effect you'll get from buying this useless gadget.
It is unable to push it's puny signal the six or seven feet to my car ariel. Sound when pushed closer sounds like AM radio when driving into a tunnel. Short DC power cord won't allow user to put unit up on dash, or in the case of my car, up on the rear deck in order to get it as close to the ariel as possible. When unit and radio antennae are in the same room, signal has a whining noise irregardless of frequency chosen. Complicated cord integrates device input with transmitting antennae, probably sapping efficiency and also assuring that either circuit will short out, regardless of care in handling it, meaning one channel will be intermittent or missing altogether. Have a handy friend build you a non-FCC compliant model, instead.
I wish I could post a lower rating than one star.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Big City Orchestra: Signals and Codes

Big City Orchestra have been at it for the better part of thirty years now. If it was a singular entity, it'd be reflecting back on it's life and feeling ok with it's mortality and the passage of time.
But no!- They go out and make another beautiful piece of surrealist audio collage. In Signals and Codes, they reroute the listener's synapses and bend your internal circuitry. Do not attempt to operate heavy machinery when (or after- ever!) listening to this virtual album.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Party Like It's 1991

-Or, Play That Funky Music, Whiteboy.

A couple of cool used CD finds have prompted me to remember a short slice of time in the early nineties.
Back in the Bush I regime, there was a burst of highly politicized industrial/hip-hop and aggro-rock that seemed to have a common thread and sound. A lot of it took cues from Public Enemy, who were titans in the hip-hop world, and also at the center of most anti-rap controversy.
So perhaps in light of that, they were an understandably appropriate template for the burgeoning proto-industrial (semi)white-boy rap scene to adopt.
The Disposable Heros of Hiphoprisy emerged from singer Michael Franti's earlier, punkier project The Beatnigs and even updated their Television (the Drug of the Nation) on their debut album Hypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury. Franti is a powerful and authoritative rapper, not unlike P.E.'s Chuck D. And- like P.E.- most songs sound like a CNN report, with almost statistical reportage of the state of Bush I's America. They also cover the Dead Kennedy's California to feature then-Governor Pete Wilson. Co-conspirator Ronald Tse (what happened to him?) provides ample fat, double-tracked beats and samples to great effect.

Industrial dance saints Consolidated sound very much like Disposable Heroes during this period, and even name-check Franti on the opening track to Friendly Fascism. Consolidated always run the risk of the politics of their lyrics- and especially the high ratio of samples to music- outweighing musical form. Like a Crass album, musicality takes a back seat to the message, but here the music is very good. And like with a peace-punk band, the listener runs the risk of being hit over the head with lefty dogma, no matter how like minded they are or how heartfelt the conveyed sentiments may be. This time around it's male chauvinism, meat, vegetarianism, meat, racism, meat, fascism, meat, abortion rights and more, not necessarily in that order. The whole album is interspersed with soundbites that seem to be about the band and the many confrontations they encountered in the media and apparently at their own shows. Although the band centers its sound around hip-hoppish dance music, it occasionally turns the dial over to Ministry-ish aggro-metal and feel-good hippy rock. One hilarious song, College Radio, laments the state of that formerly cool medium with funny, ironic lyrics.

Emergency Broadcast Network were like a cool amalgamation of the above two bands- albeit with much less rapping, and a much heavier reliance on ironic media sound-bites and samples. In fact, it's this latter aspect that dates Telecommunication Breakdown the most. Although most samples themselves are somewhat timeless, the sheer number present per song make this production sound more like something that would've come out in the earlier nineties (instead of it's release date of 1995!) along with Tackhead, Ministry and to a lesser extent, Negativland. But it is a great sounding album, with lots of heavy, hard-edged beats and fat synth lines- thanks in no small part to the production prowess of the great Jack Dangers (Meat Beat Manifesto), whose signature is all over this album (in fact, Dangers is the common thread to all the above albums- and it shows in the sound). The motif of this disc being a multi-media device is driven home with samples of flipping dials, soundbites, announcements and the like. EBN were famous for their shows-as-multimedia events - so much so that they were tapped by U2 to provide visuals and transitional material for their ZooTV Tour. No doubt this fact helped them secure the superb packaging and bonus features in this production and maybe even the swell guest appearances and producer credits, such as Brian Eno and Bill Laswell.
It also drew heat for them in the indy world, which slagged them as sell-outs and the album as a mainstream flash in the pan, which it isn't.
It sounds very timely, in spite of some potentially dating aspects to it.
In today's political environment, all of the above albums sound very appropriate, especially where they mention Bush, Iraq, media manipulation, economic stagnation, racial ghetto-ization, etc...

Where are bands like this today? Most of these bands enjoyed the status of being rock-press media darlings, especially Franti, who now trades under his own name and with a sort of peace n' patchouli circuit friendly rock thing. Consolidated went public with their courtship and subsequent dumping with big record labels, culminating with 1999's Dropped, but have been very quiet on the scene, even when releasing the occasional album.
The boys of EBN are involved with aspects of multimedia and marketing.

Who are the equivalents of these bands today, and would we get to hear them?
Hip hop, be it of the whiteboy variety, or otherwise, seems to be largely apolitical by comparison and perhaps safely so.
It's also interesting to note how much ire that band like Public Enemy and similar groups drew, and by comparison how much the debate seems to have died down now that most hip-hop has centered around an apolitical and nihilistic/narcissistic lyrical bent. By mimicking the imperialistic nature of our culture, and highlighting a self-destructive outlook, rap seems to have found a safe and profitable haven for itself.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Scar Stuff

An amazing new blog called Scar Stuff has lots of great old kiddie records (and other types) available as downloads that will ressurect a long-lost memory or two. As a little kid I had a lot of halloween and horror records. Scar Stuff has more than a couple that I had, back then.
One featured record was called Sounds Of Terror!
Because of the record's Pickwick level cheapness, I found it creepier than others, and so didn't play it very often.
It featured Monster Mash- which I loved as a kid- but the cover neglected to tell you that it was a cover version.
Upon listening to this again after many years:
I must've listened to this record more times than I remember, because each track brought back a flood of memories:
I remember wincing and skipping past the cover of Monster Mash because I thought it was such an affront to the original. I think the Vampire track affected me because of of its kind of sexy overtones (girl moaning and sighing, vampire breathing hard) which probably made for weird mixed messages for a young lad such as I.
But I'm pretty sure it was all the Man's Humanity to Man tracks that I found especially disturbing.
And I think the Exorcism track scared me alot, which was weird- given my almost complete lack of religious upbringing. Must've been that the movie the The Exorcist was still considered so taboo, and considered by some to be 'real'.
I ended up sitting on it on my bed and cracked off a big chunk of it.
Fun stuff.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Say it isn't so...
A P-town rock icon is gone.
Tom 'Pig Champion" Roberts is apparently dead. That's a big bummer, but not particularly surprising. He proudly weighed in at nearly 500 lbs. and drank like a fish, or pig, or something.
Thomas "Pig Champion" Roberts, guitarist for POISON IDEA, died at his home in Portland, Oregon, Monday night (Jan. 30). He was 47 years old. A founding member of the seminal punk band, he continued to appear with POISON IDEA throughout the late Nineties and into the new millennium, despite officially quitting the band in 1993. Variously described as "spectacularly fat," and "the single largest man in hardcore history," Roberts crowned himself "Pig Champion" after hitting an impressive 450 lbs. on the scales. The highly regarded guitarist was revered by a devoted following worldwide. No further information is available at this time.
He not only was one of the most oppressively loud guitar players, but hosted a radio show on Portland's KBOO radio, aquanting fans with classic '77 punk, European hardcore and Japanese spazzcore. He was also a big movie fan. I once had a conversation with him in a club parking lot about some damn long forgotten film. Now I'm struggling to remember it. Poison Idea was also my first ever real punk show, and I was hooked for years.
See ya later Tom.
I will look around for updates.