11 September, 2012

30 Reviews In 30 Days: Review #11


Nihill, Verdonkermaan (Hydra Head, 2012)

It only seems appropriate to greet the news of Hydra Head's imminent dissolving with a review of an album they recently released. Dutch black metal band Nihill have released their third album Verdonkermaan, the last part of a trilogy about something or other. (Does it really matter what supposed meaning it has? It's all most likely some kind of occult mumbo-jumbo anyway.) It definitely sounds like a black metal album: cloudy, trebly, lo-fi walls of razor-sharp distortion, messy blastbeats, almost ridiculously demonic vocals sunk fairly low in the mix. So what differentiates this from a thousand other faintly ridiculous black metal albums?

Please note: In general, I am not much of a fan of black metal. It often sounds to me like a bunch of dudes absolutely busting their fucking nuts trying to sound eeeeeeeeevil and spooky while sounding like a bunch of groaning, powerless dorks instead. There are a few masterpieces within the genre, of course (Darkthrone and Burzum chief among them in my uninformed view), but in general, it's not something I really seek out. But there are a few things that definitely separate this album from a corpse-painted pack of other albums trying to be as good.

This album is absolutely relentless. Nearly every track sounds as if it is genuinely out for blood. It starts off with a 10-minute bashfest of mile-a-second drum smashing, screaming and playing and doesn't let up from there. Some songs may be slower, some may be calmer, one is an almost silent melange of processed feedback and backwards messages - but somehow none of them ever let up. It's hard to listen to this album in full, because it just will not stop pounding at you. Even when you've resigned yourself to this incessant assault, the band find you at that exact moment and decide that's the perfect time to drown you with a group of chaotic, shrieking, beyond-trebly guitar squiggles masquerading as solos. Many black metal albums are much more listener-friendly than this. In contrast, this album sounds like it wants to beat your head in until it has become a liquefied mass of blood and bone on the pavement.

The guitar playing and tone are absolutely destructive. The sonic picture on most black metal is dominated by many overdubs of grotesquely diffuse, knife-blade distorted guitars on them; it's a characteristic of the genre. This is a hit-and-miss thing for me: while it sometimes delivers incredibly powerful results, it just as often feels like a stupid, tinny headache and an annoyance. This time it's different, because the guitarist continually writes extremely unfriendly and memorably nasty chord progressions and plays them with a guitar tone that sounds like a wall of electric saws ready to slice you into very tiny chunks. There's not one ounce of anything other than pure hatred in the chord sequences this dude comes up with. The guitars also don't let up for nearly the entire album; but they shares just a little of the musical landscape with the bass, which adds greatly to the overall sound. Many black metal albums have inaudible bass on them: even Filosofem may as well have been recorded without the instrument for all the appearance it made in the mix. Here, however, you can always hear it underneath the wall of guitars, and it adds a heaviness and melodic ingenuity to the sound that just isn't there on other black metal albums.

The vocals on this album are completely vile and inhuman. Apparently the vocalist of this band is in another band called Dodecahedron, which blows my mind a bit, because it doesn't seem possible that this guy could have any vocal cords left after singing on this album. Nearly every song is delivered in a group of ridiculously shredded yells and shrieks, or slightly lower-pitched groaning so convincingly painful-sounding that you expect him to puke up his larynx at any second and be done with speaking, much less singing, for good.

I realize I've described this album in such a way that makes it sound like this band is essentially nothing more than a black metal band. And that is what they are. So what differentiates this from a sea of other black metal albums? The answer is simply that Nihill just does black metal better than most other black metal bands. Where so many other bands pose and strive, Nihill sounds effortlessly evil. Whether they actually are evil is completely beside the point. Sounding like you really, really, really mean it is pretty much everything in this music. And Nihill actually sound like a group of demons who would like stabbing you in the dark somewhere in a forest at night and then consuming your roasted flesh and innards until you are a bleached skeleton lying around on an abandoned road. You get the feeling that they could make another 42 minutes of mechanically cold and brutalizing music like this without even trying too hard. Verdonkermaan is a black metal album. But it's a black metal album that lives up to and then exceeds all the dictates of the genre. It makes all the right moves.

Recent Love (This Feels Wrong Edition)

Since posting this review yesterday, I've learned that about half of the songs off of the first record in this review are named after the songs they sample, which, honestly, feels pretty ooky. I mean, come on. When the Replacements did Let It Be, we all got the joke and it was a different time. Nowadays, there are any number of wannabe cover bands out there who will upload YouTube videos titled in such a fashion as to trick a viewer into clicking the wrong thumbnail. For example, anybody here recall how many "Gotye - Somebody That I Used To Know (Cover by __________)"s there were this summer? Or even worse, when the cover band would title the video with the name of the original artist and not note it was a cover except for below in the description?
I listen to this record and I don't get the feeling that this was Kitty Pryde's intention since she's using only the backing tracks as backing tracks on her first EP, rapping her own words over them, and not posting "Charnsuka" on YouTube as "MF Doom - Charnsuka" or anything like that.
But it feels ooky to me.
Thus, for the portion of this double-review and artist profile (OK, as soon as I typed the words "artist profile", I threw up a little in my mouth) related to
The Lizzie McGuire Experience, I'm going to detail the sources of the samples she uses. Because I'm a gigantic asshole.
If there were any truth to the legend that absinthe - now a new favorite drink of mine - had any psychotropic or hallucinogenic qualities, than Kitty Pryde would doubtlessly have some stashed in her apartment or studio somewhere, probably by the laptop or by the microphone.
If you're unfamiliar with Kitty Pryde, that's OK. I actually feel cool for once because I wasn't late to the party by, like in most cases, three years or so. I'm up to date here. She's fairly new outside of her homebase of Florida and about ready to blow up so, thanks to me, when somebody tries to turn you on to her next summer, you can pat yourself on the back and grow an ironic moustache and say, "Kitty Pryde? Pfft, I was into her before you were." That's right: I'm about to turn you into a hipster.
Kitty Pryde, while she's been garnering a lot of indie press attention, has also been getting a lot of hate from "the scene", that scene generally comprised of people who like to comment on videos and blogs with no sense of grammar, diction, or even basic spelling. That's OK. That's actually better than OK; the old adage goes that if everybody likes what you're doing, you're doing it wrong. And Kitty Pryde is doing something very, very right.
First of all, let's address the music. It's a mishmash of current pop culture samples, mining material from "Call Me Maybe" and Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, and lush synth pads with minimal drum beats. It has all the wub wub of dubstep but without the aggression or distortion; there are no drops. Essentially, a lot of this is slow, dreamy music, the kind where you can picture somebody laying in bed or a beanbag chair and drinking cold medicine in their pyjamas while they piece together loops from Cibo Matto's Viva La Woman on an old school SP-303 or on a laptop.
Then there's the voice. While Pryde is nineteen years old, she sounds substantially younger than that, giving every line an eerie Lolita quality. This is probably what causes most of the internet ire directed toward her: She's a tiny white girl and she sounds like one. Even when she breaks out some of her hardest lines - which we'll get to when I break these things down song by song - she still sounds like, well, a tiny white girl and a junior high one, at that. Mind you, this junior high student seems to be on a variety of prescription narcotics and downers, given her lackadaisical cadence and wispy, breathy timbre.
And what is it that she raps about? Having crushes. And while that sounds fine and innocent, even childish, really, it's the way she describes these crushes of hers... half of the lines that come out of her little gamine mouth sound like something culled from the pages of a stalker's daily journal.
When I told M. that I was going to review her stuff, I told him that all she raps about is fucking. I was wrong. After my first listen from front to back this past week (out of maybe eighty or so listens total) (and, yes that number is an exaggeration but, no, it's not a lie), it wasn't fucking she was going on about, but obsession, possessiveness, a rather dark codependency, and delusion.
Put that all together in one package and you have what sounds like a drug-induced teenage day dream with severe misconceptions about love over tracks that, mostly, sound like a waterbed feels.
This is perhaps going to be one of the more, perhaps the most prurient review I've ever written. It is about the music made by a woman who only barely graduated high school. You can either be cool with that and be an adult about it or you can close this tab on your browser. Because while Kitty Pryde isn't addressing sex directly, sexuality is part of her stock-in-trade. Her innocence lends itself to suggestiveness; it is text book coquettishness. That's the material I have to deal with here. And while I'm not a record reviewer circa 1984 handling Madonna's Like A Virgin, I am stuck with a task (that I've foisted upon myself and nobody told me I had to) of reviewing the work of a young lady that sings like she just got done masturbating and is looking for that half-a-joint she put out before diddling the skittle.
That's right. I took it there. It's going to stay there. If you can't be cool with it, go read Pitchfork. I hear they need more cunts to read them, anyway.
The Lizzie McGuire Experience
Yes, that is the title and, yes, that is the cover art work, a high school gal opening a package from Amazon on Xmas day with her Boston terrier next to her and a sixer of IBC root beer on the Corinthian leather recliner a few feet away. Everything about the outward appearance of this record should send some doubts through any level-headed person over the age of, oh... let's say sixteen. Sixteen is a good age to look at something with cover art like this with a title like this and say, "This looks like some bullshit. I am old enough to know that I should listen to Bastro and not whatever this malarkey is." However, there are treasures to be mined in this thing.
The record kicks off with "Accordion", where Kitty basically details how she has a love/hate relationship with a guy already in a relationship and, while she isn't telling him to dump his girlfriend, she says she knows he's going to break up with that bird and wind up with Kitty, anyhow.
Killer line: "I'll tell Mom that I'm off to the stores and I'll be sneaky when I sneak in to peak at your drawers. And if that's a little creepy, then I'm sorry to do it, but I really want to see it so you'll get used to it. And if you just accept it, it's easier to take; I'm trying to get close to you and then I'll make you mine."
Some bird is saying she's going to sneak into my house to check out my underwear and then has the temerity to tell me that she's just going to do that and that I should just get used to it?
That's messed up.
• [Note: The track for this song is built on a sample of "Accordion", an MF Doom song, which, in turn, is built on a sample from "Experience" by Daedelus.]
"Charnsuka" follows that with an upbeat track that sounds like Kitty picked it up from an open source / free use whatever thing online labeled "Wu-Tang beats .rar" that does not have any actual Wu-Tang beats but, instead, what a Wu-Tang fan gauges to be a reasonable facsimile and has thus put together. This is the first head-bopping track on the record.
Killer line: "You think it's funny when you joke about rape so we'll see if it's funny in the back of my Escape. That's a Ford. You're a whore and I'll catch it on tape. Tell the police, I'll just tell 'em it's fake."
Can you not see the messed upness of this line?
• [Note: The track for this song is built on a sample of "Charnsuka", an MF Doom song, which, in turn, is built on a sample from "Vykkii" by Isaac Hayes.]
"He (Tommy Cantwell)" takes the main riff from Tyler the Creator's "She". Being a rock guy, I took this as a gutless ripoff move until I remembered that rap music is full of shout-outs and call-outs. For example, Jay-Z's "99 Problems" would not exist without Ice-T's "99 Problems", the main line from the chorus and all.
Killer line: "If I spilled a little of your blood, I'd kind of want to lick it up but I guess that wouldn't be vegan so let's just drive around and listen to some Sara and Tegan. You don't even know me, this is only a dream and I'm just thinking of your eyes nothing to do with your semen."
For real.
• [Note: As noted in the beginning, the track for this song is built on a sample of "She" by Tyler the Creator.]
"Hood Friday" begins with a fake radio ad and then moves into a hard-assed gangsta rap track that, if it were born out of old school samples and not contemporary synth sounds, would fit in with a lot of old school Compton gangsta rap. Kitty also breaks out the nasty ass lyrics here, explicitly talking about sucking dicks, eating pussies, masturbating until her fingers are raw, the size of her tits... She keeps the vocals low in the mix, too, which means that, unless you're wearing headphones for this one, it's not easy to pick up. But, hell, I've heard cleaner language in porno and I watch a lot of porno.
Killer line: Hard to tell, really. The track is banging but the little girl voice Kitty uses doesn't really come through. So, there's some shit that's going down in a Starbuck's bathroom and in a Motel 6.

• [It really doesn't matter what she says because it's a cover of a Why? song, thus, she came up with nothing.]
"Sickfit" has another not-exactly-Wu-Tang-esque beat and Kitty actually pitches her voice up to sound younger, opening the song with the line, "I'm twelve years old... Call me Bieber." This is, hands down, the most wrong feeling song on the record for that line alone.
Killer line: "Red hair, don't care, skin's fair, self aware... Kiss me all you want but you won't make my hymen tear."
I've said some absolutely disgusting things in my life. I even have my own version of "The Aristocrats" ready to go if ever the need presented itself. But really. Really. That line, the last part of that line right there, that is the dirtiest thing I've ever heard. It's also one of the most bad-ass things I've ever heard. Sure, it's filthy because society tells us it's not nice to hear the narrative of a twelve year old girl defending her hymen but it goes deeper than that and is really the words of a young lady who's keeping her virginity in tact until she meets the right man to give it to. So, really, it's a line loaded with feminist ideals, it just sounds dirty because of the Lolita factor: Even after you consider how many people lost their virginity at the age of twelve, nobody expects a smart and sexually confident dialogue to come from a twelve year old girl's voice.
Especially when she follows this with a line about, seriously now, being a Disney princess.
Also, "Sickfit" is the humdinger on this record. Nothing but killer lines from front to back.
• [Note: The track for this song is built on a sample of "Sickfit", a Madvillian song, which, in turn, is built on a sample from "Family Affair" by The Generation Gap.]
"Your Love" is the sole throw-away track.
• [Note: The track for this song is built on a sample of "Your Love", a Nicki Minaj song, which, in turn, is built on a sample from "No More I Love Yous" by Annie Lennox.]
"Thanks, Kathryn Obvious" is the most danceable track on the record and features a sly call out to Kreayshawn in the lyrics and, like "Sickfit", is loaded down with killer lines.
Killer line: "If you don't like me, I know that I'm sucky. Nobody likes my music, they just kind of want to fuck me."
Braggadocio blended with self deprecation. Nice.
• [Note: The track for this song is produced by some guy (or gal) named Ramsay.]
The Lizzie McGuire Experience is not, I'll admit, for everyone. As I've noted over and over again, it's on the surface cutesy rap rapped by a barely legal chick with a little-girl-on-Valium-and-malt-liquor voice. Under the surface, though, you find all that nasty twisted stuff I was talking about in the beginning. If that's your bag, this record is pretty rewarding.
What I can find out about The Lizzie McGuire Experience was that A) it was put out a few months ago, B) when Kitty Pryde was seventeen though C) she claims to be nineteen presently. It D) was made on a MacBook and E) features a song about Justin Bieber. While the record that Kitty Pryde put out a few months ago when she was two years younger does, indeed, sound like it was made on a laptop, the song about the Biebs that started catching her some attention is not on this record. How do I know this? Because I listened to the goddamned thing instead of jumping on the buzz and doing a quick unpaid write up for HuffPo where research is apparently not a priority for their arts & entertainment department.
Following the record Kitty Pryde put out two years ago a few months ago comes...
Haha, I'm Sorry
This one really did come out a few months ago. Production wise, it's a surprisingly matured record thanks to the team of Beautiful Lou (who I've never heard of), Sela (who I've never heard of), and Grantbeats (who I've never heard of) putting together the tracks. The lyrics aren't solely devoted to crushing hard on some guy but, perhaps because Kitty is stepping outside of her comfort zone, they're a little more hit and miss than they were on Lizzie. In fact, the funniest (but not the best) line isn't even hers.
"Okay Cupid" kicks off the record with Kitty telling us, the listener, to get out of her room, perhaps to remind us that she's, technically, still a teenager. Now, it's hard to believe that a nineteen year old with a social circle such as high school friends who haven't left for college yet, spending the summer in that weird limbo that's between graduating and moving out, would resort to online dating sites like OKCupid (for real, check out OKCupid sometime... there's ninety varieties of inept creeps on there - self included - and a bevy of chicks who put up pictures of themselves snuggling or sharing food with their dog with the caption "mr. wuggles is my baybay... so cute! lol :)"), but I get the point that the song is not about resorting to internet dating. (And, confidentially, if you haven't tried it, try it. Easiest way to pick up a less-than-discriminating piece of ass every once and a while.)
So while the opening is worrisome in that Uh,-did-I-just-buy-Kids-Bop-23? kind of way, Kitty puts those worries to rest and continues with the obsessive girl from afar routine; this time, she's at a party drinking a Bud Light Lime (ew), stoned, listening to the guy in question talk shit about his girlfriend. She catches him snorting some yayo and then basically tells him to stick around for a while so they can screw.
Killer line: "I don't care how long it takes to get you after me," which, for the several first times I heard it, I swear sounded like she was saying "I don't care how long it takes to get you off to me." (There's also a part where she asks, giggling, "Do you think about me?" in that Lolita voice. That'll fuck with you for a minute.)
And the chorus is a straight up earworm.
"Orion's Belt" does not sound like it was produced by Tricky. It does, however, sound like somebody who's into Tricky produced it, which is OK. This is one of those raps where Kitty basically tells you how bad ass she apparently is. "Rap game Taylor Swift, .45 on my hip..." and from there she basically raps about rapping and uses self deprecating humor to alternately declare herself crap (thereby meaning she's the shit) and declare herself the shit. It's kind of boring, doesn't say anything, but at least Kitty gets to try something different, that is to say, she doesn't sound like she's a step away from OD'ing on diazepam while shucking the clam.
Killer line (delivered by guest rapper Riff Raff): "Your girlfriend's vagina smells like bumblebee tuna." Trust me, the laugh is in the delivery.
"Smiledog"? Get the fuck out of here with "Smiledog". This is Kitty Pryde's strongest song to date. The dreamscape production, the old-assed slowed-down-record sounding drum beat, the actual flow Kitty breaks out while using her wispy, dreamy voice... Goddamn. If there is one Kitty Pryde song you should hear, this is one of the two.
Killer line: It's the opener, hands down, what with rhyming parts of words in the middle of lines, not a new thing by any means but it's a first for Kitty: "The monster in my closet fought the one under my bed and in the middle of the battle I said, 'Don't tell my dad or he'll probably get mad and stop paying for all the adderall. I don't want that, I don't want to get fat at all."
I told you this chick was fucked up.
"Ay Shawty - The Shrekoning" is the other one you should hear. I read on some blog somewhere that the production is a slowed down sample of the strings from that "Call Me Maybe" song. I wouldn't know because A) I'm a grown goddamned man thus B) I don't listen to crap. When I mentioned Cibo Matto way earlier? Yeah, this is the one I had in mind. It strikes me as though the producer on this one has at least heard "White Pepper Ice Cream" or "Apple" and definitely "Sugar Water" (again, those are all off Cibo Matto's Viva La Woman for the curious and those rushing to tell me I'm wrong).
Killer line: "The birds and bees are a mystery... teach me?"
I've been fortunate enough in my life to have received a variety of invitations. Never has something so... Nabokovish? been said to me.
I need another shower.
"Give Me Scabies". I have nothing nice to say about this song aside from the fact that Kitty raps fast and does OK. Again, I'm not a rap guy. M. could tell you better whether or not she's doing it right. But she raps faster than ever before. Otherwise, really, you can seriously delete this song from your computer. You will have a strong four song EP and not a five song EP consisting of four really strong, solid, matured, dark songs with a total clinker tacked onto the end. And now that I don't have to keep it around for a review, I'm going to delete the damned thing myself.
Killer line: I can't understand a fucking thing she says.
Like I keep saying over and over, if you can't past the presentation - that being the sound of a drugged out fifteen year old with severe interpersonal dependency issues, this is not at all the music for you. If you're willing and able to dig beyond that, though, these are terrifically fucked up records.
The production on Lizzie is spotty, about half are really great. The production on Sorry is what looks to be Kitty's future works, or at least should. Whoever this Beautiful Lou is that she keeps mentioning, she should keep working with him.
Lyrically, everything that comes out of Kitty's mouth is fucked up but no more fucked up than anything Compton homeboys were advocating back in the day. The OG gangsta rappers talked about ho fuckin' and dope smokin' - which was fucked up for twelve year old Charlie to hear. Kitty Pryde brings real psychological issues related to dependency to the table and it weirds thirty one year old Charlie out a little.
And, yeah, it sounds severely less hard than Ice Cube telling you that he's coming straight out of Compton (forgive me, NWA is one of the few points of reference I have for rap music); it sounds far tamer than Ice-T proclaiming that he's a cop killer (Does it make me old school because I don't listen to any contemporary rap?); this is a young adult woman rapping about infatuation.
In describing Kitty Pryde's records to Georgie, I mentioned, of course, the Lolita aspect to them and the word "dark" came up over and over as I tried to convince Georgie that these records weren't so much throw-away pop hits but closer to psychological case studies.
None of this is to say that Kitty Pryde is, herself, fucked up but that she mines that territory. I can't listen to these songs and disbelieve that the person who wrote them is so unselfaware that they'd think that "dear diary" entry lyrics and confessions to codependency are simple pop fluff or even something fit for public consumption. If these lyrics are genuine, you would think that she would keep them to herself unless she's a true masochist and enjoys the public humiliation that comes from wearing her heart on her sleeve for an unnamed stranger.
And I grapple with this material. Since I began writing this review, I have told people that the voice Kitty Pryde uses sounds like someone who has recently masturbated and is clearly on some sort of prescription drug. (It does.) I've gotten a few cocked eyebrows. I've gotten a few questions. And I'll defend my stance: These records are clearly sexualized and could be so for marketing purposes, I get that. But it's like I've been saying all along: There is some real desperation to be mined here. I'd like to throw out qualifiers like "psychopathic" and "sociopathic" but, in the end, it's merely codependency. (Merely?)
So, how can I recommend these records?
Do you like it when women come off as legitimately bonkers? Do you like sick rhymes (or whatever the kids call them)? Do you like dreamy, aquatic tracks?
If you answered yes to that, you're good with this.
Can you not stand when grown-ass women sound like children?
If you answer yes to that, may I recommend that you listen to some Bastro, some Celtic Frost, some Venom, some Red Fang... You know, get your machismo on. Honestly, I had to stop listening to Kitty Pryde today. I just couldn't listen to one more song until I had to finish writing this review.
Honestly, I think this stuff is worth people's time and there's a lot to like in here.
But my band is better than all of this foolish nonsense. (That's me jumping on the haterwagon, trying to preserve my indie cred.)
 
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