"Our Spilt Milk" looks at our favorite things each week, which this week includes Mat Zo, "High Maintenance," and Australian post-punk band The Scientists.
Matan Zohar, or Mat Zo, is a British producer that consistently changes his style. Years ago, he produced trance and progressive house, while his last album, Self Assemble, has an electro funk sound. Now with the unexpected release of his latest MAD EP, he does something he's never done before. MAD seems like the product of, not only creativity, but concentrated emotion: fury. Mat Zo actually sounds like a DJ gone mad. The artwork for the album has a black backdrop his face covered in florescent paint in what looks to be a maniacal laugh or scream. The first track, "Troglodyte,” is like the transformation of Bruce Banner into The Incredible Hulk. It starts off tranquil with what sounds like a music box or a baby's mobile, but the distorted and simplistic beat drop sounds like a nursery rhyme possessed. The nostalgic melody and free form technique has a from-scratch feel.
The title track is the last track on the EP, and the wildest—the musical embodiment of the outbursts of a raving lunatic. Distorted vocals quickly spell out “m-a-d” while the “pew pew” of laser guns match the electronic percussive drum roll. Finally, the outro to "MAD" is a little mad itself—a spoken message that says, "To end the misery that has afflicted the human condition... you have to take responsibility for your inner state at any given moment." Misery stems from lack of psychological control? MAD EP may be the result of some lapse in control within the mind of Mat Zo. (Ryan Knight)
Brooklyn-based web series-turned-HBO pilot High Maintenance has been racking up accolades these past few weeks. It’s been hailed as the voice of a stoned generation, a great weed show that isn’t really about weed, and even the most compassionate cult comedy on TV. The show is a multiple narrative, its suavely frenetic camera baring witness to the lives of innumerable Brooklyn millennials. The only thread with any real continuity throughout the web series (which first popped up on Vimeo in 2012) is a nameless weed delivery guy (also one of the show’s creators) who bikes around the borough, connecting the tangled web of characters with his product. As hyped as the web series has been recently, it was largely hit-or-miss (I’d say about 2:1, respectively). In its 4-season, 19-episode web run, there were quite a few forgettable moments, but there were also some undeniably memorable ones, either for their cutting insight or side-splitting humor (more of the latter). At its best, the series plays like Brooklyn’s Portlandia, but with more than two actors and characters that are more than just sketches.
High Maintenance’s first full-length HBO episode aired on Friday and has since received similar back-slapping in the press. It deserves it. Where the web series often opted for pure style, "Episode 1: Meth(od)” chooses substance. The episode finds our beloved weed guy trapped in an apartment with two menacing black men who won’t let him leave. Only once he has run away—taking their jar of quarters in lieu of his traditional cash payment—do we learn that they are really British method actors working on a bit. The sketch is both funny and cutting at the same time, playing on the viewers' stereotypes but not going so far as to wag a reproachful finger. More interesting, though, is the sketch of Max, the crazed gay socialite who appears in the weed guy’s phone as simply “Asshole.” Here, High Maintenance is pretty on-the-nose with its play for edginess, with a surprise cutaway to an extended gay sex scene. Still, as the episode moves forward, Max’s character begins to gain real depth. As he transforms from a manipulative, empty-headed prick (for lack of a better word) to a real person with real problems and real motivations, we begin to sympathize. Again, High Maintenance playfully suggests (but doesn’t lecture) that we put in a little more time and critical thought before leaping to judge our fellow human beings. (Raphael Helfand)
Box sets often seem superfluous. Fans of the band have most of the best stuff and don’t really want the rest of it. Or they’ll never listen to it three times again. A Place Called Bad doesn’t quite fall into that trap. The four-disc set put out by The Numero Group helps to properly tell the story of the Australian post-punk band The Scientists, who were musically richer than first generation Aussie punks The Saints, harder than Hoodoo Gurus, less noir than The Birthday Party and less humorless than The Beasts of Bourbon. They formed in 1979 but first got attention in the States in 1986 when Big Time Records pulled together a best-of, Weird Love, that presented the band as more psycho blues in the mode of The Cramps and The Birthday Party.
“We got lumped into the thing of either being flatout Birthday Party plagiarists, which we weren’t,” Scientists’ Kim Salmon says now, and A Place Called Bad makes that easier to hear. The first disc is filled with good ’70s punk, hard but with hooks. Like everybody else playing punk in Australia and, well, everywhere, The Stooges, The Ramones and Suicide were in the influence pipeline, and it’s revealing that the band played Flamin’ Groovies and Modern Lovers covers in the live set documented on the fourth disc.
The Scientists’ best songs—“Swampland,” “We Had Love,” “Set it on Fire,” “Blood Red River,” and “Solid Gold Hell” to name a few—still sound unhealthy and carry an air of menace, even as they’re great, exciting rock ’n’ roll. Today, much of the imagery seems too familiar to be haunting, but internal issues and the part of Salmon that made it possible for him to find common ground with The Beasts of Bourbon’s Tex Perkins make the darkness in the songs feel real enough to retain their edge. (Alex Rawls)