In years past, I often got outraged about albums that got critical conensus while other great ones were ignored. I’m passionate about the music I love and try to spread the word on, and can get a bit worked up. I’m feeling a bit more accepting this holiday season. While the diversity of what I cover has diminished somewhat in recent years, it’s also harder to piss me off about the stuff I care about getting ignored for Sufjan Stevens, Kendrick Lamar, Courtney Barnett and Father John Misty. Continue reading →
Kuopio, Finland’s Jess and the Ancient ones came out strong in 2012, picking up where The Devil’s Blood left off with a shimmering debut album of psych noir and driving metal guitars. Despite the growing popularity and attention drawn to similar bands like Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, Blood Ceremony, Purson, The Oath and Lucifer (covered in Kaleidoscopes & Grimoires: Psych Noir), they have been somewhat under the radar. However, they’ve been fairly prolific, not only releasing EPs (Astral Sabbat, 2013 and Castaneda, 2014) that demonstrate a rapid artistic growth, five members of the band recorded two albums worth of songs written by lead guitarist Thomas Corpse as The Exploding Eyes Orchestra, earning respect from anyone paying attention. The second will be out next year. Continue reading →
This is not about the 1929 movie where Denver Dixon of Bar-D Ranch tracked down former cowhand “Mile-Away” Hardy who set fire to the ranch, rustled the cattle and kidnapped the schoolmarm. But in a way these albums are kind of errant cattle or sheep that wandered off and need to be rounded up and accounted for.
It won’t be my final word on 2015 releases, of course. Year-end lists have just started trickling out, and will soon be piling out in an avalanche. I’ll typically struggle with the temptation to listen to another 400 albums. For my sanity, sleep schedule and health, I’ll try to keep it to a more manageable 50 or so this year. We’ll see how that goes. I’ve rated about 380 albums so far, and last year’s list has more than 750. Yikes! I realize no one cares what albums I think are the 700th best of the year. But I have to sort through the so-so ones to find the gems. Continue reading →
It’s hard to believe that in just two weeks, year-end album lists will start rolling out. Anyone who covers hard rock and metal who’s working on their list now better have listened to Magic Circle’s second album, which isn’t officially out until Nov. 20th, or they will have no credibility in my book. It all comes down to a matter of taste, but Magic Circle hits that sweet spot where doom, rock ‘n’ roll and garage grit intersect. There’s a lot of bands that claim the same influences (Sabbath, Pentagram, Saint Vitus, Trouble, Pagan Altar, Hour Of 13), but none that celebrate them so thoroughly and convincingly, bejeweled goblets raised to the heavens, as Magic Circle. Continue reading →
Prog has come a long way since the seventies, when it was blamed for being responsible for everything that was wrong with music. Since then, many punks came out of the closet as fans of progressive rock, and its influence on post-punk has become clear in hindsight. While it remained a wallflower in the 80s, there have been a good number of bands that have been proudly flying the banner since the 90s. Traffic, Genesis and Rush are now in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, with Yes and Deep Purple likely to be inducted soon. Opeth, Mastodon, Enslaved, Katatonia and Anathema are all metal bands that have released progtastic albums, most of them in fact have likely fallen deep into the prog rabbit hole never to return to their roots. For many long-running bands like Rush, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, their roots are prog, with all three releasing proggy albums in recent years. Many more have explored a more seamless fusion of metal and prog, with large devoted audiences. Continue reading →
Protomartyr are a difficult band to get into. You can’t just absorb them in the background, as Joe Casey’s unmelodic monotone reinforces the grey grimness of their Detroit post-punk garage noir, which threatens to blur into undefined shadows unless you focus. Shine a light on them and the music becomes bolder where others would retreat, with Casey’s brainy but dark lyrics inspiring reviewers to break out the thesaurus to analyze and heap praise. Others have written about death and illness in Casey’s personal life with uncomfortable detail. I think the songs can tell the stories without the help of a press release. Balancing out the intense emotions and stories are moments of delicate beauty, such as the chiming lead guitar in “Pontiac 87,” and “Clandestine Time,” where Casey surprisingly clamps down on a quite lovely vocal melody. So he can sing, but chooses not to. The romance of “Ellen” would be greatly enhanced by stronger melodies. So far his approach generally meshes well with the music, but still, they remain easy to admire but difficult to love. For those who find thrills in deep despair and regret, there is much to wallow in here, along with some fine artistry to provide solace in a crumbling world.
Hand Of Dust – Like Breath Beneath A Veil (Avant!)
In Denmark, Hand Of Dust drop the subtlety and turn up the overwrought, seething vibe into overdrive. In general, this can be very entertaining, like early Birthday Party, though admittedly without the macabre humor. But rather than slip down a sinkhole of gothic bluster, they inject a potent dose of Western noir Americana, like Gun Club meets Sixteen Horsepower and Black Heart Ensemble. Case in point, “Roses In The Sawmill.” The twang, the pain! The atmosphere may only change shape slightly like smoke from dying embers from menacing to eerie, but it’s well done, charred to near perfection.
Kill West – Smoke Beach (Crang)
Down in Argentina, Kill West’s Smoke Beach suggests an affinity for the previous two bands just from the name and title. However, the post-punk content is negligible, with much more emphasis on psychedelic and shoegaze with a touch of garage noir, but not enough for it to fit in my Psych Noir piece. Their aesthetic is way too cool to be left unmentioned. Operating in a thick haze of reverb and wah-wah, an eerie fog that swallowed a beach party whole, switching to horror movie mode and getting at the true vibe of The Jesus & Mary Chain’s “Kill Surf City.” On “Signs,” they hit the road for some fun fun fun on the autobahn, the motorik riddim filtered through Suicide lens. With a promising EP last year, they’re just getting going, and show great promise along with similar minded psych noir bands like 10 000 Russos, Sonic Jesus, Devil Worshipper and Dead Skeletons. Ideal for a dark autumn playlist.
September was so loaded with highly anticipated releases, I couldn’t keep up with the full-length reviews. So far, half of my top 20 favorite albums of the year were released in September. I figured I should at least give a nod to the others in a top 13 rundown.
1. Christian Mistress – To Your Death (Relapse) | Full Review 2. Golden Void – Berkana (Thrill Jockey) | Full Review 3. Graveyard – Innocence & Decadence (Nuclear Blast) | Full Review
This trio of awesome rock bands all released their previous albums in 2012, where they all made Fester’s Lucky 13. The past three years were well spent, as all three have exceeded expectations and are currently hogging the top three spots of the year in my list. Christian Mistress currently has the edge (possibly because my appreciation of the album was enhanced by seeing them live a few days before it’s release?), but it won’t be final until December. Continue reading →
In 2012, Christian Mistress released their excellent first full-length album, Possession, which made my Lucky 13 for the year. They toured Europe, and then, they went home. No further promotion, no triumphant North American tour. Not a peep from the band, nothin. I was afraid one of my new favorite metal bands were breaking up. To my relief, they finally announced activity last year on their Facebook page, and after much anticipation, we have To Your Death. Was it worth the wait? Considering it’s not only the best metal album to come out this year, but most likely the best of any rock albums, hell yeah. Continue reading →
While summer is rarely a big season for new releases let alone post-punk, several albums snuck to the top of my playlists, with the warmer months bookended by Ceremony and Lunch in May, Algiers and PINS in June, and this past Friday, The Underground Youth, Gold Class and the highly anticipated Grave Pleasures (formerly Beastmilk), and Ought’s second album coming out in another week. Suddenly I’ve got a full batch, time for another post-punk rundown, a tradition I started almost exactly a year ago. For earlier 2015 releases, see my April rundown. Continue reading →
After listening to psych noir non-stop for over two months while working on Kaleidoscopes & Grimoires: Psych Noir, it’s time to switch it up. Life sometimes necessitates that you exhume yourself from the empty bags and bottles, turn off the Hammer horror movie, put on your shades and go out in the sun. Fortunately there’s great psychedelic music for all occasions.
It’s fitting that one of the most commercially successful psych bands released their third album on July 17, basically the peak of summer. Blueberries are abundant, fireflies are mating, and fortunately fewer people are wearing flip-flops. I consider that the greatest birthday gift of all (mine was on the 16th). One of the several times I’ve seen Tame Impala was in the scorching midday heat at Lollapalooza. That night I would see Black Sabbath, but right then, Tame Impala were the perfect band for the moment, Kevin Parker joking that his pedals were melting under the blazing sun. It’s easy to see why his music has exploded in popularity while other bands that seem on the surface quite similar, languish in underground obscurity. Parker’s key influences may be 60s psychedelia — Pink Floyd, Hendrix, more Bee Gees than Beatles and more Supertramp than Love — but he mixes in elements of shoegaze in his guitar sound with My Bloody Vaentine’s dreamy melancholy, The Flaming Lips’ cosmic explody-ness, and always a subtle undertone of sugary modern pop. Their sound continues to evolve, with debut Innerspeaker (2010) the most traditionally fuzzed out and rockin’, and adding more melody and electronic experimentation on Lonerism (2012).
Currents features more electro pop than ever, citing Prince’s mid-80s funk with a more relaxed, languid feel. The result has very much a 90s feel along the lines of Stereolab, The High Llamas and Super Furry Animals. The bubbling electronic flourishes evoke the whir of fans, the hum of air conditioners, ice cubes in cold drinks and lapping waves. Great summer music. I won’t lie, I would never choose electronica over intoxicating guitar playing with well executed reverb and fuzz, and points are docked on this album for putting that on the backburner. It’s as if he’s self-conscious about being perceived as pushing forward. But the synths don’t really do anything to change the basic creativity and structure of the songs, only the texture. And really dude, synths go back just as far as guitar distortion and effects pedals. They are no more modern. The one positive change in the production is they have finally escaped the clutches of Dave Fridmann’s overblown blown-out mixing work that has messed many a band up. Continue reading →