1.) SONG OF THE YEAR: Palma Violets - "Last of the Summer Wine"
Just like countless other great rock n' roll songs, this one's greater than the sum of its parts. Yeah, the intro's too long on this song. And so's the outro. The lyrics are moronic. (The "official" video is absolute garbage - see above.) And the chord progression isn't exactly original but... there's just somethin' about the classic guitar tone and the finesse they play the lick with and the sweet, sweet melody that slays me every time.
"How bad did this year suck?" you ask. Well, it sucked so bad that I had to change the rules to where live albums are disqualified just to keep an archival live release from being my Album of the Year. Why did I feel the need to even bother tweaking the formula? I DON'T FUCKING KNOW!!!!! So, I guess, congrats to Phish for having the year's best release overall. Huzzah!
Anyway, let's have at it, shall we........
1.) ALBUM OF THE YEAR - Deafheaven - Sunbather
A gorgeous, terrifying, exhausting album - casual listening this is not. While retaining the unrelenting brutality of black metal as the musical underpinning, Sunbather adds gorgeous, melodic guitar lines reminiscent of Explosions in the Sky, ratcheting up the drama with a keen Mogwai-esque understanding of how to manipulate quiet / loud dynamics.
2.)Ceramic Dog - Your Turn
This is a helluva album, and it's also a helluva unexpected album. It's incredibly rare that a musician who has attained Marc Ribot's level of success and renown in the jazz world chooses to express himself artistically in a manner that's as angry, ornery, and loud as Your Turn, but it's not simply experimenting with a mode of expression that's a triumph here; it's that the album is a smashing success. Your Turn takes its detours down several stylistc alleys (heavy blues / hard rock, grunge, distorted fusion jams reminiscent of late-period Hendrix, and even a cacophonous, distortion-heavy update of a classic jazz tune) while streamlining the more freeform, scattershot approach taken on the trio's more noodly previous album, Party Intellectuals.
Ribot's tone on Your Turn is furious, his desire to rock is unwaveringly unapologetic, and the music's heavy grooves are arresting. So, listen to this if you like great music, otherwise feel free to go fuck yourself.
3.) Jimi Hendrix - People, Hell and Angels
If you're skeptical of yet another posthumous Hendrix release, you should be; the list of "archival" stuff that's been pinched off in the 43 years since Hendrix' death is littered with shoddy quality bootleg material and inessential, often redundant crap, the sheer quantity of which greatly outpaces the (occasionally transcendent) worthwhile stuff by a large margin. Sure, I'm definitely a sucker for unreleased / archival stuff, but this release works surprisingly well on its own as a cohesive album. Comprised mostly of material Hendrix was working on as a follow up to Electric Ladyland, People, Hell and Angels allows the listener a rare glimpse at what might have been had Hendrix' appetite for heroin and pills been less fiendish.
4.) Palma Violets - 180
Earlier this year, Palma Violets were apparently the subject of the creepy-ass UK music press' embarrassing crush; of course, if you're actually regularly reading the NME you've likely already lost the battle. Regardless, this album is a real success, incorporating classic chord progressions, strong melodies, and a warm, inviting garagey sound into their sonic stew. Where many indie acts seem to be self-consciously stuck playing small ball, 180 is unafraid to swing for the fences, evoking the work of several of music's heavy hitters (J&MC, Stone Roses, Velvets, even Springsteen) without being dominated by their influences.
5.)The Men - New Moon
The Men are a band that's seemingly always in the middle of significant stylistic flux, and growing pains are to be expected as a side effect of significant experimentation. New Moon sees them attempting to situate their music on an AM AOR station circa 1976. But for all the genre hopping that they've done over the course of their relatively brief career, to their credit these guys seem like real students (and practitioners) of "what makes rock music great," instead of simply hipster dilettantes.
These guys have pretty much nailed it. On each of Russian Circles' albums, they've managed to sound as though their distinctive post-metal / "instru-metal" awesomeness is the type of music that they and they alone were born to play. Their style is characterized by brutal tremolo picking, soaring arpeggios, sludge, occasional thrashy licks, and dreamy, shoegazy moments that can run the gamut from despairing to downright gorgeous. Memorial leans most heavily (pun intended) on the former and the latter as dominant styles, and although those uplifting arpeggios are in short supply here (except on the damn near perfect "Ethel"), these guys do "moody" very, very well.
Big Business - Battlefields Forever
Seriously, how hooky can an album be and still be considered "sludge?" On their first full-length since 2009, Big Business' songwriting chops reach new heights, intensified by full, rich production and a brawny guitar tone which will make the listener forget Toshi's irritating, overly-arty bleats on Mind the Drift. Too early to say yet, but this may be Big Business' finest release to date.
Pelican - Forever Becoming
You can be forgiven for feeling that each of Pelican's releases since 2007's excellent City of Echoes has seemed a little bit uninspired. In a case of addition by subtraction (and then another addition), Pelican recently switched out a band member whose interest in the project was flagging and followed that up by instituting a new "band-centric" style of songwriting. Although the end product isn't as vital as their classic work (City of Echoes, Australasia, and The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw in that order, IMHO), they've recaptured the energy and the bone-crushingly anthemic songwriting chops that made those albums so damn enjoyable.
Melvins - Tres Cabrones
This configuration of the constantly shape-shifting Melvins (Buzz on guitar and vocals, "original" Melvins drummer Mike Dillard behind the kit, and longtime Melvins drummer extraordinaire Dale Crover on bass, if you can believe it) was originally to be dubbed "Melvins 1983," signifying that this was likely as close as the band would get to playing with its "original" lineup from 30 years ago. Knowing Dale and his polyrhythmic prowess wouldn't be bashin' the skins this time around, Buzz wrote simpler songs to match the personnel, and what we have here is probably the most straightforward Melvins album (whatever the hell that means) you're likely ever to hear at this point. Well, straightforward, yeah, except for the absurd covers of "99 Bottles of Beer," "You're In the Army Now," and, I shit you not, "Tie My Pecker to a Tree."
So, my goal was to post reviews for every '12 album I heard (about 80 or so) before posting year-end lists, but that ain't gonna happen, so here you have the first part of the "Jaleppies," aka my year-end best-of lists. Part 2 will probably be published Wednesday morning and will consist of the year's best albums, and Part 3 will be random stuff. Enjoy! (Or don't! I don't care! I'll be in Puerto Rico beetches!)
[Note that in a few of the entries below, two songs have been combined into one single entry. You can probably figure out why, but just in case you can't, it's because the songs run together on the album and as such they sound dumb when played apart from one another. Thank you for your patience and understanding.]
1.) Fang Island - "Asunder" (edit)
2.) Lower Dens - "Lamb"
3.) Melvins - "We Are Doomed"
4.) Lower Dens - "Brains" > "Stem"
[Note - I shot this video]
5.) Dan Friel - "Valedictorian"
6.) Tame Impala - "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards"
7.) Torche - "Kicking"
8.) Guided by Voices - "Keep It in Motion" > "Tyson's High School"
9.) The Men - "Oscillation"
10.) Dum Dum Girls - "Mine Tonight"
11.) Beach House - "Myth"
12.) Raveonettes - "Young and Cold"
13.) The Men - "Turn it Around"
14.) Melvins - "The War on Wisdom"
15.) Baroness - "Green Theme"
16.) Two Gallants - "Willie"
17.) Sleigh Bells - "Comeback Kid"
18.) Mount Carmel - "Swaggs"
19.) Pelican - "Ataraxia" > "Lathe Biosas"
20.) Fang Island - "Chompers"
21.) Tame Impala - "Music to Walk Home By"
22.) Guided by Voices - "Hangover Child"
23.) Van Halen - "She's the Woman"
24.) Six Organs of Admittance - "Even if You Knew"
Yes, I'm aware that Big Business was headlining this show, but due to a few lame excuses (including a wardrobe malfunction) I decided not to stick around for much of their set. Aforementioned lame excuses aside, by the time I chose to take off, Panthers and Hull had rocked my ass sufficiently; anything more would've been a redundancy.
To the none or so of you that regularly read this blog, you should know by now that I totally dig Panthers. My first time seeing them was at Club Europa in Greenpoint, with their set sandwiched between openers Titan and headliners Witch on a stellar top-to-bottom stoner rock triple bill, back about 14 months ago. Witch are fantastic, but between Panthers righteous riffs and explosive energy, they totally stole the show, sending me scurrying home post-show towards eMusic where I found Things Are Strange, a dense, thunderous slab of stoner metal awesomeness, complete with just enough punk to keep shit lively. Since then I've tried to catch them at every available opportunity (I think it's five total times I've seen them now -- Europa, Sin-e, Northsix, and again at Europa for their recent album release shindig), and they've never come close to disappointing. In fact, the only time I haven't left a Panthers show totally sat-si-fied was at last year's Vice / CMJ showcase, when I had to miss out on getting totally shitfaced on free Sparks (!?!) so I could get up early for my pointless, excruciating job the next morning. Thus, my lack of sat-si-faction was not the fault of the band, but instead due to my inability to quench my insatiable appetite for Sparks. Anyway, long story short, Panthers rule.
My hopes ran high for this show; what's more, I've had good luck in the past with loud shows at Knitting Factory. Comets on Fire / Woods / Blues Control was flat out the best show I saw during 2006 (of sixty total shows or so). Not to mention the 3 Inches of Blood / Early Man / Bad Wizard triple bill which unexpectedly rose from the depths of awesome and pretty much singlehandedly restored my faith in seeing metal shows. So, yeah, I had reason to believe that saucy times awaited on this night.
Opening tonight's show was Brooklyn's Hull, about whom I knew nothing other than that the sole Hull track available on eMusic is like 17 minutes long, which obviously had me hoping for lengthy, multi-part thrash/doom/stoner fare with a bunch of wacky time signatures. Well, good news; that's pretty much exactly what these guys are made of. Yippee! Seriously, they played for about 40 minutes, and their set comprised a grand total of THREE songs. How great is it when the band announces "okay, we've got one more song left in the set..." and the smoke doesn't clear for another 20 minutes? Fuck yeah! This is some way forceful, brutal, and even virtuosic stuff -- no joke, in the midst of the pummeling, epic riffage (three guitars!), I was pleasantly surprised to hear them ripping off some soulful, bluesy solos. Vocals largely inaudible, but really who the fuck cares, as long as you've got just enough Cookie Monster peering up above the cacophony.
After their set, they mentioned that they had some merch for sale "way in the back," i.e. not on the usual merch table in the same room as the stage, where the Big Business/Panthers swag sat, but in the corner of the bar room farthest from the stage. Made my way there as quickly as I could, but nobody from the band showed up, leaving a wasted little guy who identified himself as the brother of a band member to feverishly paw through the boxes of shit and try to make heads or tails of what people wanted. Unfortuntately, between me and him, neither of us could locate any "fat guy" tees, so I walked away with a limited edition CD in a handmade package, complete with wax seal ($5!).
Made my way back towards the front of the stage, waiting for Panthers to set up their shit. I've had their new record, The Trick, on pretty heavy rotation since it came out a couple of months ago. The band seems to like it well enough, too, since I haven't heard them perform anything from any of their other albums since that first time I caught them at Europa. Minor quibble, but hot damn I'd love to hear "We Are Louder" or "Legally Tender" or something (anything!) else from Things Are Strange next time I see them which looks like it will be at Webster Hall opening up for High on Fire some time this fall.
I had seen a MySpace bulletin announcing that Panthers drummer Jeff Salane's wife had recently given birth, so it came as little surprise that tonight he wouldn't be playing with the band. (He was standing to my left, watching the show from the crowd at the edge of the stage, however.) Shame, because he's a great, hard hitting-yet-nimble drummer, and author of perhaps the loudest cymbal crashes I've ever heard.
As the band shot into "Listen to Me," the best song off The Trick, I was pleased that they had switched up their setlist a bit -- no more "Goblin City" opener. It became pretty obvious that the new drummer wasn't as enthusiastic or hard-hitting as the music demanded. Fuck. I'm sure new babies are great and all, y'know, a little bundle of fucking joy or whatever, but here's hoping Panthers have their drummer back before too long. Also, singer Jayson Green appeared to be suffering from some sort of throat malady, as evidenced by the bottle of Chloraseptic he consulted a few times during the set.
This was probably the shortest set I've seen Panthers play, coming in at just seven songs and under 30 minutes, maybe because of Green's sickness. Either way, whatever the affliction, it didn't negatively affect his intensity as he stomped and sweated his way through the set before hopping into the crowd to thrash along to the instrumental coda to the set-closing "The Impeccableness" Fun, fun shit.
So why did I leave during Big Business' set? Well, a bunch of lame excuses which I'm not going to get into here. Fuck it.
No worries, though, as there are no less than a bunch more promising shows in the pipeline: Oxford Collapse with Cheeseburger (!!!) tomorrow night, Bobby Bare Jr. Thursday, and Bouncing Souls Saturday. I'm'a try to write something about each for y'all.