Sound
From Extreme Metal to Islamic State

From Extreme Metal to Islamic State

When I set out to do ethnographic research on extreme metal for my doctorate in the mid-1990s, it was the transgression that fascinated me. I wanted to immerse myself in a culture dedicated to musical celebrations of the dark side, that flirted with sonic oblivion, that stared into the abyss. More»

Punk’s Past Alternate Future

Punk’s Past Alternate Future

I first started listening to punk and hardcore in 1988—not that music’s best period. Many of the great early bands, including the Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, and Crass, had broken up a couple years before, and it seemed that the genre might be at its social and aesthetic end. The politics were fading while metalcore and straightedge hardcore bands were in ascendance. More»

Dark Ages Dawn

Dark Ages Dawn

Few bands have a more problematic relation to novelty than Gang of Four. Persistently critical of postmodern capitalism’s relentless search for new sources of income, they still repudiated the nostalgia that has so often beset the modern Left, embracing electronic dance music when most of their fellow travelers looked down on anything that deviated from classic rock instrumentation. But that move looks a lot different now than it did in the early 1980s. More»

The Plague Dancers

The Plague Dancers

France is probably not the first place that one thinks of in terms of extreme music. While it has been home to obscure black metal acts such as Deathspell Omega and Blut aus Nord, the country has not, generally speaking, shown the propensity to produce death and grind bands as Britain or Germany (to say nothing of points further north). But in recent years that has begun to change. More»

Kurdish Spring Soundtrack

Kurdish Spring Soundtrack

The Arab Spring seems like a century ago. Starting in late 2010, there was every reason to believe that it would make the Middle East synonymous with social democracy. With the exception of its most fearful critics, no one could have predicted that it would dissolve into the bloodbath currently engulfing Syria and its neighbors. More»

The Challenge of Mediocre Metal

The Challenge of Mediocre Metal

In my early years as a metal fan, in the 1980s and 1990s, everything was interesting. The process of musical discovery was a slow one, proceeding in fits and starts as I gradually managed to buy, copy and hear enough metal to become knowledgeable about the parameters of the genre. More»

No Comeback

No Comeback

When I saw the coupon in my social media feed, I just had to buy the new Sleater-Kinney album at Best Buy. It’s hard to imagine a more incongruous place to procure the return of those darlings of middle-aged — and usually white — music critics. But that’s why it felt so necessary. I needed to be reminded of the world the band had warned us about. More»

Islamic Noise

Islamic Noise

Characterized by waves upon waves of feedback, atonal beats, and strange sounding squelches and squeals, power electronics is purposely and unapologetically abrasive, even more so than most noise music, of which it is a subgenre. To listen is to be immersed. Without that tonality, that rhythm, there is often little for the listener to grab onto but what is being put forward, thematically. More»

The Bandwidth of Culture

The Bandwidth of Culture

“I need more bandwidth!” After hours of being so deeply engrossed in his Minecraft dominion that he had barely acknowledged anyone else in the room, my brilliant nine-year-old nephew stomped his feet on the floor and shouted this demand at his parents, smiling but serious. To him, it was an entirely reasonable request. But I couldn’t help but regard it as a wry commentary on our cultural moment. More»

My Top Ten Musical Anxieties of 2014

My Top Ten Musical Anxieties of 2014

It’s that time of year again. I’m being bombarded by Top Ten/Twenty/Fifty/Hundred music lists. I suppose that, as someone with a background in music scholarship and as a fairly seasoned critic, I should view them with wry amusement – sometimes scoffing at other critics’ choices, sometimes sagely agreeing. But that’s never been how I react to them. More»

Anti-Communist Jazz

Anti-Communist Jazz

It’s taken as a truism that “foreigners” love America. They just don’t particularly like the US. That is, American cultural exports are often popular the world over, even in places where the United States isn’t popular. Acutely aware of this disjuncture, Washington has often sought to use cultural diplomacy to close this gap, pitching its movies and music in order to win over its critics. More»

Between Hype and Pastries

Between Hype and Pastries

The problem with New York City is that it has to live up to itself. New Yorkers constantly have to prove they are worthy and, at the same time, make enough cash to survive. Don’t get me wrong. Portland’s timber industry has never been saintly. But there’s just less at stake in lumberjack posturing here, and there’s more time for humanity behind the nose rings than in Williamsburg. More»