Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2009, a retrospective pt. 4


Baroness - The Blue Record

When Mastodon said they were mining prog-rock for inspiration, I was nervous. My concerns ended up being well-founded. When "The Blue Record" started garnering prog comparisons as well, a familiar sense of trepidation settled in.

I never should have doubted.

Baroness have written an album that successfully combines their delicious brand of Georgia sludge with the epic guitar work of the very best of 70's prog rock. Complex and yet still wonderfully accessible, this is perhaps the only metal album released this year that my dad and I both loved. The band shifts gears effortlessly, switching from the soft, folky "Steel That Sleeps the Eye" to the mystic-sounding gallop of "Swollen and Halo". This sort of shift can sometimes feel contrived, or forced, but Baroness makes the switch effortlessly, wearing their maturation as a band on their sleeves comfortably. They've melded their already considerable power with grace and beauty, and have carefully crafted one of the most intriguing releases of this year.

Baroness - A Horse Called Golgotha

2009, a retrospective pt. 5


Propagandhi - Supporting Caste

This album just fucking rips from head to toe. Propagandhi incorporated a little bit of thrash metal into their brand of acidic political punk, and as a result, created an album that absolutely destroys most other punk and crossover floating around these days. Injecting both a dark sense of humor and intelligence into their lyrics, Propagandhi have taken the place of Bad Religion as the political gateway band for disaffected punk teenagers. The album addresses topics as diverse as animal rights, the militarization of sporting events, urban alienation, and the bonding effects of aggressive music with aplomb and grace. Did I mention the album fucking rips?

Propagandhi - Night Letters

2009, a retrospective pt. 6


Converge - Axe to Fall

In 2000, Converge covered "Disintegration" by the Cure for a compilation of Cure covers by hardcore bands. It swings from unsettling, razor-sharp beauty to horrific violence without undermining either quality, and it's something that I used to think was unmatchable. It is one of my favorite pieces of music, cover or not, and I'm happy to say that this album finally, and firmly capitalizes on the potential displayed on that song.

While all of Converge's releases have been notable, this one is indelible in the way "Jane Doe" was, smashing and scratching into your brain case, and making a nest inside your freshly tenderized skull. Ben Koller and Nate Newton cement their reputation as metal's most formidable rhythm section, and Kurt Ballou cements his reputation as one of the most creative guitarists in metal today. Jake Bannon's shriek is unmistakable, and utilizes a scathing vitriol unseen in their repertoire to date. This album is also notable for a sizable guest list, ranging from all of Genghis Tron to Ulf Cederlund. Converge proves themselves to be masters of their sound, comfortable with experimentation and cunning enough to know what works and what does not. The second to last song on the album, "Cruel Bloom", is an epic dirge featuring the unmistakable roar of Steven Von Till and still manages to sound unmistakeably like Converge. For a band with such a unique vocalist, this is an exceptionally impressive feat. With "Axe to Fall", Converge's position on the top of the extreme metal/hardcore pantheon reaches legendary proportions.

Converge - Axe to Fall

2009, a retrospective pt. 7


The Protomen - Act II: The Father of Death

This may have been my most anticipated album of 2009. After releasing a exceptionally strong first album, and a couple of staggeringly awesome single tracks from the album, I had high high expectations for this album, and I'm glad to say it doesn't disappoint.


I have some quibbles, to be honest.

This is an uneven album. There are three instrumental interludes(which, honestly, are not that bad in an 80's movie soundtrack kind of way, just kind of forgettable and break up the flow in an unpleasing fashion), and two songs reminiscent of the worst parts of the musical version of Les Miserables.

While we're being honest and up-front, it should be noted that album this is a prequel to their first album which was a dystopian retelling of the Mega Man video games.

If you're still here, good. This album is pure 80's genius distilled, filtered, and played with utmost seriousness. The Protomen are a cyberpunk Bruce Springsteen, backed by Kenny Loggins, drawing equally from Johnny Cash's apocalyptic western sagas, and Queensryche-ian dramatics. Somehow the Protomen make this a cohesive sound, all chrome and leather and neon, harsh and human at the same time. They've created a concept album that is tremendously dedicated to the epic, but can be approached without any knowledge of the backstory, and still enjoyed on the basis of the fantastic music. Anthems like "Breaking Out" and "Light Up the Night" are hard to come by in these times of meandering indie pap, and no one is doing them better than the Protomen.

The Protomen - Light Up the Night

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christless Eve

Sorry, I'm in the middle of finishing up my year end write ups, and I've been traveling for the holidays and such, so expect the rest of it before the end of the year. I promise.

However, in the meanwhile, you should check this out.

Thursday December 24 at 7:PM(West Coast Time) to Friday December 25 at 10:AM
KFJC 89.7 FM presents CHRISTLESS EVE, 15 hours of the sickest, harshest and most damaged black metal, unrelenting noise, grinding filth and tortured doom from around the world. Number Six returns to host the 5th overnight seige that originally aired in 2003. Special guests Andee of Aquarius Records, AQ pal Josh, DJ's Cy Thoth, Moodkiller, Groundswell and others expose the true nature of the season and crush what's left of your will to live.


Sounds fucking awesome, yeah?


Thursday, December 17, 2009

2009, a retrospective pt. 8


Peste Noire - Ballade cuntre lo Anemi Francor

This is an exceedingly difficult record to attempt to summarize, so I am going to try to be as direct as possible. Peste Noire is a black metal band. Many of the songs seem to be heavily inspired by french marching songs, and offer a weird combination of folk, black metal, propelled by weird circular, off-kilter thrashy guitar riffs and martial sounding drums. Their lead singer(Famine, who is also the mastermind behind this group) has a terrifying voice to seems to range from the croak of rotted vocal cords to the bellowed howls of the damned. Audrey Sylvain provides beautiful clean vocals on a couple songs. There is harmonica. There are plucked acoustic guitar parts. There is a part that sounds like the tape is being re-wound. There are interludes with bird song. None of this sounds out of place in the context of the album, but instead blends together to provide a constantly exciting listening experience that ends all far too soon.

A caveat. Famine appears to be an extremely unlikeable person with some fairly outlandish views(as seen in this interview). Some people may be used to this sort of nonsense, others may have less of a tolerance for it. It's also possible that he's just attempting to offend. I leave the decision with you.

Peste Noire - Ballade Cuntre Les Anemis De La France - De Francois Villon

2009, a retrospective pt. 9


Amesoeurs - S/T

Somewhere between Blade Runner's endlessly rainy Los Angeles and Industrial Revolution era Paris lies the cityscape conjured up by Amesoeurs' debut album. The band has created an awe-inspiring mix of post-punk and black metal that utilizes Joy Division basslines and buzzing tremolo riffs with equal proficiency. The vocal duties are handled both by Neige(the guitarist, also of Alcest, and session guitarist for Peste Noire) and Audrey Sylvain(the bassist, also appears on Peste Noire releases). Neige provides shrill shrieks while Audrey alternates between a stunning, richly textured singing voice and the scream of a scorned siren. Amesoeurs describe their sound as "a spit, the only way we have to spew out the anxiety and frustration tied to the difficulties of existence and the pursuit of happiness in our modern society." While the rage and despair of urban existence is a clear influence on their sound, they manage to also invoke the beauty of abandoned lots, of faded messages scrawled in paint on city walls, of dusty windows. This is their true achievement, blending both fury and hope in a striking and original fashion.

Amesoeurs - Heurt

2009, a retrospective pt. 10


Bill Callahan - Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle

I'm always amazed at the way certain authors, certain singers can illuminate a situation with the simplest utterances. Inflection, absence, stress, all these tools prove as important as the actual words, and Bill Callahan proves himself a master craftsman on this album. This is in fullest evidence on the song "Eid Ma Clack Shaw," where the subject of the song wakes from dreaming to scribble the perfect song down, and upon fully awakening, realizes that the precious words made only dream-sense, and are of no real help to him awake. Mr. Callahan evokes this sense of despair, and also a sense of hopeful stubbornness, as he sings the dream-nonsense words. Perhaps perhaps perhaps the song may still have power over the waking world. As the song closes, Mr. Callahan repeats the chorus, "Show me the way to shake a memory," leaving one to conclude that the gibberish "perfect song" did nothing for our narrator. Bill Callahan's precise, careful words are borne upon similarly glass-like music constructed from strings, piano, guitars, and couple of horns. It is a heady combination, blending with but also exalting the somber baritone of Mr. Callahan. This is not a simple album, nor an easily approached album, but given time to sink into your skin, it is a tremendously rewarding listen.

Bill Callahan - Too Many Birds

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

2009, a retrospective pt. 11


P.S. Eliot - Introverted Romance in Our Troubled Minds

I caught these guys in the summer, opening for Hop Along, and fell swiftly and quickly in love. P.S. Eliot play slightly melancholy, but mostly hopeful, jangly 90's style punk-pop, close to Lemuria or maybe a female-fronted Superchunk. It's perfect for the end of summer, as the days get shorter and colder and you start to wonder if you made the best of every moment. You'll find these songs bubbling up as you as you walk home and watch your breath float away in front of you, when anxiety and confidence battle inside your head. Beautiful and fragile, treasure those moments, treasure these songs.

P.S. Eliot - Incoherent Love Songs

As an aside, you may have noticed that the numbering changed a couple of times. My system was slightly off, things had to be adjusted.

2009, a retrospective pt. 12


Lewd Acts - Black Eye Blues

"I was just hoping there'd be some truth, to the fairytales of my youth."

1/4th delta blues, 3/4th southern california hardcore, Lewd Acts have created the stand-out hardcore release of the year. They evoke both our current economic depression, and the Great Depression equally, and through conviction and passion, make it sound like they lived through both of them. Songs are distinct packages of rage, ranging from the almost folky, wry, raspy tone of "Who Knew the West Coast Could be So Cold?" to the full on fury of "Young Lovers, Old Livers." The guitar tone is icy and sharp, without losing any power or heft in the process. This is an album filled with ghosts, ghosts of friends, of family, of hope.

"This is the sound of ambition dying."

Lewd Acts - My Father Was a Locomotive

Monday, December 14, 2009

2009, a retrospective pt. 13


Church of Misery - Houses of the Unholy

In a year where metal became increasingly intellectualized(this is not a negative statement, just a statement.), Church of Misery delivered a long-playing disc of 70's influenced traditional southern-style doom metal. Far from being a stagnant retread, this is an album of blues-poisoned guitar solos, guitar riffs that can trace their linage to Tony Iommi but are mutated and skronky enough to stand on their own weird, wobbly legs, and enough New Orleans style sludge to sink a city. Yoshiakki Negishi's howls solidify this release as a benchmark. Play it loud. Play it often.

Church of Misery - Born to Raise Hell(Richard Speck)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

hi, we're not the mtn gts

while i work on my "you probably should listen to this shit from 2009" super-feature, here's a small thing to keep you occupied.

mountain goats fans are crazy people. you may have read about this. their forum is essentially a shrine to john darnielle's brilliance. "hi, we're not the mountain goats" is a collection of covers done by forum members, ranging from proficient musicians, to people who just picked up instruments for this project. as you can expect, the results range from "oh boy, this guy runs his school's acapella group, and they lose every competition" to "oh, shit, this is actually fairly neat." i'm going to highlight a couple that i found especially worthwhile, but i encourage you to check out the free download of this comp at www.uglythingsinthedarkness.com.

this is a remix of deianara crush, and easily the stand-out track on this complication. it's by a fellow who goes by TKurata. he sped the track up to 96 bpm, and used vocal samples as the backbeat, and it's a really really great listen. reminds me quite a bit of secret mommy.

this one is a cover of "recognition scene", by a girl who goes by the name of Sparkle, and it's lovely in it's intimacy. she strips the song down to a collection of chords, and her hushed, whispered vocals. she has a lovely voice, and i wish she'd sing a little more, but it's still stunning.

i will be honest, you will have to sift through a lot of songs recorded by people with more enthusiasm than talent, but there are at least six or seven lovely covers buried in this comp. other stand outs are "yoga"(which has one of the most unexpected, charming endings), "edward munch", "if you see light", and "song for an old friend". overall, it's a testament to the kind of devotion mr. darnielle inspires in his fans, that he has become such a force that people will pick up instruments without any prior experience, just to pay tribute to his music.