10,000 Days

8 03 2011

Danny Carey is my favorite drummer of all time. I used to know every one of his moves from the EP and the first two records by heart. I may not have been able to PLAY it, but I could tell you exactly what he was going to do and when.

As obsessions tend to do, mine grew unhealthy. My own playing showed no signs of Danny’s mastery of both the aggressive and the subtle, so I essentially gave up. I wanted to be the best, or nothing at all.

In retrospect, it was a pretty extreme attitude, one that plagues me to this day, because I want nothing more than to be an accomplished musician. But this was not supposed to be about my attempts and (perceived?) failures at music. It’s about Tool’s fourth full-length record, 10,000 days, and how I seemingly denied its existence for what feels like that long.

When it first came out in 2006, I could listen to maybe three songs and still feel a glimpse of the symphonic rage and synchronicity of Tool’s previous work. But it felt to me as though an essential spirit was missing; either I had changed, or they had, or both. Indeed, as one of the most successful heavy bands, perhaps the hunger was no longer there, and in the case of Maynard James Keenan, much the anger of his youth had been vented through Tool and various other projects, and what was left to express was not as raw, as dark, as churning and retched.

On Lateralus the band began to show signs of becoming a parody of itself. And with 10,000 Days, I felt that lack of genuineness further manifested; the record was a thick, polyrhythmic cloud that I could not find my way through. Brilliant composition took a backseat to conglomerations of riffs and droning, melodic musings, telltale of the lack of inspiration and legitimate material to bring to the studio.

In the twelve years since I first hear Undertow, I had changed a lot as well. Back then, having a broad taste in music meant listening to James Taylor! Today I have records by Rodelius and Xenakis, have studied the structure of gamelan, and prefer the heat of a bebop jam to the oozy humanity of a general admission rock show. The point being that the weighty Tool riffage does not mean the same thing that it used to: I have a smoother soul. Like Maynard, much of my angst has been put behind me, but that doesn’t mean it’s all gone. Not yet.

It has matured, if that is even possible. And you get to a point where it’s boring going back to the same records. But the problem is that nobody did what Tool did as good as they did. Listening to every other derivative metal group just felt like slumming, like spending the best hours of the night in a dreary bar with dead end burn outs, drinking Lone Star and smoking menthol cigarettes, when you know you should be home writing music and drinking tea.

I am no stranger to the long way, so five years later and countless disappointing bands later, I find the first strains of Vicarious resonating within me. Resonating. That’s why I had to listen to Undertow five times a day when I was 17. It was as though the music was coming out of me, as if my anger and unhappiness were entirely responsible for the music, as though the band looked inside me and know what to play to soothe the abrasions. It was painful NOT to listen to it.

And now all this time later I find myself warming to them again. They do something no other band can, though I searched forever to find one, but that searching existed only for itself, because I thought I was supposed to find new stuff to listen to. And even if I failed to find something to take Tool’s place, the searching was not in vain, it only served to reenforce their dominance of the genre, whatever that genre may really come down to.


The True King

27 01 2011

The fact that I am about to write these words makes me want to vomit: A new kingdom will arise out of the mire of the many.

So ancient and itchy, I know, but as the core idea pertains to the status music today, I’m all for it. Don’t get me wrong, I think the proliferation of creativity and independent music is wonderful, for all the creative people taking part, for the gestalt, and for our culture as a whole. Affordable technology has placed production in the hands of the creative, myself included, and the results have been massive. There is some real evolution going on (creatively speaking), and the excitement level is so high, no body seems to care about where it’s going. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, because we’ll get there one way or another, right?

That’s fine. But, at risk of sounding old fashioned and impatient, I want to worship one new bad-ass band that redefines what a rock song is supposed to sound like! The beauty and problem with the state of things in 2011 is that we have too many bands doing this, each one a soma to its minor masses, each one contributing to the cosmic spiral of creative chaos, but none uniting millions of human animals and inviting them to leave their belief (and Blackberries) at the door and join them for two hours of face-melting magic.

I listened to the newest (not-so-independent) Kings of Leon record this morning, and I liked it. It really SOUNDS good. The production team behind it has a proven track record, and has helped make the band lots of money. But as good and as popular as the Kings are, what they are not is revolutionary: innovative enough so that you can hear a whole gaggle of bands after them and say, “Well, I know who they’re trying to sound like.” Please don’t confuse my discourse as sympathy for wannabes, because those bands are merely one of the side effects when a single band conquers all others and captures the hearts, minds and genitals of a generation, whose influence ultimately spans generations and lasts decade after decade! Who else out there is challenging the throne once held by bands as mighty as Led Zeppelin or Tool? Jack White clearly has the gravitas to command such worship, but his efforts are so spread out, there is no singular movement to get behind other than the man himself. And while there may be White Stripes reunions here and there, they already are a band of the past, though in terms of relevance and influence they certainly fit the pedigree.

I am not here to lambast the Kings, or any other band for that matter. They worked so hard, and they deserve the success that they have earned. I am just ready for the next band that just blows the doors of the establishment, strips the paint from the siding, blasts the glass into infinite particles that reflect the light from millions of smartphone screens and sculpt it into a mean and lustrous crown. Yet, given how personal music is and how many choices there are today, this discovery may very well rest with me, not our culture, and that’s what being independent is all about.