Monthly Archives: November 2013

The greatest (2)

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…Volume two in an occasional series

Two (contrasting) offerings from Neneh Cherry: one of my favourite vocalists and lyricists. Her tone and delivery are unmistakeable, richly-soulful in a way that too many ‘Soul’ singers aren’t and she’s apt to switch between singing and rapping in a manner as organic as it is unpredictable. Like two of my other favourites, Seal and (Marillion‘s) Steve Hogarth, she plays fast and loose with rhythm around and against the backing track; teases raw poetry from unlikely word-choices.  Progressive might not be the first word to spring to mind when one thinks of Cherry‘s music, but her restless musical exploration spanning four decades has encompassed – and frequently blurred the divisions between – electro, trip-hop, soul, rock, folk and jazz styles, much as her mixed-parentage, itinerant lifestyle and multi-ethnic extended family challenges conventional notions of nationality. Hers is a musical melting pot to dip into again and again and continually discover new and fresh flavour combinations…

Move With Me

Think Twice (with Groove Armada)

Blood Test

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I took an HIV test yesterday. Not that I was seriously concerned I might have contracted the virus, mind: rather that I work for an HIV/AIDS organization, and a sister organization, as part of national HIV Testing Week, was utilizing our premises to offer instant antigen/antibody tests to clients and staff. Kinda weird in the former instance, since being HIV+ is a prerequisite for referral for treatment; but staff-wise it seemed like good form to – and be seen to – attend to one’s sexual health.

My ‘tester’ explained that which might once have been semi-taboo to voice, that as a ‘straight’, white man, the risk of my contracting HIV thru sex  was somewhat lower than it might be for a man indulging in regular homosexual relations.

One aspect of the testing procedure surprised me: I filled out a form with personal details prior to the blood test which included my sexual orientation; from which I could choose ‘straight’, ‘gay’. ‘lesbian’, ‘bisexual’, ‘Transgender (Male to Female), ‘Transgender (Female to Male), ‘other’. Perhaps you can guess from whence my surprise sprang? As something of a ‘gender sceptic’, I’m familiar with the line that ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ are discrete ‘boxes’ as it were. So goes popular, contemporary ‘queerthink’. Could it be that the UK’s preeminent (and admittedly gay-male-centric) HIV charity missed the memo or is their use of language deliberate and candid?

As it happens, I agree, to a point: both ‘cis’ and ‘trans*’ people can be attracted to either/both (biological) sexes and/or to folk presenting as one, other or both. But underlying that fact is the reason that sexual orientation is such a deal, even now, in terms of  personal identity. Andrea Dworkin delineated this so well in the ‘Law’ chapter of her magnum opus, Intercourse [1987](p. 185-211):

‘The laws regulating intercourse – prescribing how we must use each other (be used) as well as proscribing how we must not use each other – are supposed to protect the authentic nature of men and women. Men being fucked like women moves in an opposite direction … [t]he regulation of men by men in sex for the sake of upholding men as a class is the least recognized, least scrutinized aspect … of social control…’

During this chapter, the author also states ‘…[e]very detail of gender specificity was attended to in the Old Testament, including cross-dressing ‘A woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garments; for whosoever doeth these things is an abomination unto the Lord thy God…’

Dworkin remains on record as the least ‘transphobic’ of radical feminist thinkers; yet she clearly and succinctly apprehends the symbolic and real dichotomy between ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ modes of attire/behaviour inherent in historical conceptions of gender: deeply-rooted (radical) correlations which are not easily dismissed or over-written by superficially-neutral jargon.  The inference I take from the previous quote is not that the consumerist-patriarchal monetization of gender-nonconformity is to be embraced (which can be discerned even in the presumably-positive notion of the ‘pink pound’, as well as the ‘Transsexual Empire‘ to borrow Janice Raymond‘s epithet) but, rather that in her radical vision, we might reach a point where ‘gender’ ceases to hold sway over our estimation of interpersonal – and specifically sexual – relations.

Until that day arrives, ‘gender’ and sexuality truly cannot be conceived as being entirely separate aspects of our malleable, shifting sense of human identity…

“When the environment makes gender salient, there is a ripple effect on the mind. We start to think of ourselves in terms of our gender, and stereotypes and social expectations become more prominent in the mind. This can change self-perception, alter interests, debilitate or enhance ability, and trigger unintentional discrimination. In other words, the social context influences who you are, how you think and what you do.”

Cordelia Fine (Delusions of Gender…, [2010])…

…even as living in the relatively-liberal West – and especially here in the city of Brighton, UK – the aggressive hetero-normativity and entrenched (Judeo-Chistian-Islamic) conservatism of most human cultures is easily-forgotten, or at least ignored. As Stephen Fry reminded us in his recent TV documentary, this is something of a luxury: in a gender-free, more sane world it ought not to be.

And to return in the end to the matter of HIV testing, if you or any of your loved ones are concerned about the risk of HIV infection, it’s HIV Testing Week until November 29: you can find information here and here.

3rd time lucky: Pripyatic

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Marillion guitarist Steve Rothery has a new instrumental side project The Ghosts of Pripyat scheduled to be released in September of next year. It’s his first solo outing proper after a couple ‘false starts’…

‘I had an offer to record a solo album from EMI during the recording of Misplaced Childhood in 1985. However it led to a strong disagreement within the band and the idea was shelved. While recording the Brave album at Miles Copeland’s chateau in France I was offered a deal to make an instrumental album for his “No Speak” label, however, I decided to record the first Wishing Tree album instead. Fast forward another twenty years and I’m invited to play at the annual Plovdiv guitar festival in October 2013. Having committed to the festival it left me with the small problem of what to play for an hour. “Blues in A” just wasn’t going to cut it. I had a few strong ideas and got together for a couple of writing sessions with my good friend and fellow guitarist Dave Foster. Dave and I have a great musical chemistry which brought forth a lot of amazing music. After a couple of days rehearsal with the fantastic rhythm section of Leon Parr and Yatim Halimi I realised this was going to be something really special. The live album and video from the performance gives you an idea of where the finished album, “The Ghosts of Pripyat”, will go…’

He’s financing the release via Kickstarter, the popular crowd-funding platform that so resembles Marillion‘s long-established business MO and it surpassed its (modest) funding target on launch day (yesterday and also the man’s birthday). But don’t that let it stop you from chipping in if you like what you hear…

Unrestrained by the structural demands of Marillion‘s familiar songwriting style, Rothery‘s playing takes on a different dynamic; a melodic lead that is by turns less fiery and more richly-realised . The above montage of clips evidences a sound somewhat removed from his day job, though fans of that band might notice passing similarities to past instrumental breaks such as The Opium Den and Cathedral Wall. The harmonic choices and elegant phrasing are identifiably Rothers yet… different. Bold, languid and, dare one say, a little indulgent. White Pass (below) begins with chords that faintly remind of Jordan Rudess‘ opening to the Someone Like Him section of Dream Theater‘s Octavarium; noodles gently awhile before subtly gaining momentum.

It’s plaintive and gently compelling, and whilst I could have survived with a couple minutes less noodling in the early part of the song it effectively showcases the tasteful mastery of mood that Rothery brings to the table at The Racket Club. If I have one overarching criticism it’s that the ululating crescendo never really reaches a satisfying climax: it just kinda peters out awkwardly and abruptly; the ‘great chemistry’ Rothers alludes to (above) failing to coalesce into a stable musical molecule.

So this is not about tight, technically-adventurous musical showmanship so much as carefree, melodic rambling to stir the soul. In a way, it falls between two stools; insofar as it’s a bit too interesting to serve as ambient chill-out fare, whilst not demonstrating the full-blooded chops that will start the virtuoso-twitchers stroking their beards in wonderment. It possesses a little of the gently psychedelic quality of early Porcupine Tree, something that Rothery‘s Marillion bandmate, bassist Pete Trewavas explores with his Edison’s Children project.

Speaking of Mr Trewavas, and full-blooded chops; Transatlantic (his collaboration with Mike Portnoy [Dream Theater, Winery Dogs, Flying Colors], Roine Stolt [Flower Kings, Kaipa] and Neal Morse [Spock’s Beard, Flying Colors]) are set shortly to unleash their forth studio project, Kaleidoscope upon the world . The pre-order opens on December 10.

So, a good time to be a Marillion fan and/or an aficianado of what was once dubbed ‘underground music’. Underappreciated? Maybe. Priapic, sorry Pripyatic? Sure. But go knock yourselves out…

Got that covered – Aaron o’Keefe edition

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Unless you’re a pop megastar or an outspoken feminist, sifting and junking unedifying email isn’t really that big a deal.

So sign up for a bunch of stuff; just dive in. Sure, you might find yourself deluged with bunch of crap stuff, but then once in a while you’ll stumble across something that just blows you away, like this did me:

Aaron o’Keefe‘s just a regular guy: a music tutor. But when his students are tackling tunes like this – and with such applomb – he’s obviously doing something right. I think I actually prefer this to the original. I went straight back to Ӕnima after hearing this and it’s ok – good actually – but Tool never really happened for me until it put out Lateralus. Maynard Keenan is an amazing singer (see below) and it takes some balls (or maybe just childish fearlessness) to step into his shoes. This little girl is just fantastic, and the young guy on drums ain’t no slouch, either (check out those drum signatures [4.31-5.06]). Don’t let X-Factor/BGT get you down: not everyone’s chasing the money and/or vacuous adulation. For many it’s all about the art…

I likely wouldn’t have come across this if not for Jason Hirshhorn’s Media ReDEFined, along with Upworthy, GenderTrender and The Lefsetz Letter they’re my top go-to sites for current affairs stuff. Like I said up top, trawl the net and if something clicks, click: there are enough diamonds in the rough for everyone.

For Tool newbies, here’s the original recording from Ӕnima:

…and my favourite Keenan vocal performance, Wings For Marie Pts 1 and 2:

Enjoy! 🙂

The greatest…

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One last post before bed…

Posted a reply on a music forum a while back: ‘Top 10 Songs… Ever!

Ever?! Just 10?! As if!!

But hell, why not have a go? So in no particular order and to no-one’s schedule but my own I’m gonna publish that list a song or two at a time, plus any others that might have made it on a different day or in a different mood: just songs that really hit me where it matters and have had me reaching for the repeat button. I’ve played all of these over and over and they never fail to deliver…

Reflektor – Arcade Fire

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Check out this blog, music fans: covers a wide mix of genres and provides concise, pithy reviews that capture the flavour and fan-appeal of the music rather than getting bogged down in muso-only technicalities or NME/broadheet-style I’m-too-coolness…

Lachlan J. Faces The Music

Released 28th October on Merge Records

Rock/ Alternative/ Experimental

ArcadeFireReflektor

Darlings of the experimental/alternative/hipster scene Arcade Fire are back with a fourth record. Two discs full of pumping bass, distortion, disdain, and cleverly balanced pop and noise with a large debt owing to the late seventies and early eighties work of David Bowie; pretty much exactly what I was expecting when I came into this record really. I’m certainly not one to believe the hype when it comes to this sort of artistic abstraction (as you may well know), but I’ve got to say that with Reflektor I was actually rather much further away from disappointed then I anticipated.

In fact, coming into with such a wary feeling due to being conned by so many similar bands previous I was actually pleasantly surprised by the intelligence that’s gone into this piece of work and the lack of pretentious pandering. The…

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Hold your breath … ’til you feel it begin…

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Further to ‘Lightbulb Moment…’ here’s a taster for the upcoming Edison’s Children album The Final Breath Before November:

The Final Breath is the opening cut from the new album and hints at something darker than In The First Waking Moments, pushing further into ‘gothic’ territory: in particular (singer, Eric) Blackwood‘s breathy vocal is faintly-reminiscent of Fields Of The Nephilim‘s Carl McCoy.  Musically I’m also reminded of the lush, spacious textures (that band) peddled on The Nephilim and Elizium, also by Levitation especially on the moodier second half of Need For Not, and Gazpacho‘s Night conceptual opus. These are albums that build intricate layers of sound into immersive mood trips, whether by alternating post-rock style repetitive riffs with explosions of muscular prog or interpolating evocative tonal details and haunting synth washes.

Pete Trewavas and Eric Blackwood are no slouches in the musicianly stakes, but it was utilizing these kinds of writing and recording ‘tricks’ that made In The Last Waking Moments such a memorable album, rather than in yo’ face showboating. Conversely, whilst neither are technically-proficient singers, their pleasingly-raw delivery and sincerity impart real character into the songs.

Here’s hoping their ‘Final Breath…‘ is nothing of the sort…

This track does it’s job as a teaser well: it gives little away yet leaves an indelible impression. I want to hear more…

Man up (2)

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‘…[a] cynical set of institutional fetishes that rewards unhealthy behavior.’

Is how Grantland staff writer Brian Phillips describes the hyper-masculine culture of  ‘hazing’ – common to competitive sport and the military – that he so eloquently critiques in the above piece. Now, I’ll admit right off the bat that I know dick about Football in general or the NFL in particular. But the kinds of behaviour described, if not the specifics, then in general feel familiar: the toeing of a party line; the adherence to hierarchy; the pain and injustice swallowed by silence; the propensity for dealing with issues ‘in house’ in order to obfuscate wider political ramifications…

(Similar if not identical patterns of behaviour can be observed in other institutions: Phillips mentions the military; one might also bring up the family; schools and universities; corporations… In arenas such as high-level competitive sport and the military, even basically liberal-minded observers can be tempted to swallow the necessity of byzantine codes of ‘discipline’; justify inhumane means in the name of its universally-desirable ends.)

The word ‘gender’ doesn’t crop up until the penultimate paragraph, but that’s exactly what Phillips is interrogating from the start; and whilst it’s very much (hyper)-masculinity under the spotlight, the slippery slope from locker room shenanigans to naked hostility and violence  – ‘hazing creep’, so-called – parallels a process and a template more widely-applicable to systems of hierarchy in general. Whilst reading Phillips‘ piece, a quote from radical environmentalist Lierre Keith sprang to mind:

‘I have spent three decades fighting male violence … I believe that a social system of male domination starts with human beings who are biologically male or female and creates two social classes of people: men and women. Socialization to either group can be a brutal process.

Men are made by socialization to masculinity. Being a man requires a psychology based on emotional numbness and a dichotomy of self and other. This is also the psychology required by soldiers, which is why I don’t think you can be a peace activist without being a feminist.

Female socialization is a process of psychologically constraining and breaking girls—otherwise known as “grooming”—to create a class of compliant victims. Femininity is a set of behaviors that are, in essence, ritualized submission. (my emphases)

The point of extending the quote to describe socialization to femininity serves both as contrast and comparison. Keith alludes to other types of ‘classist’ behaviour in her letter (which you can read in full here) and whilst not precisely equating them, points up commonalities:

‘…my position on race and class[:] … [t]he categories are not natural: they only exist because hierarchical systems of power create them (see, for instance, Audrey Smedley’s book Race in North America). I want a world of justice and equality, where the material conditions that currently create race, class, and gender have been forever overcome…’

It’s part of the class (gender) contract that men ought not only be prepared to wield but also field the ultimate sanction; the administration of violence – don’t dish it out if you can’t take it, as it were – and those that are unable or unwilling are tarred with the same brush and demeaned with slurs which, at least symbolically relegate them to a lower class. It’s not insignificant that Incognito invokes racist and sexist language when he excoriates and humiliates Martin via Twitter. The function of ‘hazing’ within a closed group in some respects resembles the ‘grooming’ that that groups performs on subordinate ones.

Phillips‘ polemic links to Matt Ufford‘s SB Nation piece, which whilst perhaps betraying a certain naïvité – the military’s policies work then? Radical analysts of Keith‘s stripe might well argue that responding to class violence with institutional policy simply replaces noise for silence as a means of obscuring the problem – yielded the following somewhat perceptive comment (from jbacon55)

‘First, anything that is both compulsory and non-beneficial for the present purpose … violates notions of human freedom and dignity we all hold dear.

Second, what may seem trivial to many could be deeply damaging to another. To many, singing in front of the team is fun and builds memories. To others, especially those with something like social anxiety disorder, that can be the stuff of nightmares. Singing karaoke neither makes you a good football player nor is it a test of some requisite skill.

Third, in authority-subordinate relationships permission can be a fiction. The forces of peer pressure among the subordinates combined with the implied or explicit influence of the authorities render it impossible to truly get someone’s permission to do something with any certainty.

Fourth, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, this kind of behavior creates that authority/subordinate relationship among teammates. Surely veterans should be in a place of authority when it comes to football matters, but otherwise it’s best for the team if it’s members are exactly that: teammates. Bonds are formed by shared hardship and mutual respect. Even “light” hazing violates that and can even render it impossible.’  (my emphases)

Reading his/her first and forth comments together one can infer a truth that (male) institutions are perennially loath to admit, to wit; the ‘present purpose’ is to create authority/subordinate relationship(s) [by means of] violating notions of human freedom and dignity. So long as such relationships (in which, as addressed in point three permission can be a fiction) exist, said purpose is forever the present purpose. The substance of jbacon55‘s comment echoes Keith‘s somewhat, even if she/he stops short of denouncing hierarchy as unnatural.

‘Hazing’, incidentally, is a moderately-popular sub-genre in (mostly American) mainstream pornography; notable if only that it highlights the sexual component – by some measure more observable in men – in hierarchical subordination. In popular parlance, pornification, but historically – and to reiterate Phillips – fetish(ising) by any other name: an all too frequently inhuman means to an all too frequently inhuman end.

[An] emotional numbness and a dichotomy of self and other.

Man up.

Woman down.

Gender role model

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‘This is not about gender…’

No? Legler‘s opening statements ‘I am a woman. I model men’s clothes’ immediately beg the question, ‘but are they men’s clothes, when a woman wears them?’ She’s a woman, and they’re her clothes, at least whilst she models them. Legler might not wish gender to be the focus of critical discussion around her position in the fashion world, much as Eminem might not have wished race to be the focus of critical discussion around his position (at least initially) in the hip hop world; but the reality of those worlds, and the world at large creates a certain inevitability that it will be so. The suggest otherwise seems disingenuous, as does her offense at ‘…the notion of being so removed from reality as to require a school for trends, and repulsed at the blatant attempt to co-opt and commodify culture for business profit over participation and engagement with it.’ Really? In the fashion industry?

‘To limit this conversation to the red herring of gender is dangerous, careless and nothing short of ignorant – it takes for granted the intelligence and wellbeing of our communities … It shames those who are gender-conformative and perpetuates a construct of homogeneity and belonging that is nothing short of destructive for our youth. It offers a false sense of privilege and ignorance to those who “fit” the norm (or trend) while potentially destroying those who don’t and ignoring those who are able to survive outside of it…’

There’s nothing false about the ignorance of those who ‘fit in’, nor the privilege they accrue; and there’s little to suggest they feel much in the way of shame about it. In any case, there’s a valid distinction to be made, I think, between ‘fitting in’ out of a desperation born of ignorance, and making an informed choice to live the same way. It’s not discussion around gender which is destroying anyone, so much as the fact of its existence and that too many people are too busy, lazy, scared or exploiting its opportunities to question it. No one is suggesting the conversation ought to be ‘limited’ to gender; indeed, the inclusion of gender in any conversation seems guaranteed to open up and delimit discourse, if taken in earnest.

‘…There is a historical tradition you should know about and it is certainly not about gender. It is about being fierce… [t]he cultural context further supports this wider angled discourse on the acceptance of difference (or lack thereof) beyond the specifics of female-masculinity and masculine-feminity and posits the isolated focus on gender as incorrect.’

There’s something inevitably contradictory in these kind of statements. One wonders what ‘historical tradition’ Legler is referring to which is ‘certainly not about gender’. Whilst the lens of history and changing social mores have done much to rehabilitate ‘fierce’ women safely consigned to the past – e.g. Joan of Arc – fierceness is still overwhelmingly perceived/prized as a ‘masculine’ quality; i.e. appropriate to men. Tabloids and the public (male and female) revel in denouncing confident, assertive women as ‘cold’, ‘hard-nosed bitches’, ‘predatory’ and the like, whilst continuing to laud similarly-qualified men. Modes of behaviour and attire are frequently, if not always judged thru a gendered lens; twice-gendered in fact; depending on the sex of beholder and beholden. In a world free of such divisive social constructs Legler’s career as a model would be considered unremarkable, much less newsworthy. If she is taken to heart as a role model by those striving for ‘acceptance of difference’ as seems to be her aim that is all well and good; that she couches her argument using terms such as men’s/women’s clothes; masculine-femininity/feminine-masculinity and describes herself as butch demonstrates how far off we are from being able to get past gender. That such linguistic and imaginative shortcuts are probably necessary and still make any sense to us demonstrates how far off we are from getting past gender. I read a comment on another blog recently (neglected to bookmark it – doh! but will try and dig it out) from a butch lesbian expressing consternation that so few people apprehended the difference between (her) rejecting traditional feminine behaviour and attire and co-opting masculinity. To be butch, she posited was less about being masculine per-se than expressing a natural state of female-ness untrammeled by patriarchal norms of expectation. In an egalitarian world, she suggested – to approving comments from other posters – all women might be like this. Whilst Legler cautions against ‘…taking for granted the intelligence of our communities…’ her sartorial and identity choices are likely open to the same kind of misinterpretation… because gender. It’s pervasive to the extent that male and masculine, female and feminine are inextricably linked in most people’s minds, even many who consider themselves open-minded and liberal to a fault.

In a HuffPo article inspired by a dream, shortly prior to her death, Danielle Kaufman M.D. declared unequivocally Male Organ Or Not, This Really Is A Female Body. Gender sceptics might beg to differ, of course; but we’ll leave that debate for another day, and I touch on it only because Kaufman‘s florid testimony evidences strains of the same kind of confusion that arises when one attempts to confront gender on liberal terms, to redefine away the complexities of nature and nurture. The statement ‘I am a woman [and] I model men’s clothes’ makes no more sense to the gender sceptic than Kaufman‘s (above). To be fair, Legler makes no bones about entering a man’s world as a woman, though the phenomenon of butch women embracing full-on (faux) masculinity-as-survival-tactic is being increasingly reported. People in that siyuation, who have the most to lose under gender also have the most to gain by seeing the likes of Legler successfully negotiating it, maybe? (Or maybe that’s what’s making me uneasy here; she’s negotiating the diktats of gender to her advantage, kinda like men do… Does that make me perceptive or just more sexist than I care to admit: over to you prospective reader). At 6’2″ with her chiselled features, sculpted hair and fierce demeanor, feminine is not the first word one would reach for to describe Legler. I’d wager that any number of spectators on the fashion circuit wouldn’t clock her as a woman at all – a fact which perhaps brings her some amusement as well as satisfaction:

‘If images of me out there in the world make it that much easier for another kid, and the kids around them or their parents, to get on with the more important business of figuring out who they are and how they can uniquely contribute to the stream of life, then my job is done.’

How can this not be read as a statement on gender? On gender non-conformity in particular.

The main take-out for me on this subject is that our words need to reflect both our reality and our aspirations. Wishing for good (and bad) qualities to be recognized simply as universal human qualities is somewhat futile when the language we use undermines our intent. To describe a quality as feminine is axiomatically going to demean it in a world where female is valued less than male: denying that it is ‘about gender’ cannot gloss over such deep-seated connotations. One might dream of a day when ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ are simply used in jargonistic parlance when discussing the anatomy of intersex people; paralleling the way Caucasoid and Negroid are respectable terms in scientific literature, but not polite conversation. But we are not there yet.

When Legler and her peers can simply state ‘I am a woman (or just someone) modelling clothes’ we will have arrived.

Triple review: A Perfect Circle – Three Sixty + Multimedia Pack

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Great review of 360, the new A Perfect Circle compilation from A Metal State Of Mind. ChristopherMammal is the newest addition to their growing roster of reviewers, and I love his writing. This site is constantly raising its own game with its expanding pool of writers, helping to remain an essential go-to site for the latest in metal, hard rock and prog news.

Fans of Tool and Maynard Keenan are a notoriously-devoted lot, so the release of a new APC song – de rigueur on any decent ‘best of’ – is sure to have them salivating. Best of all, it’s a great song and not a tacked-on b-side or demo-quality throwaway track.

Keenan evinces a quality shared by many of rock’s most iconic frontmen, from Elvis to (Jon) Anderson to Rotten to Morrissey and on, in that his voice is utterly distinctive from the first note. It’s to his and the other writers’ credit, then, that APC avoid sounding like Tool clones whilst managing to grab a sizable portion of that band’s alt/prog rock audience.

As ChristopherMammal says By And Down ‘…should greatly satisfy followers of APC...’ as well as temporarily assuaging Tool fans hungry for new material during that band’s extended hiatus. It’s a great track, and a timely reminder of just what a powerful and nuanced performer Maynard J is.

Saying that… I gotta take issue with the ‘sublime prog metal’ tag. Well, not the sublime bit; but ‘prog metal’? For me, the refreshing thing about APC – as with Puscifer – was the way it showcased Keenan‘s unmistakable vocal in a soundworld that was – and is – decidedly more accessible, closer to conventional pop/rock structure, and none the worse for it. In Tool, his voice is frequently as much an instrument in its own right; a haunting addition to the sonic palette as it is a conveyor of feeling and idea. In APC he’s all about the words. To me the band is very much what would have been considered alternative rock, before the crossover successes of bands including Nirvana, Oasis, REM and Metallica back in the ’90s made the term somewhat anachronistic. The line-up of nominees for the recent Mercury Award ceremony in the UK amply demonstrates just how far we’ve travelled down the road in blurring any distinction between ‘mainstream’ and ‘indie’/’alternative’/’underground’ these days.

I don’t hear much prog OR metal in By And Down: what I DO hear is a pair of true artists who have honed their songwriting craft and taken it to the next level. I hear a mature, poignant, perfectly-paced rock ballad that matches, even surpasses the quality of their previous output. Sure, like CM I’d like to hear more, an album’s worth, even. But maybe that’s not possible… With both Tool and APC, Keenan and co. have maintained the quality precisely by pandering to their muses and keeping up the mystique; rather than joining to rock’n’roll gravy train and churning out sub-par albums every 18 months.

Enjoy the song for what it is, and don’t hold your breath for the next Tool record either. That looks like being some time off too.

A Metal State of Mind

APC Three Sixty - Deluxe LZW PA

Reviews: Three Sixty (Standard Edition), 13 tracks; Three Sixty (Deluxe Edition), 2 CDs, 19 tracks; Release date: November 19, 2013; Label: Universal Music Enterprises (Ume).

Preview: A Perfect Circle Live: Featuring Stone And Echo, Concert DVD and audio + three live CDs; Release date: November 26, 2013; Label: Universal Music Enterprises (Ume).

A Perfect Circle presents us with a quandary. By releasing two editions of the “best of” collection as well as a full multimedia pack within the space of one week, they make it difficult to decide which of the three to choose. The answer to that question may depend on how much Perfect Circle you already have.

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