Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Monday, November 17, 2008


Knifeshow: Art Imitates Art

I have gotten in this argument many times; let me present this issue I continue to dissect, to you the reader. We all are aware of the dichotomy of life imitating art and art imitating life. This ebb and flow presents an interesting issue of widespread fear evocation and the spreading of other fabricated emotions, whether intentional or not. When dealing with sensitive issues, art that imitates life can create the boldest of creation. Keep in mind Orson Wells’ The War of the Worlds which actually created the nationwide panic that it emulated. Then there are artists like Man Ray who used the Black Dahlia killings, actual murder scene police photographs, as inspiration for his horror and death enthused art.

When life imitates art it is not the case of just dark interest and disorderly genius. There is Richard Ramirez who claims an AC/DC song inspired him. Subsequently, the residents of L.A. County lived a life of early curfews and overall fear of a sociopath on the prowl. He changed the way of life for several months and some would argue, forever. The rock star serial killer became so famous he married a fan while in prison. Now this dichotomy is almost history. Through the history of modern art and pop-culture a new dichotomy has evolved. No longer does art imitate life. Art now imitates, well, art.

So can you argue that art that imitates other art is just replication? The Incredible Hulk is an emotional and impulsive alter ego depicted as a giant, raging monster. Creator and comic icon Stan Lee revealed that the Hulk was just a combination of Dr. Jekyll and My Hyde and the monster Frankenstein. Is this replication or re-invention? Most comic book obsessives and casual fans alike can plainly see this correlation. The question is this; does Lee’s revelation of the Hulks conception spoil the relevance and brilliance of arguably one of the greatest of all comic book series? Is this influence or thievery? Do we call it inspiration or copyright infringement? The Hulk, while born in classic monster literature is more of a product of the combination of Lee’s own inner struggles and the perception and imagination created in his mind because of these works.

So then there I was, in my car listening to “here until it's gone” a new album by the Draper, Utah based Knifeshow and all I could think of was the preceding dilemma I have just been rambling about. The album is like a weird selection of Radiohead’s old socks. You know the soiled ones with holes that they threw out sometime between when they were working hard on the road after The Bends but before they became the musical messengers of a potential worm hole leading to God. This is another example of art that imitates art. To be fair, most new music and art are initiations of other art. The question is can “here until it's gone” stand on its own and move, maybe not beyond but at least away from, the art it imitates.

The album itself is finely produced and sounds really solid. I can’t completely tell if they used drum machines and samples, but if they did, they did it well. If not, well, the drummer has a nice little trick of at times sounding like a drum machine. I am almost always impressed when drummers sound like machines. The rest of the musicians are solid, they work pretty well together at creating an atmospheric sound rather than individual instruments but they don’t forget to take the time to remind you of the bass lines and guitar licks. The singer has directly summoned the vocal stylings of Thom Yorke and the band, the tones of Radiohead circa 1994. Knifeshow has done this, not in a potential musical innovation sort of way (as we now look in hindsight), but in a direct and literal sense.

The entire album seams overly derivative; it plays through like a musical photocopy, not quite as sharp as the original print but it gets the job done. For some this album will evoke excitement and some local buzz; and hey, let us be honest, if you are going to model your sound after a band, Radiohead is an ambitious and intelligent place to start.

My review can be translated fittingly through my experience once I put the album on the stereo. Halfway through my first listen, I just kept thinking about how much they sound exactly like early Radiohead. Now hold on, I’m not trying to compare a local band to Radiohead, I don’t seriously think you can hold up a local band to that level and either hail them or rip on them. The bottom line is that the album didn’t offer me anything at all new or different from early Radiohead and only provided the recycling of musical tones and atmosphere. I ejected “Here until it's gone” and even knowing I had a deadline, reached for OK Computer. A few days of listening to Radiohead passed before giving Knifeshow even a second thought.

Knifeshow is a talented band. “Here until it’s gone” is atmospheric and the tones are well thought out, it’s pretty good if they are trying to make an album that sounds like another album. So keep this in mind, in 1992 Radiohead was often referred to as “Nirvana-lite” and look at what they’ve done since.

Camp Comes Alive

Camp comes alive! (JRC)!!

When I say the words Groovin’ Gary, someone outside either Salt Lake or Beaver Utah may have no clue who I am talking about. Likely most people inside those cities are just as miffed on the reference. Utah’s Trent Harris, whom I believe occasionally teaches a screenwriting class up at the U, met this young man back in the late 70’s maybe early eighties and brought him to annuls of the Utah subculture. He made a documentary about this young man, and then a movie based on Groovin’ Gary staring a young Sean Penn. Groovin’ Gary is what many fans attribute as the basis for the legendary slacker Jeff Spicoli. Harris made this film for about a hundred bucks. Later after building up a bit larger budget made the Orkly Kid, another re-interpretation of Groovin’ Gary; this time staring 9th and 9th frequenter and one of America’s favorite eccentrics, Crispin Glover. Trent Harris went on to create almost his own genre, the Utah Cult film.

Some may remember the Gilgal Gardens, and when it was off limits. We in our years of teenage riff-raff had to drive down to Salt Lake at midnight with our dates and park behind a Chuckarama. I know! Perfect, Right! Then we rip our cargos hopping a fence by an old shed or stable like structure and suddenly your mind would be blown. Instantaneously you fell into a world of strange scriptures and biblical references carved into every stone. In every direction oddities like giant stone carved doctrines and covenants and immense stone beehives, metal-formed crickets and an ominous large statue with no apparent identity. Then, there it was, a Joseph Smith sphinx.

We had an obligation to spread the rumor of crazy people who owned it and lived in the surrounding homes. We were risking our lives to experience that. If we weren’t careful they’d come out with shotguns, they believe this is sacred ground. Are they polygamists? Hard-core fanatics like Heavens Gate? This could never be like any other roadside attraction in Anytown, USA. This is truly an only Utah. The sphinx again enters the realm of Trent Harris’ Utah cult film “Plan 10 from Outer Space” in an odd religious slash sci-fi mystery.

So why talk about Trent Harris so much? Have I forgotten the killer brine shrimp? What about John Babtiste? Porter Rockwell? Did you know that Ted Bundy abducted young girls at cottonwood mall? Then here we are daring people to walk down by Pedersons alone. Aren’t we still seeing the ghost image of his VW at Veiwmont High? What about Mark Hacking? This is Utah. This is why we are who we are; we are seen either on the far right or just plain far out.

So this brings me to the music. Finally right. Mr. Trent Harris, may I introduce you to (JRC)!! You may thank me for your new muse. Groovin’ Gary is reincarnated in the form of a Christian hard-core act, as (JRC)!! calls himself.

Legend has it, that (JRC)!! is a resident of somewhere west of Ogden, married, has a couple little ones. He is said to be like a modern day James Dean, a rebel without a cause, only without the model looks. Similar to Freddy Krueger’s sweater, regardless of the weather, he wears a dark brown leather jacket; ala “Maverick” from Top Gun, like he’s his own motorcycle gang. Often he can be found lurking around outside the nearby clubs and local venues without the five dollars to actually go into the shows. (JRC)!! needs a miracle people! If you stumble upon a genius of this description outside your show, put him on the guest list, invite him backstage, and if at all possible let him open. It’s my theory that he has his stuff ready in a 1988 black Dodge Caravan somewhere nearby.

In the great joke of rock and roll we find the classic novelty songs and then there is genius like the Ramones. Are they brothers? They all share the last name Ramone. This album may be that same genius, or maybe not. Either way you lean on this one you will be entertained through and through. Really in comparison, the only thing that comes to mind is a strange combo of part “You’ve Got the Touch” by Dirk Diggler and Chest Rockwell, part Magnetic Fields, and partially the joy ride music of Wesley Willis.

To be honest I was handed this CD as a joke and was told this is so bad; it is everything wrong as music. I didn’t think so, not at all. (JRC)!! may be to some the worst string of noises and tones ever to be put on record, maybe it’ll become the world’s joke of bad music. Maybe. However, I recommend that everyone listen to this album if they can find it. You decide for yourself. Is this comedic genius, a gem of the Utah cult collection, or a just plain horrible?
Let’s not tell him either way, let’s just hope he continues to make this music without being affected by what people think. Like “I believe in a thing called love” by The Darkness they were not only a hilarious take on all hair bands it was really, really good. But they got full of themselves and forgot to not take it so seriously with the sophomore effort, let’s face it; they forgot that they were partially a joke.

We cannot let that happen to you (JRC)!! If you are out there, just know I am recommending you to the Utah listener. Whether my recommendation is as a joke or in an effort to spread your genius is not the issue. Just and keep on rocking and rolling, shredding on that guitar, overdubbing those Casio’s and unearthing your “Sacred Passions”.
Groovin’ Gary would be proud, and so am I.

Bootload Reveiw

“Dig It” by Provo based band Bootload of Boogie prompts the Question:
What is up with Provo Utah, is it in a coma?
Answer: beep….beep…beep…

I am tempted to write a one line review of this album that would read the following: I guess that it takes a band from a place like Utah County to be so far off of the depths of anything in this modern world, that an album this awful could surface. However, that wouldn’t be fair would it; having spent time down in the valley, I am aware, or at least I like to think that Provo does have more to offer than this, doesn’t it?

I am tempted to leave it at that, but we aren’t here just to provoke bitterness and upset these young troglodytes from the hills of Utah County, No! Well not without some attempt at constructive criticism. Surely these guys can play, so why we must ask ourselves, why did this happen? Historians have to ask themselves the same question when talking about any major catastrophic event.

So I sat down and zoned out with headphones on and I listened to this album a few times, and experienced some serious auditory suffering so that all of you don’t have to. This is what I do. I was hoping to find something inspiring to write that wouldn’t be harsh, and mean-spirited; this attrition is not my goal, but did I make this discovery? Well, here’s all I got: the band attempts to win us over with humorous self-deprecation and lyrics that tell the world: “I’m so anti-cool and nerd like, yet I’m actually extremely cool because trying to be cool is even more lame.” This path has been crossed by the Nerf Herders and countless other bands of the Weezer mid 90’s geek-rock following. Now, I can’t really bash most of those bands, because although sometimes juvenile and sophomoric, I was really into it for a time. However, there is a fine line with this angle, and Bootload doesn’t come off as if they are joking about their own social ineptitude, like the best of those bands did, instead, they come off as self-righteous and arrogant.

All that being said, as far as being able to play, this is a very talented trio of musicians; the bass is solid, and actually very nicely mixed. The obviously or overtly, talented drummer puts a cringe on my face with every pop of his piccolo snare drum. Now Utah I have to lay this out there. I thought we had passed this phase as a music scene; now I must stand up and throw my fist in the air and demand more. We have to expect more of our drummers; we have to tell them about tones and sound, because for some reason they don’t get it. The bad choices in this drum kit take over the recording and pretty much ruin what little could have been offered. Bad drummer! Bad! Isn’t there an engineer that can tell him? Do his parents know what he’s doing? It’s obvious, he must have no parents to get away with this. Lastly, the guitar tones never change and the riffs never really get interesting. They’ve built a stable too small for even a one-trick pony. My advise, will someone can please buy “Guido” (this is what he calls himself) a Jonathan Richman album, maybe tell him about Lou Reed or Paul Westerburg; if he had some better musical direction with his voice and phrasing, the most interesting part of this album, and he could actually really do something. I do mean this in all genuineness. Bootload, however, is not worth the earache. Maybe if the album was entitled “Shark Sandwich” would a one liner be apt.

My advice for “Dig It” would be: bury it.

Mission Statement for reviews

Local bands beware. No longer are you going to be coddled by the hometown writers. No longer will smoke be blown up your cracks. No longer will we use the phrase “they are pretty good, for a local band.” The Utah music scene is as big as it has ever been, but as good as it should be? I’ve always thought not. The abundance of talent in these here rocky mountain hills is overwhelming; this has never been the issue. Our issue has always been the lack of ambition. We have become a scene of musicians who want to start a “local band” like the “real” bands that the musician ultimately obsesses over. This is a common problem. Now aiming at a specific genre is one thing, but we need to be ambitious, we need imagination, entertainment. We need to create music, not local music. We as a scene in SLC, and across the front, have the talent, we have the venues, the eager listeners and audience, we have the recording studios and engineers, or even 4 tracks and computers to hammer out our opus’ in our garages and basements and bedrooms. “Close the garage, It’s an espionage!” We have to take things to state lines, buy our high point kegs, regardless of the time and price and effort and inconvenience and then we revel in the glory and goodness it provides over selling out for a 30 pack of Utah grade Keystone Light from Smith’s; and we need come back angry and on a war path. Creating art is not easy, or convenient it takes everything.

Now after hopefully lighting a fire under all you wannabes and cronies of the local scene allow me to give you my oath as a music writer. I will call out unimaginative, boring, horrible bands; I will slice you up small enough to feed the brine shrimp out in the great lake. I am not shy about criticism, and will not boost a bad scene for the good of the whole. I will stay honest. I know I can come off as arrogant and egotistical; my reviews may at times or at all time, read like self absorbed banter. But in a music writer we need honesty, our scene has always been full of boosters, well that time is now passed, I call you out, you boosters who call yourselves critics, I have to call you out, I owe it to the supporters of local music to support the music that deserves the support, and I especially owe it you the musicians. Can we be better? Yes. Can Utah be to rock music what Seattle once was? Sure, I can see the white light, but there is no white heat. Good bands usually just need the musical ambition and not more talent to become great bands. Bad bands usually are full of talent but lack direction or cohesion.

This being said I will not bash a band that is short on talent but huge on ambition and creativity. I will not bash a band whose brilliance is mottled by 4-track tones and bad garage acoustics. If a singer is ghastly but still reaches out with honestly and soul, I will give praise. As a critic I will not hate on an artist who bares it all in an self sacrificing intensity, but can barely hold his tune, that disgust is left for the drummers with 28 piece sets that overwhelm the melodies and bands with showiness and overdone cliché musical devices, just to show they are devastatingly talented at their craft. However, without being backed by carefully chosen musical devices and tones, musical ambition, and without delving into the depths of rock and pop culture and not just skimming the top mind you, our scene will not flourish to match the talent it is full of. We need the knowledge of those who built, molded and then tore down just to change it all up, every preconception of what an individual calls good music; instinct, it’s all due to what you chose, and choose not to hear. I am ready to be hated and abuse for my honesty, I can take it, give it to me straight. I will do the same, and in the process, entertain.

Arrogance and ego will get you everywhere in Rock and Roll. I believe this whole heartedly, Rock and Roll is not for the weary, the weak, or the kind mannered, it is debauchery and struggle, it is epic but simple, it is angry yet touching, it is it’s own opposition at all times, it can become our obsession and yet it can be just a big joke. I have tasted the wine in both the lonely cellars of our local scene and I have been drunk from the orgy of tongue-in-cheek praise, but now this is my Rock and Roll ambition, written in the form of a review, this is my soul laid out to you. I will be listening for yours.