Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Hostile Carbon Units: Standing on a Floor of Bodies Invite You to Their Creepshow

It's impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror... Horror has a face... and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies! I remember when I was with Special Forces... seems a thousand centuries ago. We went into a camp to inoculate some children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for polio, and this old man came running after us and he was crying. He couldn't see. We went back there, and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile. A pile of little arms.

Apocalypse Now

Horror is the central tenet of Standing on a Floor of Bodies’ grisly grind. Not the cheap corn syrup spray of lazy goregrind and generic slasher films, but the soul crushing starkness of naked terror and unsettling atmosphere. Musical mastermind Mike Stitches wants to be that adrenal itch beneath your epidermis, the prickling hair at the back of your neck as you walk down an unlit street on a moonless night.
“The atmosphere in any convincing horror film is so undeniably massive and encompassing and I've always wanted to capture that in another way,” Stiches said. “Whether I've been successful at this is rather subjective. Depends mostly on the listener and what s/he considers scary. I've always been drawn to movies like Carrie (original), Texas Chainsaw Massacre (original), House of the Devil, Calvaire and The Conjuring, where the mood is centered around isolation, darkness, tension, claustrophobia and hopelessness. You just know when Leatherface appears for the first time in Texas Chainsaw that his first victim is beyond fucked at that point. Or when Jack Torrance starts whaling at the bathroom door with his axe. Those moments beg to be matched musically.”

Die! Die! My Darling!

There’s something undeniably cinematic about Standing on a Floor of Bodies’ unique blend of bass-driven grind and the perfectly matched murder scene visuals, which look like they were swiped from the cops’ cold case files or an Unsane photoshoot. Stitches and his wife, musical accomplice and all around survivor girl Bvnny specialize in 45 second fright fests that run the gamut of fight or flight responses on albums like the nightmarish Sacrilegious and Culturally Deficient. It’s a match made in matrimony and the sanguinary aisle of your local videorama.
“In terms of working on a project like this, it's good to work with someone who understands the overall intention and purpose, which she definitely does. So, I don't have to spend all this extra time throwing movies, records and books at her. She's seen all that stuff, which is a relief,” Stitches said. “Now every time we experience something new and interesting, it's usually together. Or if I find something on my own, I usually show her right away. I'll never forget when we watched You're Next. We were at this theater in the desert in the middle of the day and there were probably like 20 people in the place. We laughed our asses off the whole time at these yuppies just getting decimated. Before, I'd usually have to wait for a movie like that to come out on DVD, rent it, watch it by myself and then sample it after a long day at work because nobody I knew at the time would be into it. With Bvnny, she'll usually grab me and be like, ‘Dude, when this comes out, you GOTTA sample that part’ or ‘that would make an awesome album cover.’”
Adding Bvnny to the mix on Sacrilegious and Culturally Deficient gave Stitches an extra sounding board for the music as well as let him farm out the lyrics, something he’d tackled in prior band thousandswillide but never really considered his strong point.

The Sound of My Voice

While she’s the band’s dedicated lyricist, Bvnny gets extra assistance from the duo’s choice taste in samples to bolster their aesthetic. The samples are integral to developing Standing on a Floor of Bodies’ creepy crawly vibe and Bvnny and Stitches have been known to abuse their Netflix privileges in search of inspiring sounds.
“Samples are an on-going process and can be totally random. Bvnny and I will be watching a movie and sometimes won't send back to the DVD to Netflix until I've picked through almost every scene, if it's a really good source,” Stitches said. “The manipulation process is more dependent upon the song writing, of course. It just takes time to figure out what's going to work well. What usually happens is I'll suddenly come up with a few ideas out of nowhere, finally get home and program the drums, record bass tracks over them, throw them on my iPod and listen to my own demos for months before actually recording anything officially. This give me a chance to think things over and make adjustments where needed. Most of these demos don't have any sampling involved until I'm just about ready to record, others will be written around samples. It all kinda depends on what we're working with at the time.”
Given that he puts that much thought an effort into the sound of Standing on a Floor of Bodies, it’s no surprise that Stitches is equally meticulous about finding a visual that perfectly matches the racket.
“Music and artwork on an album can work so powerfully together. I think if you're an intelligent musician that doesn't make the effort to merge those two somehow, you're not really applying yourself. Because a record can have a huge impact the listener, even more so than most people you meet,” he said. “There's always going to be some shithead who hassles you to digest 50 brand new bands that all want to musically, lyrically and visually recreate Napalm Death’s Scum. Nobody needs to listen to that guy. The desired result should be ‘holy shit, this is interesting. Where do I get more?’ Not, ‘okay, cool, I got yet another punk by numbers record with a landfill or mass grave on the cover.’ Find what fucking knocks the wind out of you musically and enjoy it for yourself and with anyone who likes it as much as you do.”
And it’s not like Stitches will ever lack for inspiration.
“I've still got probably hundreds of samples from movies that haven't ended up on any song on any release (yet),” he said. “There's some days where all I do is sample movies and play around with layers and layers of noise.”

Monday, October 28, 2013

Good Reads: Two Thumbs Up

The book: Zeroville by Steve Erickson

Cinema has always haunted Steve Erickson’s best work from the stuttering movie critic protagonist of Amnesiascope (a doppelganger of the author) through the lost film masterpiece that lurks at the fringes of the narrative of Days Between Stations. But Erickson never gave himself over to the silver screen as wholly as in Zeroville, the story of film editor Vikar Jersome, who wanders into Hollywood with Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor from A Place in the Sun tattooed on the side of his head. His eventual rise to cinematic prominence parallels the advent of New Hollywood and the book is filled with veiled allusions to artists such as William Friedkin, Robert Deniro and John Milius. Vikar is described as “cine-autistic” by one of the other characters. Awkward and detached in social situations, he’s prone to repeating other people’s opinions verbatim when at a loss for something to say, but Vikar is completely steeped in the glamour of Hollywood’s golden age and his journey across Los Angeles is a pilgrimage that pays homage to the city’s movie landmarks from the hotel where Clift once lived (and supposedly where D.W. Griffith haunts) to the graveyards of nascent Hollywood’s most prominent stars.True to the Hollywood spirit, it's only fitting that Erickson be the first Good Reads author to get a sequel.

A representative passage:
“Fuck continuity,” says Vikar
Silence falls over the meeting. This is the first thing that anyone in the meeting has heard Vikar say.
“The scenes of a movie,” Vikar says, “can be shot out of sequence not because it’s more convenient, but because all the scenes of a movie are really happening at the same time. No scene really leads to the next, all scenes lead to each other. No scene is really shot out of order. It’s all a false concern that a scene must anticipate another scene that follows, even if it’s not been shot yet, or that a scene must reflect a scene that precedes it, even if it’s not been shot yet, because all scenes anticipated and reflect each other. Scenes reflect what has not yet happened, scenes anticipate what has already happened.” Vikar rises from his chair. Los Angeles is the City of the Real, whose stories are as old as time, where people go to hide from God, unlike the more hopeful, childlike people of New York. “Scenes that have not yet happened,” he explains to those around the table, “have.” New York makes sense to Vikar now—as he leaves the room, everyone staring after him –in a way it never did when he was there.

A bonus representative passage:
Vikar is wholly consumed by film. That is until he’s working on a film in New York City in the late ’70s and comes across a seedy bar in the Bowery that exudes a raucous rock ‘n’ roll noise he only knows as the Sound.

It’s not just a music, rather it’s the Sound, the real Music everyone has tried to tell him over the years that all the other music was when it wasn't.
Vikar is standing on the Bowery outside what seems to be a tunnel cut into a bunker. The sidewalk is crowded with more kids like he saw in St. Marks Place, as well as old people sleeping under newspapers and drunks stumbling through the crowd asking for money. A dirty barefooted woman shivers under a yellow awning in nothing but the paper-thin gown that patients wear in hospitals.
The address on the awning is 315. There are nonsensical letters on the awning that spell nothing. A mystifying hand-written cardboard sign on the black glass doors that says
and while nothing about this is comprehensible to him, the illicitly narcotic Sound is irresistible and he goes inside, the doorman eying him with wonder.

The album: Los Angeles by Graf Orlock

Obviously, no other grind band is as equally enraptured by the power of cinema as Graf Orlock. Where other bands are content to sample bits of dialogue here and there to set off their songs, Graf Orlock are wholesale remixers who spin new stories out of repurposed dialogue and samples jailbroken from the context of their original films. Like Erickson’s Zeroville, the Los Angeles EP is their love letter not just to films but to the city that births them. It’s a tribute to the ways film reflects the glorifies the city and the way the very streets and architecture have given birth to the movies themselves, an Oroborus of influence and mutual reinforcement that just can’t happen anywhere else.

A representative song: Just listen to the whole damn thing

Thursday, October 24, 2013

G&P Review: Daggra

Grindcore Karaoke

There’s a sweet spot, a musical Lagrange point precariously poised between the twin gravitational tugs of Cellgraft’s slingshot sweep past the sun and Priapus’ bulldozing gas giant mass (yes, that means it kinda sorta sounds like Circle of Dead Children). That’s where Daggra chose to set up shop, in the relatively stability between speed and mass.
Now Daggra won't be knocking any of the aforementioned trio of grinding greats from their laureled perches just yet, but this is a band that shows some promise once they grow into their sound. Daggra keep the fundamentals of their attack simple. Their songs are a full bore charge into your face that seeks to overwhelm with brute force rather than muck about with messy strategy. To that end, they keep the riffs concise and catchy. Songs follow that comfortable formula of short, punky build up into grind explosion, all executed in 100 seconds or left. Six originals and an Insect Warfare cover are enough to convey what Daggra are all about. But that simplicity and familiarity also mean Daggra won’t be blowing you away with originality. This is squarely in the comfort food category of grind, familiar and filling but none too challenging to the palette.
If there’s one other knock on Daggra’s attack it would be the percussion. I can’t tell if it’s an issue of performance or production, but the drums seem divorced from the other instruments at times. It’s like the drums are chasing the song when they should be diesel-spewing engine that powers the whole spiel. A more robust performance there may have been just enough to jump Daggra up from faithful followers of grind’s finer traditions to a band able to inject new blood into a well worn formula.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Good Reads: Children of Men

The book: Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo

If all you know of Akira is Otomo’s own (admittedly awesome) anime adaptation of his masterwork, then you’ve only scratched the surface of the story. The film version barely touches on the events of the first volume of his six phone book-sized tomes, chronicling the plight of psychic street punks in decaying Neotokyo. The film ably captures the body horror aspect as Tetsuo’s newfound power rips his body apart, but it doesn’t quite capture the same sense of social horror as Otomo addresses the fraying ties that unite a country and the uneasy alliances that are left over when rigid hierarchies fall away and people are forced to shift for themselves. There’s certainly a lot more going on with Akira than bike punks on a rampage. Check out the books and widen your scope on an anime classic. Like Gojira before it, Akira starts with a thinly veiled allusion to the atomic bombing of Japan, bifurcating of the country's history and casting aside the rigid ordered past in favor of something new and unsettled. The unease that accompanies all sudden social upheavals strongly informs Otomo's tale as the cross section of complex characters each try to grapple with the unknowable power represented by the titular, godlike Akira and his insane chamberlain Tetsuo.

A representative passage:
“Ours is a young nation, and some might say it’s vulnerable! It is true we are yet weak, without laws or a constitution… …But a glorious future awaits us if we remain steadfast in our will and in our faith! Interference from the outside world will not be tolerated! We will repel all attacks whether from the United States, Russia… .. or even from Japan herself! … This land is our land!”

The album: Orphan by GrindLink

Orphan is a good theme because Otomo’s Neotokyo is a culturally isolated city full of people who have been disconnected from their past and their culture by the power of Akira. Cast adrift from its history and social institutions, Akira’s world is full of people who are forced to make compromised choices out of ignorance and necessity just to get by. GridLink’s freneticism and Far East fascination perfectly pair with the dizzying, neon-fried landscape that dominates Otomo’s masterpiece.

A representative song: “Orphan”

I never wanted this distance
This distance between myself and the rest of the world

Unanswered voicemails the cursor hangs anxiously
Waiting for words that never come
Pages filled with scraps of life imagined
Reconstructed like the act of a murder scene
I don't want the baggage of things that are left unsaid
Somewhere in between we've lost ourselves

Keep our cards close it's how we wear our lies
Together but we are alone
Bridge of memories, that ends in death cycling like cover flow
Why are we trapped where only shadows fall?
How do we belong?
Punching holes in myself when there's no holes left to cut and regret does not absolve

It's all falling apart in my hands
It's all I have
Choked up
Bled out
Waiting for tears
Will they come?

Further our hearts
Our rendered voice
Across the world
Still the tears won't come

Thursday, October 17, 2013

G&P Review: Slavestate 641A

“It was you who inoculated me with selfishness, pride and cruelty, and you shall be their first victim. I now literally enjoy having a human being that thinks and feels and desires like myself in my power; I love to abuse a man who is stronger in intelligence and body than I, especially a man who loves me.
“Do you still love me?”
“Even to madness,” I exclaimed.
“So much the better,” she replied, “and so much the more will you enjoy what I am about to do with you now.”
“What is the matter with you?” I asked. “I don’t understand you, there is a gleam of real cruelty in your eyes today, and you are strangely beautiful—completely Venus in Furs.”
Without replying Wanda placed her arms around my neck and kissed me. I was again seized by my fanatical passion.
“Where is the whip?” I asked.

Ritter von Leopold Sacher-Masoch
Venus in Furs

Slavestate 641A
Grindcore Karaoke/Name Like His Master

There’s a very limited subset of humanity that wants to hear their shitty, repetitive, inconsequential lives recreated in a droning, stumbling, implacable audio form. Even noted musical bummers Mike Gira and Justin Broadrick had to take decade-long vacations into the realms of the ethereal and more upbeat (relatively speaking, here) before diving back into the broken pavement misery of daily survival.
That’s all an elaborate way of saying the Slavestate 641A is probably not for everyone, even in the target demographic of people primed to hoover up anything that boasts 66 percent of Robocop as its creative nexus. Masochist is unrelenting in its repetitive slow motion negativity. It just wears you down through sheer heft and indifference that take the most antagonistic output of artists like Swans and Godflesh as a starting point then beats them into submission.
The product of a 24 hour recording process that involved homebrew DIY recording tech, lashes from belts and near drowning while trying to scream underwater, Masochist lives up its name, grinding away at two songs carved from endless waves of slow motion repetition that soundtrack a lifetime of organs slowly failing and machinery sputtering to a half from routine wear. It’s an audio diary transported from the realms of Stephen King’s Dark Tower, the sound of a tired world that’s “moved on,” its technology and very reality wearing out and decaying in its wake.  The keening “Screwdriver” stumbles and throbs like a cyborg angina, a congestive heart failure of faltering components and broken down circuitry. The slithering “Reptile Enclosure” is more organic, the  suffocating throes of an animal too weary to even flail at the prospect of death. The song is attenuated droning near the point of stasis (think Khanate at their most dessicated), which probably makes it the more difficult of the two to truly appreciate as music. But it does get across its fundamental musical mission.
Slavestate 641A do not make feel good music to soundtrack your humdrum life. This is something a little more challenging that maybe deserves some additional thought but is admittedly targeted to a very narrow demographic set. If audio self flagellation is your thing, you can do worse than Masochist.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Six, Six, Six

Happy sixth birthday, G&P, you gigantic time sink in my life.
Just a couple months ago I couldn’t imagine reaching this milestone. I was burned out, lethargic, my writing sucked ass and I was ready to just chuck the whole damn thing. But here I am marking the sixth anniversary of the blog. Funny how things change in the course of a couple of weeks.
So once again, I want to take stock of it all so I never get complacent and forget what an amazing privilege this has all been. I just want to take the time to thank every one of you for stopping by and reading, indulging me in all of this. Thank you for chipping in and making this fun. I wouldn’t be here and I couldn’t do any of this without your support.
Thank you to every awesome band that’s ever sent me stuff to listen to. I apologize again for taking so fucking long to get around to writing about you. I know it’s only gotten worse lately. I’m working on that, I promise.
Thank you as well to everyone who’s ever done an interview. Those are definitely my favorite parts of this. I wish I had the time and energy to do them more often. I’m working on that too. I especially want to dive back into the long, in depth band histories again, provided Lil Grinder will give me the time.
After six years, I kinda feel like I just now really understand what I want the blog to be and where it should go. It’s taken half a decade to maybe figure out what my niche is. Hopefully you guys dig it and stick around.
A couple months ago I gave serious thought to packing it all in because I was tired and burned out. Nothing was really exciting me. I found my inspiration again just before I was about to pull the trigger. I can still envision shutting it all down one day. But then it will be on my terms and not in a fit of pique. Until then, I’m just going to enjoy the opportunities the blog has opened up for me and take it all as it comes.
Thanks everybody for making it happen.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

G&P Review: Blurring

Jan. 26 2013 Demo

The garbage plate is Rochester’s culinary gift to the world. It’s a gut-busting catchall of fried potatoes, baked beans, hotdogs, chili and whatever else is at hand. It’s also a pretty convenient metaphor for Rochester’s resident metal scene, an omnivorous blend of hardcore, grind, death metal and related musical roadkill that managed to be fast and burly while still cramming in enough bent technicality to keep things aslant without ever sliding into music nerd math dissertation territory. The ground zero of the city’s musical mayhem was the almighty Lethargy, a circus-souled calliope of grind blitz, death metal intensity and just plain oddball time signatures. That unique collection of cavemen with calculators later spun out Rochester’s roster of signature bands including Kalibas and Sulaco (also something called Mast-O-Don, whatever that is).
If that specific sound sets your limbic system aflame, please allow me to direct your attention to Blurring, which boasts the services of Rochester institutions Matt Colbert (Kalibas) and Erik Burke (Kalibas, Lethargy, Sulaco, Brutal Truth and plenty of others).  Blurring sound exactly as you imagine given that cast of characters, the perfect way station between Lethargy’s balls out insanity and Kalibas’ chunk/skronk dumpster diving, all overtopped by Burke’s instantly recognizable howler monkey yowl . [Burke is actually the drummer. I apologize for the mistake.] Blurring appropriate just about every offshoot on the metal tree in pursuit of pure heaviness. There are only three teasing tracks to be found on their demo, but it’s enough to get the salivary glands a-drooling like one of Pavlov’s hounds. Hopefully Blurring pile that garbage plate high with a second helping soon.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Good Reads: Oedipus Wrecks

The book: The Dead Father by Donald Barthelme

Don’t be alarmed. The loud buzzing and the flashing lights you’re experiencing are simply the Very Important Metaphor Early Warning System kicking in. You see, Thomas has a problem with his Dead Father. Thomas, along with his lover Julie and a host of underpaid, alcohol-deprived malcontents, is dragging the city-block sized corpse of his Dead Father across the country in hopes revivifying him. But the Dead Father is not, strictly speaking, dead. The Dead Father can still speak, hand down pronouncements and generally tries to order around everyone’s life. When he doesn’t get his way, the Dead Father has been known to run off into the woods and put various tiny woodland creatures to the sword to vent his rage. The metaphor seems almost insultingly obvious, and in the hands of a lesser craftsman, it would be. But Donald Barthelme wrote the way Monet painted. He steamrolls you with waves of sentence fragments that individually reveal little but taken together weave a pointillist tapestry of vivid, obsessive detail in the mode of David Foster Wallace. Barthelme was a master of ribald absurdity and telling anachronism. He turned Snow White into a farce of sexual mores and inverted King Arthur into a parable of the Cold War. Sure, he was working out some fairly Freudian issues with The Dead Father, but like poor beleaguered Thomas, it’s all about what the journey reveals.

A representative passage:

I don’t like this, said the Dead Father.
What? asked Julie. What, dear old man, don’t you like?
You are killing me.
We? Not we. Not in any sense we. Processes are killing you, not we. Inexorable processes.
Inexorable inapplicable in my case, said the Dead Father. Hopefully.
“Hopefully” cannot be used in that way, grammatically, said Thomas.
You are safe, dear old man, you are safe, temporarily, in the mansuetude of our care, Julie said.
The what?
The mansuetude that is to say mild gentleness of our care.
I am surrounded by creepy murderous pedants! the Dead Father shouted. Unbearable!
Thomas handed the Dead Father the pornographic comic book.
Now now, he said, no outbursts. Read this. It will keep you occupied.
I don’t want to be occupied, said the Dead Father. Children are kept occupied. I want to participate!
Not possible, said Thomas. Thank God for the pornographic comic book. Sit there and read it. Sit there with your back against that rock. Thank the Lord for what is given to you. Others have less. Here is a knapsack to place between your back and the rock. Here is a flashlight to read the comic book by. Edmund will bring your Ovaltine at ten. Count your blessings.

The album: The Jester Race by In Flames

Jumping off the grindcore track briefly, The Jester Race is an album that’s chained to the past and struggles with the way our histories come to define our futures. Each song seems to contain some nugget of the same thought from the backwards looking “Artifacts of the Black Rain” through the inability of mankind to learn from its prior mistakes in “Graveland” or the way “Dead Eternity” promises that “time will be your master in this laborious part of human subsistence.” And perhaps too on the nose for our purposes, there’s “Dead God in Me.”

A representative song: “Dead God in Me”

To slit the grinning wounds
from childhood's seven moons
the palette stained with the ejaculated passions
(of forbidden, hedonistic colors...)

Strike from omnipotence; all-seer, all-deemer
and haunt my severed country with your
dripping, secret games

You pick the unripe lilies
deflored and peeled the bleeding petals
made known to me
the grainy stains, the crimson lotus
of the Black-Ash Inheritance,
the semen feed of gods and masters
The worms still in me,
still a part of me,
racing out from leaking rooms,
swoop from broken lungs to block the transmission
to put an end to the nomad years

you are the
dead god in me

Thursday, October 3, 2013

G&P Review: Sacridose

Anxiety Tremors
Financial Ruin/Bandcamp

PROTIP: plunking a sweet Rudimentary Peni cover (“Only Human”) in the middle of your EP will put a big coprophagic smile on Andrew’s face, predisposing him to shower oodles of wordy praise upon your efforts. I get that no band wants their slaved-over recording judged solely on their deft handling of someone else’s music, hacking out covers like some garage denizen. I’m just saying it greases the critical skids around these parts.
Because Sacridose have so much more going for them than excellent interpretations of choice cuts of psycho British punk classics. For starters, you may recognize the name and riffs of guitarist Ryan Zell from a little band called Cellgraft. But Sacridose is not just a victory lap rerun of a band that fizzled too soon. While there’s a nod back to Zell’s old stomping grounds, Anxiety Tremors rumbles along like Repulsion crossed with His Hero is Gone and its XX chromosome presence at the mic creates some aesthetic and attitudinal overlap with Cloud Rat. There's not a single word in that sentence that shouldn't trigger the pleasure centers of your little grinding noggin.
In a whisker under nine minutes, Sacridose are not interested in belaboring the point. Each song snags a central riff or a vocal quirk, builds around that and politely steps aside once it’s made its point. In fact, the 93 second “Only Human” cover is the album’s longest track by a good 20 seconds but more often by nearly a minute. That fact makes repeat performances a must. Each fragment from the floor-punching “Faceless” through the energy drink shot of the introductory “Poison Design” are models of songwriting economy that can be unpacked to reveal a plethora of little tricks that each contribute to a model song. All that and a great Rudimentary Peni homage. What more can you ask?

[Full disclosure: the band sent me a download.]