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Big Black and Michael Azzerad

… yeah. So this is partially about Michael Azzerad’s book “Our Band Could Be Your Life”, and partially about our friends Big Black, which formerly housed this odd fellow named Steve Albini. And the parts about the book are not really about the book; more about the bands discussed within. Also, this is one of those rare music posts that don’t involve metal.

Not to say that the Atomizer LP doesn’t sound metallic to the point that it could be confused with it by the genre’s non-listeners, but compared to something like Exhorder or Suffocation, it’s not exactly the same genre anymore, is it? If anything, Big Black resembles the post punk band Public Image Ltd (their essential MeTaL BoX, especially), in the sense that they rely on drones and textures and stream of conscious rambling to produce whatever effect. Which makes for an interesting listen, but I have to question how much depth the album has in the long run. If it doesn’t back it up with captivating compositions (I’ll find out whether it does or not with more listening, ok?), it’s not going to get many listens very fast…

And then there’s the other 12 bands discussed in the book, of whom my opinions seem to vary a lot about, from the appreciative (Black Flag, Mudhoney), the vaguely amused (Minutemen, Butthole Surfers), and the bemused by the apparent “relevance” (Sonic Youth, Beat Happening). One thing I noticed was a tendency as the book went on for bands to take increasing influence from ’60s/’70s pop rock, as if to be a retreat from the “different” hardcore influenced sounds that many of them evolved out of. We went from Black Flag incorporating doomy, Black Sabbathesque bits into albums like My War to Husker Dü apparently starting out as ’60s folk rock played at breakneck speed before slowing into something more melodic and “normal”, to Dinosaur Jr. and Mudhoney openly liking the rock they grew up, and then the whole “grunge” explosion that only really became huge when Nirvana wrote an album of heavily distorted pop songs, i.e Nevermind, as an alternative to their arguably more grungy fare…

Arguably, they got bored of hardcore, and its “loud fast rules” approach (as the book describes it sometimes) and relapsed into making rawer basic rock music with more unusual effects and experimentation without neccesarily joining a major label.  Nowadays, altrock is just another flavor of pop rock, and indie rock is … I don’t know what the hell indie rock does these days, but writers seem to talk about it in terms of sounds and textures and whatnot.

So I leave you with this question. Listen to these two videos and tell me, which one sounds more like an “alternative”?

Radiohead – Subterranean Homesick Alien (1997)

Therion – Dawn of Perishness (1993)

Y’know, I think I could do that for any year past 1980, although I’d prefer not to for after 2005 or so.

P.S: I wanted to talk about how Beat Happening vexed me, but that can wait for another post.

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