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There is a good chance you found us accidentally by using the word “taint” in your search (If you found us on purpose, you deserve our accolades). Of course we don’t know what you were looking for, but you stumbled on a damn cool project. Look around; let us help send you on a musical journey. Here you will find a number of album reviews from the strange and extreme to the tame and mainstream. Our reviewers are a bunch of obsessive miscreants. Most of us are avid music collectors and have been involved in the music world for decades. A couple of us have been in or are still in bands.

There are no rules on Tickle Your Taint Blog. Our reviewers might make you laugh, or piss you off; both results are legitimate. One reviewer might write a glowing review of an album another might tear it apart. We may end up adopting a single review system, such as five stars, or each reviewer may use his own or none at all. We may have a new review every week or we could end up with one every six months. This blog exists as a social experiment to build community among a diverse group of music maniacs – our reviewers and hopefully you. Pull down your knickers, lube up and join us in tickling yours and our taints.

If you are in a band, have released a physical (rather than an MP3) CD or record, and would like us to review your efforts, contact us at tickleyourtaint@yahoo.com

Monday, June 18, 2018

Panopticon, The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness pt. I & II (2018)

By Jack Rafferty

My first exposure to Austin Lunn’s one-person atmospheric black metal project, Panopticon, was from an interview he did with Decibel Magazine around the time of the release of Autumn Eternal. I immediately connected with Lunn on multiple levels, and admired the way he approached black metal and music in general. Some examples of this were how he mentioned writing lyrics for his songs in the places that inspired the music, by walking through the woods, immersed in “space and solitude.” I also respected Lunn’s sort of auteur approach to his music, writing and performing much of what is on each album himself. To convey the scope of this, on the most recent double album, the subject of this review, Lunn was responsible for guitars (acoustic, electric, baritone acoustic, resonator), bass (acoustic, 4 and 8 string electric), 5 string banjo, lap steel, drums and percussion, keys, mandolin, harmonica, sung and screamed vocals, choirs, accordion, orchestra bells, and software instruments (taken from Metalinjection.net). To say that he is an impressive multi-instrumentalist would be quite the understatement. However, Panopticon is not, and never has been, about impressing people. So, what is it about, and does The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness stack up to Lunn’s previous work?

The short answer to the latter is a resounding yes. I found Scars to be the most thought-out, emotionally invested, and passionately driven record (I will refer to both parts as one album from now on, as that is how I view them, though beyond reference I will distinguish the two in analysis) that Lunn has ever created. If there is one thing that Panopticon has consistently accomplished, it is the ability to immerse the listener in an atmosphere that feels unique, genuine, and driven with heart. However, Scars, unlike previous albums, seems to me to be the first that has truly transported me to an environment. I find myself closing my eyes and opening them to the wilderness that Lunn evokes and laments, be it Appalachian, Norwegian, or the Kentucky forests of his upbringing. I feel them. That is the mark of powerful music.

As mentioned briefly above, because this is a review about a double album, I will make the distinction from this point and give my thoughts on them separately, but it should be made clear that I do not view them as separate pieces. Both parts of Scars simply present different sonic perspectives of the same subject matter, and there is still a consistent fluidity throughout. The subject matter, by the way, biases my opinion of the album quite a bit, but not to the point of blinding me to the actual music. I’ve heard plenty of music damning the systematic destruction of what is colloquially referred to as the “natural world” or “nature” (erroneous in its perception of separation or removal), and still have it be music that I couldn’t get into. Scars, however, does not need to rely upon a message to carry its weight, it only benefits from it.

Pt. I
While Panopticon has always cultivated a unique sound within black metal, Lunn has found ways to stay true to certain black metal roots. Part one of Scars conveys this well, with each guitar riff and wail sounding like a cold wind upon northern trees and snow-covered crags. They in no way feel re-hashed or common, though. Panopticon’s ability to introduce other elements not usually integrated in this genre solves that, and his songwriting capability prevents any staleness from occurring regarding the black metal elements, as well.

The first track, “Watch the Lights Fade,” lulls the listener in with sounds of fire crackling accompanying a rich instrumental. I imagine the scent of woodsmoke and the dancing light on the walls of a cabin at night, the wintry forest beyond. Suddenly, the echoes of an owl resonate in the distance, somewhere lurking in the dark trees, silence approaches, and then the cymbals crash and the listener is cast into the sullen riff of “En hvit ravns død.” This track is scathing and immense, and its outro with the violin and fading voices is enough to bring people to their knees. The next track, “Blåtimen,” focuses more on soaring guitar notes accompanied with blast beats. This is the point where I would typically criticize the drums, as they are not pronounced in the mix. However, this is one of the few occasions where I think it works rather well, and overly prominent drums would detract from the music. With “Sheep in Wolves Clothing,” the tremolo picking and intensity of the drums is pronounced, and it reminds me a bit of the intensity on Roads to the North. “A Ridge Where the Tall Pines Once Stood” begins with an acoustic guitar passage, interweaved with sounds of loons calling forth. Lunn then reads a passage by Sigurd Olson. The track then breathes deep with another gorgeous violin section. The transition from this to “En generell avsky” is wonderfully jarring, as the beginning of this track is one of the most discordant pieces of the entire album. The track continues in a blistering yet sinister crawl all the way until the final drawn and resonating notes, and is one of my favorites that Part I has to offer. “The Singing Wilderness” takes a relatively slower approach, and gives the cavernous vocals and melodic guitar compositions space to breathe. “Slow Burdened Branches” begins with a poignant spoken word, then delves into perhaps the most melancholic brutal sections of Part One, with the driving force being a simple yet powerful four-note climb repeating alongside the drums and vocals, which is eventually accompanied by further shredding guitar work, and builds upon itself wonderfully. The ending of this track is logically the climax of emotional weight for Part One, and as it softens, you can almost feel the snow falling on the pines, see the clouds sunlit with pallid light, see the smoke rising slowly from the chimney, hear the soft river upon the rocks, hear the birds singing briefly, only to alight, and perhaps never return.

Pt. II
Part Two sees a dramatic shift for Scars, with each song being bluegrass/Americana. Lunn has always shown that these elements, instead of starkly opposing or contradicting black metal’s sound, complement and even exist within similar realms of atmosphere and sorrow and wrath. However, this is the first time that Panopticon has distilled these genres down and separated them. Some have criticized this decision, stating that the elements worked better in coalescence, a critique that is fair, to be sure. That being said, I still think that this dichotomy works, as Lunn doesn’t lean too heavily upon either side to the point of relying upon it. He exudes both the fury and calm contemplation with equal emotional depth and proficiency, and therefore can separate these elements out without forsaking a sense of quality.

The first track, “The Moss Beneath the Snow,” opens with the sound of water, and an ambient drone. Clean guitars enter, and it is clear that a change in tone has occurred. Footsteps in leaves and forest litter can be heard briefly. The transition to distortion six minutes in, with the high-pitch guitar wailing in the foreground of dense strumming and cymbals crashing, is structured in such a satisfying way after the build. It reminded me of that feeling that bands like Tool or Gojira can conjure with the structured layering in their songwriting. The song then softens once more, coming back to the original guitar lines, but with added slide now introduced. It feels lush and sorrowful. The vocals finally come in at around 9:30, and emerge with a somber and haunting aura, “the final snow has fallen…the north wind fell silent.” The track ends with the twirling call of a whippoorwill.

The next track, “The Wandering Ghost,” has a more upbeat, twangy, ragged tone to it. Lunn tells the harrowing story of a man who drifted away from his home in the hills looking for work, and finds it in an industrial factory, but ends up taking to drink and having his humanity slowly drift away with his memory of home, “he died from a broken heart from no mountains in the distance…sometimes you’ll see him on a darkened road, his lonely ghost wandering home.”

The beginning vocal melody of “Four Walls of Bone” reminds me of “Snuff” by Slipknot, although it is a better song. The use of mandolin strumming alongside banjo, accordion, acoustic guitar, and the sullen vocal melodies is excellent. My favorite line in the song is “dreams are nothing more than sleep.”

The following track, “A Cross Abandoned,” is the quietest and most ambient so far. “Beast Rider” has a wonderful guitar melody. Lunn’s voice is austere, and the transition into the next track, “Not Much Will Change When I’m Gone,” carries on a similar, yet markedly different guitar melody. It provides the songs with a seamless flow. The use of reverb with the guitars in this song also gives it an ethereal feeling. “Echoes in the Snow” has more of a bluegrass feel to it, and Lunn utilizes a gravelly vocal style in this song as well, though it is not overbearing. It doesn’t necessarily contradict the tone of the album, and it adds some refreshing diversity without straying too far.

The only song that didn’t quite do it for me on Part Two is “The Itch.” I have always been one that has enjoyed Panopticon’s social commentary, but to me this song felt a bit forced considering the rest of the album. It isn’t completely unfitting, but to me this song has a lack of subtlety that simply does not flow with the others. There are still parts of the song that I enjoy, such as the lines like “…your logic paper thin, just like your skin seems to be,” “…it’s time to take responsibility, instead of passing blame for the heritage of shit that we pass on,” and “…stop trying to make fine art from the lines in the sand that we’ve drawn,” all of which are brilliant. The harmonica is also really well done here. So, as far as this review goes, I cannot really say that the negatives are wholly negative.

“At the Foot of the Mountain” has some great, slow banjo playing on it, especially the slide work. The violin in the song is also very patiently and slowly integrated, much to the song’s benefit. I’m not a huge fan of the backing vocals on this one, but this is a minor problem that is not detrimental to it as a whole.

The closing track, “The Devil Walked the Woods” has an almost deranged-sounding banjo line, with the punch of the song being when the man gets home, “he passed the mirror in the hall, a familiar sight to see…in the reflection it was me.” While this isn’t a terrible song, I was a little disappointed that it was the closing track. I feel as though it doesn’t fit as something that sums up this deeply emotional and vast, somber journey. I am not entirely unhappy with the decision, it just always strikes me as a bit of a let-down. Regardless of this, Part Two of Scars is a testament to Lunn’s ability to focus solely on folk or bluegrass and still write excellent music.

What Scars does best, in my opinion, is give meaning to its presentation as a duality through the emotions it evokes. This is not just some superfluous musical experimentation. Lunn very clearly shows us the complexity and diversity of feeling and emotion that is involved in loving something so intensely, and what it feels to have what you loved disrespected, neglected, and actively demolished while you witness it. From the screeching, yet melodic fury of Part One, to the calm, contemplative, yet lyrically pummeling approach of Part Two, this album encapsulates the experience and atmosphere of helpless loss. It is at once the power of cherishing something, and also the power of having what you cherish be decimated. This album is meditative ferocity. This is music that is powerfully blunt, uncompromising in its honesty, and cathartic beyond words. Lunn has never produced a bad album, or even a mediocre album, and I am thankful that I was able to discover Panopticon when I did. The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness is and will be a defining work, not only for Panopticon, but for black metal in general.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Juliana Hatfield, Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John (American Laundromat, 2018)

By Null

This album sounds exactly like what you think it would sound like, and in this case, that is not a bad thing. I have never been a big fan of Juliana Hatfield. In the same breath, she has made some good albums that I have added to my record collection and enjoy from time to time. Still, I find that most of her output doesn’t really stick to my ribs. In this way, she is a lot like Olivia Newton-John; they both have a heaping pile of kick-ass tracks buried in unremarkable albums. When you think about it, Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John could be a masterpiece, a match made in heaven. Well, it isn’t, but I love it anyway.

I grew up listening to Olivia Newton-John when I was a young guy in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. To this day, one can slap on any number of her greatest hits albums and I am in ecstasy. I don’t care what anyone says, I just love her hits and they are buried deep in my psyche. Her sweet voice, sugar-coated melodies, and lush instrumentation often sooth a troubled mind. Enter Juliana Hatfield with her candied, indie-guitar pop tracks and sometimes edgy vocal delivery. The sweet and the salty, it’s a good combination.

Juliana doesn’t add anything new to these tracks. As a matter of fact, she hardy takes any liberties at all. It is interesting to hear how she takes some of the lush strings from some of Olivia’s tracks and reproduces the same feel with guitars and keyboards that she plays herself, with her friends Pete and Ed on bass and drums. It makes the tracks a little more DIY. It rocks a bit more than Olivia.

I’m just happy to have found someone that loves these songs as much as I do. I love this album for exactly what it is–a fan of Olivia’s music holed up in a room somewhere banging it out for the pure joy of the music itself. Plat it loud. And if you don’t know these songs then pick up any number of Olivia Newton-John’s greatest hits albums and let the afternoon delight begin.