If there’s one band that pulled off the long, mysterious hiatus with mystique intact, it’s Bristol, England’s Portishead. Yet when the ’90s trip-hop act resurfaced in 2006, it had substantially changed — gone were the down-tempo beats and much of the melancholy, replaced with a new sound and sparse, driving rhythms that owed more to krautrock than Def Jam.
Beatsmith/songwriter Geoff Barrow was guiding it that way. Since the reunion, he’s been on fire, issuing music in a variety of guises with Beak> (a rock band), Quakers (a sprawling hip-hop project), and as Drokk (a soundtracking duo). That’s not including the records that Barrow has produced for others and released on his label, Invada.
With no shortage of topics in tow, we caught up with Barrow to talk about drum sounds, film scores, and writing music for Judge Dredd.
Some big names in independent music will roll through Raleigh, NC this September 6-8 for The Independent Weekly’s third annual Hopscotch Music Festival, with 170+ bands joining headliners The Roots, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Built to Spill.
The Dead Kenny Gs: “Black Truman (Harry the Hottentot)”
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Smooth-jazz lovers beware. As an antidote to the polished alto saxophones and rarely improvised easy-listening jams of adult contemporary music, eccentric jazz trio The Dead Kenny Gs has released its second album, Operation Long Leash. Given its play-on-words moniker that simultaneously drives a sock down the mouth of smooth-jazz king Kenny G and recalls the early ’80s hardcore-punk band The Dead Kennedys, the powerhouse trio taps into a sound that fuses jazz and punk. It’s a crazy mix that works surprisingly well, played intensely by a group that has the skill and knowledge to pull it off.
Composed of three of the members of legendary Seattle-based Critters Buggin — bassist Brad Houser, drummer and vibraphonist Mike Dillon, and saxophonist Skerik — the band uses its genre-mashing experience to anchor it all down. The trio has played in countless projects together, including all three in The Black Frames, and Dillon and Skerik comprise half of Garage a Trois. Needless to say, the three have run in the same circles for more than two decades, playing hybrid styles that are everything but conservative.
Justin Bartlett has created art for some of your favorite bands and labels: SUNN O))), Intronaut, and Southern Lord, among many others. A self-described “black-ink warlock from the grim and frostbitten raven-realm of Southern California,” Bartlett knows metal and doom aesthetics. It’s only natural that he knows of a few bands you should hear too.
Bands and Artists You Should Know by Justin Bartlett
Constructing a cohesive theme for my guest column at ALARM was not forming in my skull. Top Ten Album Releases for 2010? Top Ten Favorite Artists? Top Ten Fish Tacos? Hmm…nothing.
Perhaps this needs to be more KVLT and underground…Top 10 Cassette Releases? Nah, the tape thing has been played out enough. Bear with me….Top Six Uses of Upside-Down Crosses on Album Artwork? Ah, fuck it, here’s a list of nine bands and visual artists that I enjoy, find inspirational, or simply think are interesting and who you should check out for yourself. All of the visual artists I’ve listed have created artwork for bands, but some of the musicians/bands do not necessarily have outstanding album aesthetics. Either visually or musically (and sometimes both), they weave together textures that are dark, grim, and, to a person with a penchant for the negative, often cathartic.
Blessure Grave was one of the best things to come out of San Diego’s rather lackluster and safe indie music scene for years. Although its post-punk sound gives a nod to some of my favorites — Joy Division, Death In June, The Cure, and The Chameleons — the band played with enough conviction and creativity to avoid being too derivative. Structurally, the band has a very strong pop drive to its material with an underlying bedroom black-metal atmosphere. Blessure Grave released a ton of EPs on vinyl and cassette, and Judged by Twelve, Carried by Six was one of my favorite releases of 2010. Unfortunately, the band broke up recently, but luckily I was able to work on a cassette cover for When I Die before its demise. Blessure Grave’s mastermind, Tobias [Grave], started a new band called Soft Kill.
Aaron Turner, founder of Hydra Head Records and frontman for pioneering metal band Isis, is no stranger to the art of making an album, from the studio to the shelves.
In addition to laying down guitar riffs and vocals, Turner is an accomplished visual artist, responsible for cover art, layout, and package design for numerous bands. This unique knack for the aural and visual aspects of music inspired us to ask Turner about his favorite fellow double threats.
My Favorite Musicians/Artists/Designers by Aaron Turner
Album art is and always has been an extremely crucial component of the experience of an album for me. Though there certainly have been records I’ve loved that have had terrible cover art, most of those that have left an indelible footprint in my mind have been those with a visual presentation of power equal to that of the music.
When I think back on the records that have shaped my ideas about what it means to make music, I usually have a tangible feeling that comes with that recollection, a sense of the atmosphere that the record created for me and how that atmosphere was accentuated or more clearly defined by the accompanying sleeve art. As that has been true in the past for me, so it is now; when checking out new records, I’m consistently drawn to those with compelling covers that draw me in and make me what to know what’s going on inside.
In the last 10 years or so, I’ve become particularly interested in musicians who are also active participants in designing or creating artwork for the albums that they make. It seems logical to me that those people would have the best understanding of what the music is about and the clearest idea of how to communicate that visually. Some of my favorite album covers now are those that have been made wholly or in part by the musicians who also have created the music itself.
Below is a list of people who reside in that category of musician/designer/artist and who have excelled at both aspects of making memorable albums.
1. Fangs Anal Satan (Boris)
Boris has made some tremendous albums over the years, and the music has always been matched by the equally excellent illustration and design. Like the band, which has mutated through a series of different incarnations (in sound rather than personnel), so too have the visuals, without ever dropping in consistency of quality.
From album to album, numerous tactics have been employed: rigid restraint bordering on minimalism, unorthodox packaging materials (colored foam, die-cut cardboard, hand-painted boxes containing dried flowers, etc.), psychedelic fantasy scenes paying homage to ’70s album artist Roger Dean, parodies of classic metal logos (Venom), extensive and beautifully arranged LP-sized photo books. Each release is a special artifact in its own right and as such warrants even further focus towards the music and the packaging from the listener/viewer.
Following the intense yet melodic works of its first two albums, Age of Winters in 2006 and Gods of the Earth in 2008, The Sword stays true to its heavy, hook-laden aesthetic, delivering its most accessible album in Warp Riders.