Every year is similar in that I get excited when the first year-end lists start coming out the week of Thanksgiving. But by mid-December, I’m a burnt-out husk after relentlessly stuffing a couple hundred last-minute albums into my brain to try to process before I finalize my own lists. Given that my lists are simply just another list by one person with particular (if not peculiar) tastes, I don’t even know how many people actually pay attention to them. There may have been a time when my extensive lists were fairly unique and useful, back during the first years of my site from 1995. But now we’re suffocating under the weight of thousands of lists from magazines and bloggers, and no one gives a shit anymore. It wouldn’t be worth the effort if it weren’t for the fact that I do this mostly for myself, to sort out what I enjoy the most, and remind myself of albums I might have forgotten about. Continue reading →
There was once a time when double albums were kind of a big deal. Even established artists had to often fight with their labels to release double albums, because it meant more packaging, more expensive studio time, and ultimately less profit for the labels. It was an audacious move, to have the confidence and/or ego to think one could fill two LPs, usually more than an hour of music, with consistently great songs. Dylan, The Beatles and Hendrix weren’t the first to release double albums, but they definitely made a statement with over 1:13, 1:33 and 1:15 worth of pretty amazing music, respectively. Blonde On Blonde, The Beatlesand Electric Ladyland continue to haunt the upper slots of all-time best of lists, and show no signs of going away. More major landmarks followed with Trout Mask Replica (1969), Third (1970), Tago Mago(1971), Something/Anything and Exile On Main St. (1972). Continue reading →
I have conflicted feelings about Christmas music. My generally positive experiences with it as a kid are balanced by increasingly crass and repetitive use of it as early as October to trigger Pavlovian shopping impulses. Apparently, so does Sufjan Stevens. Having previously released a five CD box set called Songs For Christmas in 2006, his obsessiveness with the holiday has reached epic proportions with yet another five CD set, Silver & Gold. While there are plenty of traditional songs (highlights include gorgeous versions of “Silent Night,” “Angels We Have Heard On High” and “O Holy Night”), he throws some interesting originals in the mix that you might not want to play at Grandma’s house. Especially on the latest set, with song titles like “Even the Earth Will Perish and the Universe Give Way”, and “Justice Delivers Its Death,” and stickers and album art featuring a cat-ridin’ skeleton, and a Grim Reaper skeleton wearing a Santa suit, he veers between gleefully morbid and crushing seasonal affective disorder depression. On the gleeful side, the promo video for “Mr. Frosty Man” features a snowman who takes on a horde of zombies (including a Santa zombie) with a chainsaw and shotgun. The liner notes essay of the latest box set end with the words, “Advent is ultimately about death. The end is near. You are going to die. Happy Holidays.” Will Stevens’ next album delve into death metal or apocalyptic occult doom? Let’s hope so! Almost better than the box set are the seven infomercials, an homage to Time Life ads of yore.
I’m actually covering releases from November 20th through the first week of December. After Thanksgiving, it’s that listophilia time of the year where I hunker down and sort through favorites to nail down my own final order for the year-end lists. In addition to album of the week Troubled Horse’s Step Inside, which is likely to make my top five, here’s some other notable new releases.
Zombie Zombie - Rituels d’un Nouveau Monde (Versatile)
A French duo modeled on the Neu!/Harmonia template, Zombie Zombie are Cosmic Neman on drums and Etienne Jaumet on a collection of vintage analog synths like Arp, Roland, Prophet and Moog. Influenced equally by John Carpenter’s eerie soundtracks, their third album in 2010 was a direct tribute to Carpenter. On their latest, they’ve expanded the scope to voodoo rituals and jazz. Convinced the apocalypse is happening this year, this is music unfettered by concerns with the market and accessibility, leaving a pure, intense album that’s also oddly upbeat in its neo-futurist sci-fi sounds. Continue reading →
The Swedish heavy rock scene is on fire this year, with at least nine albums most likely making my top 50. Troubled Horse consist of Jens Henriksson (drums) and John Hoyles (guitar) who were original members of Witchcraft, and Ola Henriksson (bass) who is currently also in Witchcraft. John Hoyles is also currently in Spiders. The band’s secret weapon is vocalist/guitarist Martin Heppich, who’s songwriting distinguishes the band in sound and style from their peers. “Tainted Water” kicks the album off with a twangy guitar lead that refers to the 60s but sounds modern, or at least ageless. It’s a hard rocker with slashing riffs and hard drivin’ chorus that should make anyone snap to attention. Continue reading →
While on my run last night I explored the impressive new space of Rotofugi, the store named after the vinyl roto-casted toys that originated in Japan and Hong Kong, and the owners’ beagle-shihtzu Fugi. Shelves are lined with small vinyl figurines priced from under $10 to over $50, and larger ones that go up to as much as $400. The reasoning for the pricing is that they are not mass-produced toys, but limited run art, with figurines often named after the artist who made them. This also implies the possibility that the value could go up after purchasing them, much like Hummels did. Those are the figurines made by the nun Maria Innocentia Hummel, debuting in Germany in 1935. Soldiers brought them home from WW II to their girlfriends, wives and parents who thought they were cute. Despite the parent company Goebel upping the production, many of the figurines started fetching increasingly high prices, some over $300 each. However, collectors who planned to make a nice profit from them are out of luck if they didn’t unload them by the 90s, as they have all drastically dropped in value as they fell out of favor with younger generations who thought they were too saccharine. Same with the religious knock-offs Precious Moments that came out in 1989. Continue reading →
In Ernest Cline’s brilliant novel Ready Player One, published in June, the protagonist Wade Watts, using his avatar Parzival in the virtual reality environment OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation) to play 80s video games like Pac Man and Defender, and adventure games like Zork in order to win the competition to find an Easter egg. The grand prize is unimaginable riches, especially in a post-apocalyptic future world where people are starving, and the homeless Watts hides out in an abandoned van in a junkyard while he attends school via the OASIS environment in the small amount of time he’s not competing for the grand prize.
I wouldn’t have gotten too far. While I reached a middling level of competency on Asteroids and Dig Dug, video games were not my jam. Quarters were wasted at the arcade on any other game as I got killed in quick succession. What I really loved was adventure games, especially the Infocom text adventures like Zork, Planetfall and an adaptation of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I could get away with playing during free periods at school as unsuspecting teachers only saw text on the screen. Like the Wade character, I relied on the gear provided by the public schools (Apple IIe’s for most of my time in high school), and couldn’t afford even the slightly older home computers, which in my day were the TRS-80, Commodore 64 and Atari 800. Continue reading →
There are a ton of new interesting releases this week, at least thirteen worth noting. At a time of year that’s normally focused on greatest hits and boxed set compilations for the holidaze, some major releases have come out that are in danger of being overlooked on some year-end lists, as major magazines often have the lists nailed down by this time of the month. On the other hand, it won’t really affect the music covered here, as it’s mostly ignored by mainstream publications.
Vinyl Williams, Lemniscate (Salonislam/No Pain in Pop)
Like the grotesquely surreal art of Lemniscate’s album cover, 22 year-old Lionel Williams’ music subverts conventional beauty by distorting it into something strange, yet still alluring. The grandson of conductor/composer John Williams, Vinyl’s art pop is unsurprisingly cinematic in its own gauzy way. But the constant flow of sonic twists, kaleidoscopic musical ideas and imagery is more inspiring than similar stuff that dabbles with ambience and threatens to blend with the wallpaper. There is plenty of opportunity for growth, but this debut shows a lot of promise in this young artist. Continue reading →
Golden Void’s addition to the Thrill Jockey roster has for some reason been regarded as a surprise, as the label was generally associated with avant rock and art pop releases that have been highly regarded in the indie rock community for over 20 years. It’s been hilarious to see hack writersinexperienced with heavy psych and proto-metal struggle with even the concept of Golden Void. Anyone with half a clue however should not be surprised, given the label’s long association with a wide variety of psychedelic music ranging from Japan’s OOIOO, fellow San Francisco psych rockers Wooden Shjips and Barn Owl, Tunng, White Hills, High Places to Eternal Tapestry, whose World Out Of Time was also released yesterday. The band merges the considerable guitar and songwriting talents of Earthless’ Isaiah Mitchell with Camilla Saufley-Mitchell from Assemble Head In Sunburst Sound, whom he relocated to the Bay Area from San Diego to marry. The rhythm section of Aaron Morgan and Justin Pinkerton have played together in various local bands since they were in high school. Continue reading →
With Wo Fat’s magnificent Noche del Chupacabra last year, I predicted the band were poised to make a giant step in breaking through with some kind of crazy new hybrid of stoner swamp voodoo jazz funk. On re-listening to their debut The Gathering Dark (2006), I realized they had already emerged with their signature sound already fully formed, capped off by an inspired, sludgy cover of Miles Davis’ “Runnin’ The Voodoo Down.” They’ve already brought the crazy, and since then they’ve just been making minor adjustments. On Psychedelonaut (2009) they tightened some screws and wrote some of their more memorable tunes. The wheels were loosened up a bit for Noche to allow for some more improvised jams. The Black Code refines that approach, balancing the improvisation with a couple driving riff monsters in “Lost Highway” and “Hurt At Gone.” The remaining three cuts all exceed the ten minute mark and are some of their most entrancing grooves yet. I’ve had the 46 minute album on heavy rotation for over three months and haven’t gotten tired of it because time seems to bend when it’s playing so that it’s over more quickly than I expect. Continue reading →
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Since October 1995, Fast 'n' Bulbous has been a one man operation, a labor of love rather than profit venture. I maintain an editorial policy of publishing mainly positive reviews, with the idea that people should be turned on to the best music. I only review what I feel like because I don't get paid for it.
The only drawback to this site is the drain on my resources. I mostly still buy the CDs of the majority of albums I review. And while I try to mostly review the cream of the crop, I have listened to thousands upon thousands of albums ranging from average to vomit-inducing, so that you don't have to. While you spend your valuable time having a life, furthering your education, raising a family, making a real living, having fun, I take the bullet, sacrificing my time suffering through the pabulum to unearth the gems. Feel free to express your appreciation for this service with a donation!