2021-03-07
Black Nash
Black Nash

I know you're not supposed to describe music by saying "it sounds like this combined with this." It's lazy and simplistic and presumptuous and blah blah yeah yeah.

But Black Nash sounds like a combination of Steve Lacy and Devendra Banhart. Like precisely. Take Lacy's lo-fi minimalist recordings of whip-sharp old school R&B guitar work and pop melodicism, and run it through Devendra Banhart's psychedelic weirdo surrealist crooner filter, and you've got yourself Black Nash.

And damn, it absolutely works. I got this album on a whim during Friday's monthly Bandcamp sale, and on first listen thought maybe it was a bust, but since then I've zipped through it probably 4 times. It's fun and weird but totally vibes, with that Ween-like energy of total technical competency that doesn't take itself seriously. But thankfully, while we're talking comparisons, that's where that particular comparison ends.

2021-02-27
Metallica
A Ranking of Every Metallica Song

My entire life has led me to this.

Originals only, official recordings. No covers, although that could be its own list. Oh and nothing from Lulu, because jesus christ. Stick around afterwards for some thoughts.

Here we go:

1. One
2. Master of Puppets
3. Battery
4. The Unforgiven
5. Dyers Eve
6. Damage Inc.
7. Wherever I May Roam
8. Orion
9. Creeping Death
10. Enter Sandman
11. Bleeding Me
12. Blackened
13. Escape
14. For Whom the Bell Tolls
15. Hero Of The Day
16. My Friend of Misery
17. The Four Horsemen
18. Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
19. Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)
20. Disposable Heroes
21. Sad But True
22. …And Justice For All
23. Nothing Else Matters
24. Fade to Black
25. Harvester of Sorrow
26. Ride the Lightning
27. The Outlaw Torn
28. To Live Is To Die
29. Leper Messiah
30. Hit The Lights
31. Ain’t My Bitch
32. The God that Failed
33. Frayed Ends of Sanity
34. Until it Sleeps
35. Fight Fire With Fire
36. Fixxxer
37. King Nothing
38. The Thing That Should Not Be
39. The Call of Ktulu
40. No Remorse
41. The Unforgiven II
42. The Shortest Straw
43. Phantom Lord
44. Carpe Diem Baby
45. Fuel
46. The House that Jack Built
47. Eye of the Beholder
48. Spit Out The Bone
49. Whiplash
50. Through The Never
51. The Thorn Within
52. Mama Said
53. Of Wolf and Man
54. Jump In The Fire
55. Where the Wild Things Are
56. The Memory Remains
57. 2 X 4
58. No Leaf Clover
59. Ronnie
60. Poor Twisted Me
61. Low Man’s Lyric
62. Seek & Destroy
63. Metal Militia
64. Cure
65. Motorbreath
66. Struggle Within
67. Don’t Tread on Me
68. Trapped Under Ice
69. Holier Than Thou
70. St. Anger
71. Slither
72. I Disappear
73. Devil’s Dance
74. Dream No More
75. Broken Beaten Scarred
76. Halo On Fire
77. Now That We’re Dead
78. Wasting My Hate
79. All Within My Hands
80. -Human
81. Halo on Fire
82. Cyanide
83. Man Unkind
84. Moth Into The Flame
85. Atlas Rise
86. Dirty Window
87. Better Than You
88. That Was Just Your Life
89. Judas Kiss
90. Attitude
91. End of the Line
92. Hardwired
93. Confusion
94. Lords of Summer
95. Am I Savage?
96. Bad Seed
97. The Unnamed Feeling
98. All Nightmare Long
99. Shoot Me Again
100. My Apocalypse
101. Unforgiven III
102. Some Kind of Monster
103. Frantic
104. Murder One
105. Prince Charming
106. The Day That Never Comes
107. Sweet Amber
108. Purify
109. Here Comes Revenge
110. Suicide & Redemption
111. My World
112. Invisible Kid

This started two weeks ago when I did my once-per-decade dive into St. Anger to try to once and for all figure it out. There's a big long stupid writeup about it a few posts down if you care, but I hope you don't care too much. The main takeaway from that listen is that almost every track on that weird fucking album had something interesting in it—even if that interesting thing was in service to an awful song. It got me in a state of thinking about Metallica, which is something that happens to me sometimes. I then spent the last two weeks doing a deep, deep dive into every album, especially their newest ones, which, like St. Anger, I never really investigated thoroughly enough to form any strong opinions about. Going back and forth from the old stuff to the new stuff to the middle stuff and back, I actually started seeing it as a whole body of work, rather than a walled-off series of eras. I even started liking the "new" stuff more than I ever did? Inasmuch as anyone is actually able to "like" it.

Then I remembered I have a music blog. So here we are. Here's some important thoughts:

Surprised how quickly it got difficult. 1 and 2 are "One" and "Master", no questions asked. I've looked at a lot of other lists that websites have put together, and many of them have "One" lower, but as far as I'm concerned, it's still the best thing the band ever did, and one of my most beloved pieces of music by anyone ever. And then "Master," many sites' #1 choice, is obviously a perfect piece of heavy metal. It's untouchable and inarguable. But then immediately at #3, I wasn't sure what felt right. On a personal level, I almost went with "Dyers Eve," but after listening through to my favorites multiple times, I just felt like it doesn't have the objective strengths of something like "Battery." Again, most lists I read put "Damage Inc." higher, even on top, but I think "Battery" is a much stronger composition.

The first real place that some fuckin hesher longhair might scoff at this is with "The Unforgiven." When I was just kinda mind-compiling this list before actually writing anything down or even listening too deeply, I don't think I considered this song so high. Yet when I went through the Black Album, it really stuck out and I couldn't ignore that it's truly been a favorite of mine ever since I was a kid. And not that I'm trying to sequence this list in any way, but 1–3 are pretty heavy thrash, and it just felt like one of their mid-tempos or ballads needed high placement. "Unforgiven" felt very right, even more than "Nothing Else Matters" or "Fade to Black" (the former of which, I must admit even as a snob, is better than the latter).

"Orion" in the top 10. I think this has been a favorite of true-heads forever, but I always thought of it as "just one of the instrumentals." Like, it's okay I guess, and with that little bass lick in the middle, but I never really canonized it growing up in the same way I did their "real" songs. It's only been in recent years of my adult life that I've gone back to it and realized how absolutely perfect of a piece it is, and that maybe there was something to all that Cliff Burton worship after all. It rules.

"Bleeding Me" introduces Load all the way at #11. I've long been a staunch defender of Load for literal decades now. I won't waste your time with my essay here, but I think it is a good and sometimes great album, despite being a point of mockery with certain sects of metal dudes. I don't think any list I saw online had anything from that album anywhere in the top 20, and even then it's often "Hero of the Day" or "Until It Sleeps" that sneak in. But I think "Bleeding Me" is a beautiful piece of work, and I almost wish I could've snuck it into the top 10. But there's no way I'm moving "Orion" or "Roam" or fucking "Enter Sandman" for it.

Fuck you, I'm going with "Escape." James Hetfield has publicly hated "Escape" for three decades. Fans have long dismissed it as absolute filler on an otherwise killer album. I too would almost always skip it to get to "Creeping Death" on my Discman. But about 6 or 7 years ago, I was listening to Lightning in my car, and "Escape" came on and something clicked. "Escape" rules, you guys. Yes it does stand out from their work at the time for its simplicity—no tricky riffs, no complex interludes, an easy bopping mid-up-tempo, a power metal singalong melody for the chorus. It's almost their first pop song? It's stuck with me ever since that listen, and I truly think it's one of their best pure, simple compositions. It's #13 and you can fight me behind the gas station.

"Spit Out the Bone"? WTF? Before this exercise, I couldn't even have told you which of the 3 "newest" albums "Spit Out The Bone" was on. Magnetic and Hardwired in particular were just a blur in my mind. But part of this whole thing was just to be able to dig in to those two albums to make some more sense of them, actually hear the songs as songs rather than just passing them off as late-era old-men-trying-to-find-that-old-flame bullshit. I ended up being more impressed with both of these albums than I was before, but I was fully awestruck by the final track on Hardwired, "Spit Out The Bone." I think in previous (rare) listens, I barely even got to the last track, or was otherwise so exhausted or bored that it didn't even register. But when I finally gave it my attention... holy shit "Spit Out The Bone" is great! It fucking thrashes! It's got hooks! It's got riffs! I don't want to say it's like "old Metallica" again, but it's the absolute closest they've gotten since Justice. And the fact that it landed as high as #39, ahead of a handful of tracks from Justice and Lightning, is mind-blowing to me. I didn't think they had it in them. But it also pisses me off, because if they did have this in them, why did they save it all for this one track??

"Carpe Diem Baby" is actually good? I know, weird. ReLoad is almost entirely filler, very little killer. And over the years I've melded all that filler into one lump of forgettable nothing in my mind. But going back and doing deep listening for this exercise, I'll be damned if "Carpe Diem Baby" isn't actually one of the best tracks on that album. Stupid title aside, it's a good tune, good melodies, weird cool harmonies, groovy riffs. I think the stupid title is maybe what made me pass it off this whole time.

How does each album fare? Interestingly enough, ranking by the average placement of each album's songs, the rankings more or less align with my head-canon of which albums are the best-slash-favorite, with maybe a little surprise or two.

If you held a gun to my head over the years, I would've told you Justice is my favorite Metallica album. The numbers say otherwise, and I'm okay with that. "Favorite" and "best" are maybe two different things. There's no denying the greatness of Puppets. My biggest surprise here is how well Lightning fares. Honestly, in my heart, I'd put both Black and Load (I know, right?) above it. But I think when it comes to ranking these things song-by-song, there's just so little chaff on Lightning to weigh it down. "Trapped Under Ice" is the closest we get, whereas Black and Load both have 3 or 4 (or 5) tracks that place so low that they pull the averages down. But if this was a desert island situation, honestly, I'd keep Black before I keep Lightning. Heresy, I know.

The bottom half of the list is less surprising. St. Anger stinks. There's no denying it. But I'm a little shocked how close it came to Death Magnetic, only about 2 points separate them! And yet I can barely sit and listen to St. Anger without bashing my head against a wall, while Magnetic, especially after hearing it multiple times throughout this little exercise, has grown damn-near enjoyable to me.

Here's a chart to visualize the dominance of Puppets and Justice.

What I did here, see, is to block out each album on the list (in chronological order), stretched from their first appearance on the list to the last. I was just curious to see how often the worst song on one album places higher than the best song on another. As you can see, Puppets and Justice far outpace anything from St. Anger and Magnetic, as does Kill, Lightning, and Black. This would almost be the case with Hardwired too, if it wasn't for that pesky and shockingly good track "Spit Out The Bone," which placed much higher than anything else on any of those albums, and sort of skewed the results of this exercise. That song placed just one spot after Justice's "Eye of the Beholder." An earlier edit of the list actually had "Spit" beating "Eye," but I did one last listen and decided that just wasn't the case.

The other flukey thing here is the title track of "St. Anger," which I placed farther up than it might deserve, keeping it from being shut out by Load. As it looks, it just barely got beat by Black. I still don't know how exactly I feel about placing this song so high—as I feel about a lot of that album, it's fucking weird, and has some moments that make me want to chuck my headphones out a window. But it also has some ferocious momentum and energy, and some cool weird vocal shit (there's a theme here) and interesting call backs to some of their very early work. It's interesting. Does it deserve to be at #70? I wrote the list so I guess it does.

The Listenability Horizon

Something that impressed me is that, considering how long this band has been around, and for how intensely mockable much of that career has been, when I look at the full list of songs, there are many more that I enjoy listening to than not. The point at which this break happens is right there at #86, "Dirty Window," still somehow the third best song from St. Anger. Anything above "Dirty Window" I'll gladly sit and give a spin and bob my head and make secret little metal horns with my fingers. Everything below becomes a chore. A little math tells me this that break happens at the 78th percentile of the list! I'd say that's pretty good! If you were to ask me before this list, I would've guessed something closer to 50%. Still sad how much of the new albums find themselves below that threshold though. I'd say this is maybe because I'm underrating these Magnetic songs in particular, but I think it might actually be that St. Anger is slowly and unexpectedly impressing it self onto me. Like maybe it's actually a little good and weird and cool? Maybe?

I should note also that "All Within My Hands," the only other song from St. Anger above the Listenability Horizon, is there almost out of a grudging respect rather than any actual enjoyment I get out of the track. It's a fucking weird song. Easily the weirdest thing they've ever done (Lulu not withstanding), practically "experimental" as far as these things go. Is it fun to listen to? No. But out of sheer respect for committing it to tape and keeping it in the cut, I placed it higher on the list than it probably actually deserves.

And funny to see how so much of Hardwired juuuuuuust squeaks its way on the listenable side of the line. And that plays out in reality—a whole lot of that album is just interesting enough to keep my attention. But just barely.

One more thing stands out from this graph. Lookie here:

Song placements on the list generally cluster pretty cleanly from album to album. But I noticed two large gaps, where the distance between the worst (and best) song on an album is much wider than most other gaps. The songs in question are "Trapped Under Ice" from Lightning, and (here we go again) "Spit Out The Bone" from Hardwired. Both are crazy outliers on their respective albums. In the case of "Trapped," it's also an outlier in my own opinion. I hate that song. Never liked it. Don't know why, most lists place it pretty high, some people think it's one of their better pure thrash tracks. Whatever, I think it stinks and I always have. And its low placement really drags down Lightning's average. Funny because my high opinion of "Escape" goes a long way to even it out. As for "Spit Out The Bone," look—it's 3 minutes too long, but when it's humming, it actually kinda rules. Far and away better than anything else on Hardwired.

Okay, just one last chart:

Just about sums it all up huh? (Actually while we're here, I just want to mention that "The Unforgiven II" is a way, way, better song than it has any right to be. A fucking sequel to a song that literally puts a "II" in the title, and then has the gall to use the phrase "You're unforgiven too" in the lyrics? Fuck you! But I'll be damned, it's a totally solid song and genuinely works as a sequel to the original. I don't know of any other instance in popular music that this has actually happened before or since. The third one, though, is garbage.)

That doesn't actually sum it all up. This does. My ultimate takeaway from this whole thing isn't particularly earth-shaking: Metallica is a good band. Wow, right? But seriously, I've been listening to so fucking much of this stuff for the last week—I've been listening to so fucking much of this stuff for my whole life, really—and at no point have I started to see any cracks. On the contrary, the stuff that I assumed was nothing but cracks has proven itself much more competent than I gave it credit for! Yes, all my old critiques of their newer records still apply: they're trying way too hard to impress everybody who "doubted" them, they're throwing around way too many intros and transitions and tricky time signature breaks and adding too many bridges and outros, it's all way too much. Too many notes. But when they fucking chill out and jam, and most importantly land on actual melody (melody, as stupid as it sounds, has truly been Metallica's sharpest weapon since the 80s; for all the emphasis on speed and aggression and heaviness in this stupid genre, this band has always outdone their peers in the simple ability to write a good song), they can still put together some amazing moments! And they're pushing 60!

As for the old stuff, there's truly not much else to add, other than an unceasing admiration for all of it. Those classic albums are every bit as good as everyone has been making them for decades. There's no "um actually" to be found. Nobody can argue their way out of Master of Puppets, you know? It's undeniable. Quintessential. People can try to argue out of The Black Album, but at some point they need to just give in. Listen to that thing. Dud songs aside, the killer is killer, and it sounds like the greatest heavy music ever engineered. I'm even getting the sense in recent years that Load is starting to get some amount of respect that it has long deserved. Doing this stupid deep listen into all this stuff hasn't spoiled any of these old records.

Ok so I guess is the part where I restate my hypothesis and bring it to a close or something. But I'm not going to because I just learned that Rob Trujillo has now been Metallica's bass player for longer than Cliff Burton and Jason Newstead combined. This fun fact has shaken me to the core, and means I'm far too old to waste any more time writing this longform analysis of a 40 year old band. Yikes.

Join me next year when I will rank every Grateful Dead live bootleg.

2021-02-27
Katy Kirby
Cool Dry Place

Katy Kirby is very talented and this album has a couple incredible songs on it. No complaints. But the album just makes me wonder when we can finally hear a new Sidney Gish album.

2021-02-22
The Grateful Dead
Blues for Allah

I've been going through a minor Grateful Dead phase in the last week (see: Little Cabin Sandwich Shop over there on the Food side). I have a lot to say about them but I can't imagine you're interested in reading it, so forgetaboutit.

2021-02-14
Stephen Malkmus
Stephen Malkmus

I haven't listened to this first Stephen Malkmus album much over the last decade or two. It's always lived in my memory as a very college album. Like it just lives in that corner of my mind and I've never had much use for it since.

Turns out it's aged incredibly well. Beautiful album, weirdly kind of a classic. Honestly I'll take this and Terror Twilight over anything else in Malkmus/Pavement's entire body of work.

2021-02-14
Blood Incantation
Starspawn

Hidden History of the Human Race has already basically become legendary. It ruled, it rules, and it has that fucking alien on the cover. I don't remember what my initial write-up was about it, but at this point I can unequivocally say it's a 10.

It never really occurred to me until this week that I should maybe actually go listen to their previous album, their 2017 debut LP Starspawn. And I can unequivocally say it also rules. But something closer to a 9.

I've run it through some analytics software, and the next one will definitely be an 11.

2020-11-13
Emoji BurgerQueens
Cheeseburger

The nearest burger place to my new apartment is called Emoji Burger. Their burgers are named after emojis. And as you can see, they brand the 😜 guy right there into the top of the bun. It would be embarrassing if it wasn't so delicious.

It doesn't beat Andrew's Luncheonette, which was probably my previous favorite burger in town, but it was startlingly close.