Fester’s Thirteen Days Of Xmas: 2011 Year-End Summary


Top 100 Albums of 2011 | 2011 Breakdown: Top 13 Genre Lists | Shows | Movies, Television, Books, Comics, Music Coverage

It’s hard to pigeonhole a year when it’s not quite over. For some it belonged to Lady Gaga, at least until Adele stormed the charts with the biggest selling album (5 million in the U.S.) since Usher’s Confessions in 2004. For others it was a banner year for underground rap and hip-hop in the form of self-released “mixtapes.” Or for polished, commercial R&B, soul and dance pop, or country, or gauzy, arty indie pop, or a group of folky Americana albums that seem to be our era’s version of 70s soft rock. Simon Reynolds, author of Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to It’s Own Past, showed his favorite albums to be obscure experimental electronic music. His choices don’t disprove his thesis, that while there are small, incremental innovations in music, there’s been nothing big and striking enough to revolutionize the music world in a couple decades. My response was that it isn’t necessarily important. When you back up and view the history of music for the past millennium, cultures didn’t flame out because their music failed to become unpredictably unrecognizeable every few years. That was a very unique condition spurred by the fast-moving markets of late-20th century capitalism and a flurry of technological innovations. Some people expected that since we went from learning to fly to traveling to the moon in just a few decades, that by now we should be intergalactic space travelers. I know, it’s so disappointing that we’re not penned up in floating cans of space colonies.

To me, the exciting development of 2011 was the fact that various means of accessing more music than ever without being forced to break the law have begun to pick up steam. For many, this came in the form of Spotify finally becoming available in the U.S. after we enviously watched it develop in Europe the past few years. For those like me who still like to own their music and listen to it on nice headphones or speakers,Bandcamp is a revelation. Albums are available in any format, most importantly lossless codecs, and bands name their price, generally between free and $15. Most of my listening time was focused on the stoner/psych/doom genres. I tracked recommended albums with my Blogger.com dashboard, some of which you see reposted on my Facebook page or the portal on the home page. The result was exposure to so much more great music than I ever anticipated. I had actually intended to reign in the range of music I spend my time on in 2011 and focus on what I truly enjoy the most. I did that, but then I found so much more music to enjoy! I found over 335 albums I really liked, and had I had the time to spend, I probably would have found a couple hundred more. No doubt I’ll continue to discover more 2011 albums via blogs throughout 2012. Most remarkably, I rated over 100 albums 9+ or higher for the first time since 2003. So overall, 2011 has been the best year in music in eight years. 2012 looks promising, with upcoming albums from Mark Lanegan, Colour Haze, Ufomammut, Electric Wizard, Gojira, Queens of the Stone Age, and Crippled Black Phoenix.

While you’ll still find a lot of popular favorites towards the lower end of the 400+ albums in the master list, my focus on stoner/doom/psych, metal, post-punk, avant pop, post-rock, neo-prog and just a smattering of electronica, soul, hip-hop, indie rock and music from Africa and Brazil will probably appeal to a narrower group of people. But those who share some of these preferences should be very happy.

Some of the CDs I bought in 2011.

Comebacks of the year
I should add a category, Geezer of the year. Artists who continue to surpass expectations by continuing to release vital albums way past most peoples’ expiration date. Tom Waits has been making music for over 30 years, and Bad As Me, his first since 2004 made my top ten. Some argue it’s his best since Rain Dogs (1985), but that would be a disservice to the greatness of Bone Machine (1992) and The Black Rider (1993). The Fall has released over fifty albums, and it’s hard to imagine needing any more. But somehow they just keep making great music. The last thing I expected was for them to top You Future, Our Clutter (2010) just a year later with Ersatz G.B.. Mark E. Smith and Tom Waits probably won’t stop making music until they’re dead. Gang Of Four and Wire both have been fairly active, and while both released solid albums this year, they have been eclipsed by better albums from younger bands. Magazine, however, was a surprise, as they had not been active in nearly 30 years. The best true comeback, however, was The Feelies, who broke up nearly 20 years ago. It was amazing to get to see them live last year, and Here Before is better than expected. I wouldn’t say it’s better than Time For A Witness (1991) or even Only Life (1988), but it’s a fine continuation.

Debuts of the year
At Devil Dirt from Chile created some of the finest 35min of downtuned, fuzzy stoner/sludge this year. Other great debuts came out by Le Butcherettes, The Vaccines, Ufesas (Uruguay), Korallreven, Holy Ghost!, Obrero, 40 Watt Sun.

Overrated of the Year
Doing a rough head aggregation, it seems like some of the most consistently acclaimed albums are by Fleet Foxes, Adele, The Decemberists, and Florence & The Machine. Pretty much the new adult contemporary, it’s all pleasant enough, and I like them to an extent. But I’ll reserve this booby prize for Bon Iver. Again, it’s pleasant enough, but it topped way too many year-end lists. I’m just glad there’s so much more music I like better, otherwise it would indeed be a bland year.

Disappointment of the Year
It pains me to do this because PJ Harvey is one of my all-time favorite artists. I’ve been such a huge fan. Let England Shake is one of the most acclaimed albums of the year, topping many year-end lists. Which makes the disappointment sting even more. I can appreciate how she researched for her thoughtful lyrics on war. I can see why she switched to autoharp, an instrument she did not know how to play, and saxophone, an instrument she hadn’t touched in 20 years. To avoid boredom and keep things fresh. She also abandoned her most impressive instrument, her voice. So rather than sing from her chest, and arguably, from her heart, she’s singing in this tiny, twee voice out of her head. And that’s precisely the problem. For most of her career, she had the rare privilege of getting to bend Don Van Vliet’s (Captain Beefheart) ear on the phone regularly, and played him her albums. He was probably too ill to have heard mixes of Harvey’s current album before he died, but I would have been very curious to know what he thought, as I’m sure Polly would be too. To me it sounds like an academic exercise. Interesting and unique, and “good” in certain ways for sure, but lacking her passion and committment that had made her so great in the 90s. Nevertheless I’m glad to see the strength of her overall work has earned her so much respect. This didn’t work quite as well for Björk, whos Biophilia focused too much on apps rather than the songs, though in its own way I see it both as innovative and flawed in a similar way toLet England Shake.

Fester’s Lucky 13 – The Best Albums of 2011

On the first day of Xmas
Dr. Fester gave to me
An art rock band in a Williamsburg loft

  • TV On The Radio – Nine Types Of Light (Interscope)TV On The Radio - Nine Types Of Light

My favorite band of the 2000s should have had a triumphant year. After Dear Science (2008) dominated polls, they returned with their most melodic, accessible album yet. It doesn’t surpass their previous peak, but song for song, it comes damn close. “Will Do” sounded like it should be a big hit, and it did get some airplay for a while. Sadly, their bassist Gerard Smith died of lung cancer at just 36 in the spring. They quietly took a brief break, and perhaps out of good taste, avoided the kind of media coverage that the death of Amy Winehouse would later receive. Somehow by the end of the year, the scintillating Nine Types Of Light is now some sort of underrated underdog, which is utterly ridiculous. Several year-end lists and polls are missing it completely. Apparently, it’s now cool to like fucking Bon Iver but not TV On The Radio. Yet the band continues to ooze creativity, including creating short films for every track on the album that range from crushing melancholy to hilarity, sometimes in the same clip. I have a feeling this album will become more appreciated in hindsight. | Myspace

On the second day of Xmas
Dr. Fester gave to me
Two tripping Swedes in a Graveyard

  • Graveyard – Hisingen Blues (Nuclear Blast)Graveyard - Hisingen Blues

One of the ways Adele appeals to so many people is the how she shreds her voice to convey her raw emotions to the point where she was put out of commission in order to repair it surgically. She reminds people what it was like to be 21 and going through the anguish of the demise of first love. It was torture, but in retrospect is also exhilerating, as people don’t ever quite feel and suffer with such intensity when they’re older. So why am I talking about Adele? Because Graveyard is my Adele. The name gives the image of Swedish death metal, but they are closer to Led Zeppelin than Entombed. Joakim Nilsson has emerged as one of the very best voices in rock, and the band is right there with him. Check out “The Siren,” with colorful imagery of swamps and beasts. When Nilsson howls the chorus, “Tonight a demon came into my head and tried to choke me in my sleep,” he makes it sound like the deepest, most traumatic thing a human could experience. The band delivers the goods live big time, so don’t miss their U.S. tour that starts in January. | Myspace

On the third day of Xmas
Dr. Fester gave to me
Three garage rockin’ Texans

  • White Denim – D (Downtown)White Denim - D

This Austin, Texas band has been at it for a few years now, quietly releasing one brilliant album after another. By last year they were on such a hot songwriting streak that they gave away a free album called Last Day Of Summer for fans, which was good enough to make my top 50. If that was their spare stuff, the next official release had to be awesome. Their sound has evolved from chaotic sounding garage punk to a deceptively intricate guitar band. Imagine the Meat Puppets continuing to explore their psychedelic origins in the late 80s rather than worship Z.Z. Top. | Myspace

On the fourth day of Xmas
Dr. Fester gave to me
Four dead harbingers of doom

  • Elder – Dead Roots Stirring (MeteorCity)Elder - Dead Roots Stirring

Elder formed in Boston in 2006 and released their promising self-titled debut on MeteorCity in 2009. Emphasizing a heavily distorted, doomy sound, they’re the latest to merge aspects of doom with stoner rock’s melodies and sticky riffs. They describe themselves as “a sonic interpretation of the forces that surround us; the pounding waves of ancient seas, the weight of stone colossi rising up from the earth and the endlessness of inflamed, majestic skies.” Or alternately, “like Ufomammut fucking Black Sabbath sideways.” However you want to describe it, Dead Roots Stirring is immediately addictive, and has stayed at the top of my playlist for months. | Bandcamp

On the fifth day of Xmas
Dr. Fester gave to me
Five golden gods

  • Been Obscene – Night O’ Mine (Elektrohasch)Been Obscene - Night O' Mine

I belatedly discovered The Magic Table Dance (2010) by Salzberg, Austria’s Been Obscene late this summer. The Elektrohasch label is a one man shop run by Stefan Koglek of Colour Haze. I didn’t expect most of the bands on the label to surpass the level of Colour Haze Jr., but Been Obscene is really onto something special. The new album builds on the base of fuzzy stoner riffs and prog, and adds some indie post-rock including a surprising Polvo influence, while veering into a darker, melancholic vibe. | Bandcamp

On the sixth day of Xmas
Dr. Fester gave to me
Six devils in the dirt

  • At Devil Dirt (Corvus Discos)At Devil Dirt

Ever crave a band that’s so downtuned that you can actually track the motion of the strings and feel the vibrations in your internal organs? Chile’s At Devil Dirt has a doozy for you. It’s hard to believe it’s just two guys, as their debut self-titled album has a mammoth sludgy fuzz sound worthy of Electric Wizard, Goatsnake, Kyuss and Floor/Torche, with some pretty inventive psychedelic vocals with harmonies. On “Rocknrolla” they even bring to mind T. Rex!| Bandcamp (FREE!)

On the seventh day of Xmas
Dr. Fester gave to me
Seven acid crazed vampires

  • Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats – Blood Lust (Killer Candy/Svart)Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats - Blood Lust

Like Been Obscene, Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats also released a promising debut album in 2010 (Vol. 1) that slipped under the radar. Understandably, given how difficult it is to find even for those aware of its existence. Their definitive sound and image emerged fully formed, with an obsession with Hammer horror, a dirty, garagey approach to early doom metal that gives an idea of what would have happened if Ozzy’s idol John Lennon contributed some vocal harmonies to his band. Blood Lust caused a fair amount of people to completely lose their shit. It took me a couple of weeks to get a handle on the raw production, but it soon grew on me to the point where I couldn’t get enough. | Myspace

On the eighth day of Xmas
Dr. Fester gave to me
Eight vaccinated Brit poppers

  • The Vaccines – What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? (Columbia)The Vaccines - What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?

The Vaccines are the kind of British band that sounds so deliciously immediate with a mix of Velvet Undergound, 60s garage and touches of Jesus And Mary Chain and The Smiths that seems so perfect it makes people suspicious. Of what, I don’t know. Too good to be true? Who knows the cause of these backlashes, but I keep going back and listening to the songs, and they’re still great. Just like how when end-of-decade polls reminded people that The Strokes’ Is This It still rocks. | Myspace

On the ninth day of Xmas
Dr. Fester gave to me
Nine stoned hunters hunting

  • Mastodon – The Hunter (Reprise)Mastodon - The Hunter

A lot of people like to compare Mastodon’s fifth album with Metallica’s fifth album. I can see that a little bit. There’s a couple songs that are a departure, trying out much simpler structures and riffs, and a cleaner sound. But The Hunter is much better than The Black Album, which saw Metallica jumping the shark. I’d say it has much more in common with Iron Maiden’s fifth album, Powerslave, in that it has a couple surprisingly catchy songs, with the rest of the album capably summarizing the band’s past strengths without quite surpassing their previous dazzling peaks (Piece Of MindCrack The Skye). While they took a break from tying the songs together with a story, The Hunter feels less ambitious than their previous album, but is actually three minutes longer. That it doesn’t seem like it is a testament to its variety and pacing. | Myspace

On the tenth day of Xmas
Dr. Fester gave to me
Ten growly brawlers ‘n’ bawlers

  • Tom Waits – Bad As Me (Anti-)Tom Waits - Bad As Me

All this talk about this being Tom Waits’ best album since Rain Dogs does a great disservice to the consistent greatness ofFranks Wild Years (1987), Bone Machine (1992), The Black Rider(1993) and Alice (2002). Only Real Gone (2004) shows any signs that Waits’ creativity might have plateaued. After such a long break from new music, it’s just exciting to hear him sound as vital as ever on Bad As Me, deftly tackling war and heartbreak with the energy and passion of one a quarter his age. Such youthful vitality is ironic, given how hard Waits spent his younger years trying to sound old. | Myspace

On the eleventh day of Xmas
Dr. Fester gave to me
Eleven sprawling prog epics

  • Opeth – Heritage (Roadrunner)Opeth - Heritage

The fact that Opeth are big prog fans is no secret, given that they titled their album Blackwater Park after an obscure German prog band. When I saw them on their Watershed tour in 2008, they announced they were taking a hiatus. I was seriously distressed, as I was worried this would mean six or seven years of no Opeth. This made their new album just three years later all the more exciting. Opeth have veered off the death metal path before of course, with Damnation (2003), which featured clean vocals, acoustic guitars, and even piano and Mellotron. The progalicious Heritage is a lot more difficult to digest, but worth the effort, and just as gorgeous. | Myspace

On the twelfth day of Xmas
Dr. Fester gave to me
Twelve sundazed Dutch desert rocker dudes

  • Sungrazer – Mirador (Elektrohasch)Sungrazer - Mirador

Sungrazer started out making music for a local theater company in Holland. I’m not sure how they ended up taking the Kyuss-inspired desert rock road, but I’m glad they did. They take their label-owner’s (Colour Haze) deliciously fuzzed-out guitar tone (not to mention an impressively fat bass sound) and create songs that are sprawling seven-plus minute jams, but also full of catchy hooks. Their second album changes things up by introducing some more gentle psychedelic passages in between gonzoid fuzz attacks. | Myspace

On the thirteenth day of Xmas
Dr. Fester gave to me
Thirteen liquored up and pissed off punkers

  • Le Butcherettes – Sin Sin Sin (Rodriguez Lopez Productions)Le Butcherettes - Sin Sin Sin (Rodriguez Lopez Productions)

Produced by Omar Rodriguez-Lopez of Mars Volta, with assistance on bass duties, Le Butcherettes are not what you’d expect. Rather than dense, proggy hard rock, Sin Sin Sin is a raw, simple punk that recalls the likes of Babes In Toyland. The personality of singer Teri Gender Bender, who relocated from Mexico City and Guadalajara to Los Angeles, jumps out of the album. It’s exciting stuff to hear, as at this point you don’t know if they’ll flame out in a glorious blaze, or continue to develop into something even greater. | Bandcamp

The rest of the Top 20 and Beyond

 

Beyond the top 20, we’ve got John Maus, a pal of Ariel Pink who plays gauzy/gothy masterpieces of hilarity; Wild Beasts at their gorgeous peak, recalling the salad days of Long Fin Killie and Talk Talk; Ufesas, a Stooges/Hawkwind inspired psych band from Uruguay; Radiohead, who are incapable of sucking even with a willfully low key album; space rock jams by Danish stoner rockers Causa Sui; fat, sludgy swamp Texas band Wo Fat that goes deep with some African rhythms and Coltrane; and sleek, shiny British synth pop band Metronomy. After that, a boatload of stoner/doom/psych. Well, and other stuff too, as we’ll see in the genre lists.

As always the good times don’t stop rolling at 100. There’s still plenty of great albums by Jeff The Brotherhood, Psychic Paramount, Tombs, Bill Callahan, Rustie, Steven Wilson, Real Estate, Oneohtrix Point Never, Lamb, Shabazz Palaces, The Roots, Frank Ocean, Lykke Li, Planningtorock, The Antlers, EMA, M83, Mogwai, Grails, Wilco, Kate Bush, Acid Mothers Temple, Earth, The Kills, Amon Tobin, Roots Manuva, Rwake, Wolves In The Throne Room, tUnE-YaRdS, Meshell Ndegeocello, Peter Murphy, Cut Copy and a bunch of lesser known names. Click here for the entire list.

  1. Hammers Of Misfortune – 17th Street (Metal Blade)
  2. John Maus – We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves (Domino)
  3. Wild Beasts – Smother (Domino)
  4. Ufesas (Droehnhaus) | Bandcamp (FREE!)
  5. Radiohead – The King Of Limbs (XL)
  6. Causa Sui – Pewt’r Sessions 1 & 2 (El Paraiso)
  7. Wo Fat – Noche del Chupacabra (Nasoni) | Bandcamp
  8. Metronomy – English Riviera (101)
  9. Pete & the Pirates – One Thousand Pictures (Stolen)
  10. Humo del Cairo – Vol. II (Estamos Felices)
  11. Korallreven – An Album By Korallreven (Hybris/Acephale)
  12. Holy Ghost! (DFA)
  13. Lord Vicar – Signs Of Osiris (The Church Within)
  14. The Men – Leave Home (Sacred Bones)
  15. Peaking Lights – 936 (Not Not Fun)
  16. Boris – New Album (Tearbridge/Sargent House) | Bandcamp
  17. Krux – III – He Who Sleeps Amongst The Stars (GMR)
  18. Obrero – Mortui Vivos Docent (Night Tripper) | Bandcamp
  19. 40 Watt Sun – The Inside Room (Cyclone Empire/Metal Blade)
  20. Pantheïst – Pantheist (Grau)
  21. Jah Wobble & Julie Campbell – Psychic Life (Cherry Red)
  22. Freedom Hawk – Holding On (Small Stone) | Bandcamp
  23. Amebix – Sonic Mass (Easy Action)
  24. Årabrot – Solar Anus (Fysisk Format)
  25. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy (4AD)
  26. Sleestak – The Fall Of Altrusia (Sleestak) | Bandcamp
  27. Hills – Master Sleeps (Transubstans)
  28. The Chapman Family – Burn Your Town (PIAS/Electric Toaster)
  29. Elvis Deluxe – Favourite State Of Mind (Harmony)
  30. Circle – Infektio (Conspiracy)
  31. Lucas Santtana – Sem Nostalgia (Mais Um Discos)
  32. Fucked Up – David Comes To Life (Matador)
  33. Tinariwen – Tassili (Anti-)
  34. Tamikrest – Toumastin (Glitterhouse)
  35. The Horror The Horror – Wilderness (Tapete)
  36. YOB – Atma (Profound Lore)
  37. Obake (Rarenoise)
  38. Monkey3 – Beyond The Black Sky (Stickman)
  39. Alexander Tucker – Dorwytch (Thrill Jockey)
  40. Moon Duo – Mazes (Sacred Bones)
  41. Sahara Surfers – Sonar Pilot (Sound Zero) | FREE!
  42. Thundercat – The Golden Age Of Apocalypse (Brainfeeder)
  43. The Fall – Ersatz G.B (Cherry Red)
  44. The Postelles (Plus One)
  45. Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact (4AD)
  46. Pentagram – Last Rites (Metal Blade)
  47. Cherry Choke – A Night In The Arms Of Venus… (Elektrohasch)
  48. Highway Child (Elektrohasch)
  49. Radio Moscow – The Great Escape of Leslie Magnafuzz (Alive)
  50. The Black Keys – El Camino (Nonesuch)
  51. Frankie And The Heartstrings – Hunger (Wichita)
  52. Rival Sons – Pressure & Time (Earache) | Bandcamp (Only $5!)
  53. Arctic Monkeys – Suck It And See (Domino)
  54. The Devil’s Blood – The Thousandfold Epicentre (Van/Profound Lore)
  55. Washed Out – Within And Without (Sub Pop)
  56. The Weeknd – House Of Balloons (The Weeknd)
  57. The Gates Of Slumber – The Wretch (Rise Above)
  58. Anna Calvi (Domino)
  59. Patrick Wolf – Lupercalia (Hideout)
  60. The Feelies – Here Before (Bar/None)
  61. Zola Jesus – Conatus (Sacred Bones)
  62. Atlas Sound – Parallax (4AD)
  63. Battles – Gloss Drop (Warp)
  64. Blood Ceremony – Living With The Ancients (Rise Above)
  65. Witch Mountain – South Of Salem (Mountastic) | Bandcamp
  66. Windhand (Forcefield) | Bandcamp
  67. Castle – In Witch Order (Van)
  68. Arenna – Beats of Olarizu (Nasoni) | Bandcamp
  69. Glitter Wizard – Solar Hits (Archers Guild) | Bandcamp
  70. Fool’s Gold – Leave No Trace (Iamsound)
  71. Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know (Ribbon)
  72. The Caretaker – An Empty Bliss Beyond This World (History Always Favours the Winners)
  73. The Horrors – Skying (XL)
  74. Cold Cave – Cherish The Light Years (Matador)
  75. Parts & Labor – Constant Future (Jagjaguwar)
  76. Slough Feg – Made in Poland (Megadisc)
  77. Melvins – Sugar Daddy Live (Ipecac)
  78. Siena Root – Root Jam (Transubstans)
  79. Cave – Neverendless (Drag City)
  80. Russian Circles – Empros (Sargent House) | Bandcamp
  81. James Ferraro – Far Side Virtual (Hippos In Tanks)
  82. The Heavy Eyes (Heavy Eyes) | Bandcamp (Only $5!)
  83. Mars Red Sky (Emergence)
  84. Wild Flag (Merge)
  85. Corrupted – Garten Der Unbewusstheit (Nostalgia Blackrain)
  86. Iceage – New Brigade (What’s Your Rupture?)
  87. Austra – Feel It Break (Domino)
  88. Lonely Kamel – Dust Devil (Napalm)

2011 Breakdown

Those interested in digging deeper than the top 13 for heavier music genres, I made a separate list of the overall Best Stoner/Doom/Psych/Metal/Sludge/Retro/Heavy Rock of 2011.

Stoner Rock
Causa Sui - Pewt'r SessionsNot forgetting the unprecedented domination of stoner rock in my top 13 by Graveyard, Elder, Been Obscene, At Devil Dirt, Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats and Sungrazer, I’ve listened to the albums on this list probably more than anything else this year. I don’t even know where to begin. Try my Stoner Rock Primer and note the blogs I re-post via Facebook on the front page. Just missing the list are epic single track albums by The Atomic Bitchwax and U.S. Christmas. Lo-Pan, Sigiriya and Skraeckoedlan also cut some massive stoner grooves that have topped many lists.

  1. Causa Sui – Pewt’r Sessions 1 & 2 (El Paraiso)
  2. Wo Fat – Noche del Chupacabra (Nasoni)
  3. Humo del Cairo – Vol. II (Estamos Felices)
  4. Freedom Hawk – Holding On (Small Stone)
  5. Sleestak – The Fall Of Altrusia (Sleestak)
  6. Elvis Deluxe – Favourite State Of Mind (Harmony)
  7. Monkey3 – Beyond The Black Sky (Stickman)
  8. Sahara Surfers – Sonar Pilot (Sound Zero)
  9. Arenna – Beats of Olarizu (Nasoni)
  10. Siena Root – Root Jam (Transubstans)
  11. Mars Red Sky (Emergence)
  12. 1000mods – Super Van Vacation (Kozmik Artifactz) | Bandcamp
  13. Eggnogg – Moments in Vacuum (Palaver) | Bandcamp

Heavy Rock
Boris - New AlbumAbout when press releases about the simultaneous release of two albums came out last Spring, Boris had already released a new album in Japan. I heard it first and loved it. Turns out it was the perfect balance, as the two albums that came out subsequently in the U.S. which recycled some of the songs, weren’t as consistent. It’s probably why they finally issued this one in the U.S. at the end of the year. It’s been a banner year for heavy rock. While I give the edge to Amebix and Fucked Up for some unique twists on the hardcore genre, Cherry Choke, Highway Child, Radio Moscow and Rival Sons are totally stellar examples of garage and hard blues rock. Dutch band The Devil’s Blood and the Canadian Blood Ceremony are both occult-obsessed bands that do cool variations of 70s garagey prog, while Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson is all proggy prog, sounding stately as always. There’s much more great releases by the likes of Jeff The Brotherhood, Black Cobra, Gideon Smith & The Dixie Damned, Borracho, Gordon Fights, The Grand Astoria, Gentleman’s Pistols, Dixie Witch, Black Spiders and more.

  1. Boris – New Album (Tearbridge/Sargent House)
  2. Amebix – Sonic Mass (Easy Action)
  3. Fucked Up – David Comes To Life (Matador)
  4. Cherry Choke – A Night In The Arms Of Venus… (Elektrohasch)
  5. Highway Child (Elektrohasch)
  6. Radio Moscow – The Great Escape of Leslie Magnafuzz (Alive)
  7. Rival Sons – Pressure & Time (Earache)
  8. The Devil’s Blood – The Thousandfold Epicentre (Van/Profound Lore)
  9. Blood Ceremony – Living With The Ancients (Rise Above)
  10. Venomous Maximous – The Mission EP (Cutthroat) | Bandcamp
  11. Melvins – Sugar Daddy Live (Ipecac)
  12. The Heavy Eyes (Heavy Eyes)
  13. Lonely Kamel – Dust Devil (Napalm)

Psych Rock
UfesasUfesas, mentioned before. So good. While digging deep for my Stoner Rock Primer, I realized there’s also a lot of great psychedelic rock out this year. Ufesa’s Bandcamp page. I also finally got acquainted with nearly the entire catalog by the prolific Finnish powerhouse psych chameleons Circle. What I thought would be a daunting task was actually a pleasure, given the high quality and variety of their albums. Infektio doesn’t rate with their very best, but well worth hearing.

  1. Ufesas (Droehnhaus)
  2. Hills – Master Sleeps (Transubstans)
  3. Circle – Infektio (Conspiracy)
  4. The Cosmic Dead – Cosmik Tape I (Who Can You Trust?)
  5. DeWolff – Orchards/Lupine (REMusic)
  6. Human Eye – They Came From The Sky (Secretly Canadian)
  7. Hexvessel – Dawnbearer (Svart)
  8. Psychic Paramount – II (No Quarter)
  9. Moon Duo – Mazes (Sacred Bones)
  10. Cave – Neverendless (Drag City)
  11. Acid Baby Jesus (Slovenly) | Bandcamp
  12. Wooden Shjips – West (Thrill Jockey)
  13. Lüger – Concrete Light (Giradiscos) | Bandcamp (name yr price!)

Doom
Lord Vicar - Signs Of Osiris Much like my research into stoner rock turned up a plethora of psych albums, so did I stumble across the absolute domination of doom metal, to the point where I needed to separate it out from other metal for its own list. The jaw-droppingly awesome Finnish band Lord Vicar features Chritus, who’s been in such bands as St. Vitus, Terra Firma and Count Raven. Depending on what kind of doom you like, any one of these albums could become your new favorite. It’s incredible how many great albums there were this year. It makes me wonder how much underground doom I’ve missed in previous years. This year was so rich with doom that great bands like The Wounded Kings, Ice Dragon, Esoteric, Premonition 13, Hands Of Orlac, Black Capricorn, SerpentCult, Crumbling Ghost and Sólstafir didn’t make the list.

  1. Lord Vicar – Signs Of Osiris (The Church Within)
  2. Krux – III – He Who Sleeps Amongst The Stars (GMR)
  3. Obrero – Mortui Vivos Docent (Night Tripper)
  4. 40 Watt Sun – The Inside Room (Cyclone Empire/Metal Blade)
  5. Pantheïst – Pantheist (Grau)
  6. Obake (Rarenoise)
  7. Pentagram – Last Rites (Metal Blade)
  8. The Gates Of Slumber – The Wretch (Rise Above)
  9. Witch Mountain – South Of Salem (Mountastic/Relapse) | Bandcamp
  10. Windhand (Forcefield) | Bandcamp
  11. Castle – In Witch Order (Van)
  12. Glitter Wizard – Solar Hits (Archers Guild)
  13. Green & Wood – Devil’s Plan (Cyclopean) | Bandcamp
  14. Orchid – Capricorn (Doom Dealer) | Bandcamp

Metal
Hammers Of Misfortune - 17th StreetTime spent in one of the best metal bands ever, Slough Feg, among others, has served John Cobbett well. 17th Street is Hammers Of Misfortune’s best album by far. Corrupted are culty Japanese doom that puree the genre so thoroughly that they’ve just about earned their own genre. Like Hammers Of Misfortune, Grayceon are from the Bay Area, and push even further to the boundaries of metal with their use of electric cello to evoke chamber music and Norwegian avant folk, touches of jazz, doom and sludge. With female lead Jackie Perez Gratz, they’re simply one of the most original metal bands today, and probably soon to become the best. Tombs are a pretty hot item so enough has beeen written about them. They’re bookended by two colorful sludge bands — Beastwars from Australia and Demonic Death Judge from Finland. It was a strong year for self-released sludge, with also Maryland’s Dopethrone (see their cover of soul classic “Ain’t No Sunshine”!) and Wizard Smoke from Atlanta. I realize that black metal is much more en vogue this year, but for some reason I’m more attuned to the gargling-gravel type of sludge vocals than black metal’s horrified shrieking. Korpiklaani’s album may have come out last year, but probably just in Finland. I got to see them live just a few weeks ago, which was a blast. Long live Finnish troll metal! They were supported by Russia’s Arkona. Just missing the list are Virus, Dir En Gray, Hull, Cynic, Weedsnake, Weedeater, Dark Buddha Rising, Rwake, Lazarus A.D. and Wolves In The Throne Room.

  1. Hammers Of Misfortune – 17th Street (Metal Blade)
  2. Yob – Atma (Profound Lore)
  3. SubRosa – No Help For The Mighty One (Profound Lore) | Bandcamp
  4. Corrupted – Garten Der Unbewusstheit (Nostalgia Blackrain)
  5. Grayceon – All We Destroy (Profound Lore)
  6. Turisas – Stand Up And Fight (Century Media)
  7. In Solitude – The World. The Flesh. The Devil (Metal Blade)
  8. Thy Catafalque – Rengeteg (Season Of Mist)
  9. Pharaoh Overlörd – Out Of Darkness (Ektro)
  10. Argus – Boldly Stride The Doomed (Cruz Del Sur)
  11. Dopethrone – Dark Foil (Dopethrone) | Bandcamp
  12. Altar Of Plagues – Mammal (Profound Lore)
  13. Tombs – Path Of Totality (Relapse) | Bandcamp

Avant Rock & Out Pop
John Maus - We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of OurselvesThis is a pretty diverse list, with bands that don’t easily fit into singular genres. One of the most interesting is The Men from Brooklyn. They certainly have a long list of influences, but what I hear, while fairly grimy and raw, is strikingly original. Peaking Lights mixes krautrock and dub, always a good thing, and Jah Wobble rears his pointy head, awakened from slumber by LoneLady’s brilliant debut last year that was truer to the spirit of P.i.L. than anything since Metal Box. I don’t like how she reverts to her real name for this album, or some of the coctail jazzy moments, but overall it’s strong.

  1. John Maus – We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves (Domino)
  2. Wild Beasts – Smother (Domino)
  3. The Men – Leave Home (Sacred Bones)
  4. Peaking Lights – 936 (Not Not Fun)
  5. Jah Wobble & Julie Campbell – Psychic Life (Cherry Red)
  6. Årabrot – Solar Anus (Fysisk Format)
  7. Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact (4AD)
  8. Zola Jesus – Conatus (Sacred Bones)
  9. Atlas Sound – Parallax (4AD)
  10. Battles – Gloss Drop (Warp)
  11. Russian Circles – Empros (Sargent House)
  12. Tarwater – Inside The Ships (Bureau B)
  13. Disappears – Guider (Kranky)

Rock & Pop
Pete & the Pirates - One Thousand PicturesMy love affair with poppy UK post-punk continues, through there seem to be fewer gems than recent years. The Vaccines of course made the top 13, while Pete & the Pirates came out with a strong second album, and The Chapman Family’s debut was impressively, darkly powerful. Swedish band go unrecognized once again for their third great album, while The Postelles scratched a similar itch that The Soft Pack handled last year. I’m starting to wonder if Maximo Park are done for, as it’s been a while, but another new band, Frankie & the Heartstrings had a promising debut. Arctic Monkeys had a surprisingly strong fourth album.

  1. Pete & the Pirates – One Thousand Pictures (Stolen)
  2. The Chapman Family – Burn Your Town (PIAS/Electric Toaster)
  3. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy (4AD)
  4. The Horror The Horror – Wilderness (Tapete)
  5. The Fall – Ersatz G.B (Cherry Red)
  6. The Postelles (Plus One)
  7. The Black Keys – El Camino (Nonesuch)
  8. Frankie And The Heartstrings – Hunger (Wichita)
  9. Arctic Monkeys – Suck It And See (Domino)
  10. Anna Calvi (Domino)
  11. Patrick Wolf – Lupercalia (Hideout)
  12. The Feelies – Here Before (Bar/None)
  13. Fool’s Gold – Leave No Trace (Iamsound)

Electro/Dream Pop
Radiohead - The King Of LimbsThe King Of Limbs might be their slightest album since their debut, but damn if it still isn’t great. Gauzy gothgaze, glowave or whatever get different names every year, but I’ll stick with dream pop. It was a solid year for it, but nothing spectacular. There was certainly plenty of it, to the point where ther sprawling and highly regarded M83 album sits way at the bottom. One of the more interesting examples is Old Silver Key, a side project from black metallers Drudkh and Neige from Alcest. It’s even prettier and more melodic than Alcest.

 

  1. Radiohead – The King Of Limbs (XL)
  2. Metronomy – English Riviera (101)
  3. Korallreven – An Album By Korallreven (Hybris/Acephale)
  4. Holy Ghost! (DFA)
  5. Washed Out – Within And Without (Sub Pop)
  6. The Horrors – Skying (XL)
  7. Cold Cave – Cherish The Light Years (Matador)
  8. Austra – Feel It Break (Domino)
  9. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes (Atlantic)
  10. Planningtorock – W (DFA)
  11. EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints (Souterrain)
  12. Old Silver Key – Tales Of Wanderings (Season Of Mist)
  13. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (PID)

Experimental & Ambient
Alexander Tucker - DorwytchI often find myself absorbing experimental music at the very last minute at the end of the year, prompted by high-placing entries on year-end lists. I actually had the chance to live with the Alexander Tucker album since early Spring, which may explain why it’s settled into my top spot. Phaedra is the solo project of Norway’s Ingvild Langgård. The Sea is so breathtakingly gorgeous and powerful, everything that PJ Harvey and Björk have sadly failed to achieve this year. The rest of the list is well worth checking out. Some are challenging listens, others work nicely as an aural palate cleanser.

  1. Alexander Tucker – Dorwytch (Thrill Jockey)
  2. The Caretaker – An Empty Bliss Beyond This World (History Always Favours the Winners)
  3. Phaedra – The Sea (Rune Grammofon) – Norway
  4. Julianna Barwick – The Magic Place (Asthmatic Kitty)
  5. Julia Holter – Tragedy (Leaving)
  6. Vladislav Delay – Vantaa (Raster)
  7. Tim Hecker – Ravedeath 1972 (Kranky)
  8. Nicolas Jaar – Space Is Only Noise (Circus Company)
  9. Grouper – A I A: Alien Observer/Dream Loss (Yellowelectric)
  10. The Book Of Knots – Garden Of Fainting Stars (Ipecac)
  11. Barn Owl – Lost In The Glare (Thrill Jockey)
  12. Blanck Mass (Rock Action)
  13. The Master Musicians Of Bukkake – Totem 3 (Important)

Electronica, Techno & Dance
Thundercat - The Golden Age Of ApocalypseStephen Brunner has a fascinating background as a member of Suicidal Tendencies and session work with the likes of Erykah Badu and Sa Ra, and of course his association with Flying Lotus. As Thundercat, his space jazz odysseys share some things with FlyLo, but less cluttered and more listenable. King Midas Sound takes my top album of 2009 and remixes it. Lots of familiar names here, including one from the past, Lamb, who were big for a while in Tricky/Goldie era 90s. Who knew they had five albums? Their latest is a double disc whammy that does what they do best. Apparently Skrillex has become huge on the basis of four crappy EPs. I could see, on the dancefloor, they’d sound refereshing next to mind-numbingly dull techno. For about 30 seconds. Then you start searching for sharp objects to jab into your ears to end it.

  1. Thundercat – The Golden Age Of Apocalypse (Brainfeeder)
  2. James Ferraro – Far Side Virtual (Hippos In Tanks)
  3. King Midas Sound – Without You (Hyperdub)
  4. Rustie – Glass Swords (Warp)
  5. Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica (Software)
  6. Lamb – 5 (Strata)
  7. Machinedrum – Room(s) (Planet Mu)
  8. Robag Wruhme – Thora Vukk (Pampa)
  9. Hype Williams – One Nation (Hippos In Tanks)
  10. Amon Tobin – ISAM (Ninja Tune)
  11. James Blake (Universal)
  12. Apparat – The Devil’s Walk (Mute/EMI)
  13. Pinch & Shackleton (Honest Jon’s)

Global
Lucas Santtana - Sem NostalgiaMy global listening really suffered this year, mainly because I haven’t found a satisfying critical source that makes it easy to find exceptional stuff. My obsession with Brazilian music has tapered partly because it gets old not knowing the language. Lucas Santtana, however, is always brilliant. Tinariwen is always reliable for great performances, and younger Malian band Tamikarest challenges their reign. Syrian Omar Souleyman is a wedding singer who takes traditional dabke music and tortures it with his homemade synthesizers and speedy beats until it begs for mercy. Fela Kuti’s oldest son, Femi and his youngest, Seun are now on the same label, with two competing albums. Femi has been at it since he started performing with his father over 25 years ago, and his music is arguably better than what Fela produced in the late stages of his career. The youthful Seun is a little more wild, singing with as much passion about weed as he does about scumbag politicians. I say get ‘em both.

  1. Lucas Santtana – Sem Nostalgia (Mais Um Discos) – Brazil
  2. Tinariwen – Tassili (Anti-) – Mali
  3. Tamikrest – Toumastin (Glitterhouse) – Mali
  4. Omar Souleyman – Haflat Gharbia: The Western Concerts (Sublime Frequencies) – Syria
  5. Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 – From Africa With Fury: Rise (Knitting Factory) – Nigeria
  6. São Paulo Underground – Tres Cabeças Loucuras (Cuneiform) – U.S./Brazil
  7. Kassin – Sonhando Devagar (Coqueiro Verde) – Brazil
  8. Domenico – Cine Prive (Coqueiro Verde) – Brazil
  9. Marcelo Camelo – Toque Dela (Universal Brazil) – Brazil
  10. Femi Kuti – Africa For Africa (Knitting Factory) – Nigeria
  11. Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou – Cotonou Club (Strut) – Benin
  12. Rômulo Fróes – Um Labirinto em Cada Pé (Livraria Cultura) – Brazil
  13. Cornershop – Cornershop & Double ‘O’ Groove Of (w/ Bubbley Kaur) (Ample Play) – UK/India

Country, Folk & Americana
Wilco - The Whole LoveWilco probably have more in common with Radiohead than your usual Americana, but there’s always plenty of rootsiness in their music. In fact, I wonder sometimes if Tweedy doesn’t hinder them. Knowing how brilliant and versatile Nels Cline and Glenn Kotche are, it would be interesting to hear what they could do without him. Sacrilege, I know.

  1. Wilco – The Whole Love (Anti-)
  2. Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know (Ribbon)
  3. Bill Callahan – Apocalaypse (Drag City)
  4. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake (Island)
  5. Mark Fry – I Lived In Trees (Second Language)
  6. Meg Baird – Seasons On Earth (Drag City)
  7. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop)
  8. Wanda Jackson – The Party Ain’t Over (Nonesuch)
  9. Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo (Matador)
  10. The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow (Sensibility)
  11. Josh T. Pearson – Last Of The Country Gentlemen (Mute)
  12. Feist – Metals (Cherry Tree/Interscope)
  13. Joe Henry – Reverie (Anti-)

Hip Hop & Rap
Shabazz Palaces - Black Up (Sub Pop)I didn’t spent much time listening to hip hop and rap this year. What a surprise to hear the dude from Digable Planets sound fresh and relevant so many years later in Shabazz Palaces, though. Wow. Always love The Roots, concept or no concept. Those who care are probably horrified by the presence of Childish Gambino, Spank Rock and The Lonely Island, heh heh. What can I say, they’re goofy and uneven, but had some fun moments. Where’s Tyler, the Creator? Fuck him. I listened to that album a few times, and that shit’s not fun. It’s a chore.

  1. Shabazz Palaces – Black Up (Sub Pop)
  2. The Roots – undun (Def Jam)
  3. Roots Manuva – 4everevolution (Big Dada)
  4. Death Grips – ExMilitary (Death Grips)
  5. Wiley – 100% Publishing (Big Dada)
  6. The Throne – Watch The Throne (Def Jam)
  7. A$AP Rocky – Livelovea$ap (RCA/Polo Grounds Music)
  8. Drake – Take Care (Cash Money)
  9. Childish Gambino – Camp (Glass Note)
  10. Spank Rock – Everything Is Boring and Everyone Is a Fucking Liar (Ninja)
  11. Danny Brown – XXX (Fool’s Gold)
  12. The Lonely Island – Turtleneck & Chain (Universal Republic)

R&B, Soul, Funk & Dancepop
The Weeknd - House Of BalloonsFor most of the year I didn’t consider the Weeknd anything close to R&B or Soul. The free mixtapes sound to me more like gauzy art pop along the lines of say, the first Tricky album. But since Toronto native Abel Tesfaye is black (of Ethiopian descent), and he appeared on Drake’s album, I guess we’re calling it soul. I know it’s also a hipster favorite, but Frank Ocean of Odd Future made for some fascinating listening. He deserves the attention for his unique, trippy soul. But while its firmly rooted in the 60s and James Brown, I have to give the edge to Charles Bradley. Inspired by a James Brown performance in 1962, Bradley spent time on the streets, as a cook, and working odd jobs while performing music on the side. Incredibly, No Time For Dreaming is his debut album at the age of 64. Impassioned songs like “The World (Is Going Up in Flames)” and “Heartaches and Pain” were inspired by personal tragedy when his nephew killed his brother. The sound may be familiar, but it would be hard for anyone to compete with over a half century of pain crammed into one album. Anthony Hamilton is always a solid bet, as is 70s star Betty Wright. Beyond Van Hunt and Raphael Saadiq, the rest are kind of meh this year.

  1. The Weeknd – House Of Balloons (The Weeknd)
  2. Charles Bradley – No Time For Dreaming (Dunham)
  3. Frank Ocean – nostalgia, ULTRA. (Frank Ocean)
  4. The Weeknd – Thursday (The Weeknd)
  5. Dawn Richard – A Tell Tale Heart (Self-Release)
  6. Anthony Hamilton – Back To Love (RCA)
  7. Betty Wright & The Roots – Betty Wright – The Movie (S-Curve)
  8. Van Hunt – What Were You Hoping For? (Godless Hotspot)
  9. Raphael Saadiq – Stone Rollin’ (Columbia)
  10. Meshell Ndegeocello – Weather (Naive)
  11. Goapele – Break of Dawn (Skyblaze/Decon)
  12. Maya Azucena – Cry Love (Half Note)
  13. Rahsaan Patterson – Bleuphoria (Artistry)

Albums I missed before I made the lists
No matter how hard I try, I always miss possible top 100 contenders. Here’s some good albums I missed before Xmas.

  1. Spiders – Spiders EP (Crusher)
  2. Pantheïst – Pantheist (Grau)
  3. SubRosa – No Help For The Mighty One (Profound Lore)
  4. Sahara Surfers – Sonar Pilot (Sound Zero)
  5. Cherry Choke – A Night In The Arms Of Venus… (Elektrohasch)
  6. Witch Mountain – South Of Salem (Mountastic/Profound Lore)
  7. Castle – In Witch Order (Ván)
  8. Venomous Maximous – The Mission EP (Cutthroat)
  9. Slough Feg – Made in Poland (Megadisc)

Reissues
Disco Inferno - The 5 EPsReissues provide a good reason for me to keep buying physical CDs. I’m a sucker for good packaging, liner notes, and hopefully a pristine remastering. I was especially excited about Disco Inferno’s The 5 EPs. One of the most original bands of the 90s, I was onto them from the start. However the EPs were rare importa and nearly impossible to find. Files were floating around but I decided to wait until the official reissue to hear most of these songs for the first time. I wasn’t disappointed. Together these songs rival their groundbreaking album, DI Go Pop (Rough Trade, 1994).

  1. Disco Inferno – The 5 EPs (One Little Indian, 1992-94)
  2. Ufomammut – Snailking (Supernatural Cat, 2004)
  3. The Fall – This Nation’s Saving Grace (Beggars Banquet, 1985) [3CD]
  4. Bitch Magnet – Star Booty/Umber/Ben Hur (Temporary Residence, 1988-90) [3CD]
  5. Orange Goblin – Box (Rise Above, 1997-04) [5CD]
  6. Thin Lizzy – Black Rose (Mercury/Universal, 1979) [2CD]
  7. Crass – Penis Envy (Crass, 1981)
  8. Etta James – Losers Weepers (Kent, 1970)
  9. Esther Phillips – Performance (CTI, 1974)
  10. R.E.M. – Lifes Rich Pageant (I.R.S., 1986) [2CD]
  11. Willie Wright – Telling The Truth (Variety/Numero, 1977)
  12. Peter Tosh – Legalize It (Columbia/Legacy, 1976) [2CD]
  13. Social Climbers (Drag City/Yoga, 1980)

Shows

The best show of the year was from a band that officially broke up in 1998, and remain broken up. Walt Mink played a couple shows in Minneapolis six years ago, which Chris Butler filmed for a documentary on the band that may come out someday. Perhaps when singer/guitarist John Kimbrough has won a couple more Grammys for his TV/movie soundtracks. Bassist Candice Belanoff, now a professor in Boston and with a couple kids, felt like rocking. So they got a few hours of practice in and proceeded to blow the roofs off the joints at their two shows in Boston and Brooklyn. Skeptical? Check out this footage from their Brooklyn show. Kimbrough really needs to make some more rock records. I believe he contributed to the upcoming Tenacious D project, but, more please.

  1. Walt Mink – T.T. Bears, Boston, 7/27
  2. Melvins – Double Door, 5/31
  3. The Damned – Metro, 10/25
  4. Truckfighters – Reggie’s, 7/20
  5. Korpiklaani, Arkona – Reggie’s Rock Club, 11/27
  6. Sleestak – Cafe Lura, 10/21
  7. Dismemberment Plan – Metro, 2/20
  8. Gang Of Four – Metro, 2/11
  9. Archers Of Loaf – Bottom Lounge, 7/8
  10. Rwake, Earthen Grave, Zebulon Pike – Abbey Pub, 9/24
  11. New Bomb Turks – Double Door, 6/10
  12. Wire – Metro, 4/9
  13. Mastodon – Riviera Theatre, 11/11

Movies
Midnight In ParisI approach movies a slightly different way than music. I listen to so much music, for so many hours a day, I crave a wider range, from fluffy entertainment to challenging, even difficult listening. I’m not so fond of difficult viewing. Too much reality (or violence, or depressingly tragic themes) shoved back in my face is not entertaining. Lighter comedies and rom-coms always get the short end of the stick by critics and the annual awards. They should be reminded that laughter is physically good for your health. It’s really as essential as a good diet and exercise. Sadly there seems to be a lack of screamingly funny comedies. Given how The Hangover wasn’t half as funny as most people made it out to be, I don’t have high hopes for Hangover II. And Bridesmaids was good, but it was dark and depressing! It really wasn’t that funny! The underrated The Change-Up did the job providing uncontrollable laughter. Otherwise, like last year, for doctor’s orders, you’ll need to get your laughs from television.

This year (so far) my favorite has been Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris. The way it uses fantasy to tap into the magic of other eras is similar to one of my all-time favorites, The Purple Rose Of Cairo (1985). I often daydream about time traveling to other times and places, and it’s great to see Woody do it so well.

  1. Midnight In Paris
  2. Hugo
  3. The Descendents
  4. Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame
  5. Crazy, Stupid, Love
  6. Rio
  7. Our Idiot Brother
  8. The Change-Up
  9. Win Win
  10. Cedar Rapids
  11. The Muppets
  12. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2
  13. Bridesmaids
  14. Beginners

Worth seeing: A Dangerous Method, The Artist, 50/50, The Help, The Adventures of Tintin, Mars Needs Moms!, Source Code, Gnomeo and Juliet, Kung Fu Panda 2, Puss In Boots, X-Men: First Class, Everything Must Go, Jumping The Broom, Rango, Cars 2, Horrible Bosses, Friends With Benefits, Zookeeper, The Adjustment Bureau, Pirates of the Caribbean: Stranger Tides, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Green Hornet, Green Lantern, Thor, Shame, Bad Teacher, The Troll Hunter, The Beaver, Take Me Home Tonight, Your Highness, Another Earth, Cowboys & Aliens.

Haven’t seen yet: Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey, Everyday Sunshine: The Story Of Fishbone, Arthur Christmas

Really don’t want to see: Tree Of Life. I like some art movies, but it’s a fine line between artistry and pretentious navelgazing tripe. The ecstatic reviews, the trailers, all make me itchy. I really don’t feel like subjecting myself to this. It just irks me that any movie or book that tosses in some metaphysics or mysticism is automatically assumed to be deep and meaningful. It looks to me like laborious grind. Maybe there are some worthy bits to this movie, but I simply do not believe it could possibly be the best movie of the year like some critics have claimed. I’ll take a good story or comedy any day. If I catch up on the 400+ movies in my queue someday, maybe I’ll force myself to watch it.

Avoid: The Trip. If it weren’t for the lovely scenery, there would be nothing redeeming about this movie at all. Coogan is always good at playing an asshole, but here he’s just annoying. And oh god, their terrible impressions, they just never stopped. A horrible, pointless waste of time. Also pretty overrated, though not worthless – Drive, The Ides Of March.

Television

Californication

Californication comes and goes like a fickle girlfriend, always leaving us wanting more. The season are just too short. Season 4 matched Season 3′s incredible cameos of Rick Springfield and Kathleen Turner, with the lovely Carla Gugino, and a scene stealing Rob Lowe as the absolutely batshit Eddie Nero. It also remained just as addictive for its jaw-dropping outrageousness and brilliant writing. I can’t wait for Season 5! Breaking Bad has developed into quite the dramatic juggernaut, possibly surpassing The Wire for its character development and nailbiting tension. True Blood is just good, trashy fun.

On the comedy front, for the first time ever, Modern Family had a dud with its Christmas episode. That’s still a way better track record than any other comedy. Community continues to be underrated, or rather, rated highly by critics but not watched by anyone, while 30 Rock seems to be running out of gas. If 2012 is its last season, that’s okay, it had a great run. There’s a bunch of new ones with plenty of good laughs, including Up All Night, Two Broke Girls and Happy Endings, specializing in the best dirty jokes you’ll find on network TV. Louis C.K. can get pretty dark on Season 2 of Louie, but it’s like an extended improvisatonal jazz solo, and a brilliant one.

  1. Californication
  2. Modern Family
  3. Breaking Bad
  4. True Blood
  5. Hung
  6. Bored To Death
  7. Louie
  8. Weeds
  9. Archer
  10. United States Of Tara
  11. Ugly Americans
  12. Up All Night
  13. Raising HopeWorth watching: Community, Two Broke Girls, Happy Endings, The Big Bang Theory, 30 Rock, New Girl, Merlin, Suburgatory, Masterpiece Mystery (Inspector Lewis, Hercule Poirot), Millionaire Matchmaker, How I Met Your Mother, Check Please, In Treatment, South Park, Whitney, Robot Chicken, Wilfred, Saturday Night Live.Don’t watch regularly but probably good: Parks and Recreation, The Daily Show, Boardwalk Empire, Game Of Thrones, Party Down, Dexter, The Walking Dead, Treme, Beavis and Butthead.

Books
Will Hermes - Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever

I’ve read so much about music in NY in the 70s, but this is fresh because it shows how everything happened simultaneously and how jazz, pre-punk, disco, salsa, funk, etc. were intertwined, while giving even deeper histories of the neighborhoods and even landmark buildings.

For example, The Mercer Arts on 240 Mercer Street, known for the New York Dolls’ reside…ncy, also made its mark with a production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The building hosted opera singer Jenny Lind–”the Swedish Nightingale”– for her fifteen-show run in 1850, arranged by manager P.T. Barnum. In the 1860s, as the Winter Garden theater, it hosted a hundred-performance run of Hamlet with renowned thespian Edwin Booth, brother of John Wilkes Booth. At the turn of the century, one of its restaurants, Trotsky’s Kosher Restaurant, inspired visiting Russian Lev Bronstein to change his name.

A loft building on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg housed jazz greats such as Rashied Ali, Don Cherry, Archie Shepp, Roswell Rudd, Karl Berger and Marion Brown. “I could feel the boom of the bass coming up through my Super Pro Keds.” Those words were spoken by Joseph Saddler, a.k.a. Grandmaster Flash, on his first exposure to a DJ Kool Herc rec center party and its massive cabinets powered by a McIntosh amp, before he even entered the building. Babe Ruth’s “The Mexican” was playing at sidewalk shaking levels.

My knowledge of Latin music, salsa and nu-yorican soul is scant, and thanks to the book I’m now enjoying albums like Willie Colón’s Cosa Nuestra (Codigo, 1969), Larry Harlow’sOrchestra Harlow Hommy A Latin Opera (Fania, 1973), and Eddie Palmieri’s The Sun Of Latin Music (Varese, 1973).

Serving a nice companion volume is Just Kids, Patti Smith’s moving tribute to her time spent in New York with lover/best friend/artistic muse, Robert Mapplethorpe.

While Snow Crash, The Diamond Age and Cryptonomicon are some of my all-time favorite books, Neal Stephenson’s obsession with meta-historical novels may be groundbreaking, but they’re also excruciatingly slow. I was excited to hear that on Reamde, he took a whack at a fast-paced thriller. At over a thousand pages, it still could have used some serious editing, but it kept me turning pages (or pushing the Kindle button) briskly enough that I finished it within a month.

  1. Will Hermes – Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever (2011)
  2. Neal Stephenson – Reamde (2011)
  3. Patti Smith – Just Kids (2010)
  4. Nick Kent – Apathy for the Devil: A Seventies Memoir (2010)
  5. Haruki Murakami – 1Q84 (2011)
  6. Aaron Cohen – Amazing Grace (2011)
  7. Neil Gaiman – The Graveyard Book (2008)
  8. Andrew Earles – Husker Du: The Story Of The Noise Pioneers Who Launched Modern Rock (2010)
  9. Chuck Palahniuk – Damned (2011)
  10. Jay S. Jacobs – Wild Years: The Music and Myth of Tom Waits (2006)
  11. Paul Trynka – Iggy Pop: Open Up and Bleed (2008)
  12. Mike Carey – The Devil You Know (2007)
  13. Lev Grossman – The Magician Kings (2011)

Monthly Comics
Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson - The BoysThere’s been some sort of news regarding mainstream comics publishers like DC and Marvel doing “reboots.” To be honest I don’t really know what it’s all about, other than an effort to attract more readers. While I can’t be bothered with traditional superhero comics, I hope they succeed. It’s such a unique artform, and I would hate to see it die. They add a dimension to books, and are a much different experience from movies. Often it’s better. Compare the Watchmen book to the movie. Or even Tony Parker’s adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? to Bladerunner. I love Bladerunner, but the comic version was pretty powerful stuff. I’d love to see more movies of comics. If Hollywood could take a pause from its DC/Marvel infactuation, they’d find some great source material with The Boys, Incognito, The Unwritten, even Fables. I love the ritual of stopping by the comic shop every Wednesday, and to insure there’s something to get each week, I’ve started some new titles to replace ones that have completed or stalled last year, like the sinister, Twilight Zone-ish Morning Glories, the violent but compelling The Strange Talent of Luther Strode, and the revenge fantasy Jennifer Blood, the first six issues written by Garth Ennis.

  1. Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson – The Boys
  2. John Layman & Rob Guillory – Chew
  3. Nick Spencer & Joe Eisma – Morning Glories
  4. Philip K. Dick & Tony Parker – Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? (Complete)
  5. Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips – Incognito
  6. Mike Carey, Peter Gross & Vince Locke – The Unwritten
  7. Bill Willingham & Marc Buckingham – Fables
  8. Justin Jordan & Tradd Moore – The Strange Talent Of Luther Strode (3 issues)
  9. Garth Ennis, John McCrea & Keith Burns – Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker
  10. Chris Roberson & Michael Allred – iZombie
  11. Joe R. Lansdale & Peter Bergting – H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror
  12. Al Ewing & Kewber Baal – Jennifer Blood
  13. Chap Taylor, Peter Johnson & Michael Ryan – Haunted City (1 issue)

Music Coverage
Vincebus EruptumWhen everyone says print is dying, it’s gratifying to find such a gorgeous labor of love in the Italian psych rock zine, Vincebus Eruptum. It’s the best looking independent zine I’ve seen since the early 90s heyday ofMotorbooty. It can now be purchased in the U.S. through The Soda Shop.

This year is heavy on the stoner/psych/doom blogs, which did a great job of picking up the slack after the demise of Stonerrock.com. As much as I like print magazines, the future seems really to be with e-readers. And it’s sad that only PopMatters is the only one to have gotten aboard so far. It provides me with at least ten minutes of good reading on the train every morning, but it would be nice to have more to choose from.

  1. Vincebus Eruptum (Print)
  2. The Soda Shop
  3. Heavy Planet
  4. Rock-A-Rolla (Print)
  5. PopMatters (Kindle)
  6. Doomantia
  7. The Obelisk
  8. Decibel (Print)
  9. Captain Beyond Zen
  10. The Quietus
  11. Pitchfork
  12. The Wire (Print)
  13. The Word (Print)

Fester’s Lucky 13 — 2010
Fester’s Lucky 13 — 2009
Fester’s Lucky 13 — 2008
Fester’s Lucky 13 — 2007
Fester’s Lucky 13 — 2006
Fester’s Lucky 13 — 2005
Fester’s Lucky 13 — 2004
Fester’s Lucky 13 — 2003
Fester’s Lucky 13 — 2002
Fester’s Lucky 13 — 2001
Fester’s Lucky 13 — 2000
Fester’s Lucky 13 — 1999
Fester’s Lucky 13 — 1998
Fester’s Lucky 13 — 1997

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