Saturday, August 15, 2009

Best Band Ever?: Big Black

Time to blog again at least a wee bit about things other than working out and filmmaking.

So I'm starting a new thread for myself called "Best Band Ever?" in which I'll blog a bit about what certain bands mean to me. I don't really like writing reviews, so it'll just be thoughts about why I think a certain band is great.



Big Black only existed for five years, and they wrote and released only about 70 unique tracks in that time, but their impact on music history is immense. They are one of those bands that are utterly revered by musicians and music critics, even if they never achieved massive success with the general public. This popularity among musicians means their influence on later music is quite extensive. And frontman Steve Albini went on to produce tracks for just about every hip-yet-still-musically-interesting band ever.

The first time I ever heard Big Black I was about 12 years old, and the track was Steelworker. It was slow and sparse, yet still heavy. Simple, yet compelling. And vicious. It told a story. A simple one. But not a pretty one. Big Black's lyrics read like Noir poetry. Drawn from newspaper headlines and the band's own school of hard knocks experiences, their tracks chronicle the dark corners of American society, and pull no punches. They seemed to be angry about everything my teenage self was angry about, and their intense statement of this fact resonated deeply.

The music doesn't pull punches either. Big Black's music is heavy and loud, with a simple, driving rhythm and a layer of chaos on top. Big Black sounds like a cross between a bar fight and a cheap hotel room with a bare light dangling from a swinging cord. To this day, they are one of my absolute favorite bands.

Big Black decided to break up at their height of their popularity and musical development, so that they could go out on a high. I suppose this worked, because none of the successor bands (Arsenal, Rapeman, or Shellac), as good as they are, ever came close to the sheer awesomeness of Big Black. But I still wonder what amazingness might have been on offer had they kept going as a coherent unit. I played the LP of Big Black's final album, Songs About Fucking, over and over again so many times that I physically wore out the record and had to replace it.


Big Black are also responsible for one of the rare records I want most: the original Bulldozer EP with the acid-etched steel jacket and (paper) poster. That sounds amazing. I wish more recordings came in such insane packaging.

There are many awesome punk/postpunk/whatever bands in the world, but few compare to Big Black. Reunions often lead to new material that's far inferior to the older work, but if there's one band that really ought to at least give it a go -- it's Big Black.

1 comments:

Wm. said...

If any band should....Rapeman. Such a one year dick tease band that never reached their peak.