The practice of thinking or making decisions with sound in a way that encourages creativity and individual responsibility.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Flogging the Flag

Today will mark the first post of many about the 2013 incarnation of Black Flag. I posted about them a bit back in April when I reviewed a live set by Good For You, a band that is essentially the "new" Black Flag with celebrity skateboarder Mike V as lead vocalist instead of Jealous Again-era singer Ron Reyes. I've been in Italy since July when a research assistant post was unexpectedly offered to me (maybe I'd expect it more if I didn't drink so much, sorry Mom), so my ambition to chronicle midwestern music happenings in the context of the wider underground has made this blogs' purpose a bit confused, but that doesn't mean I've been completely out of touch. I will hopefully be back in East Lansing for the spring semester but, life is a highway.

(Fuck me, I suck. But not as much as this.)

Now that my hilarious internet skills will have "Black Flag" search functions land on a page with a Rascal Flatts video (that features scenes from Cars and is also a terrible cover of a terrible song, seriously did you watch that shit?) I'm going to post my introduction to the neverending thesis on ye olde Flag. The most (basically, only) "traction" I've gotten from this blog has been my post about Good For You, and I perhaps unfortunately think about this band and its various formations more than some of my, y'know, paid work. My best friends back in Michigan discuss these things heavily with me so it wears on my mind, and will now manifest itself in all of its glory.

Black Flag has digitally released a new album (with a physical release to follow in December) called "What The..." and I've listened to it half a dozen times since it was first streamed on Tuesday. A lot of people on the internet are dismissing it, and a lot of the general "buzz" about the 2013 Black Flag is that they're terrible. I am going to weigh the critiques and offer my own opinions. As a fan, the story just keeps getting better and better. This is my closing sentence, and I was going to have it conclude with a pun about getting ready to Slip It In, but, fuck, I couldn't even finish typing that sentence so I'll just say stay tuned.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Six Weeks...

Six weeks without internet isn't so bad! I have just returned from fieldwork in Ghana (university stuff...) and am ready to set the blogosphere ablaze once again. Unfortunately, no wicked underground bands in Ghana came across my radar, though I've been enjoying the new Queens of the Stone Age over the last couple of days. Josh Homme seems to have re-discovered his muse after what have been some underwhelming-to-me records in the last 10 years, not that anyone asked me. Did anyone ask me to do any of this?!?!?!?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Good For You live at Mac's Bar / those whacky Black Flag guys

On Sunday April 21st I ventured into the depths of Lansing's Mac's Bar to catch Good For You, a new band featuring Greg Ginn from Black Flag and skateboarder Mike Vallely. For my money, Black Flag is near-untouchable in terms of hardcore punk from their 1978 debut EP Nervous Breakdown to their 1981 album Damaged, with the record getting fairly spotty afterwards. There's a couple of choice cuts on the following albums (the song "My War," "Black Coffee," "Retired at 21"), and Ginn's guitar work does get very interesting, but there's some pretty terrible songs (and terrible lyrics - see "Slip It In" and "Rat's Eyes") and in general Black Flag just don't seem to be any fun after 1982. I've listened to Ginn's post-Flag band Gone a bit, but otherwise all I know about the guy is that he doesn't seem to retain any friends from the "old days" and that the great bands signed to his SST Records label (i.e. Sonic Youth, Husker Du, Meat Puppets, Minutemen, Dinosaur JR) complain that he hasn't paid out adequate royalties. For these reasons Ginn is a bit of a punk-rock supervillain to fans - smart, inventive, pioneering, but malicious, uncompromising, and self-serving. He's also essentially retired from doing press so he remains fairly mysterious. To continue with the back story, in 2003 Ginn staged a Black Flag reunion series of a couple shows in the LA area to benefit cat shelters, which is fairly unique in terms of band reunion sagas, with his lineup featuring a smattering of lesser-celebrated former Flaggers (3rd vocalist/ current Misfit Dez Cadena, Damaged-era drummer/ sometime Misfit Robo, and the guy that played bass on Black Flag's last tour C'el) and, well, not Keith Morris, Chuck Dukowski, Bill Stevenson, or that Henry Rollins guy. Furthermore, Ginn opened these reunion shows with a full performance of the My War album featuring pre-recorded basslines, Gone drummer Gregory Moore, and Mike Vallely on lead vocals. As far as I know no footage of these shows, audio or visual, has ever surfaced but basically every review that you can find on this ol' internet is fairly scathing, particularly of the My War set. A fairly mysterious, controversial, and uncompromising epilogue to Black Flag, so it would seem.

The glorious Black Flag "bars."

However, in recent months the plot has thickened, with former members Keith Morris, Chuck Dukowski (both founding members of Black Flag along with Greg Ginn), Bill Stevenson, and Dez Cadena, joined by Descendents guitarist Steve Egerton, going on the road to play some festivals under the name FLAG to celebrate the music of Black Flag. At pretty much the exact same time SST Records announced that "Black Flag" was officially reforming with Greg Ginn and 2nd vocalist Ron Reyes, to be joined by Gone drummer Gregory Moore and a-to-be-announced bassist. Coinciding with this announcement was the forthcoming release of a new project called Good For You, featuring Ginn on guitar, Mike Vallely on lead vocals, and... Gone drummer Gregory Moore and a-to-be-announced bassist. Wait, what? Ginn does have a history of being active in multiple projects (Gone was the opening band on Black Flag's last tour) but, reading between the lines, it seems that he's formed 2 bands consisting of the same instrumentalists with different lead vocalists, one combination (Good For You) being the maligned My War reunion lineup. That Ginn is a tricky guy. About a month ago reports surfaced that the new bassist of Black Flag and Good For You was Dave Klein, then of the current lineup of Screeching Weasel, leading one to assume that there's a trade school for punk rock bassists with a specialty in dealing with asshole bandleaders. Recently, Vice writer Erick Lyle wrote a fascinating account of auditioning for the bassist position in the new Black Flag, confirming the Black Flag/ Good For You member crossover. Good For You is opening all of the dates for Black Flag's international tour, so this time it looks like Greg Ginn is really pushing for a grand musical plan, counter to the reports of the shambling, half-baked nature of the 2003 reunion. Then, FLAG played a secret warm up show at the site of the first Black Flag show ever in Redondo Beach, CA, and sounded awesome. Things are getting good.

I checked out a couple of the Good For You songs when they were first streamed on the internet, and I remember "Swinging Around" for how awkwardly bad the lyrics were, but in general it sounded like latter-day Black Flag, maybe a little less intense, but essentially the work of the same creative mind. Mike Vallely (whom I had briefly been "into" when trying to be a skater kid even more briefly about 12 years ago) has a good "Rollins" voice, so, at least the components are there for a decent formula. I wasn't too interested in this project until I realized it would be coming to my hometown punk rock dive of Mac's Bar - after realizing that this was essentially the new Black Flag's warmup tour, I was definitely in.

The show wasn't really promoted that well - the little blurb in the City Pulse barely mentioned the whole Black Flag connection, which on its own would have probably doubled the 50-some person crowd if, well, mentioned. It was also a Sunday and Good For You played a free show the night before an hour away in Grand Rapids, so that probably killed the potential for people traveling a ways to the show. Maybe all the Black Flag fans watched FLAG on youtube and decided to stay home. Anyway, the show was far from dead but I expected some more people to be there - watching Greg Ginn play guitar right in front of your face is at least worth one paid admission from me. When I got to Mac's I was somewhat surprised to see Ginn and Vallely just chilling in the main part of the bar, happily chatting with fans - granted, the rumors about the nasty state of the Mac's basement "green room" may have contributed to this, but they could have definitely hidden if they wanted to. Opening up the show were locals BerT and The Plurals, who both sounded really tight. I've seen both of these bands a bunch of times, but I thought they complemented the show well with BerT following the strand of later, drony, sludgy Black Flag and Plurals embracing the frantic chaos of early Black Flag, though both bands carry little resemblance to either. Maybe I was just overthinking. Mental blogging. I knew this would ruin my life. Anyway, I hung out on the perimeter of the bar for most of the show, content to observe things, and I noticed Ginn and Vallely both engaged with the opening bands and enjoying themselves. After each band was done I saw Ginn approach them and audibly introduce himself - "Hey, I'm Greg, thanks for playing tonight." I don't think a single member of either band could wipe the smiles from their faces. Was this guy really the controversial and difficult man that he's been portrayed to be?


Good For You set up their own gear; they didn't have any crew and Mike V was selling T-Shirts when someone approached the table. This really was a bare bones affair and I had to keep reminding myself that these guys were basically 4/5 of the new incarnation of Black Flag (Mike V has been reported to be Black Flag's co-manager and band spokesman, despite not being a member) and not just some touring band playing Mac's on a Sunday night. The band did a soundcheck of sorts that turned into a jam that turned into their first song, with Vallely tossing around his strawberry blonde mane, getting into the seemingly semi-improvised groove laid down by the musicians. With no pretension or fanfare they kicked out about 45 minutes worth of music, Ginn shaking his head around with his eyes closed as he peeled off one atonal guitar lick after another. I was fairly mesmerized and the whole thing seemed very surreal; the completely-engaged crowd seemed to be on the same page. How much of this was just novelty at seeing Ginn up close I'm not sure, but the songs that sounded fairly unremarkable when recorded had a nice live energy and was engaging at the very least. The guys seemed to be having a great time playing and kept smiling at each other - again, not what I would have expected. There seemed to be a lot of open passages in these songs with the guys veering into messy jams and then quickly tightening back up into their hardcore riffs, with Klein and Moore being a particularly groovy rhythm section. The band played what I think was every song off of their album (of which they had sold out of copies earlier in the tour) and then ended things with a jam, Vallely going on a monologue about "getting fucked up" while the others noodled around noisily.

After their set the musicians all just walked offstage and hung out with everyone. Ginn was predictably kept busy with greeting the fans, but he seemed happy to be there. I briefly said hi to Mike V, who seemed down to chat (I heard him say to a guy at the merch table that he was surprised they sold any records, let alone sold out of records), but otherwise I stayed out of the way and mused over a beer about what I had just seen. While I initially felt that Ginn pursuing a new Black Flag with the least prolific Black Flag singer and some other dudes was pretty lame and that FLAG would be the way to go for a 2013 live experience of the music, after witnessing this show I'm pretty much down for either incarnation - Ginn's band will likely be more experimental and tense, while FLAG will be more of a tribute/ revival show. I don't know if Ginn has the songwriting inspiration for new music up to Black Flag's standards, but he has the chops to at least play the stuff, and Moore and Klein seem up for the job to back him up.

"Aw gee, happy to help Mr. Ginn!" photo :johnbenite

The bar continued to have a party vibe, and eventually Ginn sat down at a table to roll a joint, with shots being taken by the whole band. Clearly things were going to continue in this vein for awhile, and I was feeling the pull of my morning assignments so I decided to call it a night. As I settled up at the bar and prepared to make my way home, I caught a glimpse of the villainous side of Ginn. Moore and Klein were happily chatting with the people at the bar, Vallely seemed to be "in charge" of the band and alternated between merch duties, talking with bar staff, and getting the other members to start getting their gear around, and Ginn was on the prowl for any female that would provide him some company. I alternately saw young women come up to say hi to Ginn and Ginn do the approaching himself and then quickly start grabbing and rubbing rather ungracefully with those masterful guitar playing hands. I even saw him trying to, I don't know, frisk the female drummer of The Plurals, who quickly dodged the situation, before Ginn found a girl probably about half his age that was at least okay with occasionally kissing him. Vallely looked over a couple of times, perhaps preparing himself to step in and get Ginn to leave these women alone, but ultimately nothing seemed to happen and the situation blew over. I don't know what Ginn's personal life is like at all, maybe he's lonely and seeking some sort of companionship and not every night is like this. I do know that as I walked out the Mac's Bar door I thought, definitively, that there was no trace of irony in the moronic lyrics to "Slip It In" after all.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Record Store Day! Eight Ball Grifter! Indie Kids Suck!

Happy Record Store Day! Check out the official website of Record Store Day to find out what's happening near you! I'm about to run over to Flat Black and Circular to catch Racket Ghost play a free set and check out the store's goods.

So, I saw the reunion show of legendary rockabilly punks Eight Ball Grifter last night, which featured opening sets by other great Lansing locals Flatfoot and Cash O'Riley. Man, what a great night. Mac's Bar was packed with tattooed dudes shoulder to shoulder. I was definitely among the younger folks in the crowd - the only time I saw Eight Ball Grifter play during their original run was at the (dearly departed) Temple Club in 2005 or something, but their heyday was more than 10 years ago. It definitely feels cool to glimpse the bigger picture of what Lansing has been over the years, and the fact that the air seemed to be tinged with whiskey made it all the more enjoyable.

They don't make 'em like they used to.

So, instead of ranting about younger bands not rocking and ground I've covered before here, I'm going to re-post a blog written by Kitty Vincent called "Hey Kids, Grow A Pair: How Music Blogs Neutered Indie Rock." She hit a lot of the same points I have, and puts a lot of it better than I could as well. It can be read over at Your Music Is Awful, but here's the full text:

Hey Kids, Grow a Pair: How Music Blogs Neutered Indie Rock

For my birthday this past January, a friend bought me a book called Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge by Mark Yarm. It’s a collection of stories told through interviews with the folks involved in the creation of the Seattle scene all those years ago.  The stories come from band members, club owners, press members, booking agents, sound guys, and kids who just hung around the clubs.  Mostly anecdotal stuff, stories about rock shows and getting high in the parking lot before hand.

Having entered adolescence in the early 90’s, the music of Seattle and Olympia played a huge role in the development of my musical tastes, so the book felt like a great chance for a stroll down memory lane.  But as I got further into it, with its stories of how The U-Men once got shut down for setting fire to a lake in front of their stage at the Bumbershoot Festival or the time Mark Arm, singer of Green River, finished a set swinging from a fluorescent ceiling light over a crowd of sweaty kids, I began to get more and more pissed off.
I’ll explain.  Around the same time I got the book, I’d been trolling the blogs for the ubiquitous end-of-year top 10 albums, and time after time the lists I found would have made dry toast seem fucking electrifying.  Here’s an example from an actual blog that I won’t name to protect the utterly boring.
  • 01: Of Monsters and Men – My Head is an Anima
  • 02: The Lumineers – The Lumineers
  • 03: John Samson – Provincial
  • 04: Mumford and Sons – Babel
  • 05: Sufjan Stevens – Silver and Gold
  • 06: The Walkmen – Heaven
  • 07: Beach House – Bloom
  • 08: Matt & Kim – Lightning
  • 09: fun. – Some Nights
  • 10: Jack White – Blunderbuss
Seriously?  This is the best 2012 had to offer?  Beach House? Mumford and Sons?  fun.?  Number 5 on the list is a Christmas album for Christ’s sake.  And this is from a reputable indie blog. (And yes, I know The Lumineers are a beloved Denver band made good, so don’t write me letters about it).  But honestly, when did all the skinny jeaned, fedora clad 20 somethings of the world decide to get together and completely fucking neuter music?  It’s like a whole movement of eunuchs out there walking around with synths and tambourines.

I’m so exhausted by this generation of watered-down, vaguely 60’s or vaguely folk, mid-tempo, non-offensive, cutesy indie music.  When I was 16 or 22 I wanted to break shit.  I was pissed off at an unjust world, at the indignities of high school, at my parents, at that ever-present dude who grabbed my ass at rock shows (I’m still pissed off at that dude, by the way).  I don’t get it, these kids grew up in a post 911, Patriot Act world where they will likely never make as much money as their parents or pay off their student debt and yet all they want to do is grow a beard, play the banjo, and hold hands.  What the fuck?
This can be blamed, to some degree, on the rise of the music blog.  I realize the irony of writing that on a music blog, but it is the reality all the same.  The Internet has created a space in which every journalism-major with an ironic t-shirt and a laptop has the power to shape popular culture.  It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t know who Brian Jones is or that he’s never listened to a T-Rex album all the way through.  It makes no difference that he can’t identify anything in the Talking Heads’ catalogue besides Burning Down the House.  You can’t see this person, you’ve never met him, and you have no idea if he has any credibility whatsoever, and yet, you’re letting him dictate your musical tastes to you. For all you know this kid spent his high school years listening to Linkin Park while trolling the web for date-rape porn.  He may have been a Juggalo until he was 18 when he discovered The Postal Service through some girl he had the hots for.  You don’t know.

Blogs have created a structure in which the handful of kids writing for the elite establishment like Pitchfork or Stereogum choose whatever unoriginal crap they like that week and all the little blogs fall in line.  They are all so busy jumping on each other’s bandwagons, nobody has bothered to notice their wagon train has been driving in a circle for roughly a decade now.

I say fuck the blogs.  Stop reading them (except for this one).  Lets go back to doing what we used to do.  Hanging out at record stores, going to shows, talking to actual people about what they’re listening to.  And stop buying singles from bands who put more energy into their hair cuts than they put into their songwriting, for fuck’s sake.  (I’m looking at you fun.)

There is a reason why bands like Nirvana took over the world in 1991 and why the new generation hasn’t been able to recreate that energy.  Nirvana came out of a small, tight-knit community of people who went to each other’s shows, played in each other’s bands and created a sound though collaboration and an authentic desire to make art that mattered to them.  They did this for no one but themselves, with no hope of achieving fame in a city that didn’t even exist as far as the industry was concerned.

In 1992, when Donita Sparks of L7 pulled out her tampon and threw it at the crowd at the Reading Festival, she didn’t do it to create a YouTube sensation or to make a Pitchfork top 10 list.  She did it in a moment of genuine defiance and frustration at a crowd flinging mud onstage.  She knew what was between her legs and she wasn’t afraid to use it.  And by that, I don’t mean a bloody tampon; I mean a serious pair of balls.  She had more balls than the members of Fleet Foxes can ever hope to have.  And that kids, is what rock and roll is all about.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Joyful Noise

Last week I saw Welsh alt-rock (not to be confused with burgeoning DJ scene ctrl-rock) band The Joy Formidable at the Loft in Lansing. I generally stay away from the Loft because it's a fairly sterile environment, the sound is often muddy, and in general they book D-list touring bands with tight pants and/ or tribute shows, but some friends talked me into making my way with them to this downtown locale and I found myself walking by the thrillingly named Thomas M. Cooley Law School stadium (home of the excuse-to-drink-in-public Lansing Lugnuts baseball team) on a rainy April evening with glass half-empty expectations. I'd heard the Joy Formidable on the radio a bit and didn't mind them - in many ways they sounded as if Lush had dispelled with their dated early 90s production work and added some muscle to the proceedings - but wasn't overly familiar with their material. I was in for a pleasant surprise in the end.
And I wasn't the only one!

I showed up during the second support band, a "hey, we're from Los Angeles" band from Los Angeles called Kitten. They covered Prince and then played lots of songs that sounded like Prince while their impish punk princess singer flailed on and off the stage, but then closed their set with a high energy garagey thrasher, so, in short, I have no idea if I would like their record. Anyway, next. I knew TJM (as the kids like to abbreve it) had a following but I was surprised at the number of enthusiastic slightly-younger-than-me college aged kids there were at the show, and everyone seemed so happy. The band came out and immediately started rocking out - and they wailed. This band was good enough that I just used one of the most cliched sentences I possibly could to review them, but they had the whole "tight rock band thing" down, with a very full sound proving once again that the power trio is damn near unbeatable when pulled off. But the crowd made me even more excited - these were those damned aloof Millenials, and they were sweating, shouting, and dancing (with even a bit of crowd surfing) like it was 1991 to a certified rock band. In this light even the Loft seemed like a cool place to see a show.
And with this show coming up soon I don't think I have a choice.

I walked out of the humid room at the end of the night to Michigan Avenue where the rain had let up and a bunch of kids were lined up outside of the band's tour bus. Maybe this modern world isn't so bad after all.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

It Takes A Village to Make Records

Sometimes you're just late to the game on things, but I don't let that bring me down - it just means there's lots to discover. It Takes A Village to Make Records is a label based out of Lansing that has a pretty cool post-modern approach to the "biz." Modeled after the old-school "singles clubs" of back in the day (most famously - in my mind - employed by Sub Pop in the 80s to build buzz for their new bands) ITAV releases a new 3 song split single by 3 different artists on a roughly monthly basis, available for download at a bandcamp page for $3 or for a one time only subscription fee of $30. Since they've already released 19 of these the subscription thing is actually a pretty good idea, and kudos to them for having the guts to present their work as something to pay for in this age where too many bands think they need to give everything away or no one will pay attention.

Pictured: the next Bon Iver

Not that I've subscribed yet - you can stream all of the tracks on the bandcamp site, which is nice. I'll get around to it - the site says that the money goes to a fund to help independent touring bands, which is pretty neat. Anyway, I just found out about this label, and I don't know why. Looking over the previously released artists there's a lot of people that I'm into, including some that I've posted about on here (People's Temple, the Jackpine Snag) and some that I've loved for a long time (Calliope, Flatfoot). Laziness? Confusion? It's nice to feel a little less jaded - a blogging no-no!

The site actually came on my radar because I was doing a little online research on local sound engineering services and found a fairly funny post from the other day by the main guy who runs the label (who also is, I believe, one of the curators for the East Lansing art gallery/ venue (SCENE) Metrospace) where he admits to getting a track mastered improperly and having to do damage control. The whole thing struck me as very humanizing, which is interesting in the internet age and for a label that largely exists as a digital medium. The meaning implied by the name "It Takes A Village" would, to my partially educated ass, be something to do with community building, something very important to a vibrant music scene and just in general. So, kudos to the folks over at ITAV. I've got some listening to catch up on.

Thursday, March 28, 2013


So I actually caught a glimpse of sunshine today and finally got a feeling that I had forgotten called "motivation." And this motivation has led me to briefly rave about one of my favorite Lansings bands, BerT.

Unassumingly named, confusingly punctuated, these dudes play super heavy music (but, thankfully, not "Super Heavy") that isn't remotely metal. Slow, droney, strangely melodic, powerful, nearly nauseating in its sonic wall. I just dig 'em. A couple of these guys were in a really fun band called Red Teeth awhile back, and they run a label called Madlantis Records. I've never really listened to their recordings, I think partially because I'm afraid I'll be disappointed at the lack of the visceral assault of the live show... but I should probably change that as there's a bunch at that website. They play often, and at the end of April they're playing at Mac's Bar with Black Flag founder Greg Ginn's probably mildly insane and likely mediocre new band Good For You (named by Mr. Ginn in a rare moment of clarity at what this project probably won't accomplish).

On the "national" scene, I've been trying, and failing to get into the new Strokes record, and I'm glad I wasn't at SXSW this year.