Saturday, January 14, 2012

I decided to assemble a top metal list of 2011 too, if for no other reason so I can praise the greatness of Locrian's latest album. I dug a lot of things on the heavier side in 2011 but wasn't sure how to classify them on the other lists, so here we go. Probably the most interesting metal/noise band for me this year was Horseback, but they (he) didn't release a full length, unless you count the excellent Gorgon Tongue 2CD (Relapse), which combines two releases from 2007 and 2010.

Top Metal of 2011

10. Leviathan True Traitor, True Whore (Profound Lore) CD - Wrest works out his domestic angst with another screaming blitzkrieg of blackened prog thrash hate. Sounds like the last Leviathan record -- that is to say it kicks ass muchly.

9. Liturgy Aesthetica (Thrill Jockey) CD - The most polarizing metal album of 2011. In spots Liturgy is a pretty average black metal band that I can take or leave, but when they turn up the mathy post Zeppelin time signatures and let 'em rip for 7 minutes without interruption (as they do on "Generation"), I'm down for the count.

8. Aluk Todolo Ordre (The Ajna Offensive) CD - Their metal origins are barely perceptible by this point. Equal parts psychedelia, metal, industrial and beyond across two epic dirges.

7. Krallice Diotima (Profound Lore) Cd - Something of a black metal super-group with connections to lots of classy NYC metal and noise acts (Behold...The Arctopus, Orthrelm, Flying Luttenbachers, etc). Diotima is black metal to its core, but progressive (and weird) enough to transcend the genre entirely.

6. Cultus Sabbati Descent Into The Maelstrom (Land Of Decay) CS - Definitely one of the most original black metal releases dropped in 2011. See here.

5. Der Blutharsch and the Infinite Church of the Leading Hand + Aluk Todolo Untitled (WKN) CD - Creeping, crawling industrial fuzz splay meets a haunted hall of mirrors.

4. Wolves In The Throne Room Celestial Lineage (Southern Lord) CD - They still matter, and this is probably their best record yet.

3. Yob Atma (Profound Lore) CD - Doom quotient fulfilled.

2. Locrian The Clearing (Fan Death) LP - A fine followup to the excellent Crystal World that combines ambient textures and full on doom sludge with the occasional black metal squall. Slow and grim, but narcotically alluring thanks to its massed layers of textured distortion. And lest we forget, their excellent cover of Popol Vuh's Dort Ist Der Weg that dropped over the Summer.

1. Blut Aus Nord 777: The Desanctification (Season Of Mist) CD - Of the two Blut Aus Nord records released in 2011, this one is less likely to make you want to kill yourself. Actually it's a moody psychedelic groover that holds sway from beginning to end while rarely kicking up faster than mid-tempo. The Desanctification is pretty mellow for Blut Aus Nord but never boring.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Top Pop of 2011
(with all due respect to Fleet Foxes and P.J. Harvey)

25. Destroyer Kaputt (Merge) CD - A narcotic light art pop blend from Dan Bejar and company in which all vestiges of David Bowie worship have been stripped in favor of a lazy guitar and synth (and sax!) shuffle that lands somewhere between prime Luna and classic Steely Dan.

24. Matt Valentine What I Became (Woodsist) LP - See here.

23. Coppertone Best Of The First Six Months (Night People) CS - 2010 release, but who cares? See here.

22. Ford & Lopatin Channel Pressure (Software) LP - While Daniel Lopatin's other project hogs all the critical spotlight, his synth art pop duo with Joel Ford is where the real gold is found in '11. Heavily indebted to "the '80s," but to call this mere pastiche would do a disservice to its otherworldly electro-pop rhapsodies.

21. Arborea Red Planet (Strange Attractors) LP - See here.

20. Miminokoto Hitoyogiri (Important) CD - Lumbering garage psych workouts that are a little bit doom, a lotta bit PSF guitar psych and all awesome, bursting with eruption after eruption of fuzz catharsis in every song.

19. Six Organs Of Admittance Maria Kapel (Pavilion) LP - This limited vinyl self-release sold out in the blink of an eye, but don't let that stop you from seeking out its devotional string and harmonium meditations. Beautiful aural succor that's ideal for laying down in The Light.

18. U.S. Girls U.S. Girls On Kraak (Kraak) CD - Grimy, infectious art pop noise racket from Megan Remy with her amazing vocal melodies up front, loud and proud.

17. Real Estate Days (Domino) CD - Matt Mondanile's (Ducktails) other band delivers a wonderfully breezy guitar pop album which offers a worthy alternative to the bloated excesses of, say, The Arcade Fire (who I just can't stand). File alongside Galaxie 500, Yo La Tengo, The Clean.

16. TV Ghost Mass Dream (In The Red) LP - See here.

15. Ralph White The Hanged Man (Sloowtapes) CS - Sneaking in just under the wire, Austin's Ralph White continues to mine bluegrass country gold with his ornamental tapestries of guitar, banjo, fiddle, vibes, voice winding and whirling their way through the backwoods of the human soul.

14. Sic Alps Napa Asylum (Drag City) CD - Another grungy slab of stumbling art punk/garage psych from these Frisco weirdos that continues their carefully choreographed trip through ramshackle post Royal Trux psychedelic revelry.

13. Wooden Wand & The Briarwood Virgins Briarwood (Fire/Mad Monk) LP - An abrupt shift from the more stripped down acoustic Death Seat, but I'm all for movin' on. Briarwood is rife with loud full band arrangements and hooks galore and delivers another bold step from the indie margins into that big shiny spotlight that is rock 'n' roll.

12. Renderers A Rocket Into Nothing (Ba Da Bing!) CD - Another stellar noir country bad trip from these legendary New Zealanders (currently occupying the USA, along with the rest of the 99%) and their strongest record in well over a decade. Moody, stark seasick melodies with Brian Crook's distorted grime billowing up like dark clouds and engulfing Maryrose's world weary croon to dramatic effect. Fantastic.

11. Skull Defekts Peer Amid (Thrill Jockey) 2LP - To call this pop might be a stretch, but I loved it all the same. See here.

10. Hot Knives Hot Knives (Grown Up Wrong) CD - Flamin' Groovies freaks will love this killer dish of folky power pop circa 1976, which makes for a fine companion piece to the Groovies' classic Shake Some Action but stands proudly on its own two feet thanks to a healthy injection of West Coast sunshine (they cover Moby Grape's "Hey Grandma" here). The lineup features two original 'Groovies (Danny Mihm and Tim Lynch) along with siblings Mike and Deborah Houpt. Unreleased till now.

9. Peaking Lights 936 (Not Not Fun) LP - See here.

8. Jerusalem and the Starbaskets Dost (De Stijl) LP - See here.

7. Willam Tyler Behold The Spirit (Tompkin's Square) CD - There are dozens of quality guitarists occupying Italicthe post-Fahey realm today, but Tyler sets himself apart with an album that's at once emotionally resonant and masterfully performed across rolling symphonic constructions (accented at times with violins drums, bass, synth and tapes) that defy simple rock-geek description. Timeless melodies with undeniable nods to UK greats like John Renbourn and Bert Jansch mixed in with the more recognizable American counterparts make it a genuine treat to these ears.

6. Dan Melchior Assemblage Blues (Siltbreeze) LP - Awesome psych garage blues weirdness from the Mighty Mr. Melchior. I'm not sure how to describe this other than damn fun and highly addictive. Or in Dan's words: "It's so good, it's so good. It's so good, it's so good. It's so good..."

5. D. Charles Speer & The Helix Leaving The Commonwealth (Thrill Jockey) LP - See here.

4. The Bats Free All The Monsters (Flying Nun) CD - One more timeless classic of jingle jangle brilliance from Robert Scott and his Bats. Essential is an understatement.

3. Metal Mountains Metal Mountains (Amish) CD - See here.

2. Charalambides Exile (Kranky) 2LP - Maybe the finest Charalambides record of them all, definitely the most heartfelt and immediate since Market Square. Christina's vocals dig deep while both Carter's pick and strum some of their most memorable guitar lines to date. "Into The Earth" is as close to soul therapy as a song can get.

1. Alvarius B Baroque Primitiva (Abduction) CD - See here.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

2011 Year Ending

I was impressed by so much music in '11 that I decided to have two lists of favorites: one for what I'm loosely calling noise (experimental composition, free/improv, etc.) and one for pop (pretty much everything else). In rock terms this was the year of Sacred Bones. If you didn't hear the new Religious Knives, Amen Dunes, The Men or The Human Eye albums you missed out on some prime underground psych dishes. It was also the year of John Fahey, thanks to the release of a boxset chronicling his Fontana years, Your Past Comes Back To Haunt You on Dust-To-Digital.

For me personally more out there records took center stage. Bill Kouligas's Pan label out of Berlin continued to push aural envelopes and defy expectations with an astounding series of beautifully presented abstract noise releases. And Jon Abbey's Erstwhile label continued to mine its own unique niche in the harder to classify regions of the electronic subsphere.

In pop terms it's nice to see an official version of the original Smile finally hitting the shelves, though I don't know if I can see myself spending the big bucks for the boxset. The 2CD expanded version on the other hand... Also totallydigging the 2CD reissue of Some Girls. Nice to know some things don't need to change. You can have your Black Keys. I'm stickin' with my 'Stones. First up:

Top Noise of 2011

25. Jürgen Müller Science of the Sea (Digitalis) LP - The mysterious album, with an in depth back story that may or may not be true, invokes memories of classic electronic library records, New Age synth concept albums and the wonder of childhood (for some of us). Tom Ewing's excellent article for his Poptimist column goes into greater detail and explores the creative possibilities of imaginary musical personas.

24. Angus Maclise / Tony Conrad Dreamweapon III (Boo-Hooray) LP - Clattering proto No Wave and scorched earth minimalism released concurrently with the Angus Maclise's Dreamweapon exhibition in New York City, features some incendiary spoken word from Jack Smith on top of Maclise and Conrad's screeching psychedelic sprawl. Your Death Cab For Cutie loving bestie will hate it.

23. Sir Richard Bishop Graviton Polarity Generator (Social Music Records) LP - Though a late 2010 release, I didn't hear this till well into '11. Bishop explores electronic compositions outside his typical instrumental sphere with entrancing results.

22. Aaron Dilloway Lip Syncing To Verme (Hundibuss) LP - See here.

21. High Wolf Atlas Nation (Holy Mountain) CD - The most satisfying collision of electronics and Indian raga trances from this French composer to date.

20. Ricardo Donoso Progress Chance (Digitalis) LP - Sparse minimal compositions that come off like a cross between early techno and the soundtrack for a PBS science documentary circa 1980.

19. Rick Reed The Way Things Go (Elevator Bath) 2LP - Six stunning extended electronic pieces from one of Austin's finest.

18. Valerio Tricoli / Thomas Ankersmit Forma II (Pan) CD - See here.

17. John Wiese Seven Of Wounds (Pan) CD - Hypnotic meld of power electronics and modern composition from one of the best weird noise guys making a racket today.

16. Bill Orcutt The Way The Thing Songs (Editions Mego) CD - More spastic guitar blurts, blasts and moans from Master Orcutt. Tormented string meditations that sound like nothing you've ever heard before (except maybe his last record).

15. Ben Vida / Keith Fullerton Whitman - AGGREGATEPULSERIPPER (DAMAGED III) / 0808114 (Amish) LP - Two live performances by each artist on synth, computers and effects, both delivering fierce, rhythmic electronic workouts that sputter and grind their way through sequencer oblivion right into the frontal lobe.

15. Volcano The Bear Hotbites Live At The Nightlight (Blastocoel Sound) LP - See here.

14. Chris Forsyth Paranoid Cat (Family Vineyard) LP - See here.

13. Jim O'Rourke Old News No. 6 (Mego Editions) 2LP - My pick for the most interesting release bearing O'Rourke's name this year (and given there was roughly 6 such albums, that's saying something), incorporating guitars, electronics and tape manipulations into four sides of absorbing Music Concrète.

12. Jérôme Noetinger / Will Guthrie Face Off (Erstwhile) CD - Twelve workouts combining Noetinger's electronics with Guthrie's everything (and the kitchen sink) homemade percussion to create living sound worlds of jarring juxtapositions, found sounds and a wide array of electro-percussive strangeness. It's all meticulously assembled in such a way that belies its compositonal origins. Then again maybe they edited it down from extended improvisations the way Can used to do it. Whichever, consider my mind blown.

11. Loren Connors Red Mars (Family Vineyard) CD - Stark, droning guitar-scapes somewhere between classic early minimalism and lost in the haze ghost blues.

9. Greg Kelley / Olivia Block Resolution (Erstwhile) CD - Another brilliant duo chance meeting from the always dependable Erstwhile finds Block's Electroacoustic compositions merging with Kelley's minimal trumpet to conjure a sustained sense of dramatic tension and release. These pieces build from collages of rumbling ambient textures to full on jazz eruptions and well beyond.

8. Tim Hecker Ravedeath 1972 (Kranky) CD - See here.

7. Jason Lescalleet This Is What I Do: Volume 1 (Glistening Examples) CD-R - Fantastic collection of material that showcases Lescalleet's reel-to-reel and early electronics performances in the live setting.

6. Ashtray Navigations Deadicated to the Sensory Armada (Memoirs of an Aesthete) LP - Most recent missive from Phil Todd's free psych whats-it unit sees his combo bringing in more synths and sequencers into their hallucinatory feedback sprawl.

5. Joe Panzner Clearing, Polluted (Copy For Your Records) CD - Abrasive noise compositions from one half of Scenic Railroads covering a wide range of volumes and emotions as Panzner goes from screaming white noise to the most transportive minimal trances and back again. Not for the faint of heart, but well worth the trip for those up to it.

4. BJ Nilsen & Stilluppsteypa Big Shadow Montana (Helen Scarsdale) LP - See here.

3. Mind Over Mirrors The Voice Rolling (Digitalis) LP - See here.

2. Michael Pisaro / Greg Stuart Hearing Metal 3 (Gravity Wave) CD - Another masterful minimal excursion from Pisaro and Stuart marrying electronics and percussion into one sublime composition that's as transcendent and accessible as anything I heard in 2011.

1. Graham Lambkin Amateur Doubles (Kye) LP - An engaging slab of syrupy sound art recorded in Lambkin's car, which isn't hard to believe when you wrap your ears around its busy ambient life-scapes -- voices in everyday conversation, wind blowing, traffic sounds, highway noise and more. Lambkin combines this with two different extended tracks of source material, his own odd tonal textures and instruments to conjure a dramatic sound journey that combines the mundane and the transcendent into compositions that deliver every second of its 38 minutes.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Arcane Rifles Green Eyes Will Save You 7" EP (Self Release)

Here's a raging blast of pure garage mayhem from a Lexington unit which boldly rides the line between screaming off the rails psych punk and a Kentucky tornado. Dead Boys, Stooges and early Red Krayola can be heard in the pummeling squall which comprises both sides of Green Eyes Will Save You, and I can't really pick a fave as they both kick my ass. Highly recommended for real rawkers everywhere, procurable via digital download or vinyl 7" at their Bandcamp page.

Monday, November 28, 2011

RIP Ken Russell, visionary director of "The Devils" and "Altered States." "Altered States" is the first movie that freaked me the fuck out as a young impressionable pre-tween. "Dawn of The Dead" was the second.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Fossils / Darksmith Million Year Spree (Kye Records) LP

This recent split from Graham Lambkin's Kye label brings together two of the more interesting dark-weird-noise projects of recent times onto one platter of found sound scrape and drone. With literally dozens of releases under its belt, Hamilton, Ontario's Fossils specialize in a handmade abstract noise that creeps and crawls its way into the listening space like a viral contamination. I'm thinking very early Sandoz Lab Technicians gone trash ambient or the Shadow Ring at their most minimal; but where both those ensembles are more concerned with structure vs. anti-structure, Fossils is all about jagged textures and surging post-industrial landscapes, or perhaps more accurately, pre-human landscapes.

The source of all these strange sounds is questionable at best, but that's part of the fun. Wind blows and distortion crackles throughout "Wider Knowledge of Man I-III" as post-industrial rhythms clank and groan beneath a surging tone that sounds like some sort of archaic engine revving to infinity. Things get more sinister with the subterranean excavations of "Snared On Broadway," which opens as a piercing high pitched whine that slowly dissipates to an inevitable drone death. It's the best thing found here, though too short. Graham Lambkin mixed both tracks, and his fingerprints are evident to anyone who's spent some time with his work with Jason Lescalleet or his recent solo outings.

The Darksmith side is a good bit subdued compared to the excellent Total Vacuum, which dropped on Hanson last year, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Its tense sheen of low murmurs and metallic scree invokes the quieter side of The New Blockaders one moment, the ambient bass hums of an interstellar trash compactor nestled away in the deepest reaches of space the next. It's less intense than what I've come to expect from Tom Darksmith but no less dramatic and requires maximum volume for proper sonic submersion. Mastered by Jason Lescalleet and highly recommended for fans of the rougher side of electro-acoustic sound art.