First Quarter Rundown

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My traditional 3-4 week break after the year-end summary turned into 3-4 months, due to a mix of day job deadlines, life events and a bit of an overdose on some of the music I had been listening to. A lot of doom and metal releases so far this year simply did not inspire me to write. At this point, however, I feel recharged after my Roadburn trip, and there are at least 15 albums I can wholeheartedly recommend.

1. The Drones – Feelin Kinda Free (Tropical Fuck Storm Records)

drones-feelinI’ve been waiting for this album a long time. Not that I knew it was coming, but I’ve been craving a blend of garage noir and avant post-punk blues that’s challenging but also inviting and listenable. This Perth, Australia band has been around a while, since 1997, and their previous six albums are all consistently really good. But their latest just clicks with the missing piece and elevates them to a whole new level, one inhabited by revered artists like, say, Swans. However, while I have trouble making it through an entire Swans album, I’ve already listened to Feelin Kinda Free this year more times than I can count. The first single, “Taman Shud,” is full of surprising stop-start rhythms, and seethes with lefty political rage that hearkens back to the Angry Penguins, a 1940s movement that repudiated an early Australian nationalism. Those who were drawn to the five star reviews of Bowie’s final album Blackstar, but couldn’t quite connect with it’s admirable experiments with avant rock and jazz, really need to give The Drones a shot. “To Think I Once Loved You” measures up to the most tortured missives of peak Dirty Three and kicks the living shit out of anything Nick Cave has done this past decade. Overall it fizzes over with passion, invention and invective. This is without a doubt a serious contender for album of the year. Continue reading

Roadburn Recap

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I flew, took the wrong trains several times, rocked, ate, drank, slept, rocked some more, got lost some more, and had a great time at the 2016 Roadburn Festival in Tilburg, Netherlands.

It’s been a long road to Roadburn. I’d had my eye on the festival, which had humble beginnings in 1999, after it’s first truly impressive lineup in 2006, which included Hawkwind, Colour Haze, Witchcraft, Ufomammut, Solace, Leafhound, The Heads, The Bevis Frond, Toner Low and Brant Bjork. A fairly diverse group of stoner and space rock, metal and doom, all linked by psychedelia. This was my tribe. Since then they’ve had Blue Cheer, Causa Sui, Guru Guru, Pharaoh Overlord, Circle, Siena Root, The Hidden Hand, The Devil’s Blood, Diagonal, SerpentCult, Baby Woodrose, Acid Mothers Guru, My Sleeping Karma, Graveyard, Motorpsycho, Dead Man, Amon Düül II, Zu, Rose Kemp, Saint Vitus, The Young Gods, Earth, US Christmas, Sons Of Otis, Ancestors, Troubled Horse, Samsara Blues Experiment, Comus, Pagan Altar, Los Natas, Astra, Horisont, Godflesh, Wovenhand, Blood Farmers, Naam, Swans, Candlemass, Wolf People, Ancestors, Spiders, Anekdoten, The Obsessed, 40 Watt Sun, Purson, Blues Pills, The Pretty Things, Kadavar, Goat, Witch Mountain, Elder, Wo Fat, The Cosmic Dead, Jess and the Ancient Ones, Golden Void, Bong, Beastmilk, Papir, Elephant9, Loop, Avatarium, SubRosa, Spidergawd, Death Penalty and Argus. Continue reading

Fester’s Lucky 13: 2015 Year-End Summary

Fast 'n' Bulbous Best of 2015

Top 100 Albums of 2015 |  Spotify Mix | 2015 Breakdown: Genre Lists | Shows, Videos | Movies, Television, Books & Comics

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

Fester’s Lucky 13: Post-Punk

As I finalize my year-end summary, here’s a teaser for one of my favorite genres. The recent trend of metal musicians getting involved in post-punk projects is a promising sign that the genre is done with suffering the indignities of going in and out of fashion. It simply is. While there were energetic supporters of all their albums, I was not taken with this year’s offerings from the older legends – Public Image Ltd., The Pop Group, The Monochrome Set, Wire, The Fall and The Names. And while Killing Joke’s latest got plenty of acclaim, I felt that many (42, in fact) younger bands made better albums this year. While nothing got the critical acclaim the way Savages did two years ago, it was a great year for post-punk.

01. Algiers – Algiers (Matador)

Algiers - Algiers (Matador, 2015)While Algiers have post-punk elements like early Bad Seeds, they also dip into 70s psychedelic soul of The Temptations, The Isley Brothers, and further back into gospel, but laced with electronic drums that reference both 80s electro and 90s industrial. While early TV On The Radio took a somewhat similar approach with doo-wop and Massive Attack with dub and soul, Algiers sound completely original. On top of that, they have smart, confrontational, political lyrics and seem like a real passionate powerhouse live band, lately augmented by Bloc Party’s drummer, Matt Tong. The songwriting could be developed more, but their potential is massive. Part of the issue might be the fact that the band developed their music remotely online with singer Franklin James Fisher, originally from Atlanta, now located in New York and guitarist Lee Tesche and bassist Ryan Mahan living in London. The best songs are clustered in the middle, including the savage “Blood,” accented with gutteral grunts and rattling chains. “Old Girl” is like stumbling upon a gospel revival, only to find dancing demons within the church. “Irony.Utility.Pretext,” augmented by a situationist style video, full of New Order beats, Art Of Noise effects, and Miami Vice era production, while still somehow sounding new. “Games” is a more restrained hymnal, and extremely effective. With a tour or two under their belts, I’d love to hear what they come up with next. I predict righteous greatness. Continue reading

Metal Cans for the Holidaze – Fostex TH-X00

It’s Black Friday, and what’s more black than to buy a good pair of headphones for your favorite rocker or metalhead. Today the headphone audiophile community is buzzing about what may become a historic event in headphone history. Massdrop and Fostex have collaborated to create the best value in closed back headphones you can find today, with the Fostex TH-X00.

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This isn’t the first time Massdrop has collaborated with an audiophile headphone manufacturer. Will Bright, who participated in the Head-Fi forums since he was a teenager, is the head of Community Expansion at the San Francisco company, and initiated a collaboration with AKG to create a special version of their 65th anniversary limited edition of their K702, which was a big hit in 2012. The resulting AKG K7XX Massdrop Limited Edition Headphone was assigned an MSRP value of $650, but sold for only $200 with Massdrop, a pretty amazing deal. In this case, it sold in only a run of 150, but more drops have been scheduled due to popular demand. A similar collaboration happened recently with the Grace Design x Massdrop m9XX DAC/Amp, a simplified $500 version of an amp that normally sells for $2,000. Continue reading

The Last Roundup

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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

What Last Minute Goodies Will Krampus Pull from His Black Bag?

rihanna-baronessAs the year-end best album lists start coming out the holiday season, there’s always a few artists who either transcend critical influence, or are so under the radar it doesn’t matter, and they drop an album in December with little or no notice. In the former case, Beyonce did this effectively on December 20, 2013, and ended up selling quite well as a last-minute stocking stuffer. Then she released a Platinum Edition in a re-issue the next year. Last year, after a 15 year wait, D’Angelo dropped Black Messiah, and even made some lists from those who were able to hear it before their deadlines.  On the other end of the spectrum, German psych legends Colour Haze came out of nowhere with To The Highest Gods We Know on December 23. Their hardcore following took notice in the stoner/psych blog world, but not beyond that.

mia-bordersThere’s a number of high profile artists who we know have been working on something that have not announced a release yet, including PJ Harvey, Radiohead, M.I.A., Frank Ocean, Kanye West, Metallica, No Doubt and Rihanna among many others. Will any of them surprise us with an album in December with little or no pre-release hype? With these big names, of course, the hype is out there whether they do anything to stoke the fires or not. PJ Harvey turned the creation of her album into performance art, allowing people to watch the process. Metallica likes to yap about how awesome the recording progress is going. Rihanna shared the title and cover art of Anti, but no date. Frank Ocean announced a title, Boys Don’t Cry, and July release date, but it’s new release date has not been mentioned. Kanye West has been hyping So Help Me God for over a year, but no release on the horizon yet. Will he be the one to pop? Or M.I.A., who has no release date for Matahdatah, but has released the single “Borders.” Others keep fairly silent. Continue reading

Who Had the Best Six Album Run?

On the next episode of Sound Opinions this Friday, they’ll discuss who had the best four album runs, “the best grand slams in pop history.” In 2015, there are no shortage of bands who now have catalogs of ten, twenty, even thirty albums. It doesn’t seem hard to think of a lot of bands who had four consecutive great albums. Unless you’re a punk fan, then you’d be kind of hard pressed, as most broke up before releasing four albums, let alone four great ones (The Sex Pistols, X-Ray Spex, Buzzcocks, Wire, The Ruts). Those that didn’t, often have their run broken up by a dud, like The Damned with Music For Pleasure (1977).

Inevitably, classic rock becomes the default in these discussions, which could get boring. In a popular poll, no one would likely touch The Beatles, with Dylan, the Stones and perhaps Led Zeppelin fighting it out for second. Of course I can’t resist weighing in. I was born for this task, seeing as I’ve kept up a list of all my favorite albums since I was about eight! Back then, it was a no-brainer, as Electric Light Orchestra and Queen were the only bands I owned four or more of their records. The Beatles would factor in if I counted my mom’s albums. ELO is still in my top 40, but someone has managed to beat out the Beatles, as far as I’m concerned. Ozzy Osbourne, a huge Beatles fan, would probably be horrified by this assertion, but I’m not saying Black Sabbath were a better band than the Beatles. Just that they had a slightly greater consecutive run of classic albums that I continue to enjoy and listen to more, which also influenced a ton of other music that I love.

Dylan and the Stones do follow closely after Sabbath and the Beatles. How could they not? While The Clash would be a top punk choice for many, mine is The Birthday Party at #14, unless you count The Jam as punk, then them at #12. However the fifth spot is taken up by a metal band. No, not Metallica. Iron Maiden! Followed by The Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart, Led Zeppelin, Talking Heads and Thin Lizzy. My highest ranked recent band would be the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at #13, TV On The Radio at 15 and Witchcraft at 16. Graveyard could be close, however they only just released their fourth album a couple weeks ago so it’s too soon to judge.

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Psych Prog in the Hall Of Fame

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When the nominees for the 2016 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame were announced last week, voting was also opened to the public. While millions of people will vote for a top 5 ballot that will only count for one vote among approximately 600 ballots, it seems that other voters pay attention, as some otherwise unlikely bands got inducted in recent years, Kiss (2014) and Rush (2013). Both bands have had their rough patches with critics, but also enjoy massively dedicated and loyal fanbases. I definitely agree that Rush are worthy, but I also love the fact that Kiss made it, as long as Alice Cooper got in first (2011). Even though 80% of their songs are turds, they add some colorful, populist fun to the Hall. I also wonder if we don’t have the single-mindedness of Eddie Trunk bitching about it through a decade of That Metal Show to thank. Perhaps he’ll gift us with Thin Lizzy or UFO next? Continue reading

The Birth Of Metal

The Birth Of Metal (From Black Sabbath Born Again back patch, 1983)

Was heavy metal invented by a single band? Was it dreamed up by a journalist? Was it born on a particular album, perhaps premature and deformed, denied by its parents and returned to live in an orphanage until it was adopted years later by a DJ, a journalist, a bunch of younger bands and some headbangers? Continue reading