Batshit Insane Vol. 3: BXI

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BXI – Boris and Ian Astbury – This EP brings out the best of both Cult lead singer Ian Asthbury and Japanese metal gods Boris.  Whenever I think of this music, I think of the shot of the older Conan in Conan the Barbarian, sitting on his throne like some kind of decadent Viking king:

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The EP features three originals with Astbury on lead vocals and one cover version of The Cult song Rain, with the petite female Japanese guitarist Wata on vocals.  The music is heavy, but artier and more damaged than most metal.  Astbury continues his lyrical fascination with Native American spirit imagery, which is strange coming from an Englishman, but that somehow always works in his favor.

The music sounds tired, but not in the way that that word would typically be applied to music.  It is decadent and world weary, like a warrior that has gone too far and crossed the final borderline, overly satiated on bloodlust and sex.  There is nothing left to do now but sing a death song while crossing the threshold.  There is a strange violent beauty to this music.  The sound of one defeated only because there is nothing left to conquer.

For the first week of 2015 I am writing pieces about records that I can only describe as “batshit insane”.  These are brilliant albums that are so dark they cross the threshold into a knowing comedy.  If you want to understand exactly what I mean in more detail read the first paragraph from the start of this series:

I love records that one can only describe as sounding “batshit insane”.  Where the artist seems as if they are out-crazying the din and the whirlwind of the Great Void.  Albums that trump death, even if the artists are alive and the albums don’t even have death as a central theme because, even if it is subconsciously, they know it is out there and they seem not to give a shit.  I am reminded of the character at the end of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle who dies, “lying on my back, grinning horribly, and thumbing my nose at You Know Who.”  I also think of George Carlin, putting on a show making the batshit insanity of this world hilarious, and then ending his set by standing on one leg with his arms outstretched, daring to be smited.  These are albums where artistic fear is not only not present, it almost seems as if the artists are daring you not to like them.  Albums like this make me laugh out loud and warm my heart to its very foundation.  I could be having the worst day possible and when I put one of these records on I think, “Thank God they are out there.”  I wanted to write about several of these records to start 2015 out on the right foot.  My goal is to post at least one record a day for the next week.  I’m just having fun, like a child skipping through a field.

Passionless Voices and The Death of Sex in Music

“It’s a miracle that I’ve lived this amount of time without having destroyed a person. But I still have a little bit of time.” – Maurice Sendak

I got a bunch of iTunes gift cards yesterday for Christmas.  I was combing the indie rock websites Louder than War and Pitchfork hoping to discover the great new indie band.  Fucking hell it was frustrating.  It just seemed like style after style with no substance, or great music with an incredibly dodgy singer.  Everything just seemed like an elaborate rouse with an empty center, kind of like most Christopher Nolan movies.  Especially if you compare the indie scene to the great post punk indie scene of the early 80’s, it just seems like children playing with toys.  (And I was too young to enjoy that scene when it was happening so you can’t peg me with nostalgia.)  Too many musicians that figured out how to make cool sounds, without understanding how to organize those sounds for maximum impact.

I kept thinking about this Camille Paglia article about Lady Gaga called:

Lady Gaga and the Death of Sex

Now of course I realize that Gaga isn’t indie.  But these two paragraphs really struck me and also make me feel like you could insert any number of indie bands in place of Gaga’s name:

Gaga is in way over her head with her avant-garde pretensions… She wants to have it both ways – to be hip and avant-garde and yet popular and universal, a practitioner of gung-ho “show biz”. Most of her worshippers seem to have had little or no contact with such powerful performers as Tina Turner or Janis Joplin, with their huge personalities and deep wells of passion. 

Generation Gaga doesn’t identify with powerful vocal styles because their own voices have atrophied: they communicate mutely via a constant stream of atomised, telegraphic text messages. Gaga’s flat affect doesn’t bother them because they’re not attuned to facial expressions.

Although there is a lot of new music that sounds somewhat emotional, it is that fiery passion, that ability to do something visceral to connect, that seems missing.  One of the reasons most of my best albums of 2014 were older artists, some of them my Dad’s age or older, is that those artists have a strong personality that cuts through any musical style that they might be attempting.  They have something to say and aren’t afraid to say it.  Not only that, but their singing voices are the voices of those that aren’t afraid to communicate passionately and directly.

My Dad and I were talking last night about why there is no strong social movements like there was in the 60’s.  He even commented that he felt music was one of, if not THE, leading force in changing peoples’ consciousness so that they got involved at a political level.

Now I think that one reason that strong passionate music is not on the airwaves, whether that be mainstream or indie music, is that radio DJs are now exponentially more constricted than they were in the past.  Unless it is public radio there are very few radio stations that are driven by restrictive playlists.  There are music lovers that like me will sift through music for hours to find something inspiring.  However, a great deal of people are only going to be made aware of something if they hear it in some fashion.

On top of this, again, I think you have too many singers that cannot use their voices to communicate true passion.  Autotune is obviously partially to blame, as it robs singers of their personalities in order to make singing more perfect.  (I do like when Autotune is deliberately used to make something sound like it is emotionally distant as on Kanye West’s 808 and Heartbreak or Laurie Anderson’s Homeland.)  But too many singers now, those that sing with their natural voices, seem to have thin reedy voices that by their very nature do not sound passionate in anyway.  Even the ones seem like they are trying to sing passionately seem more like they are imitating it than actually feeling it.  Music is a highly emotional art form.  If you don’t convey what you want with any real passion, can you really complain when nobody gives a fuck about what you have to say, in a way where they actually might be moved to do something different in their lives?

Anyway, I need to go take a musical shower with some records that don’t make me feel like I’m listening to someone on Xanax…

Violence and Living in the Moment

One of the interesting thoughts in Bill Buford’s Among the Thugs, a book about soccer hooligans and crowd violence surrounding soccer matches, is that people participate in violence because it is pleasurable.  When people are in a violent situation they are living in the moment.  They get a physical high very similar to drugs or sex.  They are in a sense truly living in the moment. 

We often view living in the moment in the positive.  Eastern religions such as Buddhism teach one to live in the moment.  When the mind wanders it often creates suffering as we worry about the future or relive painful past experiences.  Meditation teaches one to turn off the chattering of the mind.  If you can learn to live in this way and be compassionate it is a very good way to live your life. 

Also in Western society we often value those that can live in the moment.  We may say that so and so, “really new how to live because they made the most of every day.”  Again if you can make the most of every day and not let the past or future trip you up, while being positive, this would again be a great way to spend your life.  One should be able to reflect on the beauty in the world at any given moment if possible. 

However, it is also the lessons that we learn from the past and the future implications of our actions that teach us not to be selfish.  I think it is possible to live in the moment in the wrong way.  My dad, who just spent several months in Japan, has been telling me about how Buddhists are often the most peaceful people, but that they also make the best warriors.  This is because in living in the moment they learn not to fear death.  Also, I’m sure that many of you know many people who live in the moment, aren’t troubled by the chattering mind, but are very selfish.  They live in the moment only for their own personal pleasure. 

The point that I’m trying to make is that all things, even things which are largely very good for us as people, often have a darker side.  One should be careful not to be cynical.  However, one should never shy away from asking hard questions and developing their critical thinking skills.  The world is a complex place and there are no easy answers to the many problems that we will be confronted with in our lifetime.  We will often fail.  However, if we try to live in the moment and are conscious to keep compassion as our guiding principle, we just might succeed at times. 

P.S.  I am a long way off from living in the moment and being compassionate all the time.  It’s a work in progress!  

Deadwood and The Tea Party

If you want to learn about America, but aren’t a big history reader, watch the show DeadwoodDeadwood is a western that is set in the lawless town of the same name.  The show is about how society goes from chaos to order, and the economic, political, and cultural forces that create that order.  It is also a highly entertaining TV show that features a tremendous amount of sex, violence, and swearing.  It’s brilliant however.  I always say that the language on that show is Shakespeare with cursing.

My brother Ben and I have watched the series countless times.  I recently walked in on him watching it again and caught one of my favorite scenes.  A government official is in town and he has angered the masses by invalidating some of their mining claims.  The ignorant masses on that show are called hoopleheads.  The hoopleheads decide that they are going to seek vigilante justice upon the government official.  The official is in a cage in a local saloon for his own protection and the hoopleheads, lead by a racist drunk named Steve, are threatening him.  The official says, “You can’t fuck me, I’m the future.”  To which Steve replies, “Fuck you and fuck the future!”

It made me think of the Tea Party.  I’ve always thought that the base of the Tea Party has a right to be angry.  They have just misdirected their anger.  In the show the government official is making his decisions to invalidate claims because he is backed by the super wealthy George Hearst.  Hearst wants the claims for himself.  He is using the weak government official, who would never make such a power play by himself, for his own purposes.  The hoopleheads are directing their anger at the government official, who is pathetic and dislikable, but they should be banding together to take on Hearst.  Hearst turns out to be far more dangerous and detrimental to the town than any government official could be.

As careers disappear and livelihoods go up in smoke, the base of the Tea Party has every right to be angry.  However, their anger at the government is misdirected.  The government, even at its worst, is only as bad as it is because it has been corrupted by large corporations.  They are aiding, probably without knowing it, the further degrading of the government and the rise of corporate power.  It is in corporations’ interests to have the government become as weak as possible.  That way the government won’t pass those pesky regulations.  A strong government, with strong regulatory power, even as imperfect as it might be at times, is the only chance we have of using the force of law to stop these corporations from ruining lives.  They are the ones that are moving jobs overseas, poisoning the environment, ramping up the military industrial complex, and degrading our school systems.  Anger is a powerful thing.  How do we redirect it?