Monday, July 20, 2009
A Metal Album Overlooked: Acid Bath "When The Kite String Pops", a track by track journey through a twisted masterpiece.--- By Ryan @ Speedway
In 1994, metal seemed to be on the slide. Grunge and the ghastly abomination of nu-metal had arrived, and besides the success of Pantera, the fortunes of many a titan of the 80s waned. However, as the dedicated fans of this genre know, metal never dies. Though the masses of casual fans move on to the new fad or trend, the diehards remain to raise the horns, regardless of whether the mainstream gives a damn or not, and they know they are not alone. Percolating beneath this ever shifting paradigm is the underground, the very essence of metal. This is the place where metal sustains its existence, where new bands try out their craft, whether it be death, grindcore, or doom. True masterpieces are created here, masterpieces not afraid to express the dark side of humanity.
Many of these gems are never heard by more than a few hundred or a few thousand people, but sometimes they remain, as metal itself does, hibernating in the shadows, waiting to be discovered by a new generation of fans hungry for music made for the sake of music. Some albums found here are simply terrifying and bold, both lyrically and musically. This is something you could say about a little band from Louisiana called Acid Bath. If you pick up a copy of their first album, "When The Kite String Pops", the first thing you notice is the cover artwork. It's a picture of Pogo the clown drawn by John Wayne Gacy, his signature is even in the bottom corner of the picture. Certainly not the kind of thing you would want your mom to find in your possession at the age of 13.
The first time I came across this album, I felt like I shouldn't be tempted to listen to it, as if it was too 'extreme' for someone like me who listened to Megadeth and Sepultura, at least they didn't have pictures drawn by serial killers as their artwork! Fortunately, I relented and bought it on cassette (which I still cherish as piece of my journey into metal). I wasn't quite prepared for the music I heard, having expected my headphones to spew forth death metal and cookie monster vocals (come on, John Wayne Gacy is on the cover!). Instead, the first song, "The Blue", is an amalgamation of psychedelic rock and doom. The vocal style was not something I had never heard before in the metal I had listened to up to that point. Dax Riggs is like the twisted, evil version of Jim Morrison. His singing voice has a somewhat disturbing timbre that sticks in your head. He doesn't do gruff demon vocals, he simply shouts and shrieks certain parts like he is going to reach out of the album and strangle you, and it sounds like he MEANS it. Why I compare him to Jim Morrison is that the lyrics are absolutely surreal and thought provoking. Some are quite simply deranged and drip with insanity. Here is an example from "The Blue": 'acid party murder at the late show, mutate me, breed yourselves a savior, I could not kill the dead man screaming' or 'I have fallen deep in love with the sky, fragments of sunbeam glaring on a kitchen knife'. What!? Needless to say, I was hooked on this halfway through this first song, but it was only beginning. This album is a genre and sub-genre bender and segues back and forth even within each song. The next song on the record, "Tranquilized" starts like a hippy acid rock song, but midway through turns into a dirge of sludge metal and ends in a southern rock jam of sorts. Then we get to "Cheap Vodka", a two minute, fast tempo punk song filled with lyrical violence. This song also has the standard operating procedure tempo change found in most songs on this album, where the speed bleeds out of the music and it descends into a quagmire of sludge, but it is never boring, this band knew how to do these transitions right and at the right time in the song, it just makes everything that much more heavy.
Moving on to the next track, "Finger Paintings of the Insane". This song begins with a very ominous bass line and an utterly creepy vocal moan and the first line of the lyrics certainly compliments this: 'turning the knife buried in your stomach, I awoke alive black with stain'. Things then once again breakdown into a dirty river of doomy riffs AND after a few measures kick into a double bass driven high gear. This song goes on for awhile between slow and fast and some interesting pauses before ending in a lot of guitar feedback and without pause, straight into the death metal blasted intro of "Jezebel". At about the two minute mark of this track, the song goes into an interlude of sorts with the bass guitar grinding out yet another creepy lick and the vocals kick in, whispering 'broken glass and dirty needles, soul illusion truth, electric god, our superman, found dead in a telephone booth’ as the drums quietly roll in and start building the song back to a loud and discordant passage of riffs that end after a couple of minutes of relentless pounding.
What comes next is certainly unique from the rest of the album so far. "Scream of the Butterfly" is a semi-acoustic song full of intricate melody and even some quasi-flamenco/classical guitar parts. The chorus is beautiful and yet twisted, as the lyrics suggest this song is clearly about abortion. So, it's kind of a breather from the previous madness, but in keeping with the dark theme of the album overall, it simply presents the insanity with an almost cheerful and happy theme. After this softer piece, we get a Sabbath like dirge called "Dr. Seuss Is Dead" and then a stoner rock tinged slab of metal by the name of "Dope Fiend". Even at track 9, this album still has surprises in store. "Toubabo-Koomi" has some of the most interesting transitions found on the entire album. The track begins fast, moving from straight up death metal riffs to punk and then drops into a slow part that would not be out of place on a Crowbar album. Schizophrenic vocals fill this part, with lines alternating back and forth between shouting and sung parts that compliment it nicely. Before long, the song segues back into a death metal state and finally fades into an outro part that sounds almost like an Alice Chains song slowed down to a slow, slow crawl and filled with tribal percussion.
Coming up next in this journey into the loony bin... "God Machine", one of my personal favorites on the album. This song is thrash and death grafted together. There is a straight jacket worthy spoken intro: 'The god machine is hungry for individualism like brains, the skullfonders do their rain dance and pray the machine falls to sleep, she holds me close and whispers wet, there are cannibals among us, (unintelligible gibberish), in the backs of abandoned cars, smoking the bones of children, plotting the murder of love’. Again, what!? This song is ultra heavy, percussive, and filled with some blackened riffs and an organ! The ending is one of the best ever to a metal song that I can remember. The music stops and the singer is screaming a word while falling onto the drum kit and demolishing it with a great crashing noise. When does this album end? not yet I can tell you! Only four tracks left to go through! Track 11 or "The Mortician's Flame" has one of the coolest bass lines laid down on a metal song. It is very slinky and driving, and of course, just as creepy like all the rest already described. As a result of this, the song moves forward like death creeping down your street in the middle of the night. Things really heat up after this song as we are exposed to the fast tempo vitriol of "What Color is Death?", a song also dominated by very schizophrenic vocals. It sounds off kilter and like it's about to collapse into chaos, but it holds together, a barely contained explosion in your ears. When the audio assault of this song dies, the album next throws another unexpected curveball at you.
"The Bones Of Baby Dolls" is my absolute favorite song on this record and indeed, it is one of my all time favorite songs of any music I have heard in my life. It is the song I want played at my funeral. This song is not a metal song whatsoever. It sounds almost like an acoustic ballad from the 70s. The song consists of two acoustic guitars and the vocals. It begins with a classical style guitar (even sounds a little Cajun influenced) lick that would fit on right onto a song from Master of Puppets. The melody is very well written and conveys both a sense of sadness and one of absolution. The vocals mirror these feelings as Dax sings in a distorted voice that cuts right to your soul. This song is a pure five minutes of greatness. If you listen closely, you can hear what sounds like people talking in the background of the song, which is very strange and disconcerting, but it fits in somehow. This song is also the only one on the album to end in a fade out rather than a hard stop, which is fitting considering the mood it conveys. The bliss is not long lived though, as the album's closing track, "Cassie Eats Cockroahes" swings you back into the maelstrom of dirty and depraved sludge metal. The song has some more intricate start-stop transitions than the other tracks on the album and it certainly is a good song to close the proceedings, ending suddenly and closing the book on this amazing record. Unfortunately, the band did not have a lot of luck in the end.
Two years after the release of this album, they released their second and final album, "Paegan Terrorism Tactics", another great album, although not as frantic and extreme as the first, it is more of a stoner metal album and I highly recommend it. Sadly, their bass player Audie, who wrote a lot of the music, was killed by a drunk driver in a car crash and this effectively brought the band to an end. But most of the members went on to make even more great music. Dax Riggs and guitarist Mike Sanchez went on to form Agents of Oblivion and made one album. Dax than went on to form Deadboy & The Elephantmen, making an absolute classic album, "If This is Hell, Than I'm Lucky", before signing to Fat Possum Records and releasing "We Are Night Sky", after which he began to get more recognition for his work than he ever did in the mainstream for Acid Bath. He is currently touring as a solo artist and has released one album under his own name, "We Sing Of Only Love and Blood", which is also recommended. Sammy Duet, guitarist, has remained a staple figure in the metal scene, first as a member of Crowbar and then as founder of the acclaimed Goatwhore, who just recently released another killer album of blackened death metal.
So why was Acid Bath important? They experimented and mixed so many sub-genres of metal together with tight musicianship and a healthy measure of unpredictability. They blended grindcore, sludge, doom, death, and even a little black metal together with acoustic guitars, sung/screamed vocals and spoken word...in 1994. Right in the middle of the nu-metal catastrophe, this band crafted truly amazing work that was ahead of its time. "When The Kite String Pops" is a true underground classic and these days there are more and more people picking up on what this band did and they have gained a cult following. That's why I tell people who are into metal to check this album out, especially if they like the NOLA sound. I have yet to find one person, who I've recommended this album to, come back and say they didn't like it. One word of caution though: this album has some pretty disturbing and graphic content which may not sit well with all listeners. Just know it's like a soundtrack to the mind of a deranged, doped out serial killer. In fact, you could make a totally messed up horror movie based off of the lyrics, there's a lot of imagery there. So, if you're looking for something classic and ahead of its time, this album is out there waiting for you in all its unsettling glory. Rotten Records released a remastered CD version a few years ago, which sounds great and at that time they also released it on vinyl, which I recommend above and beyond the CD for the ultimate listening experience.
Posted by Zia Records Blogs at 9:49 PM
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Though the blue-eyed soul singer has long since been eclipsed by the white rapper as a divisive topic among music enthusiasts and authenticity seekers, the tag still carries with it certain connotations: no matter how convincingly the strut, no matter how charming the falsetto, there’s always going to be a lingering doubt. For every Righteous Brothers, there’s always gonna be a glut of Rick Astleys.
That said, Ann Harbor based Mayer Hawthorne, the latest comer in the soul game, does tout some pretty impressive credentials. The 29-year old recorded all the vocals and instruments to his upcoming debut, “A Strange Arrangement” himself, caught the ears of BBC Radio 1 host Gilles Peterson and producer/DJ Mark Ronson, and signed to Stones Throw, the respected indie-hip hop label that counts Madlib and the late great Jay Dilla on their roster, and label-head Peanut Butter Wolf, who was so impressed with Hawthorne’s demo that he signed him after hearing only two songs.
However it’s his songs that stand has his strongest asset. First single “Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out” sounds as if it could have rolled straight of the Holland/Dozier line, with mimic vinyl pops, tight snare hits, breakbeat percussion and Temptations-style harmonies. While all the trappings are undeniably “retro,” the song’s success is due more to Hawthorne’s timeless sense of structure and song-craft. The Astronote remix of the tune puts Hawthorne’s throwback style through a blip-pop filter, drawing clever parallels between the stuttering beat and the classic vocal melodies. “I Wish It Would Rain” and “When I Said Goodbye” both employ classic downbeat soul, with fluttering guitar and gorgeous keys providing the soft backdrop to Hawthorne’s impressive pipes. Hawthorne’s biggest hit may be “Maybe So, Maybe No,” with it’s Stevie Wonder-style psych intro, and horn laden groove. The propulsive stutter-step recalls the Temprees at their most excited (pre-disco), and the guitars place Curtis Mayfield on the dance-floor.
Hawthorne’s record drops on Stones Throw on September 9th, and NPR, Playboy and Vanity Fair have already started raving about him. Don’t fear the hype. Mayer Hawthorne has the goods. Ahem- “for a white boy.”
Posted by Zia Records Blogs at 11:43 AM
Monday, July 6, 2009
If you know the name then you know the wackadoo perception of this Norwegian songstress. “ A Hot Mess” is the way she was described to me. The heading on her myspace page reads “"Queen Of The World"”. She might not be there yet but we think she is super cool.
On 6/24 she graced our little stage at Zia in Chandler for a really cool acoustic performance. Ida performed a couple of acoustic versions of songs off her record “"Fortress Round My Heart"”. The crowd sat around her on the floor to hear her play guitar and sing by herself with no PA (her idea). Ida is actually a very talented guitar player and has a great hauntingly melodic voice. She truly is an original artist. After charming the crowd as well as some smitten employees she sat down and signed some autographs.
Below is a video of her performing “"Morning Light"”
Posted by Zia Records Blogs at 12:04 AM
Friday, July 3, 2009
On Tuesday June 23rd Zia Records gave customers a special release day treat. We had scheduled an instore with local rapper Willy Northpole. At the very last minute Willy decided to turn the meet and greet into a free live show in the store! With some last minute scrambling for sound equipment (we used the laptop I’m writing this on to DJ) we pulled it off. Those who joined us got a once in a lifetime show. A year from now people will look back at last Tuesday as a truly unique “"I was there moment"”.
Willy hails from our hometown of Phoenix AZ! Coming up in an almost non - existent hip-hop scene presents its own challenges. 5 years ago there were few clubs who would book hip hop shows. Almost no hip-hop promoters and those that did promote faced an up hill battle. After interest from G-Unit Willy signed with Disturbing The Peace (Ludacris’s label). On 6/23 Willy’s record "“Tha Connect"” was released. Thanks to artist like Willy Northpole, Society Of The Invisibles, and Young Hot Rod Arizona might finally be put on the map.
Below is the video of "Hood Dreamer"”. As well as a fan shot video at some place called Via records ;)
Posted by Zia Records Blogs at 1:01 AM
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Hey where were you on Monday June 22nd? If you weren'’t in Tucson AZ at our Speedway store you missed an acoustic performance from Ben Kweller!
Ben stopped by our store to promote his new record “ "Changing Horses"”. Ben hopped out of cab strumming his guitar and right into the store singing! It was definitely a cool thing for fans of the alt- country musician. Ben played a few songs, including a fan request, via twitter, for “"Family Tree"” off his 2001 release "“Sha Sha".
Below is the video of that performance.
Posted by Zia Records Blogs at 11:07 PM