Sunday, 13 December 2009

Best Albums of the Decade Part 8 (of 8)

36. the Rapture - Echoes (2003)

Every time someone counts to 7 I just want to shout out "I'M FLOATING IN A CONSTANT HEAVEN." That's powerful. From the opening notes of "Olio" right through the immense hit "House Of Jealous Lovers" and up until the bluesy and kind of theatrical "Infatuation," Echoes is an astoundingly good album. Of all the dance-punk bands, the Rapture managed to balance their influences and write memorable songs. And that's the important thing about Echoes, it's incredibly inconsistent, but all the songs are very interesting. There's nothing to skip. It's like a really good buffet, with all types of different dishes, none of which you want to miss. I freely admit that the lyrics are rather lovey-dovey and even slightly saccharine, but I don't really care. I listen to the melody, sing along, but I'm trying to derive any deep meaning (frankly, that's not the point of this music, now is it?). I'm here for the party: sweet disco riffs (guitar and synth), thick beats, and saxy flourishes. And when it cools down on the slower numbers, like "Open Up Your Heart" or "Love Is All," it's a good break from the energy of the others. Don't forget your cowbell!

37. Sleater-Kinney - One Beat (2002)

Sleater-Kinney ruled and their breakup ("hiatus" -- I have to keep repeating that to myself) really sucks. This album is my favorite of the ones I happen to own (still a few records left for me to explore, so I'm not too upset). S-K seemed to have so many influences, both retro and current, and they distilled it all in to awesome rock greatness on One Beat. Structurally, the songs aren't too complex, but the little flourishes, such as the keyboard on "Oh!" and the strings on "The Remainder," and the spot-on execution across the board make this album a really satisfying listen. Two distinct vocalists, angular and bluesy guitar lines all over the place, and incredible drumming are the main elements at play here, all of which are intowoven perfectly in these dense, energetic songs.

38. Marnie Stern - This Is It And I Am It And You Are It And So Is That And He Is It And She Is It And It Is It And That Is That (2008)

This was my favorite album of 2008, and not surprisingly, I've selected it for this list as well. What's not to love here? Marnie Stern has a unique voice, both in terms of her actual singing voice and her style as a songwriter. I almost don't know who to compare her to. Maybe Joanna Newsom? Or am I saying that because I just listened to the two artists recently? There are some similarities: both somewhat folky voices and very particular styles on their primary instruments (Newsom = harp, Stern = guitar), both acquired tastes, both wordy, both fairly intense. Maybe that is an apt comparison, at least in non-surface features. On a more superficial level, Stern's music is more akin to Don Caballero or Hella, if you add an appropriate vocal compliment to their instrumental frenzies. It's a tightly controlled chaos on Stern's second record, and it feels like no second in any one song is wasted, much like the first Talking Heads record. You can't ask for a whole lot more.

39. Sunn O))) - Black One (2005)

It now seems really obvious to me that one of the most innovative acts in metal, known primarily for their extreme dronedoom, would decide to make a black metal album. Black metal lends itself well to experimentation and Sunn O))) is exactly the band to push the boundaries. Now, I definitely call this a black metal album, but it is Sunn O))) doing a black metal album, so it doesn't sound quite like Immortal. Anyway, Black One is a throughly unsettling, paranoid hellscape of a record. And, it has an incredible calming effect, so it's rather contrarian. I suppose that adds to the appeal of Sunn O))) in general. It's surprising that after so much Earth worship and around five albums prior, Sunn O))) still successfully and effectively expands their sound on BO (and then again with 2009's Monoliths And Dimensions).

40. Yoshida Tatsuya & Fujii Satoko - Erans (2003)

And so the list comes to an end with this jazzy number. There's some jazz influence on some of the other albums, but this is the only one that I would primarily classify as jazz. And it ain't no symphony of trumpets and saxophones. Nope, this is jazz as sanctioned by John Zorn (it was put out on Tzadik), featuring Tatsuya Yoshida, drummer of Japanoise greats Ruins. There's nothing but drums and piano (and a tiny bit of vocalizing), but who really needs much more? These pieces have so much heft are are both invigorating and contemplative, which is certainly the result of the chemistry between the two musicians. Every driving piano line is matched with the perfect combination of manic percussion, a great example of which is the theme of "Westerlies." Composition undoubtly relies on improvisation and the directions in which they take these tunes is always exciting and refreshing, whether it's building on themes or giving the pieces some breathing room. The tracks are memorable, but so complex that repeat listens are mandatory (and welcomed). The emotional character here cannot be denied: the force and energy present in these pieces conjures up so many feelings, often over the course of just one track. Despite the high potential for all the tracks to cave in on themselves, the competency of these musicians prevents them from sounding too fractured or scattershot. It's the control, balance, and utilization of chaos that makes Erans so successful.

And that's it! That's the whole decade in a nutshell. I can't help but reflect on my list and then think about some candidates that could've made the cut. I could have extended the list, but chose to leave it at 40 since I think the ones on here are really the most important albums to me. Some are innovators or "game changers" or some stupid band that I think is FRICKIN' AWESOME. I think there's enough stylistic diversity, but I wish there was more electonic and death and/or black metal. Oh well. But, I would like to acknowledge the following albums for being so close to making the list:

Mastodon - Remission : Soooo close. I came pretty late to the Mastodon trend, so I didn't get Remission until like, 2008 or something. Otherwise, this record may have been on.

Portishead - Third : I love this band and Third is really great, but it just can't beat Dummy. It doesn't feel definitive enough to make this list.

Uusitalo - Karhunainen : This is another great album, but I just don't think I listened to it enough to merit a spot here.

Electric Wizard - Dopethrone : Obviously this is a stoner-doom metal classic and I do in fact think it's awesome. But again, I didn't get it until recently so it hasn't had enough time to settle in.

Orthrelm - OV : I actually don't know why this one didn't quite make the cut.

Godspeed You Black Emperor - Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven : Yeah, this one should be on the list, too. I just don't think I know it well enough.

Radiohead : I like Radiohead and I own Kid A, Hail To The Thief, and In Rainbows. However, as good as RH is, they are supremely overrated and I don't have any special connection to their music. RH is just good, not SUPER EARTH-SHATTERING GENIUS.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Decade Part 7

This is the second to last part of the list. The final part will be posted on SUNDAY, probably with some thoughts about the list itself -- honorable mentions, further commentary, etc.

31. Mouse On Mars - Varcharz (2006)

Much like MOM's other entry on this list, this album flows so well from track to track, incorporates a new style into the already diverse MOM sound (this time it's noisetronica), and presents a consistent vision throughout. This one isn't so light-hearted or accessible, but the excellence level is about the same. Pulverising beats, whizzes, whirs, blips and bleeps aplenty, and interesting development in every track make this an addictive and compelling listen. Just two years after the party of Radical Connector, Mouse On Mars goes to a whole 'nother planet (pun intended) and concocts something exciting and irresistable. You can still keep dancing to this one (...well, certain songs belong more in the cerebrum...).

32. Joanna Newsom - Ys (2006)

This is the only "folk" album to grace the list. It probably has the most lyrics of an album here (oddly, it is sandwiched in between two wordless records). Despite the intensity in each song, I find myself listening to this album as sort of a "cool down." It's one I listen to when I want to hear something quiet, often late at night before going to sleep. Though it never fails to stir up all kinds of feelings, especially when I get to "Monkey And Bear," which is such a tragic tale. I think my iTunes star ratings speak to the quality of each song (and thus to the quality of the album) -- each one is a 5/5. No one is weak and picking a favorite is futile. This is a great full-album experience, but I do also find myself listening to certain songs on repeat for a period of time (and then moving on to another one). The praise I'm heaping is contrary to my initial reaction to Newsom. I guess music of this caliber is an acquired taste.

33. Pelican - Australasia (2003)

Pelican is a pretty controversial band it seems. There's been much debate as to their "metalness" and even "authenticity" and "hipsterness." Sometimes it's hard to ignore all this speculation and just listen. But when I put on Australasia, what I think about is listening to it in the dark back in '03, often on headphones, and imagining an epic story going along with it. I also remember listening to it at a laundromat. Either way, I just loved this band and album from the first time I heard them. My disdain for (death) metal vocals at the time led me to seek out metal bands who changed it up, and in this case, completely did without vocals. Sure they sounded a lot like Isis, but I also loved Isis at this time, and was eager to hear anything similar. But Pelican got rid of the vocals and thus, there was more room to imagine what these songs are about and add my own meaning. I liked that, and I still do like that. And I like all of Pelican's other albums, though they've taken a lot of different twists and turns. Australasia remains my favorite, largely because it's the incarnation of the band that I fell in love with, but also because the songs are frickin' HUGE. "Drought" is an out-and-out classic and the sludge of "NightEndDay" and "Angel Tears" crushes like the pressure at the bottom of the ocean. Pelican's songwriting at this stage was more of the shape-shifting riff and heavy repetition style, with songs usually around the 10-minute mark (with the exception of the diversions "GW" and "Untitled"), which I still find absolutely mesmerizing. I'm glued to the speakers hearing the development of themes and the sonic exploration. The songs here are exactly as long as they need to be, whereas later on down the line, I think Pelican may have edited a bit too much (see City Of Echoes).

34. Pig Destroyer - Phantom Limb (2007)

What? More grind? Where is the death and/or black metal??! I'm still growing in my appreciation for those two genres, so all the metal coverage on list reflects my history with the genre, which is limited mostly to grind, metalcore, avant-garde, and well, metalgaze. So, Pig D is the closest entry to death metal, but they are decidely a grindcore band. This album sees them expanding the grind lexicon a bit, even writing and an epic 4 minute song! (much like Discordance Axis and "A Leaden Stride To Nowhere," eh?) I could pull out all the requisite adjectives here "blistering," "brutal," "pulverizing," etc. etc, but I give a lot of credit for Pig D's success to the fact that they write and execute the songs so well. There's tons of memorable riffs, for example, the title track features a, blistering, gnarly six-string jab, and I feel it necessary to mention the incredible central riff in "Loathsome." Though not only is the riff ...brutal, but the interaction with the drum beat is just gravy. The guitar tone warrants special attention as well. It has a really retro "rock god" quality to it and is incredibly dense, whereas sometimes in extreme metal, I find bands going for the hazy, wall-of-sound thing and it ends up less ....pulverizing. Listening right now to this album, I notice how the vocals are much quieter than the guitar, which probably adds to the BLISTERING, BRUTAL, PULVERIZING impact.

35. Q And Not U - Different Damage (2002)

Ah, Q And Not U. Dischord Records band from the 2000s that put out three albums, obviously influenced by Fugazi, broke up, new, not particularly great projects, probably not going to be in the history books in the future. So, why do I have the AUDACITY to put them on a list such as this? Simple answer: Q And Not U was awesome and Different Damage was their best. Their first album was a little too derivative and their third tried to push things too far (though it's still pretty good). On DD, QANU found their own sound. It's hooky and fun, but there's lots of substance and quirk to keep it interesting. Veilled and symbolic songs about all types of political/social/technological/religious issues also feature sharp guitar lines, jazzy bass, and dancetastic beats. The songs are short and tight, never overstaying their welcome (quite the opposite: I find them nearly infinitely listenable). QANU might not make the cut historically, but I'll be wearing my QANU shirt for several years to come.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Decade Part 6

26. Madvillain - Madvillainy (2004)

This is the only album on the list that would be called rap music. And that's because I frankly don't know a lot about rap. However, I know this album is bloody genius. I've heard plenty of rap, underground, mainstream, or somewhere in between and few artists actually grab my attention (I guess that's actually true for any genre), but Madillainy is a very special album. It's a great collaboration between two incredibly talented artists and also has great guest spots. It doesn't rely on choruses or pop song structures to be memorable, rather it sticks in your mind because the lyrics are so clever and interesting and the beats have a style specific to the person who made them. In other words, it's certainly an idiosyncratic album. It's like nothing I've ever heard for this genre. It sticks to its guns through and through and is even cohesive. You practically have to listen to the whole thing to get the picture. The songs just bleed into and relate to each other so well. It's like its own little universe.

27. Matmos - A Chance To Cut Is A Chance To Cure (2001)

Almost any Matmos album from this decade could be on this list, but for me, ACTCIACTC is the one I go back to the most. I like how each song has a distinct identity, but they all fit in the same category of sound. It's an album that has plenty of mood changes, from the serious ("Memento Mori") to the more playful and party-ready ("Spondee"). There is a particular riff at different speeds in two tracks (around 3:00 in "Spondee" and at about 1:43 in "California Rhinoplasty"), which helps tie things together. The album has a consistent noisy-ness to it, despite the different genres it traverses. It's actually quite similar in sound to Mouse On Mars' Varcharz record when I think about it. The tracks don't exactly glide into each other, it's really quite a bumpy road listening to this album. But that's just how Matmos works and I think this album is the closest they've come to creating something homogenous and "album-y".

28. M.I.A. - Kala (2007)

I don't think I listened to this album at all in 2008 since I probably listened to it too much in 2007. And now in '09, evaluating the decade, this album undoubtled deserves a spot on this list. It's too much fun and has so much swagger that you can't ignore it. What kind of boring moron can't appreciate something as cool as Kala? It's a weird mix of samples, you can't quite to decide if it's rap or electronic, you can dance to almost every track and M.I.A. herself is an awesomely over-the-top presence both on record and in photographs (great style!). This album is bold, but grounded. It's fun and crazy, but the subject matter it covers can be pretty serious, getting into global politics and all. Not that you need to be really high-brow to enjoy it, you can just take it on the surface and sing along.

29. Mission Of Burma - OnOffOn (2004)

I happen to own the complete MOB catalogue and this is the album I usually go back to. It's a case where the hits just keep on commin'. One after another there are brilliant songs, all with a distinct identity, but within the same style. It's so hard to pick favorite songs because they are all seriously great. The energy of punk rock is there, but the band can actually play their instruments and write interesting songs. Admittedly, there's a pop sensibility, and sometimes I think these could be Rolling Stones songs, but it's a part of their sound that makes them so good. They are not a "stadium rock" band, nor some scummy gutterpunks, they find a precious middle ground that lends itself to excellence in music. And this album exemplifies that. The Obliterati is equally good, but these songs are just more endeared to me.

30. Mouse On Mars - Radical Connector (2004)

I stumbled across this gem during my radio days. I had heard of Mouse On Mars, but never heard. I was initially uninterested since my tolerance for electro-pop had fizzled, but this album is just too good. MOM are known for their innovations and melding of genres and Radical Connector goes further by bringing in the pop sensibilities. Warped vocals and streamlined song development makes this batch of tunes instantly catchy and easily distinguishable, in addition to their excellent danceability and high energy. Despite the quick appeal, the tracks are still incredibly detailled, with tons of interesting little noises to keep the maniacs satisfied. I always wished that Daft Punk could make an album this good.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Decade Part 5: past the halfway point

As I was typing out my write-ups, I noticed that I had numbered my list incorrectly, and it turns out, that I have, in fact, only 40 albums. So my first post was wrong, it is only the top 40 albums of the decade, not 41. So what does that mean? Not much, but it was worth mentioning.


21. Isis - Oceanic (2002)

....That being said, Oceanic is the best Isis record. The muddy production has been cleaned up, but it's still so heavy, and just has a lot of punch. You can really hear every instrument working together, even the drums (hear the beautiful resonance on the intro to "Weight"), to create an astounding texture. The drums are so far away from any jackhammer metal style and they sound freakin' huge. The biggest change in songwriting seems to be more pronounced and abrupt dynamics, which I think give the songs a more powerful impact. It's more of a surprise on this album when the long drone erupts into a frenzy of screams and crushing heaviness (though nowadays this is a total metalgaze cliché). Oceanic seems to be Isis' most complete and cohesive record; it really keeps a consistent sound throughout and has that feel of a full album that takes you on a journey.

22. Jesu - Conqueror (2007)

I was so disappointed when I first heard this one (which was in summer '09 when I picked up the CD for like 7 bucks). Where was the crushing heaviness and more importantly, the lethargy? This one is not the air conditioner soundtrack of the summer! Why, the songs are a good bit shorter and more structured! There are hooks! The vocals are much more prominent in the mix! After a few listens, I got past my preconceived notions of what I thought a Jesu record should sound like (based on the debut) and realized that these songs are great. The whole thing is even sadder and prettier than the debut, but also more memorable, which is partly a result of the vocals and lyrics having a much bigger role in the songs. There's so much vulnerability in those two elements that you can't help but empathize. I do miss the sludge, but there's a reason why I put two Jesu albums on this list.

23. Jesu - Jesu (2005)

...And another metalgaze record makes the list. I guess it's rather obvious that I'm a fan of this genre when it's done right. But what song is heavier than "Friends Are Evil"? And as catchy? Justin Broadrick's decision to make sad, pretty songs was a very good idea since he does it so well. It's almost impossible not to feel lethargic and end up crying at some point (maybe more than once) when you're listening to Jesu's self-titled debut full-length. For me, in '05, this was the perfect air conditioner summer music. You just lay around in the AC and crank it up, letting the glorious, enormous guitar sound obliterate/annihilate/rape your mind (that's actually a compliment). This album really feels more like a collection of songs, since each has a slightly different mood, but the overall sound is consistent throughout and in that it truly succeeds and deserves a space on this list.

24. Lightning Bolt - Wonderful Rainbow (2003)

I was hooked into buying this album on the strength of two highlights: "Dracula Mountain" and "2 Towers," but I was so disinterested in it when I first listened to it. It's so noisy and the sound is so cluttered that I just wasn't having it when I bought this in '03 or '04. I was more interested in very clean sounding stuff, like Hella or Orthrelm. You'd think, being a two-man band like those other two that maybe Lightning Bolt might actually resemble them, but that is just not the case. This band is more easily classifiable as noise, even bordering on metal territory, being that I would in fact use the term brutal to describe them. This album is a massive adrenaline rush of brutality, though it is not angry or hostile. Rather it is brutal in that it is so energetic and heavy. It's almost hard to listen to. Anyway, the sound is consistent and the songs are memorable and the whole thing feels very complete: the first track is a warm-up and the last is a cool-down. The interior of the album is a rigorous work-out for the mind (and body, if you so choose to dance, and you ought).

25. the Locust - Plague Soundscapes (2003)

This is a grindcore album, but it is not a metal album. This band sounds more like a really angry Devo on crack than Napalm Death. And for that, they've been a bit controversial. But who really cares? This album is brutal and over-the-top ridiculous AND freakin' awesome. I love the synths and the drumming is off-the-charts incredible. Thanks to the fabulous production, the sound is loud and dense, which is exactly where it should be. Grinding of the more punk variety, especially with a band as odd as the Locust, ought to be as in-your-face as it can be, and it is. The song titles are silly, but I can barely remember them anyway, so I don't care. It takes longer to read them than listen to the songs. So just listen to the songs.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Decade Part 4

These write-up were written mostly in alphabetical order, so some of them were meant to be read directly one after the other (those ones start with "....").

16. Enon - Grass Geysers...Carbon Clouds (2007)

....And right on to a band where the bass figures prominently. That bassline in "Colette" could get even the most uptight idiot onto the dance floor shakin' his/her derrière. In all seriousness, this album is seriously FUN. They keep the songs short and to the point, injecting little Pixies-isms to stay interesting and slightly less poppy. But make no mistake, this is a pop record and a near perfect one at that. This is probably Enon's most upbeat and polished record, but for some reason I just think I'd rather die than not have to capacity to listen to it. It always puts me in a good mood and makes me want to dance. I realize Enon haven't pioneered this sound or style, but it's really the execution, the "how," that makes this band special and enduring. There's enough ROCK and rawness to separate it from standard radio fare, but it's so refined and chiseled that no second is wasted on pointless excess.

17. Erase Errata - Other Animals (2001)

Erase Errata's debut record really stood out to me when I first stumbled upon it, probably in 2003. This was probably when I was starting to get into bands that have a degree of noise to them and was exploring the old-tyme New York no wave sound. EE take that sound and really modernize it: there are actual songs there and the recording doesn't sound like total garbage. I know those bands were sort of anti-musical, but would it have killed them to compromise just a little? Or were they just total brats/self-indulgent losers? Anyhoo, this album has a great realness and insanity to it, but it doesn't get so lost in its self-imposed trappings. The lyrics are often bizarre and amusing, detailing the foibles of our current society. It's so energetic and refreshing, though subsequent albums from this band seem to have lost some of the grit and charm that makes Other Animals so enjoyable and rockin'.

18. Fugazi - The Argument (2001)

This album goes on my list by default, being that Fugazi is one of my favorite bands overall. But really, it probably could've made this list without such bias. Fugazi continue their evolution on this record, finding a very balanced and warm sound. They've matured very gracefully. It's not lacking in the energy and anger of their more famous albums, but it's tempered with a mellowness and maturity. The singing by both vocalists is the most tuneful of the whole Fugazi catalogue and the production gives way to a very warm and almost blurry sound, contrary to their drier early work, like Repeater (and even up through End Hits). It's just another dimension to a band that has never made the same record twice and constantly continued to push themselves. If Fugazi never ended their "hiatus," I don't think it would really matter to me since their "latest" record is such a triumph.

19. Hella - Hold Your Horse Is (2002)

"Less is more" is probably one of the most frequently used phrases to describe Hella on their first full length, Hold Your Horse Is, but I'm hard-pressed to come up with another appropriate cliché. The two musicians on this record are not only interesting and unique players, but more importantly, they are so in sync with each other, and the result is a handful of tight, impeccably executed songs. I don't even know if this should be called "rock" music, being that so much is decidedly beyond the trappings of conventional rock, particularly the guitar playing, which sounds more like a synthesizer playing a guitar tone than an actual rock guitar. A good comparison of Hella on this album would be Black Dice, though that's a band that takes rock elements even further outside of a rock context. I suppose you could just call this noise, but it's so organized and controled that it hardly resembles Merbow. Maybe it's better to let genres fall by the wayside since Hella has traversed quite a few more over the course of their catalogue.

20. Isis - Celestial (2000)

Let me start by saying that this is actually the first Isis record I bought. I wanted to start from the beginning. And I bought it when Oceanic had just come out and was all hyped up. Now that I own all their full-lengths, I can safely say that I think this is one of their best and it's obviously a favorite of mine. This album really started the whole "metalgaze" sound, which has become pretty stagnant at the end of the decade, save a couple bands taking it in a new direction. The major draw on this album is the songwriting style that Isis seem to have already perfected on their debut plus the awesome sludge sound. The production is kind of bad, I acknowledge that, but I think the muddiness works in favor of the metalgaze style. It just sounds heavier and rawer. Later Isis album seemed to clean up a lot of the mud and I enjoy them for their progress and refinement, but Celestial is what made me fall in love with this band and it always draws me back in, thinking about how interesting the metalgaze sound was before it reached its saturation point.

Decade Part 3

Almost forgot to post today...

11. Converge - Jane Doe (2001)

The inclusion of this album doesn't really need any justification; it's really become a classic of the metalcore genre. It's been imitated so much, though never replicated, not even by Converge themselves. How could anyone? It's a perfect album. It's not excessive nor lacking in ambition and creativity. It's furious and unrelenting, but never to its detriment. It finds the pefect balance between the genres it straddles and has a perfectly complimentary production aesthetic.

12. Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles (2008)

How is it possible that I really disliked Crystal Castles the first time I heard them? How did I not hear the genius of combining punk rock attitude and ruggedness with video game music style electronics? I guess I didn't really hear the punk part the first time I heard "Courtship Dating," which is admittedly a poppier song, a little less fierce and raw than "Alice Practice" and "Love And Caring." This is such a feel-good album, too. That's usually not I quality I associate with music I like, but this time I can't resist the fun. You can dance to practically every song on here and each one sounds totally different from the others. As an album, it may be a bit inconsistent, but it's such an energetic and just plain good collection of songs, that I don't really care (I still listen to it as an album most of the time). The only thing I dislike is the final track "Tell Me What To Swallow," which just goes too far, in that it is completely detached from the character of the rest of the album and just isn't very interesting anyway. Why close the album with the weakest tune, especially after such an excellent stretch of excellence? Either way, I'm still excited every time I listen to this album.

13. Desaparecidos - Read Music/Speak Spanish (2002)

I was briefly a fan of Conor Oberst's main gig, Bright Eyes, back in '03 with the release of the Lifted album, but then I discovered his lesser known rock and roll band, Desaparecidos. And their only album is a lot of drunken fun and railing against the establishment/corporate America/consumerism. The lyrical content is one of the principal reasons why I like this album, what with all the attacks on middle American values, but politics aside, it's such a fun rock n roll record with lots of loud, crunchy goodness. I guess any record in this style could have made my list and replaced this one (winkwink Titus Andronicus), but I think the brevity and catchiness help make this one really memorable and enjoyable.

14. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca (2009)

Now, I do feel it is a bit early to determine a list such as the one I am currently writing, and even earlier to say what albums from 2009 ought to be a part of this list, BUT! that's not really stopping me from putting Bitte Orca on this list. And that's because it's just that good. The first few listens, I felt maybe this album was overrated, then I realized that it's not a Radiohead album. This is a subtle album, it seems so simple and offbeat at first, but the amount of detail on these songs is staggering. Even ignoring the catchiness, it survives as an interesting, artsy album. Every song seems like an experiment with form and sound, and they are all successful, though I'm a little less fond of "Remade Horizon" compared to the others. This album definitely takes time to actually understand and pick up on the details, but it's quite a satisfying listen.

15. Discordance Axis - The Inalienable Dreamless (2000)

What first caught my eye with this here band was the guitar work. Never had I heard grindcore music that had such serious riffage (see "Jigsaw"). Yet that's only one of the elements that makes Discordance Axis so incredible. The songs are chaotic, but the songwriting isn't: there's some good organization here, though it doesn't interfere with the awesome brutality. The drumming, courtesy of Dave Witte, is some of the best ever in extreme metal. I'm never bored or thinking "wow, this drummer needs to learn some new patterns/fills." Of course the vocals are pretty typical for the genre, but once again, so brutal. And nothing about this band feels or sounds hokey. It's serious and it's allowed to be since it's executed so perfectly. This particular album is easily the band's masterpiece. In addition to all the strictly musical elements, the production is spot on, the sequencing is highly effective (something so important with so many short songs), and the packaging is really cool. I think it wouldn't be an overstatement to call this one of the best grind albums ever. And there's no bass!

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Best Of The Decade Part 2

Two days in a row!!! Wow!!!

Serialization continues today with albums 6-10:

06. Boris - Akuma No Uta (2005)

For me, this is the definitive Boris album. Boris' identity is made up of various styles and sounds, all heavy and awesome. And this album perfectly encapsulates all of that. It starts with an almost 10 minute drone, which is one of the most beautiful "songs" Boris has ever done. And then a good portion of the album is pure rock and roll that sounds both old-school and contemporary at the same time, also including some of Boris' psychedelic swirl-y-ness. The title track helps to book-end this album, bringing back the drone (and the riff from the first track), but blending it together seamlessly with the more straightforward rock and roll. This may not be a perfectly consistent album, but there are no clunkers or tracks to skip, and it shows Boris' range as a band with a unified production quality.

07. the Bug - London Zoo (2008)

I kind of hated this album at first. I was bothered by the use of so many vocalists. It felt fractured, as if each song belonged on a different album. But that's really what makes it special and exciting. There's a lot of different voices, but the beats (and politics) provide consistency. I think listening to the songs individually actually helped me appreciate the album as whole. Each one has its own character, but they fit together like a puzzle. Some songs are good to dance to, like opener "Angry," while others may be best listened to with headphones, like "Too Much Pain." My favorite track is easily "Poison Dart," which has a great melody that is practically unsing-along-able (doesn't stop me from trying, though). It's just a great listen, as parts or as a whole.

08. Burial - Untrue (2007)

It does a disservice to the whole album when you listen to the songs individually. There are several transitional tracks that really help to achieve the atmosphere of Untrue. The actual songs are rather dark on their own, but outside of context, they seem far more joyful and danceable than they really ought to be. This album should be listened to in the dark, alone, and in a state of unease (maybe while walking down a city street at night on headphones). There is nothing fun about it, and that's actually a good thing. Getting away from the mood, Burial's plan of attack is really something else, uniquely his own. The song structures feature heavy repetition and very subtle variation and building up of textures and tones that would initially seem not to go together. It all does fit, though and it's refreshing and daring. The nontraditional vocals really set Burial's work apart: he uses them so delibrately to evoke emotions and leaves the words nicely ambiguous. It's all some kind of post-industrial nightmare with soothing yet haunting, often wordless soul vocals. And I still can't stop listening to this record.

09. Cat Power - You Are Free (2003)

What I like so much about this album is that it is so hard to pin down genre-wise: is it indie rock, rock, country, folk, blues? I don't quite know. Sometimes it goes in favor of one genre, and then abruptly changes. The songwriting is varied and always interesting. There's a good mix of instruments and it seems like an awful lot of just plain tinkering around with sound and form, but no song falls flat. I remember reading criticisms that it may drag on a bit or sounds too same-y, but I just don't hear that. Each song really sounds different to me. I like that Chan Marshall finds a balance between being both unpolished and sophisticated. She sings her melodies perfectly, but still in her own voice. The songs are both personal and universal; the listener doesn't feel trapped too much in her world, but is still welcomed.

10. Converge - Axe To Fall (2009)

Converge churns out another blistering metalcore assault, but this time with many a collaborator, who just give the album that extra umph. This album is just a little bit more interesting and different than their last two. It's a refinement of the already highly refined Converge sound, but it certainly adds some new details with the new blood. The last two tracks would just seem odd and even out-of-place if it was Jake Bannon singing them. It was certainly a wise choice to bring in Steve Von Till (Neurosis) and Mookie Singerman (Genghis Tron), as their styles of singing suit the direction of those particular songs much better. There's usually an acknowledgement for Bannon and Ballou when talking about Converge, but one aspect of the band that always impresses me is the drumming, courtesy of Ben Koller. The speed is incredible, sure, but the patterns are always interesting and perfectly appropriate for the songs. Some extreme metal drumming is just so blah, but there's always something to keep your attention in Converge's music. Now if only I could go see this band live...

Saturday, 5 December 2009

The 41 Best Albums Of The Decade

Or a more appropriate title: the 41 records I listened to the most this past decade and think are frickin' awesome. This list is highly personal, many of the entries being "favorite albums ever" being that I'm a young'n and about 60% of my music collection belongs to this decade and I rather avidly follow current music. A lot of the entries are my favorite artists, so this is not a "historical" or "musical journalism" type of list. Some albums are those that I loved during the year they came out, such as Echoes by the Rapture or M.I.A. Kala, but others were heard in retrospect and deemed to be the best of that year, like Broken Ear Record by Black Dice or Radical Connector by Mouse On Mars. The list was compiled by making playlists in iTunes for each year of the decade, picking my favorites from those and then whittling down the list (it ended up at 41 by accident, but it seems right that way). Some artists are repeated, but I guess that just goes to show how awesome they are. This thing is very incomplete and maybe in another decade it would be longer, once I've had more time to discover all the other albums that some of these artists put out this decade.

No discrimination was made to make each year have a specific proportion of albums, it's just a jumbled mess of the decade.

Each entry has a short write-up and the list will be published in alphabetical order in 8 parts.

Here's the first 5:

01. Ellen Allien - Berlinette (2003)

Upon relistening to this album, I realize a good bit about it: it's very pop-oriented and has a range of tones and moods, though there is a good unity of sound. All the tracks have a sort of static-y/distorted/guitay-y type sound, but within a techno framework. It's not surprising to think this album was fairly popular for the indie crowd in '03. Genres aside, it's a fabulous album. There's the playful, fun songs, like "Push" and "Secret," and the more serious, somber tracks like "Wish" and "Open," and even then there are the more neutral-type tracks like "Alles Sehen" and "Augenblick." The sound is very much it's own and would not be heard on later Ellen Allien albums, which veered in hugely different directions. So why did I pick this one? I think Sool is actually a better album overall, but this one is probably the most consistent and album-y. It holds together really well as a collection, but each song still stands out (and I never skip a track on this one). Both Thrills and Sool seem more fractured and more mix-tape ready. And the album with Apparat features three horrible songs at the end which automatically disqualify it from this list, despite the rest of it being excellent. Berlinette is one of those albums (like many others on this list) where you can listen to it over and over again, and your favorite song keeps changing as you listen. I wish I knew more German...

02. Basic Channel - BCD-2 (2008)

What is there to say about BCD-2? It's just really excellent techno. Every track is wonderful, hypnotic, long, and most importantly, danceable. It's great on a stereo and in the headphones. Every track is great separately, but as a collection, it's a veritable dance party. Some may think it's too minimal, but they're not listening closely enough. I realize this is technically a collection/compilation, but it when taken from the perspective of it being an album, it holds up better than most "album albums."

03. Björk - Medúlla (2004)

As I already wrote in my recap of Björk's major studio albums, Medúlla is her most experimental work. It's ambitious, but never gets too big for its britches. It has a certain humble earthiness to it that is really appealing and makes for an interesting listen. It has a stumble here and there, but succeeds the most of all Björk's records of this decade.

04. Black Dice - Broken Ear Record (2005)

I don't have Beaches & Canyons, so I can't attest to the earlier developments of Black Dice. But I've heard the album prior to BER and their latest release, so I can still situate this album among the others. I'd have to say that this one seems to be the definitive Black Dice album. Creature Comforts had a lot of the sound and style of this one, but it seems a bit underdeveloped, primative, and rudimentary. And then Repo goes in another direction entirely, with a lot of short tracks and increased use of vocal samples, which is great, but Broken Ear Record, to me, really defines the sound of Black Dice: songs that unfold somewhat slowly and develop and shape-shift into something completely different from where they started. These songs make you feel sick in the best way possible, but are also ridiculously catchy. They are abrasive, but don't lack structure or cohesion. And as a full-album experience, I think BER is the most memorable of Black Dice's records.

05. the Blood Brothers - Burn Piano Island Burn (2003)

This is hardcore punk like I've never heard before. It has the fury, the energy, and all the other requisite elements, but what HC band actually had this good of production and was this experimental? Some may say they sound too much like the Locust or Melt-Banana, but the songwriting style is completely different (the songs are longer than 2 minutes) and so many influences outside of HC (and grind for that matter) are evident. What HC band writes a groove like "Every Breath Is A Bomb" or an I-don't-even-know-exactly-how-to-describe-it-or-what-genre-to-put-it-in song like "The Shame," with it's horribly misleading, yet awesome anti-climax? And they succeed admirably at more straightforward 'core like "Ambulance Vs. Ambulance" and "I Know Where The Canaries And The Crows Go." I think the bizarritude of the lyrics warrants mentionning here as well. It's full of symbols and disgusting imagery, which compliments the the gnarly guitar playing quite well. The reason for this album's inclusion as opposed to say, the excellent Crimes, is mostly because I listened to this album a lot more than any other BB record and I think it's the most interesting of all their different incarnations, though the Brothers were an awesome band and I remain a fan of all their material.

Continues tomorrow and the next days until done.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Show Review: Sunday Nov. 29, 2009: Melt-Banana

So I hadn't been to a show in a few months (since summer, due to being in Bowling Green and there never being any good shows here). And I missed a Converge show yet again, which also had Mastodon and High On Fire on the bill, so it was a real loss there. And Kylesa also recently came through my neighborhood with Saviours, but alas, it was not possible for me to attend. Bummer. Luckily, there exists a magical time in the year of the college student: Thanksgiving break. I used this opportunity to catch a rock and roll show at one of the usual haunts. I characterized it as the most odd/weird/bizarre show I've seen, which in English means I had a good time.

I arrived far too early. The show supposedly began at 9:00pm, but it did not actually start until quarter to 10 for reasons I cannot possibly understand or guess. First on the bill was a Cleveland band called Jerk, who were actually playing for only the 4th time this year. I couldn't say whether or not that effected their performance, but they sounded pretty awesome by my standards. It was extreme abstract noise with really harsh vocals (don't remember if they were scream-y or growl-y). I found it interesting that the vocalist also smashed a drum cymbal against the floor. He did some supplemental percussion on a tom-tom as well. It was a real frenzy of noise, but it sounded really neat and had structure to it. I wouldn't mind seeing this band again. I wish the set was longer than like, 20 minutes, though.

Next was another local group called Clan Of The Bear Cave. I had listened to a few of their songs online prior to going to the show and I liked what I heard, but their performance just didn't resonnate with me. It was all loud all the time and the songs were just so fractured that it was hard to get a grip on them. The musicians seemed to be talented performers, but they could use some lessons in composition. I like their genre/style, quite reminiscent of Hella and certainly Orthrelm, but the pieces didn't excite me much.

At this point, I could barely hear anything, due to my not having earplugs and COTBC being insanely loud.

Nonethless, things continuted with the Deathers, who played for approximately 12 minutes. I sat this one out, listening from afar. The crowd seemed to enjoy this set, but I wasn't too intrigued with their sound. It sounded mostly like standard, though a bit noisy, hardcore punk, no frills whatsoever. I seem to remember the vocalist saying something to the extent of "we managed to get through whatever song that was," after the second or third tune, which gave me a chuckle. Luckily, it was a brief set.

And to the main event of the night: punky Japanoiz(zz)e superstars Melt-Banana. The set starts with all the lights off and the band wearing flashing lights on their foreheads, unleashing harsh, loud noisy goodness on all the suspecting audience members (this would have been cooler if people weren't taking pictures the whole time). This goes on for about 10 minutes and then the lights are turned on and we get to the meat and potatoes of the set, which is decidedly more light-heated. The band was energetic and never lost momentum, plowing through what I assume was all the hits from their lastest jamfest, Bambi's Dilemma, and perhaps some tunes from earlier records. I recognized not one song from the set. Let me frame that by saying that I only owned 1995's Scratch Or Stitch before the show (I did pick up Bambi and Cell-Scape after the set). They played an encore of two covers, one was some song by the Police and I didn't catch the other, though someone requested Queen (that would have ruled).

Overall, a good way to spend an evening and I anticipate digging deeper into M-B's back catalogue.