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Growing / Earth / Merzbow / Circle, Great American Music Hall, SF, 9/2/05.

(Writing this, I realized I never did write about the fantastic Teenage Fanclub concert last month, or the PinoisePop concerts — Ninja Academy, the Skyflakes, and the excellent From Monument To Masses — that I saw with Special K and 40.)

I missed half of Growing’s set — two guitarists who were outfitted (almost hilariously) with a wall of six Peaveys and Ampegs: total MBV-like guitar drone, with loops feeding on themselves.

I’ve never really liked Earth, which is odd, considering how much I hold similar bands (and their albums) — Sleep’s Jerusalem, Corrupted’s Llenandose de Gusanos, Naked City’s Leng T’che — in high regard. Live, their music translates to stoner rock at an excruciating, audience-testing, slow pace, with the same, not-as-chunky Black Sabbathy riff repeated a few hundred times. (Indeed, the best part was when some guy in the audience yelled “Slower!”) It’s music best appreciated if one is slumped, in a stupor, on a sofa, but I was sober, and a couch was nowhere near.

The real star of the show, at least in my book, was Merzbow, whom I’d never seen live before. (I’m something of a Merzbow nut; at last count I had about 120 Merzbow titles.) I managed to wriggle front and center until I was pretty much right in front of Masami Akita himself (who did not even bother to look at the audience at any point). The man in black — black clothes, long hair, sunglasses, black New Balances — sat at a table, and faced a small arsenal of wires and knobs and two Powerbooks (one with the big sticker “Meat Is Murder”). His music resists language; there are barely any linguistic referents for this sort of sonic assault of electronic screeches, giant slabs of bowel-loosening bass rumble, waves of chest-tightening, frighteningly amplified fuzz and feedback. This was literally violent music; at some point I thought my eyeballs were vibrating uncontrollably in concert with one particular loop towards the end of his set — the sound of infernal machines on the brink of explosion. Awesome.

Circle was, in a sense, anticlimactic (the crowd had thinned considerably once they came on), but they were certainly the most energetic of the four acts. A Finnish postrock / krautrock band, Circle had two skinny shirtless guys, a big curly-haired rawk dude, and a masked drummer, beating a motorik groove to the ground. The vocalist, who looked oddly like Will Oldham, alternately orated and screamed like Keiji Haino. Much headbanging among the audience, which unfortunately inspired a couple of obnoxious drunk frat-boy types to push their way to the front. I think I like Circle’s studio albums more, but maybe my eardrums were already ruined by Merzbow before they began. It’s about an hour now since the concert and I can think my ears are still ringing…

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music

Your New Favorite Song.

Masami Akita is Merzbow, and Merzbow is the premier noise artist, period. With a crushingly massive discography (about 360 releases and counting), and albums that explore the same blasted electronic noise terrain, Merzbow is one of those take-it-or-leave-it musicians: you either know he’s not for you upon first listen, or you come back begging for more.

(I figure this was an opportunity to share a bit of Merzbow, considering the fact that I seem to be the biggest Merzbow fan on Audioscrobbler.)

The problem with his tracks is that they’re usually these 12-minute long affairs (sometimes even the entire length of a CD), with slab after slab of brain-drilling sonic terror, and I try to keep my selections fairly small. (I’m on 56 kbps dialup, after all.) But here’s a track called “Octopus,” off a 1999 album, Tentacle, that’s short and sweet and encapsulates pre-digital Merzbow (i.e., before he started using his Powerbook, which has resulted in a slightly warmer sound): low thud rumble here, ear-bleeding screech there.

Hear it (2.4 mb).

Comments?

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music

Rambling On.

It’s grading time again, which means… more Merzbow! Nothing like thick slabs of pulsing electric screech to clear the air.

God, doesn’t Merzbow ever stop? First there was that Merzcedes (a bit of a joke, really), then the 50-CD Merzbox set (complete with buttons, T-shirt, poster, screensaver, and now, from Ant-Zen, a day planner? (At least it’s not as wacky as Aube‘s Embers, which came with a lighter, or Pages from the Book, which appealed to my fanboy geekiness even more because it came with a page from the Bible that Akifumi Nakajima himself touched.)

Speaking of “seminal” again, I was listening to DJ Z-Trip and DJ P’s Uneasy Listening, Volume 1 in the car and, instead of nodding my head, I was shaking my head in disbelief instead. You know all those DJ mixtapes made by people — too cool, obviously, for me to hang out with — who apparently listened to nothing but crusty funk 45s and the UBB comps, while everyone else grew up to AM radio? Kind of like how the handful of people who bought the Velvet Underground’s first album all went out and started a band, but in reality was probably only this bunch of critics who couldn’t play to save their lives, and how the rest of America listened to Lynyrd Skynyrd and Duran Duran anyway? Well, this is the DJ mix CD for the rest of the world: with Hieroglyphics and Nas sitting uncomfortably with Phil Collins and Glen Campbell. DJ Z-Trip and DJ P raid the crates of middle America, and come up with the “What’s good for the goose…” intro from Ready For The World’s “Oh Sheila” segueing into Kansas’s “Dust in the Wind.” With a breakbeat. It’s that weird. It’s cringingly funny too, especially the hiphop version of Bruce Hornsby and The Range’s “The Way It Is.”

And did you notice the blogamp section enabled on the right? Cool, no?

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music

Merzbow's Remblandt Assemblage.

Okay, now it’s sounding more interesting. This album comes pretty much out of left field — it’s noisy, all right, but it seems philosophically closer to AMM-like improv. The disjunctions between the sound ideas remind one of a Nurse With Wound album — done in one take! There’s a toilet flushing, there’s random squelches and squalls, more cutlery-shaking, and so on. But the last 15 minutes are spent on a totally self-indulgent guitar solo (or rather, prepared guitar solo) which does not really go anywhere.

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Merzbow's Metal Acoustic Music.

A little better, but this also works on the electric-hum-in-one-channel and whatever-else-in-another principle, which isn’t very interesting. At one point there’s plinky-plonky guitar, at another it sounds as if he recorded himself leaving his keyboard, walking to the kitchen, and rummaging a drawer (presumably to look for the same spoon he used in OM Electrique. All for 46 minutes! I can’t even remember anymore whether this is the one where he blows raspberries…