Thursday, November 27, 2014

Winter Is Coming

Game of Thrones may have made this phrase vogue but we've been saying it here for years.  Winter is here but, so far, it doesn't hurt anything like last year's.
The shear force of amazing musical releases this year has been sonically, creatively, (and financially) draining.  Here's a few of my favorite releases from this year...

1)  Helms Alee - Sleepwalking Sailors
First off, by the end of the last time I saw Helms Alee, everyone in the room was crushing hard on the drummer, Hozoji Matheson-Margullis...she's beautiful - smiling and laughing as she pounded away - and she's devastating on the kit...the perfect storm of a drummer.  This is metal for those of us who love Low...atmospheric, nuanced, heavy, and filled with gorgeous harmonies.  Probably my Album of the Year...

2)  Grouper - Ruins
This is late night music at it's most haunting and honed.  The sounds of crickets and thunderclouds suffuse the recording which is close-mic'ed piano and filled with wiltingly lovely vocals from Liz Harris ne' Grouper.  She wears her Dead Moon shirt better than anyone I've seen which counts for something too...

3)  Boris - Noise
This video feels like a joke/riff on some fake Japanese 80's band, but yep, it's awesome as ever, Noise runs thru a pile of different genres at the same time and Boris does them each perfectly...all layered together on some songs, plus, that guitar tone.  Always amazing, soaring, and friggin' heavy.

4)  Circle (ex-Falcon) - Leviaton
The weird get weirder...Finland's Circle are a bit, um, different.  On this album, they pretend to create a new band to explore their pagan folk-y-ness and end up doing it better than everyone else...The closest anyone else ever gets to this unique sound is probably Sun City Girls though Circle continue their signature motorik base of galloping bass and looping guitar while building a dark acoustic folk vibe over all of that.  A truly unique and outstanding album.

5) Earth - Primitive and Deadly
Joined by vocalists Mark Lanegan and Rabia Shaheen Qazi for mostly good results, I think Brett Netson's contributions are even more cathartic for the Earth sound here.  The 2nd guitarist for Built To Spill, Netson plays his signature liquid-y arpeggios as foil to the dense drawn-out drone of Dylan Carlson's burnt-desert opus sound.  It allows the band to rock in a way they haven't been for the past few albums and enlivens the slower moments in a way that I'm diggin'.

6) Anonymous Choir - Sings Neil Young's After The Goldrush
Listen at the link to this Minneapolis project of Nona Marie (of Dark Dark Dark)...a room full of women singing Neil's entire album with  a haunting, and refreshingly irreverent commitment to his original material.  I'm surprised how often I've been choosing to put this on over the original lately...

7)  Mono - The Last Dawn/Rays of Darkness
Purveyors of heavy Japanese cinematic music...They jettisoned the orchestrals for this release and got heavy and post-rockin'.  A nice release from them in a gorgeous vinyl package...

8)  Nothing - Guilty of Everything
Shoegaze Metal?!..yes, that's a thing.  And this album pushes these guys towards the top of the heap...NPR writes better about them than I'm able to ( HERE ), including comments about how lead singer, Dominic Palermo, drove around Philadelphia with large amounts of guns and cocaine while listening to  My Bloody Valentine's Loveless.  A bit scandalous maybe, but listening?  It's all in there...

9)  Shellac - Dude Incredible
The mighty trio explore the theme of Surveying for this release - their first in seven years.  The songs are all good and the sound on vinyl is excellent.  On the theme of surveying, Albini said, "we noticed that quite a few of the founding fathers of our country, the United States of America — your neighbour to the South — were in fact, surveyors. Meaning that they took a chain and a pole and paced off the physical dimensions of our new country. They physically measured the place they were living in and that was part of their definition of where they were living. How much more could the borders of that place mean to you and its identity as a nation than that you had physically measured it? " 

10) Swans - To Be Kind
I've been a Swans fan for 20 years but really only able to stomach them for the past 5.  The earlier albums that Michael Gira and team were hewing together were too intense for me to appreciate at the time of their conception. It seems he's now acknowledging and transcending the human tragedy rather than challenging and wallowing in it like the old days of the Swans.  The music is still taxing and tiring to listen to but I leave the experience feeling cleansed and elated more than dirty and crushed.  I'm ready for that, and I guess Gira is too...

11) Ty Segall - Manipulator
The ever prolific Segall kicks out another winner, one of his stronger releases imo.  Just the right mix of ragged garage rock and churning psychedelia with a healthy dose of Marc Bolan glammy swagger.  Holy Shit, the 4 minutes below is a taste of his epic-ness.

12) The War On Drugs - Lost In the Dream
A bit Dad-Rock, but one of those solid albums I see still spinning years down the line...they remind me of Dire Straits that way - amazing musicians, always nice to listen to, but doesn't really stand out too strongly.  If I filed this one sonically instead of alphabetically, it would fit nicely between Spiritualized and Springsteen.

Sleater-Kinney - Start Together // 1994-2006 boxset
No doubt, the best music thing I bought this year.  A gorgeous box of all seven of the lp's, remastered, pressed at RTI on different colored vinyl, with a hardback photo book.  I wasn't a huge fan in the day but I find myself listening to S-K a ton these days, a real testament to them because their sound is so unique, from their s/t lp in '94 thru The Woods in 2006.  Staying true to their sound, each album manages to forge a distinctive stylistic nuance that holds it's own for the duration of the album.  Hearing them discover, and then revel in the two diverse singing styles of Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein is revelatory and exciting still.  An awesome release.
S-K boxset vinyl
Unwound - Rat Conspiracy box
Like Sleater-Kinney, Unwound have been criminally underrated in the grand canon of rock n' roll, both hailed from the Northwest and had amazing drummers who were instrumental in the sound and success of the band's output (plus they were both women...).  This is another beautiful release by the Numero Group with great packaging and remastered lp's.  I'm anxiously awaiting the Leaves Turn Inside You boxset that is coming down the pike soon, Unwound's final Swansong album that Numero should be putting out in the next year or so...

Mark Lanegan - Has God Seen My Shadow, 1989-2011
Everyone should just get it out of the way and buy this...3 lp's of Lanegan's best songs, all remastered on pretty creamy yellow vinyl, $30.  In Japan, he'd be declared a National Treasure by now but here, he's probably still touring in a beat-up van and drinking whiskey in roadside dives between shows. God bless that dark, gravel-voiced shadow.
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