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Cleanse My Palate

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A sip of non-carbonated water. Celery. White bread. Crackers. Fried Polenta. Lime. Ginger. Calvados. These are all palate cleansers. We eat them between bites of food, between dishes, to sweep away existing flavors so that we can concentrate on the next item.

Using food as a metaphor for music, or sports, or literature, or any non-food topic is played out. This time, it’s necessary.

Ever been to Fogo de Chao? It’s a Brazilian steakhouse. Wonderful food, pricey, and overwhelming. It’s a once a year experience. It’s an hour and a half of Brazilian men stuffing your face with their meat. After the first seven or eight servings, everything tastes like salt. I had a “Florida death metal day” last month, where I listened to all the classics like Legion and Covenant, one after the other. It all tasted the same after seven or eight servings.

Listening to A Night at the Opera (Blind Guardian), Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia (Dimmu Borgir), and Infinite (Stratovarius), one after the other, might give me diabetes. Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. I could no more stomach that playlist than I could eat bananas foster served on crème Brule with an ice wine chaser.

Sometimes too much of a good thing is a terrible thing. If I followed that chain of consumption above–the food or the music–I’d feel pretty Disma. I’d void my bowels from both ends and feel better after a while. I’m not just saying that because Craig Pillard’s involved in Disma.

Dismal digression aside, sometimes I just get tired of a particular genre of metal. Sometimes I just get tired of music itself. Mixing genres in a playlist helps, but only up to a certain point. When this happens, I reach for a palate cleanser. It’s music that sweeps away all the aftertastes and allows me to focus on the next set of flavors. In a sense, it’s also regenerative, rejuvenating my mind so that I can focus with greater intensity. I’ve tried silence, but as a palate cleanser, it’s too much like a sip of water and a cracker, or a bad date: empty, boring, and tasteless.

Nine Inch Nails’ Year Zero is an excellent musical palate cleanser. It’s catchy without being overstuffed with overwrought melodies and harmonies. From a classical musicians’ standpoint, all pop music is minimalist, but Year Zero feels minimalist even by pop music standards. It’s music made out of things which aren’t musical.

Big Black’s Songs About Fucking is another good palate cleanser. It’s Steve Albini howling over the sound of bones rubbing together. It goes through my mind like a wire brush across a penny made bad with gunk, scraping off all the waste.

The best musical palate cleanser is Minor Threat. Not the whole Minor Threat discography CD, just the first 14 songs, when the band was really fast and hard. It’s “Filler” through “Guilty of Being White,” the tracks from before the band got melodic. By the standards of guitar based rock music, I’ve never heard anything more minimalist than those old Minor Threat burners.

Somewhere in Dave Thompson’s Alternative Rock: The Essential Listening Companion, there’s a quote about punk and hardcore. I lost my copy years ago, or I’d look it up again. I think it’s a Henry Rollins quote. It sounds like him. I’ll paraphrase it: “Punk and hardcore were necessary. They came along to scrape all the shit off of rock ‘n’ roll’s boots, the Journeys and the Styxes and all the other adult rock.”

How fitting then that all of these years later, I still use Minor Threat to scrape all of the gunk out of my mind. If Year Zero is a bite of ginger, then Songs about Fucking is a bite of lime. Those old Minor Threat songs are a shot of Calvados: an acetylene torch to the brain.

What’s your favorite palate cleanser?

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Minor Threat – “I Don’t Wanna Hear It”

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— Richard Street-Jammer

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