Best of lists... You have probably read a bunch of them by this point. Probably tired of hearing the same stuff over and over again. Well, Im here to chime in and probably repeat a few of the obvious and hopefully toss a few less obvious ones your way. At the beginning of this year I felt that this was a great year for music. Looking back I can still say it was as I feel very good about a bunch of stuff that came out, but looking back has also revealed that I have in fact done what I did last year; listen to a bunch of music by bands that havent played together in years. Cest la vie. I could wax poetic about all the things I rediscovered, all the lost gems that I unearthed after missing them the first time around, but instead I will just lead you down a short path of the things that really hit me in 2008.
Before I begin, I would like to at least touch upon the nature of my ordering. For one thing, there is none. Sure, some things are definitely amazing at any given time, and some other things are amazing at particular times. Maybe even more so than the things I can listen to at any given moment. That is the nature of music and its personal appeal. Also, as is most likely the case with any one individual, I have most certainly not heard some amazing records and have possibly even forgotten to add some that I have heard. Since we have to start somewhere, we will begin here.
1. Young Widows - Old Wounds
(Temp Res Ltd
From the first distorted bass notes of this roiling beast of an album to the very last I feel nothing but pure electricity. The Am Rep / Jesus Lizard / Shellac sounds of this record are the first of its kind to really meet my standards set forth by the aformentioned bands. Brutal yet smooth, twisting and turning through track after track of heady distorted blues like noise. Simply put this album is one that will excite me for years to come. Considering I still dont like the first album that much, this is all the more awesome as it leaves me wanting more and that is never a bad thing when it comes to music.
2. Deerhunter - Microcastle / Weird Era Cont.
While this album has probably popped up on a million peoples radars (and a million lists) I find it safe to say that its one of the best indie rock records released int he last five years. Sure, theres much about this that is nothing new. You could say its a rip of this or that, sure, some VU or what have you, but its richer than that and the strengths lie not in how far they moved past their influences, but rather how well theyve met those influences on their own ground and staked their claim. A wonderful pastiche of pop, soul and psychedelic sounds from the 50's, 60's and 70's mixed with a modern day indie rock mindfulness of when to be quirky and when to just drench everything in sound. I am sure some will disagree with this one, especially being a Pitchfork darling, but this is one case where they got it right. Pitchfork that is. Deerhunter has been getting right for a number of years now (See: Cryptograms and Flourescent Grey)
3. Atlas Sound - Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel
Since I just mentioned Deerhunter, it seems fitting to point you in the direction of another Bradford Cox gem. I think this may have been one of my first loved records of the year and looking back it still remains distinctly strong. There is something about the simplicity of Bradford's lyrics that allow him to just toss layers upon layers of dreamy sounds without overloading the song, or drowning out what makes the song great in the first place. Simple repeated mantras that seem to call out from dark pasts meld with airy atmospherics that would seem out of place on one of many ambient releases that have become so popular in recent years. Whereas those releases can tend to bore, Bradford anchors every song with a wistful, half anxious, half hopeful tone that really fits certain moods of calm recollection. This is definitely one of those albums that really hits when the mood is right. Though not all that different from Deerhunter in the sounds that are used there is a tasteful sparseness that makes this record stand apart from its much more high profile doppleganger.
4. Sinaloa - Oceans of Islands
Sinaloa puts me in such a good mood. I still have yet to figure out why this is. The songs are tense and moody with moments of extreme melody, filled with cautionary tales and aphorisms for the destructive habits of our kind, yet still I feel elated everytime I listen to them. Maybe it is because I feel so strongly about what they have to say, and not only that, but I love that they feel so strongly about what they are saying that it just feel real. No posing involved, real concern for our planet and our obsessive consumerist nature are present in almost everything they present to the listener. I may also feel so happy because they remind me, more so than any other band of the style (hardcore? emo? what?) of music that I loved so much in the 90's and still love so much today. Whatever the case may be, I challenge you to find a group of more socially and ecologically responsive musicians who are not shoving their ideals down your throat, but simply pointing in what should be an obvious direction for us all to achieve some kind of harmony with each other and the earth we live in. Yeah, you could call it some hippie bullshit, and I fucking love it. And I am still dying to see these guys play live. Look out for them in March in the US.
5/6. ...Who Calls So Loud - 2x10" & 12" EP
(Sorry / Protagonist
Speaking of bands that make me happy for reminding me of yesteryear, ... Who Calls So Loud released not one, but two of my favorite releases. The 2x10" hooked me instantly with its brooding Portraits of Past / Funeral Diner style of hardcore. Seeing them live not only cemented that they were a great band, but also that Matt is a sick drummer and has only gotten better and better over the years. Not only that, but ...Who Calls So Loud has also made reevaluate the strengths of the Portraits of Past material only to find that I like it even more than I ever did. Now, conversely, I was totally not sold on the EP. I purchased it like wildfire, expecting nothing but more of the same awesomeness as before, but for some reason it just didnt stick. Well, of course timing is everything and it behooves anyone to give something a second chance under different circumstances and lo and behold I found myself in the right time and place loving every single minute of this EP. Though there are only two proper songs, one short and one long, they are amazing and passionate songs, expanding on the styles set forth by the previous album and only hinting at where this band would gain its own identity separate from its looming past. The second instrumental track in particular, with slide guitars and very subdued sound got me excited to see what was next and had me shaking my head at my earlier dismissal. Sadly, the fate of the band may hang in the balance and only time will tell if these realizations will ever be met. Of course, theres always the opportunity to start another band.
7. Obfusc - Cities of Cedar
"Obfusc is the musical output of Brooklyn, NY-based photographer/graphic designer Joseph X. Burke
. Drawing inspiration from everything that surrounds him -- the chirping of birds, conversations overheard in passing, mass transportation -- Burke submerges field recordings and other found sound amongst layers of sweeping melodic lines and percussive geometry." So says the guy behind the curtain...
I remember a moment, one of my strongest emotional moments set to music in years; I was flying across the Cascades from Seattle around June, listening to Cities of Cedar, and had just left some people that are very important to me. As we flew over a white washed landscape of cloud cover I watched as the clouds mimicked mountains, only to open up at the last minute and reveal not only the one of the biggest mountains in the continental US (Rainier) but a successive group of similarly awe inspiring mountains, all capped in snow, stretching to what seemed to me to be my very own feet. The effect of this natural beauty combined with the love felt for those so important to me was staggering when combined with the sounds coming from my iPod. Cities of Cedar revealed itself in full to me at that moment, and I actually shed tears at the joy of our beautiful (albeit fucked up) world. Easily one of the most important personal musical moments in the past decade, if not all time.
8. Algernon Cadwallader - Some Kind Of Cadwallader
I was determined not to like this. Seriously. I set out to resist its charms. To deny its ramshackle elegance. I fought long and hard against its exuberant energy. I even downloaded it to prove to myself that I was above its trite optimism.
I failed. Miserably. Theres not a single note on this record that didnt breach my wall of scrutiny.
Why? Why would I try not to like something? Oh, its all stupid shit, even my ego gets the best of me sometimes. My 31 year old mind thought, "Oh, this is kid shit. They eat this up. Im progressive, forward thinking, adult." Of course, this all sounds ridiculous. I musically live in the past and my 15 year old mind could only laugh at such stuffiness and say "You old tool, you love this shit. How could you not? You listen to all that crappy mosh bullshit, you get all excited about how emotionally forward bands from the 90's were, as if it were the only time it ever happened. Listen up old man, if you refuse this undeniable charm, you will just be stuck in some sort of arrested development. Even my 15 year old mindset knows you have to sometimes move backwards to move forwards. Silly old man. Your age is beginning to show in your futile cynicism. Submit and be free."
So I did. And you know what? I was right.
9. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
I watch Greys Anatomy. Its true. My girlfriend Lara loves it. I generally spurn the TV (and this is something all ages of my mind can agree on) but occasionally I get sucked in. Such is the case with this show. If it werent for Lara I would most certainly forget to tune in week after week (and as it is we still miss most of the episodes). I also love folk music. Something my mother imbued in me. After all, shes was a teen in the late 60's and it only seems right to like folk music if you grew up in the city. Of course I am generalizing. There was lots of shit then too. Thankfully my mother mostly liked good stuff. Some shite, but mostly good. So, there was this song on Greys Anatomy, I didnt know who it was, nor did I care, but I liked it. Concurrently people on the interwebs were all gushing over this Bon Iver thing. I occasionally try to toss some music Laras way since she doesnt go for most of the stuff I post around here, but we both share a love of folk and indie rock (She loves The National and Iron & Wine, as do I). So I figured I would check this guy out. Turns out, its pretty damn amazing. Strong vocals, almost choral at times; subtle yet powerful instrumentation and some touching words. Lara loved it too, so its nice to have something that we both feel strongly about. I even gave it to my mom for christmas and she likes it. She said it reminded her of Neil Young. That made me smile, even though it doesnt sound like Neil Young, buts that relative really. You should see for yourself.
10. The Samuel Jackson Five - Goodbye Melody Mountain
At one point in my life I was seriously addicted to what most would consider 'post-rock'. To me it has always been 'instrumental rock', but really, thats unimportant. What is important is that this hard to pin genre has been seriously lacking in any real creativeness for some time now. Countless bands ape the same sounds over and over again, and while I feel this works fine in most rock based forms containing vocals, in the instrumental realm it seems really important to attempt to engage the listener with your song craft. Last year I put Caspian in my best of list, and it was one of the first instrumental rock albums to really leave a mark. Since then the genre could have disappeared for all I care. But one band kept sticking in my mind; the strangely titled Samuel Jackson Five. Their previous 2005 album, Easily Misunderstood, was a pastiche of hard rock, folk, ambiance, jazz, and so on and so forth. Their style was so nailed down that none of these disparate influences ever seem awkward next to each other. So occasionally I checked up to see when they would release something new. Eventually I grew tired with their lack of updates and stopped checking on them, even thinking they were done with the SJ5. Thankfully I checked one last time, after almost a year of no thought whatsoever. Goodbye Melody Mountain was released late last year to little fan fare and god damn did it exceed any of my expectations that they raised with their previous work. I could wax poetic about so many details that make this record great. Even my friend Joe
, completely skeptical of 'post-rock', was hooked like one who chases the dragon. Together we would be listening and furiously emailing each other all the amazing moments of this incredibly varied and smooth album. The Hill Street Blues sax of 'Eye Eat Lotus' that never fails to conjure images of police cars jumping in slow motion, the oboe like easy listening horns of 'Hey Now, Who Really Cares', the subtle shimmering ambiance of 'Slow Motion Simulator' or the arpeggiated closing to 'How To Evade Your Obsessive Shadow'; all these things begged to be heard again in again. Within the first week I had listened to this album more than almost any other throughout the year. I knew all my waiting had been worth it. This is the one (insert arbitrary genre description here) album you should really hear at least once.
11. A Silver Mount Zion - 13 Blues For 13 Moons
Before we begin, yes, thats not their name. Apologies to the band, but I cant be botherd to even copy and past the absurdly long name, in whatever iteration they have chosen to use. Plus, A Silver Mount Zion has such a ring to it, I dont know why they ever changed it. And considering all their name changes and what they have meant in terms of overall sound, I can only say that they lost me somewhere along the way. But still I cared and when I had the opportunity to digest these four extremely long songs I was nothing short of impressed. Blown away in fact. I mean, sure, it seemed like the same band, but something clicked this time. Now I know a lot of ASMZ fans have slagged this album for not sharing the calm brilliance of 'He Has Left Us...' or 'Born Into Trouble...', but maybe their just being purists. I for one think that it behooves this band to move as far away from the obvious references that people always like to mention. After all, the leading members previous projects are unfuckwithable. But something amazing happened here. A tense, shuddering tower of blues, cathartic in every sense of the word, is displayed profoundly and fluidly throughout this hour of music. Beginning with a repetitious mantra stating, "One million died to make this sound", the song eventually builds to what can only amount to the whaling and gnashing of teeth that is the fruit of our destructive world. Its a hair raising musical moment and easily one of my favorite musical moments in recent years. The rest of the album follows suit, and fantastically so, but the release of the first song is worth the price of this album all on its own.
12. 5ive - Hesperus
(Hydra Head Recs
How about 'doom'? You wanna call it 'stoner'? Oh! What about 'sludge'? We can call it that if you want. Whatever the deal, 5ive caught me by surprise this year with their heady and pummeling sound. Hesperus is an album of cyclical riffs that aim to completely drown out all the nonsense in this world, only to replace it with a dominating bass heavy slow motion swirl that is sure to have even the staunchest of metal heads banging back and forth. 5ive release torrents of thick slabs of guitar and bass, all sans vocals and somehoe never come off as just another copy or a boring muddled addition to yet another overstuffed genre. There is something about subterranean guitar theatrics that holds its appeal though, and I am glad that I check back with the 'stoner'/'doom'/'sludge' world on occasion, because when its right, its oh so good. Whats even more astounding about this release is that 5ive consists of only a drummer and a guitarist. The amount of volume these guys reach, when given that consideration, is phenomenal. It almost chokes out the atmosphere. And just when you are ready to throw the towel in they present a quiet, slinking alternative to the bombast that they are know for. The quiet parts are almost as heavy as the loud parts, due in part to the looming sense of another aural assault. Definitely recommended for those with an ear for the low end.
13. Maps & Atlases - You and Me and The Mountain
Great great EP by these polyrhythmic geniuses. Most of the instruments (all rock based) are used in percussive ways. Its quite often that I find a new thing to love on each listen, usually something minuscule like where they placed the drum roll, or how how the bass glides in at one moment later than the rest of the band. The guitars are usually going in five different directions per guitar, but the bass and drums have a whole separate appeal when taken as own their own; often building structures around the capricious guitar interplay, deftly moving from upbeat to slow beat. There is no doubt these guys are onto something. While at first I was disappointed that every moment wasnt a hyper blast of whirling melodies such as the first EP (also amazing, by the way) over time (a short amount of time too) I found myself craving the intricate melodies and vocal interplays of this record. I can safely say that while they are different sounding in a noticeable way, this record, if anything is more Maps & Atlases than before. That sounds like a strange thing, so what I mean to say, is that where their influences may have been more readily apparent, here they have staked their own claim in the music world without sacrificing anything that made them the stellar band they were to begin with.
14. La Quiete - 7"
(Sons of Vesta
Though not an album by a long shot, La Quiete deserve notice when they pop up with new material. At least thats what one would hope, considering their awe inspiring back catalog. Watching this band grow better and better at their craft has really been something I have enjoyed being a part of. Following in the same path as the 2006 self titled 7", this release delivers melodic yet chaotic hardcore punk with the same amount of varying dynamics that they are known for. The first track alone, Cosa Sei Disposto A Perdere (What You Are Willing To Lose), is easily one of their greater moments, followed by Musica Per Un Giardino Segreto #4 (Music For The Secret Garden #4), which is an instrumental continuation of the first 3 songs of the same name found on previous 7" releases. The third song, La Conseguenze Di Un Abbraccio (I cant translate this one. Consequence of... anyone know?) displays some newer sounds for the band, with a more tense feel the guitars play a complicated arpeggio while the drums insistence rises with each meter. Unfortunately its almost over after that, but not without one last stab at some real triumph. Gemelli Siamesi (Siamese Twins) begins with a laid back beginning section before breaking into a series of octave chords, which to me always displays a strong sense of urgency and longing, but the urgency and longing I feel in this case is to hear more La Quiete. Mission accomplished.
15. Suis La Lune - Heir 10"
/ Ape Must Not Kill Ape
You know, everybody is always talking about the 'mid 90's sound'. Me more than anyone probably, but I dare you to show me something truly new in music that isnt electronic. With that said, when something so good has inspired others to have a go at it, and to such great effect as producing a band such as Suis La Lune, well, I dont understand how anyone complain, save to say that theyve just grown tired of what once inspired them. With the Heir 10" has proved to me, on each consecutive listen, that this is one sound that isnt going to become un-inspirational anytime soon. Suis La Lune offers up four tracks that expand on their 2006 album and surpass it in many way. With Sunny Day Real Estates early approach to melody mixed with punks ferocity, these 4 songs positively blaze with an inner light. 'With Wings of Feather & Glue' is possibly one of the strongest punk hardcore songs I have heard in some time, even surpassing much of the great la Quiete. And on some days you could get me to admit that Suis La Lune and La Quiete share a lot in common in terms of sound, though with both bands latest releases is seems unfair to consider that the case, even though both balance blazingly fast intricate tunes with beautiful, tear-jerking melodic sections. Whatever the case, and whatever your concerns for descriptions are, this 10" rises higher than that, to something purely and powerfully emotive. I cant wait to see what they do next.
16. Brainworms / Tubers split 7"
I just went and saw Brainworms last night. As it was before, so it was last night. They killed it. While I probably wont get to experience the joyous mayhem that I did two summers ago @ The Woodser, there is nothing short of a jaw dropping tightness to the band that makes my synapses do the dancing for me. I can say, hands down, that Brainworms are my favorite punk band right now. They play catchy songs, awesomely fast, with some sick drumming and a good ear for slower more rocking parts. While I would love to discuss how awesome their new songs sounded last night, I would especially like to focus my attention on Jay's Big Date. Easily one of their best songs yet and a good indication of whats to come. The song starts powerfully with some rapid guitar work before hitting their stride and then dropping what I now consider a "Brainworms Breakdown" consisting of a short mid tempo section that not only begs your head to nod furiously, but adds weight to all sections connected to either side of. Thus the track grows exponentially awesome with each listen. Also added is what I believe to be the encore from their live demo, 'For Want Of' which is a pretty faithful Rites Of Spring cover. Being that some of the revolution summer sound is evident in sections of their other stuff, this doesnt seem a huge stretch. Though For Want of has some of RoS's best lyrics, a part of me wishes they covered 'Spring' which I consider their best song. But thats apples and oranges, or more fittingly, relativistic bullshit. Tuber side drops some good songs, definitely the best band the 'Worms have done a split with, but apologies to them, because while I enjoy their rocking punk sound, it is strongly overshadowed by Brainworms' offering. Look for LP2 on Rorschach soon this year.-----Some Other Things Worth Checking Out------
Iota is from the midwest and play, according to their myspace "Metal/Psychedelic/Rock". Some might call it stoner, but whatever the case its a great release from a young band. Awesome cover art too.
German psych rockers Colour Haze drop another gem of hazed out garage blues for us to all drool to. May be their best release yet.
Electric Wizard rule, and this song is an obvious reason why. Reverend Bizarres side is a Beherit cover, and though not amazing as their proper works is pretty decent. This is really for the Electric Wizard song. Better than their last (yet also awesome) album.
Chicagos Bongripper dropped another heady brew of satanic, marijuana-induced drug haze. The first track is creepy as hell and then turns into a massive brain meltdown of towering proportions before receding in the same creepy way it began. Definitely another high point in the doom metal world.
Who the fuck doesnt think Nick Cave still rules? I will fight you.Old Song, Remastered and Re-released This Year
Faraquet disbanded in around the turn of the century, but not before leaving us with some of Dischords best material since the early 90's. This is all their 7" and split stuff re-released, remastered, displayed in a nice package for a great price. Dischord wins again.
And again, and again, and again... One Last Wish was around for less than a year around 1986 (as the title implies) Basically Rites of Spring without Mike Fellows, replaced by Embraces Mike Hampton. The sound is similar, but closer to the later RoS stuff. Very strong songs and a slightly more 80's feel to the guitar tones. Not a weak song on the whole thing. Finally released this year by Dischord.