Regeneration

Posted in Indulgence on May 28th, 2011 by Alex

It’s a bit quiet around here innit? Unfortunately the pressures and distractions of the real world have rendered me with little time to maintain a decent blog. Running a blog is an order of magnitude harder and more time consuming than I ever dreamed it could be (Cosmo Lee put it far better than I ever could in his recent sign-off). It’s taken me a while to admit it to myself, but The Inevitable Nose is dead. It’s been a magical ride that’s taken me many places, introduced me to countless new people and taught me about writing, criticism, music, life – it literally shifted my worldview. I’ve come a long way, although I still don’t claim to be a good blogger/writer/critic, I’ve got a LOT to learn. I wish I had something more profound to say – something philosophical to sign-off with – but alas, the dimise of this blog was somewhat mundane, and thus so is this epistle. Perhaps in the future I’ll try my hand a blogging again, or whatever new-fangled innovation replaces it.

In the meantime, I’m not disappearing completely. I still love discovering new music and sharing it with other people, I just don’t have the time to write verbose articles on the subject. So, in a Doctor Who style regeneration, I’m going shortform, changing identity (the moniker ‘The Inevitable Nose’ was rather flippantly selected and is something I largely regret doing) and moving to Facebook (and maybe Twitter and some other places). Henceforth I shall be known as The Eschatologist, and I can be found here, please join me.

Trippywicked – The Bleak

Posted in Album, Reviews on September 9th, 2010 by Alex

Trippywicked - The Bleak

I’m never one to begrudge a band spreading their wings and embracing new styles. Sometimes it works, sometimes it just sounds like a genre band ‘doing styles’ – a hideous habit that should be left to the pop shitteratti with their legions of production-line songsmiths. Trippywicked’s pervious Acoustic Sessions comprised of a bunch of tracks from last year’s excellent Movin’ On rendered as minimalist accoustic vignettes. These well written songs survived the transition in fine form, but entertaining as Acoustic Sessions was the tracks lost some of their riff laden power rendering it a largely superfluous indulgence.

So it was with no little trepidation that I approached their new acoustic EP The Bleak – was this really going to be an exercise in Doom goes acoustic? It was quite a pleasant surprise to find The Bleak to be not only a perfectly natural transition on their melodic doom template, but a departure to another genre that is tangential to their riff hungry debut. Here we find stoner groove replaced with stripped back, melancholic fingerpicking overlayed with bittersweet melodies voiced with Pete Holland’s subtly idiosyncratic tenor. Doom metal this ain’t, but doomy it is. The Bleak (a title that sums up its contents quite capably) is more akin to Sea Change era Beck or Bill Callahan (aka Smog) at his most sparse and maudlin. The addition of subtle orchestral flourishes on final track Separate Paths hint at the melancholic plushness of Elbow or solo Mark Lanegan. Here simplistic melody and repetition reinforce a sense of isolation and introspection, and at times feels almost dronish, despite the brief length of these 4 tracks. This is an emotive and emersive experience and one that begs countless listens.

There will no doubt be cries of ‘hipster metal’ or Colplay wannabes, which is beside the point, as The Bleak is a seriously accomplished recording which will stand up against the pack, no matter which pack you compare it to. If you’re looking for the playful heaviness of Movin’ On, then you won’t find it here. This may be Trippywicked ‘doing styles’ or maybe The Bleak is merely a natural progression on their sound, either way it works marvelously and further solidifies them as one of the best underground bands out there at the moment and a contender for the big time. Now, if we could only get them to do something about their name…

The Bleak is available for pay what you want download here.

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Enos – Chapter 1

Posted in Album, Reviews on August 10th, 2010 by Alex

Enos The ChimpSo you’ve got a mate in a band that are a lot of fun live, but really, you think they’re a bit rubbish. He asks you to write a review on your blog, what do you do? Tricky. Thankfully, when Chris from Enos sent me their new album, this wasn’t a concern, as it’s really quite good.

So, if you didn’t know, and in the interests of full disclosure, Mr. Chris Rizzanski (aka Enos), along with me (aka Nez), runs the Thee Big Black forum and Zine. Chris is the singer, guitarist and mastermind behind simian themed psych/space/stoner troupe Enos. Their debut album Chapter 1 is a concept piece, which accompanied by a expertly crafted comic, tells the story of a real life chimpanzee (Enos) who was sent into space in the 1960’s on a test flight by NASA. The real Enos was brought back to Earth after a single orbit of the planet. Somewhere up there the real Enos, and the band’s mascot chimp’s realities diverge finding the fictional version getting caught up with some celestial Nazis. Yeah, it baffles me a bit too.

Musically, Chapter 1 nods heavily towards stoner legends Kyuss while throwing blues, psyche and space rock elements into the mix, at times matching the brutish heaviosity of Mastodon others taking a more leisurely, Floydian turn. Chapter 1 is immediate, and although not particularly challenging (that side of things seems to have been left to the comic) there’s more to find in every listen – these tracks have a lasting appeal thanks to some good songwriting and nifty, expansive production.

Clocking in at around 35 minutes, with only 5 tracks, Chapter 1 is a short introduction to Enos. As the album title suggests this is but the beginning of the Enos story, and it seems apparent that Enos, both chimp and band, have a lot more to offer.

Chapter 1 in its entirety and the accompanying comic can be downloaded here for free.

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Scorched-Earth – Mars

Posted in Album, Reviews on August 9th, 2010 by Alex

Scorched-Earth MarsAlmost falling fowl of my OCD scythe (get your ID3 tags set properly guys, please!) I found myself in a charitable mood and gave this album a chance, and boy am I glad I did. ‘Blackened Thrash’ they call it, the ‘blackened’ prefix is a bit of needless bandwagoning if you ask me, as this is old-school, brutal thrash with a bit of Death in the mix, which in essence aligns it with proto-BM of the early 80′s.

As the album title suggest, this is an album about Mars with lyrical themes that resemble Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom sequence set in the Warhammer universe. This violent thread sees Earth pitched against Mars in a bloody holy war of epic proportions in the year 2222AD. Native Martian rulers sit high upon Olympus Mons while their minions sacrifice themselves in the name of the Martian Gods, to be slaughtered by Earth’s heretic hordes. Perhaps allegorical, this fantasy yarn exists in a parallel universe without hope of mercy, and is the perfect landscape for Scorched-Earth’s vicious racket.

Mars is a bile-filled, unrelenting attack on the senses, registering somewhere between Sodom, and recent era Darkthrone, almost matching the demonic duo for punkish intensity and old school credibility. The production is as raw as a gangrenous, frost-bitten toe – utterly unprocessed and equally as unapologetic. Every instrument registers, demonstrating a prodigious level of technique and artistry whilst staying loose and lean – this album could have been recorded live, and is no worse because of it. The quantity of gold-standard riffs packed in here is nothing short of staggering, each one demanding to be acknowledged – the track Devils in Iron alone has enough riffage to fill a Gama Bomb album. At times Scorched-Earth venture into doomish territory, as with the bludgeoning instrumental No Blade of Grass, which includes some jazzy bass work and gargantuan riffs, but for the most part Mars remains (and as much as I hate using clichés, but I can think of no more appropriate way of describing it) fast and furious.

Some of the tracks here hang around longer than they should, and at 53 minutes Mars is overlong as a thrash album – 10 minutes could be hacked away and the album would benefit. However, there’s more conviction, energy and credibility than here a hundred Municipal Wastes. Thematically this Mars is considered and immersive, I’d love to read the novelisation. This is a master-class in the essence of thrash, if not metal in general, and reminder of what it’s supposed to be about. Up there with this year’s must have albums.

Scorched-Earth Website

Scorched-Earth Myspace

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Sticky labels

Posted in Indulgence, music stats on July 22nd, 2010 by Alex

Metalheads do like to label stuff. The proliferation of metal subgenres is nothing sort of staggering. According to the Encyclopedia Metallum – The Discordance (basically a big old database of metal based information mined from the Encyclopedia Metallum – thanks to Cosmo at Invisible Oranges for publicizing this fascinating site):

There are almost 5500 “genres” attributed in [Encyclopedia Metallum]. 5000+ of these have fewer than 10 bands each. Almost 4000 of them are assigned to exactly 1 band. But this chaos of descriptors is actually constructed of a fairly small set of significant terms, rearranged in more or less every possible permutation and assembly.

Metal band count by genre

When describing music it’s essential to have a lexicon of descriptive terms to work with. Conveying the essence of a song, sound or style in words is not easy, so saying “X sounds like Y” is an essential mechanism. When certain styles repeat often enough we create classifications for them, usually described as genres. Most types of music have a pretty discrete set of genres supported by a range of other related terms to help qualify and further refine one’s description. So if we take an Indie band, for example Elbow, we could describe them as “British prog inflected melancholic indie rock”. This not a genre in itself – most people, on hearing the music would simply call it “Indie”, or “Alternative” or maybe just “Rock”, those words are just one person’s description. However, in the metal world, Tombs are not simply described as “blackened hardcore”, to metal fans the are Blackened Hardcore. It’s not enough to say that At the Gates are Death Metal, they are Melodic Death Metal. Melodic Death Metal may be a sub-genre of Death Metal, but they are not the same thing. Most other genres don’t suffer from this genre proliferation. We have shoegaze indie (and shoegaze metal lately!) and Happy Hardcore is a sub-genre of dance, old-school Hip-hop, Alt-Country, Prog Rock, but it usually stops at a single sub-strata rather than branching endlessly as sometimes happens in metal. So we have:

Metal ->

Death ->

Progressive Death

Brutal Death

Gore Metal

Deathcore

Melodic Death

Death/Doom

Technical Death

Blackened Death

We see this to an extent in other genres, but it it somehow seldom manages to stick in the same way (eg. Big Beat, Nu-rave, and Acid Jazz were all pretty short lived. That said NWOAHM and Pirate Metal are unlikely to stand the test of time).

In metal, it gets more baffling still when you look at the lexical topography of the metal genre spectrum. At first glance it would appear to be broadly taxonomical – that is, there is a rigid hierarchy of genres and sub-genres, and any given band fits somewhere. We start at the top with Metal (itself a subset of Rock), and below we have the mainline sub-genres, eg. Thrash, Death, Black, Hardcore…hold on, isn’t Hardcore a sub-genre of Punk? But its influence on metal (not mention the influence of Punk in general on metal) is huge. So here we hit our first problem – Metal isn’t pure, it’s an amalgam, and strictly taxonomical structures will not easily apply. If we gloss over that we hit other issues. For example, Deathcore would probably considered a subgenre of Death Metal, whereas Mathcore is most definitely a subgenre of hardcore. So although the *cores are (somewhat dubiously) afforded a common heritage, they are taxonomically fragmented. Then we have the issue of genre bleedthrough – Alcest are both Black Metal and Shoegaze. Neurosis could variously be described as Post-hardcore, Sludge, Doom, Post-rock etc. etc. And what of Sludge? A sub-genre of Doom or Punk? And try even classifying Baroness, SYL, Cobalt, Om, Earth

(Incidentally an attempt has been made to establish a taxonomy of musical genres in an attempt to make sense of the burgeoning availability of music in the digital era. Read about it here.)

The ‘structure’ is perhaps more ontological (in the more modern sense of the word), where genres are related to each other in a more semantic sense. So Symphonic Metal, a sub-genre of Power Metal, is like Symphonic Black Metal even though they’re from a pretty distinct lineage. Some genres are grouped geographically – Swedish Death metal was very much a style of its own, NWOBHM (and the various other perversions of that acronym that we’ve been subjected to since). NWOBHM could also be taken to denote a period in time and only bands from that period (late 70′s to early 80′s) could belong to this genre – bands practising this type of music these days would probably be described as Classic Metal. Death Metal derives (to a significant extent) from Thrash, but is not a subgenre of Thrash. Thrash in turn borrows from hardcore although it largely derives from NWOBHM and proto-BM.

Some genres are stylistically ridiculously broad – Folk Metal (which encompasses some pretty disparate regional influences), Post-Hardcore (this one pretty much defies any meaningful definition and probably doesn’t exist at all). On the other hand some descriptors and sub-strata are pretty definitive, and a genre of 1 (or very few) is a very real concept. The Black Metal fraternity are particularly proficient at this, being so pathologically tribal. So there’s really only a couple of Orthodox Black Metal bands, and post-BM and Depressive-BM are pretty sparse. I think this gives us a suggestion of what all this genre chaos is about – loyalty, belonging, pride.

The bewildering array of sub-genres is as constraining as it is helpful, and many bands balk at the being pigeon-holed, but still journalists, record labels, bands and fans alike create and perpetuate these labels. Metallers are often outsiders, and tend to cluster in cliques of similar minds. The different genres attract different types of metalheads, and the genre label acts like a badge, drawing people to it and each other – something more tangible to take pride in and remain loyal to. I also think metalheads are often shameless geeks – like stamp collectors they collect and group and organise, like train spotters they note sightings.

Interestingly, genre labels are often synonymous with feelings of quality. So labelling something Nu-Metal is generally derogatory, whereas calling something ‘Progressive’ is generally considered good (despite the link with the overtly indulgent and un-cool  70′s prog scene). These days the *cores are often seen as bad, mainly by the metal snoberatti and hardcore purists. Black Metal kvltists are notoriously defensive of their beloved genre to the extent of attempting to ‘unclassify’ bands that don’t suit their view of what the genre represents, despite clear lineage (Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Bogir). There’s actually a report in The Discordance that claims to quantify this (see it here).

Perhaps the most compelling reason for metal genre proliferation is simply the diversity of the metal genre. When both Steel Panther and Sunn O))) coexist under the metal banner which derives influence from Hip-hop, Folk, Classical, Dance and even Country some serious descriptors are needed just so we can get a feel for what stuff might suit our particular taste. The ‘metal’ genre itself comes with much baggage and preconceptions particularly with outsiders whom I find often have a narrow view of what that tag represents. Simply calling a band ‘metal’ does little convey what the bands represent (unless perhaps you’re talking about archetypes like Judas Priest or Iron Maiden) so a more specific definition would seem appropriate – shame they often mean nothing to anyone not pretty well acquainted with the genre!

It’s a fascinating subject, and you could probably write a whole book on the variations, nuances, idiocies and inconsistencies contained within the metal subgenre spectrum. At the end of the day, call it what you want – if it sounds good then stop talking about it and concentrate of listening to it!

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Interview – Griftegård

Posted in Interviews on July 18th, 2010 by Alex

griftegard

Griftegård’s album Solemn.Sacred.Severe was one of my favourite releases last year. Saurated in religeous imagary and existential gloom, it sets a new standard for the Doom genre. Griftegård are the real deal. Musically, they are both cinematic and claustrophobic  whilst being oppressively dark, lyrically and thematically they are learned, complex and cryptic. I’m not usually that motivated by lyrics, and it takes something pretty singular to get my attention, and lyrically Solemn.Sacred.Severe intrigued and absorbed me from the first listen. As an exploration of theology, Christian dogma and the nature of existence it stands out as philosophical tome in its own right. It’s these lyrical themes that I was most interested in when compiling these interview questions. Some of these themes were covered in an ealier interview with lyricist/guitarist Ola Blomkvist conducted by German blog Burn Your Ears (read it here. Google translate makes a pretty decent job of the translation) but it left me with more questions than answers. So I was honoured when Ola agreed to answer some more questions. I recommend reading the Burn Your Ears interview first, as this uses that as a springboard.

Your apostasy from the Jehovah’s Witness faith from upbringing seems to dominate your lyrics and apparent worldview. Do you consider Griftegård’s music a type of ‘rebellion’?

No, the music/lyrics of Griftegård are not about rebellion against my upbringing, nor against the JW’s or any other religion in general. Focusing on the lyrics of SSS only, I would say they are more of a mirroring of the dialectics deriving from the experiences I have had with religion. Losing faith and filling the subsequent void is a lifelong process and the album accounts for this process up till the release of the album.

You quote Albert Camus as an influence who was an exponent of the Absurdist branch of the existentialist movement which suggests that it’s pointless (absurd) to look for meaning in the universe, yet your lyrics suggest that you continue to do so. Do you expect to find some sort of meaning in this universe?

Just because I mention Camus and his writing as a source of inspiration doesn’t mean I stand behind all aspects of his philosophy. I think he is a very insightful, yet very cynical, man with great knowledge of the human psyche, and also he has a great, and bleak, sense of humour which I appreciate a lot. There are other authors, philosophers and personalities I look up to that have had more impact on my world of thought than Camus though. Also, just like any reading and reflecting person (I imagine) I go through phases during which a certain theme/author interests me more and lately, for example, I have been absorbed by Huxley and Orwell and their utterly revealing writings.

I do not expect to find meaning for myself in this universe, at least not in a revelatory way hitting me in a bolt-of-lightning fashion, granting me instant and everlasting illumination/salvation. Nor do I believe in an absolute meaning true to all people since an absolute meaning can only be determined if one is able to observe the all objectively, and this perspective is needless to say denied everyone but the creator of the all. So in a way I can subscribe to the absurdist stance: for us humans to search for, and expecting to find, meaning (as described above) is absurd.

On the other hand I believe we humans can, and must, create our own subjective meanings (or, perhaps overtly cynically put, we need to weave our own self deceiving illusions) and maybe the simple answer lay in here: (for me) the meaning is to create. And to be. At least this is where I am now. To be creative and to be in the created. I have big problems with applying this “insight” though, cause just like all creative souls I am restless and cannot sit back arms crossed and just take in what I have achieved, I have to go on towards new realisations or I feel trapped and anxious. Of course one could extend this reasoning and go religious over it and say that every creatures meaning (in life) is to simply “be in creation honouring the creator, reflecting his greatness and light and passing it onwards”, but let us not go there cause I could go on forever on the subject and I have too many thoughts on the meaning of life to list and discuss them all here, too many theories that no one but God can confirm or deny, and up till now he has chosen to sit back and laugh in silence at me.

Ultimately you seem to revile human behaviour. In that respect, do you consider yourself puritanical?

I loathe the vulnerability and weakness of the human condition and all our needs and lusts, yes. The notion that we are more than flesh and that there might be a possibility to achieve freedom from it triggers frustration in me. I guess I have some distance to travel yet before I am able to accept the duality of spirit and body – meanwhile I will continue making songs in which I whine about it… I guess I am puritanical also in the sense that I feel offended by what has been done to the spirit of man by the powers that rule this realm. This realm truly is hell, and on so many levels a non divine comedy. I am developing some of my thoughts on this last subject on our coming album.

There is a sense in your lyrics that religion is both the damnation and saviour of humanity? Do you agree with this interpretation and if so how do you account for this apparent paradox?

I agree, and as for accounting for this paradox I refer to my answer regarding the meaning (of life) in this universe. My lyrics are often paradoxical as I do not want to close the door to any possibility permanently. The fear of static hinders me as it is equal to mental and spiritual death (blindness and self deceit).

Your style of using religious themes and language to describe a bleak and misanthropic worldviewis in some ways similar to that of Orthodox Satanist Black Metal bands like Deathspell Omega. Do you feel any affinity with such bands or philosophies?

To us, and to some of these bands, music and lyrics create a whole that is much more than the sum of its different parts, unlike so much of the contemporary trivia/entertainment that passes for music. This is the strongest link between us. We definitely feel an affinity towards acts like Funeral Mist, Ofermod, Watain, The Devil’s Blood and Necros Christos as we do with all bands that transmit “the right” atmosphere and feeling and walk the talk.

Do you intend to carry a message to people with your music, or is it purely for your own ends?

Griftegård can be perceived as an embodiment of spiritual/philosophical evolution set to music and lyrics, one that contains insight and doubt, triumph and defeat, in short Griftegård mirror a struggle (for knowledge). It is definitely for our own ends as a collective that we do what we do. But if we by sharing (what we feel is true) can make people start to think about things that really matter in the end we have served a purpose. We have no illusions of changing the world or its people in general though, we are too realistic and too old for such naive aspirations.

When writing , which comes first, music or lyrics?

In Griftegård music and lyrics are equally important and are developed simultaneously, and often separately. The reason for this might be that I often write the lyrics like poems, because I want the text to be able to stand on its own, without the music. This is also what we as a collective try to achieve with the music, to grant is such density that it could stand on its own and deliver the right atmosphere even without lyrics. When both kinds of expression have reached the highest degree of fulfilment we are able to give them they are put together and the necessary adaptations are made. Usually this is a rather painless process – often when we try a certain text against a particular piece of music it is as if the lyrics just have been waiting to marry with the music through Thomas (Eriksson, singer), who has a great ear and an even greater intuition for what a certain song demands in terms of vocal channelling.

To what extent is your choice of musical genre (Doom Metal) reflected by your lyrical themes? Could you see your ideas and lyrics mapping to other genres?

Doom Metal, as I see it, is the perfect medium for the kind of themes we deal with. The solemnity, the gravity, the pace, all furthers an atmosphere that creates a perfect room for ponderings of an eternal nature. There was never any question in our minds whether Griftegård would be a Doom band or not when we formed the band. Also I personally find it hard to compose anything else as this is what my heart is full of. As for the ideas of Griftegård mapping over to other genres: I could picture myself doing something aching to Apocalyptic Folk in the Sol Invictus vein at some point, using ideas that would fit Griftegård as well.

Both your music and lyrics are introspective and downbeat. Do you consider yourself a negative or pessimistic person?

I would not say I am negative and pessimistic by nature, but realistic. If you ask those near to me you might receive a different answer though. The less you learn about how the world is made up and the more you know of what really is going on the more resigned you become. There is no hope for this world as it stands now, it is clear for all to see, and only a massive turnover of the powers that be can save “us”.

Which other bands out there today that you consider your lyrical or musical contemporary?

To be honest (blasé & boring) I have lost contact a bit with the Doom scene the last couple of years so I don’t really know if there has surfaced any new acts that play it similar to Griftegård. I have still not heard of anyone but us writing lyrics from an apostate Jehovah’s Witness perspective though, but if there are any I strongly urge them to get in touch. Certainly there are acts out there that move in the same area as we do though, be it thematically/philosophically, atmospherically or purely musically. Even though Warning has quit them and we have a lot in common when it comes to feeling and pace, I sense this and apparently many others do as well (which is an honour for us) judging by reviews. While Heaven Wept must be mentioned in this context as well, for obvious reasons (even though Vast Ocean’s is the fastest WHW platter this far), and so must Forsaken. The current act that I feel is closest to Griftegård thematically and, to a certain point, musically though is Count Raven, whom we are making a split 7” release with, due out sometime in August through Ván. Dan’s lyrics are perhaps more direct than mine but we think very much along the same lines and there is a religious longing to his expression that I can relate to. I have a feeling that he, just like me, identify with The Bible’s Job to a certain extent, however much hubris this might be from my side.

In addition we feel a kinship with non metal acts like 16 HP, Michael Gira, Diamanda Galás and, perhaps surprising to some, Scott Walker, whose three latest albums are all dark, heavy and introspective masterpieces if there ever was any.

Are you currently working on new material?

Yes we are working on three new songs, which are in different stages of fulfilment, titles being A Beam InThe Eye Of The Lord, A Deathbed For All Holy and The Last Song Of The End (A Final Time). There are plenty of other ideas that are waiting to be realised as well but these are the ones we concentrate on at the time of writing (2010-07-16).

Any plans to play in the UK in the near future?

We are playing the Dublin Doom Day on the 18th of September 2010, which we look forward to a lot. We would jump at any chance of playing Britain but up till now nothing has been possible to arrange.

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The last.fm straw part 2: The road to recovery

Posted in Indulgence on June 30th, 2010 by Alex

…has this changed me permanently? What exactly is my taste in music? How will I know if the stuff that thought I liked was not just a product of my addiction? Only time will tell I guess…

I wrote those words the better part of a year ago referring to my taste crippling addiction to my last.fm playcounts and the various insalubrious statistics which one can derive from it. It turned out I wasn’t the only one. One commenter wrote:

You have opened my eyes, this has to stop. Today I’m removing my the AEP counter from my page. This can’t go on. Scrobbling should be about the fun!

Indeed. More recently I received an email from a fellow sufferer looking for guidance:

I recently read your article on your LastFM addiction (I’m very behind I know) and I HAVE THE EXACT SAME THING. How has your withdrawal gone? I’ve wanted to delete it several times, but I feel like losing all my Scrobbles would be wasted ‘work’ or something. Plus I’m just now getting into Porcupine Tree, and I’ve got this ridiculous idea that not being able to see how many Scrobbles I have of them will prevent me from gauging my ‘progress’ in getting into them. I would try and stop visiting the site and scrobbling, but I know I CAN’T DO THAT NOW because I’m hopelessly addicted. I also have the problem you had where I’m not even sure if I really like artists or if I’ve convinced myself I have to increase my versatility. Anyway, any tips? How did your attempt to break the addiction go?

I did break my last.fm addiction, for the most part. Here’s how.

After writing the article I struggled on for a few more weeks and nothing had really changed. Even if I wasn’t checking my last.fm stats (which I still felt compelled to do, at least once a week), always present was the knowledge that it was there, and everything I listened to was still out there for analysis and interrogation. Some more drastic action was needed. I toyed with the idea of deleting my account entirely, but it still seemed like an important document to me, so in the end I simply opted to cease scrobbling. Job done. I scrobbled nothing for at least 6 months.

Knowing that no-one but me would know what I was listening to I was slowly allowed to listen to music free of that volition. It felt really liberating, and what followed was a voyage of rediscovery. The feeling that I could listen to anything that I wanted was an intoxicating one – holding on to this feeling is what allowed me to finally kill my addiction. Eventually, what I discovered was that my music taste wasn’t as perverted as I had expected, just a little more directed – I was always listening to what I wanted to listen to, for the most part, but now it doesn’t feel like a guilty pleasure.

However, in the end, I really still valued the service of having a log of all my music listens – I’m both a music and stats geek (as you may have noticed) so the lure is inevitable. After some agonising, soul searching and mental preparation, I fired up a fresh last.fm account and started scrobbling again a couple of months ago, but this time with a resolve to use it as it was intended, to log mine and my family’s music listening in all its dread reality, warts and all. There’s no point in hiding from yourself, it will always catch up with you in the end.

Ironically, when you install the iTunes Scrobbler it scrobbles your entire history, which for me went back years, so my new account is pretty similar to my old one. However, I only check it occasionally. I checked my AEP once, but It’s not on my profile and it’s not something I pride myself on (there’s nothing that commendable about taste diversity after all, is there?).

Recently my son, 3 years old, learned to adore Neil Young’s Live Rust (don’t ask how he stumbled upon that album, I hardly ever listen to it!). He listens to it all the time, and each time it gets scrobbled (I intercepted a few but the vast majority are). It irks me a little, but I can live with it. I think that is a sign of recovery, for the most part.

In the end, my ‘addiction’ was probably a manifestation of some latent OCD tendencies, and these things should be tackled head on, which is what I eventually did. There was always a hint or irony in my original article, there are many worse an addiction to have after all, but I’m absolutely serious when I say that it had a real affect on my life, and I felt genuine elation to be rid of it. You’ll also see that I’ve learned to control last.fm and use the beguiling data in there for more constructive purposes.

Music isn’t and should NEVER feel like work, it is one of the ultimate escapes and releases. Music should be celebrated in volume and at volume, not measured out in rations.

So, am I reformed, rehabilitated? As much as I need to be and probably as much as I’ll ever be. Music, after all, doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and outside influences will always play a part in your music tastes and last.fm is but one of these. I can live with that.

Here’s my last.fm account if any of you want to join me on are bored/perverse enough to spy on my listening habits.

Related Articles

The last.fm straw – A Tale of Addiction

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Don’t play hard to get!

Posted in Rants, Resources for Bands on June 28th, 2010 by Alex
iTunes ID3 fail

Fail.

Bands are getting more and more enterprising and are increasingly seeing the value of giving their early releases away free of charge. Anyone who’s spent any time reading this blog will know that I approve. Every week I get sent, or stumble across, free releases from independent bands, and I try and make time to listen to, and in some cases review, as many of these as possible. However, often what I’m sent is a link to a page that contains a bunch of links to individual MP3’s. In theory this is fine, MP3’s are what I want as that’s the way that I generally consume music.

The problem is, when presented to me as a list of individual MP3′s, they’re a pain in the arse. I now have to download each track individually, hunt around my hard drive for them to import them into iTunes, then on to my iPod, in the process of which I often loose some. I’ve got limited time to devote to this, my hobby, and I’d rather spend my time listening to the music rather than trying to get the damn things onto my iPod! Once they’re there I often find, sin of ALL sins, the ID3 tags aren’t set properly so I can’t even find the bloody tracks! Grrr! It’s at this point I often give up. Life’s too short.

If you’re going to give your music away free, and reap the potential rewards of free distribution, you need to make it as easy as possible for folks to get a hold of and consume the stuff. Most listeners have a LOT less patience than me, and will simply move on when presented with a page of MP3 links. These are your potential fans, and loosing them at this early stage is just plain idiocy. Here’s a few tips:

  1. (Please tattoo this one on the inside of your eyelids so that you don’t forget) POPULATE THE ID3 DATA!!! I can’t emphasize this more. Put the correct data in the correct fields, correctly spelt. Populate the album field (even if it’s just to say ‘EP’), genre, year the lot. Make sure it’s consistently spelled and formatted across all files. If you don’t know how to do this then find out, or give up. Here’s a tutorial to get you started.
  2. Put all your tracks in a single compressed file with a file name that is human readable and includes band name and album title. No funny file types, zip is fine. If you have it, include high quality album cover and image of the band, and even some sort of introductory preamble which includes URL’s for your Myspace, website etc.
  3. Upload this file to as many places as you can – Mediafire, Rapidshare, Bittorrent, your own website. If the facility is available, include links to your Myspace so people can listen to it before they download.

Now, I actually don’t particularly advise this route if you’re in the business of promoting your album. There are plenty of tools out there to help you distribute and promote your music digitally. Bandcamp, for example, provides a media player so people can hear the music before downloading, as well as a ‘pay what you like’ function – OK, so most folks will pay nothing, but at least you have a chance of making some cash. Soundcloud has some excellent social/promotional functions (you’ll notice that I have a Soundcloud dropbox so that artists can send me tracks). Don’t limit yourself, the internet is a goldmine of (often free) promotional tools. Make it easy for people to hear your music and give it the chance to be loved!

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Numbers of the Beast #2: A skew loose?

Posted in Indulgence, Uncategorized, music stats on June 24th, 2010 by Alex
Lemmy - A skew loose?

Lemmy - a skew loose?

So we’ve learned that some bands have pretty obsessive fans. It’s nice that they’re listening to a lot of Opeth’s music, but are they just getting gooey over one album or even a single track? Let me demonstrate what I mean at its most extreme – the one hit wonder. This is not a phenomenon that’s particularly prevalent in the metal genre, so we’ll look to the genre most susceptible: pop. When I think of one hit wonders, one track always seems to spring to mind: Deep Blue Something – Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It’s a nauseating ditty that seems to blight the airwaves still, even 17 years after its release. Let’s see what Deep Blue Something’s last.fm listener profile looks like shall we?

Deep Blue Something last.fm

Breakfast at Tiffany's and some other tracks

Oh dear, a staggering 83% of Deep Blue Something’s overall listens were from that one track that you doubtlessly find occasionally looping round in your brain, eating away at your soul. In statistical speak this effect is broadly referred to as Skew or Skewness. According to Wikipedia “In probability theory and statistics, skewness is a measure of the asymmetry of the probability distribution of a real-valued random variable.” Ummm, yes. Put more simply, and in the current context, if folks are listening to 1 or 2 songs from a bands catalogue lots, and hardly anything else, then that band’s playcount would be considered to be skewed. In last.fm circles, the calculation for this is often referred to as AEP (I won’t bore you with what it means, other than it’s a fairly arbitrary statistical calculation) which gives an indication of skew across a band’s top 50 tracks. The AEP is a value of between 0 and 5 that indicate skewness, where 5 is not skewed at all (all tracks listened to exactly that same amount of times) and 0 (or less) is very skewed. Thanks to that wretched track, Deep Blue Something’s AEP is -13 (yes minus 13), compared to, to pick another more successful pop act, Michael Jackson, whose AEP is a respectable 2.7.

So, how does my list of metal acts fare in the AEP stakes? Let’s have a look:

Artist AEP
Devin Townsend 4.43
Neurosis 4.41
Blind Guardian 4.37
Napalm Death 4.35
Opeth 4.32
System of a Down 4.3
Cathedral 4.29
In Flames 4.28
Tool 4.27
Children of Bodom 4.25

So here we see a different picture again. These are very high AEP’s, which indicates that the bands’ top 50 most listened to tracks are listened to a comparable amount of times. What this suggests about a band is that they’re not just a 1 trick pony – their fans love a wide variety of their tracks rather than listening to just a couple before moving on. Predictably, In Flames make a reappearance, Opeth remain strong, and we all knew that Devin Townsend fans were an obsessive bunch (this incidentally, doesn’t include all the numerous variations on Townsend’s solo band names, or SYL, who are #32 in this list). This is a respectable list – Neurosis, Tool, Cathedral, all at the top of their game and widely respected, and there’s a real mix of genres here. Perhaps this is a demonstration of a quality all round band, no filler. Albums bands, career artists.

This may all be true, but things get a lot more interesting, and confusing, if we consider the other end of my (far from exhaustive) list:

Artist AEP
Nirvana 3.03
Ozzy Osbourne 2.53
Black Sabbath 1.84
Soundgarden 1.69
Mötorhead -1.28

Yeah, a bunch of flash in the pan, one hit wonders – non-players. Oh wait…those would actually be some of the most revered and respected bands in the rock/metal arena! What went wrong? I’ll give you 5 reasons: Smells Like Teen Spirit, Crazy Train, Paranoid, Black Hole Sun and last, but by no means least, Ace of Spades. If you don’t know exactly what those 5 labels refer to, then you must have been living in a cave for the past 40 years. Now, for many of these bands, these tracks are the worst, but not the only, offender (Come as You Are is a close second for Nirvana for example), but each bands have significant skew thanks to these BIG hits in their back catalogue, something that few of our least skewed acts have. So we’re still missing a dimension here…

Let’s take Mötorhead, who are skewed into minus numbers by their ‘classic’ (quoted as Lemmy doesn’t reckon it’s their best track) Ace of Spades. Now, as we saw earlier, Breakfast at Tiffiny’s accounts for 83% of DBS’s overall listens, so what of Ace of Spades? Well, it clocks in at a modest 10% of Mötorhead overall listens. So where are all the other listens going? Well, remember that AEP is calculated across a band’s top 50 tracks, so the majority of listens of Mötorhead’s tracks must be happening outside of their top 50. Given Mötorhead’s rich and voluminous back catalogue this is hardly surprising.

So, there’s another calculation that will tell us which bands benefit from this sort of listener attention, it’s called the Long Tail and we’ll discuss this in the next article.

Related articles:

A long tail of a critical discrepancy

Numbers of the Beast #1: Love you long time

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Absence makes the heart grow…

Posted in Gigs, Indulgence, Reviews on June 12th, 2010 by Alex

It’s been a few weeks since I last posted, largely because I went on holiday, and I’m still recovering from the mental fug that left me in, and a mild case of writer’s block. A few things have transpired since I posted here. So, time for a short retrospect.

Pavement BrixtonPavement, O2 Brixton, Wednesday 12th May 2010
Their entire career lo-fi indie legends Pavement had displayed a flagrant disregard of convention, either musically or genre imposed, focussing more on the deconstruction of musical art rather than its fulfilment. Their live show is a glorious, ramshackle celebration of chaos, irony and bare faced lunacy. That’s not to say that Pavement don’t take their art seriously, it’s just that they don’t think art needs always to be so serious. Their entire back catalogue is spanned almost at random in a show that covered classics and obscurities in equal measure. The highlights were rabble rousing Unfair, Steve Malkmus throwing a hissy fit and throwing down his malfunctioning guitar on the floor half way through Summer Babe, and 5000 people shouting ‘NO BIG HAIR!’ at the culmination of Cut Your Hair.

Pavement are more punk than many a punk or hardcore band around today. I think some of this loose, lo-fi aesthetic and ethos is missing from the punk and metal genres. Once upon a time it was “pick up a guitar, learn 3 chords, write a song”. These days in metal it’s more like “pick up a guitar, a shed load of effects and Pro-Tools, learn Dream Theatre’s Octavarium, note perfect, from beginning to end, spend 2 years writing a prog metal epic”. But the pursuit of art isn’t confined to endless noodling, expanding, refining. Pick up Napalm Death’s Scum, and Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain and learn a little about experimentation.

Cathedral, ULU London, Thursday 29th April 2010
Doom should be played loud. The bass emitted by a doom show should loosen your teeth in their sockets. Whether it was the lack of sound check (the bands collectively arrived late) or some stupid sound regulation is unclear, but one way or another this show was nowhere near loud enough. Because of this, Japanese serial killer obsessed doom merchants Church of Misery, a band I’m not particularly familiar with, failed to have an impact on me, so I spent their set outside catching up a long lost friend that I’d bumped into on the night.

Cathedral too suffered with the auditory depravation, but still managed to put on a spirited show. Playing various tracks from their lauded new album The Guessing Game mixed in with classics such as Hopkins (Witchfinder General) and Ride, in all other facets the show was everything a Cathedral show should be. Singer (and bone fide doom legend) Lee Dorian’s manic flailing makes for an entertaining spectacle, and the crowd departed with a collective smile on their faces. Good enough for me.

RIP Ronnie James Dio
There’s nothing that I can say about Dio that hasn’t been said a million times by now. There are few icons in the metal genre that can match his stature and influence. Dio’s gargantuan voice formed a vital part of the soundtrack of my formative years. It is Dio and not Ozzy that provides that voice for my favourite Black Sabbath song:

His legacy is a fitting enough tribute in itself, and should speak (howl, wail, scream) for itself. Rest in Peace Ronnie, you will be missed.

The Inevitable Nose is 1 year old
On the 31st of May 2010 it was a year since my first post on this blog (I urge you not to waste your time checking out my early posts, they are poorly written, inaccurate nonsense for the most part), which in the intervening year, has formed a vital part of my existence. Started as a mechanism to recommend music to my mates, it soon turned into a musical odyssey that would have a massive impact on my life. I’ve discovered musical forms that I never knew existed, learned that I know nowhere near as much about music as I thought I did, met people who have become good friends who I otherwise would not have met, rediscovered old friends, helped found a forum and fanzine and improved my writing skills massively. It’s sometimes hard to remain interesting, relevant and maintain quality, but writing this blog never feels like a chore, and thus far has propelled me to fascinating and inspiring places. To those who have tuned in over the past year, thanks for listening, it’s been an absolute pleasure.

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