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 →
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.
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 →
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 →
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.
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 →
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 →
As 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.
There’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 →
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 →
All hail the Fuzz. What happens when you holler as loud as you can? Unless you’re a trained opera singer, your voice distorts. It was inevitable in rock ‘n’ roll that the Gibson Maestro Fuzz-Tone (FZ-1) pedal and Red Rhodes fuzz box were invented in 1962, so that the guitar could simulate similar heights of emotion, passion, ecstasy and anger. So why would we want to stop? It’s not like screams and shouts will ever go out of fashion — they always have their place. And so does the fuzz. And if a band has to name themselves Fuzz to remind everyone of that, well, let’s just be glad the name was chosen by someone as talented as Ty Segall (on drums and vocals) and his childhood buds Charlie Moothart (guitar) and Chad Ubovich (bass) of the Meatbodies.
On their concise 2013 debut, the band paid homage to Blue Cheer (and their Arbiter Fuzz Face pedal), Black Sabbath (Dallas Arbiter Rangemaster), the Groundhogs and the riff. While it’s a truly collaborative group effort, Moothart and his guitar certainly gets the majority of the spotlight. II is nearly twice as long, with more of pretty much everything – volume, riffs, dynamics, and even some proggy solos. The guitar fuzz still reigns supreme, and is even further up front in the mix than before, though Segall’s voice ably cuts through the mix. His nasally whine at times sounds like what may have happened had John Lennon sang with Sabbath, especially on “Let It Live” and “Say Hello.” While that’s arguably the entire m.o. of Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, this particular sound is pretty unique to Fuzz, though I can’t see how one wouldn’t be fans of both. I love the prog elements stacked on the psychedelia, such as the violin on the latter third of “Let It Live,” the ambitious changes in opener “Time Collapse II/The 7th Terror,” and the extended intro to “Jack The Maggot.”
The band obviously excels at full-tilt boogie rockers like “Rat Race” and “Pipe,” but with their history and pedigree, it’s to be expected, and honestly they could write those in their sleep, and probably have. Heavy psych and proto-metal are well represented styles in recent years, but they present some of the catchiest moments on the album. Yet it’s when they stretch out and explore on “Silent Sits The Dust Bowl” and “II,” when the excitement level goes up, probably because you’re not sure what will happen from one section to the next. This unpredictability keeps things fresh, and looking forward to their tour and the next album. The fuzz is well represented with this band.
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 →