An outstanding rock record in an era when such things are increasingly rare. Although Adam Granduciel's Tom Petty fetish is obvious throughout Lost in the Dream, he exhibits an uncanny ability to avoid sounding clicheed in a domain that seemingly has little virgin territory. Beyond his songcraft (and even his singing voice), this is Granduciel's greatest debt to Petty.
2.) Dope Body - Lifer
Those who simply lump Dope Body in with the new wave of 90s noise rock revivalists are missing a major point. Yes, there are plenty of AmRep and Touch and Go-indebted idiosyncracies embedded throughout Lifer, but I dare anyone to show me an album by the likes of Drive Like Jehu, Polvo or The Jesus Lizard that is anywhere near as hooky as this one.
3.) The Austerity Program - Beyond Calculation
Several degrees of magnitude more intense, furious, and generally awesome than two geniuses with a drum machine have any right being.
4.) Beck - Morning Phase
Taken as a companion piece to 2002's Sea Change, Morning Phase manages to deal with similar topics (heartbreak, loneliness, growin' old) without being as overbearingly morose as Sea Change. Much unlike its predecessor, Morning Phase actually winds up with a vaguely pleasant, positive overall tone.
5.) Earthless Meets Heavy Blanket - In a Dutch Haze
As the story goes, Earthless guitarist Isaiah Mitchell was unable to make it to the gig at which this album was recorded, allowing Heavy Blanket's J Mascis (also of Dinosaur Jr, natch) and Graham Clise the opportunity to save the day in Mitchell's stead. What results is nearly an hour of pure, explosive, unbridled improv, even more berserk and unhinged than a typical Earthless live joint. Yes, there's some sloppiness and wheel-spinning on here, but the peaks on this match the most frenzied jamming from Earthless' proper catalog.
6.) The Raveonettes - Pe'ahi
While little has changed with the compositional style and framework behind Sune Rose Wagner's melodic surf-noir mini masterpieces, his eagerness to experiment with varied instrumentation gives Pe'ahi a different flavor than all previous Ravonettes releases. This time around, the subject matter touches on the recent passing of Wagner's estranged, alcoholic father, giving much of the material a particularly caustic bite.
7.) The Men - Tomorrow's Hits
After a bevy of releases featuring styles ranging from explosive noise to kraut-everything to acoustic folk, these shape-shifting Brooklyn punks (*former* punks?!) can credibly add "70s Classic Rock FM Radio" to the list of genres they've successfully conquered.
8.) Todd Terje - It's Album Time
If you're the type of bitter old curmudgeon who hates young whippersnappers *and* their crappy, soulless EDM, fear not - this is an electronic album that you can really (choose one: a.) sink your dentures into; b.) wrap your adult diaper around; c.) stir into your high-fiber supplement beverage so as to provide superior flavor). It's Album Time mixes legit bangers with cool downtempo shit and enough cleverness and humor to make even the most geriatric old-timer respect (and love!) our robot ovelords.
9.)Bobby Bare, Jr. - Undefeated
The perennially underrated alt-country lifer finds songwriting inspiration in love and loss (in particular, the dissolution of his relationship as depicted in the documentary, Don't Follow Me (I'm Lost)), interminable, low-reward touring, and the inherent sadness of absentee fatherhood. But it's not all doom and gloom; "North of Alabama by Morning" is a tale of dogged perseverence, and album closer "Don't Stand at the Stove" is an undeniable barn-burning rocker.
10.) (the) Melvins - Hold It In
You'd think that the Melvins joining forces with Butthole Surfers Gibby Haynes and Paul Leary would result in some epic weirdness, but oddly the opposite happens. While Hold It In is one of the two or three least experimental / most straightforward studio efforts in the Melvins' 30-plus year history, something something bone-crushing riffs, something something hilarious song titles.
11.) Guided by Voices - Cool Planet
12.) Perfume Genius - Too Bright
13.) Haunted Hearts - Initiation
14.) Pelican - Arktika
15.) Sharon Van Etten - Are We There
16.) Hookworms - The Hum
17.) Mogwai - Rave Tapes
18.) Guided by Voices - Motivational Jumpsuit
19.) Early Man - Thank God You've Got the Answers for All of Us
20.) Floor - Oblation
21.) Queen - Live at the Rainbow
22.) Mogwai - Music Industry 3, Fitness Industry 1 EP
"Sir, may I offer you some honey with your barbed wire?" When spitting out some of the most heartbreakingly personal lyrics ever written, it softens the blow when said lyrics are delivered by an artist with some of the finest pipes in the business.
Producer of the Year: Todd Terje
On It's Album Time, Terje manages to employ (and master) such an incredibly diverse array of sonic awesomeness that it's absolutely frickin' amazing the record doesn't sound scattershot and spread terribly thin. (It doesn't, and it's one of the year's best.)
Guitar Performance of the Year: Adam Granduciel (on The War on Drugs' Lost in the Dream)
Never flashy, always classy with his "beer commercial lead guitar shit," Granduciel manages to evoke both Tom Petty *and* Mike Campbell throughout The War on Drugs' sprawling masterpiece.
Best Album for a Lazy Sunday afternoon: Beck - Morning Phase
Much more appropriate for this purpose than, say, Midnight Vultures, which is only good for dispersing crowds filled with people who have good taste in music.
Best Workout Album and Best Driving Album: Earthless Meets Heavy Blanket - In a Dutch Haze
One track, 53 minutes; all manner of ridiculous guitar solos, mindbending riffs, and galloping rhythms. Perfect for my drive from Brooklyn to Long Island (almost to the minute), and equally perfect to listen to while crushing some cardio and losing some L B's, you fat slob.
My Most Listened-to Album of the Year, According to iTunes: The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream
It's only fitting that I'd award the Album of the Year trophy to the one with most listens (spoiler alert). Still immensely rewarding, 23 full listens in.
My Most Listened-To New Songs of the Year, According to iTunes:
1.) Guided by Voices - "Littlest League Possible" - 49 plays 2.) Guided by Voices - "Planet Score" - 47 plays 3.) The War on Drugs - "An Ocean in Between the Waves" - 41 plays 4.) Floor - "Sister Sophia" - 39 plays 5.) The Men - "Pearly Gates" - 38 plays 6.) Dum Dum Girls - "Little Minx" - 36 plays 7.) Mogwai - "Simon Ferocious" - 35 plays 8.) Beck - "Morning" - 34 plays 9.) The War on Drugs - "Burning" - 33 plays 10.) (tie) Bobby Bare, Jr. - "Don't Stand at the Stove" - 31 plays 10.) (tie) The Raveonettes - "Endless Sleeper" - 31 plays 10.) (tie) The Men - "Different Days" - 31 plays
Quote of the Year: Jon Fishman, 7/27/14 Merriweather
"The workers have come back from their day in the fields Jennifer Dances - and she cooks me a fuckin' meal That's all the words I know to this song Jennifer..... MY DONG!"
Assholes of the Year: Scott Stapp (and his fans)
Of course, the usual suspects (Dave Mustaine, Ted Nugent, Varg Vikernes, Exene Cervenka) would be worthy choices in pretty much any year, but Scott Stapp's recent descent into homelessness and insolvency is the freshest "what an asshole!" moment in our minds.
But should he be fully blamed? At best, he's a minimally talented, totally delusional, semi-literate Tea Party-level moron with a fucking messiah complex to boot. Mocking Scott Stapp is like stealing candy from a quadruple amputee. This is a man who would've never been anything without the legions of tone-deaf whiskey tango morons that made Creed a multiplatinum band.
Holy schnikies, has it been nearly five months already since my last Jalepzerz post?! Sure, time has passed, seasons have changed, and adult beverages have been consumed en masse, but honestly I still have no friggin' clue how often I'm going to be able to write for this blog going forward. Sobeit. Regardless, this past weekend, when it's disgustingly humid out and I'm dealing with the tail end of a nasty case of WookFlu, might as well fire up some of the ol' keyboard tap-tap-taparoo.
Oh, yeah - I should have a bunch of show reviews from Summer Tour coming up in the weeks ahead, but for now I'm'a try to tackle some of the best non-Phish stuff of the year. As such, here's the 10 best albums of the year, in approximate best-to-least-best order. There's obviously a ton of potentially great albums coming out over these next few months (Death From Above 1979, Melvins, Perfume Genius, etc.), so it's pretty likely this list will look much different at year's end, yadda yadda yadda.
The 10 Best Albums of 2014, So Far.
The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream -- An outstanding rock record, during an era in which such things are increasingly rare. Although Adam Granduciel's Tom Petty fetish is evident throughout, Granduciel has an uncanny ability to avoid sounding clicheed in a domain that seemingly has little virgin territory. Beyond his songcraft (and even his singing voice), this is Granduciel's greatest debt to Petty.
Earthless - In a Dutch Haze -- As the story goes, at the last minute Earthless guitarist Isaiah Mitchell was unable to make it to the show at which this was recorded, allowing Heavy Blanket's J Mascis (also of Dinosaur Jr, natch) and Graham Clise the opportunity to save the day. What results is nearly an hour of pure, explosive, unbridled improv, even more berserk and unhinged than a typical Earthless live joint. Yes, there's some sloppiness and spinning of wheels on here, but the peaks on this match the most frenzied jamming from Earthless' proper catalog.
Beck - Morning Phase -- Taken as a companion piece to 2002's Sea Change, Morning Phase manages to deal with similar topics (heartbreak, loneliness, growin' old) without being as overbearingly morose, actually winding up with a vaguely inspirational overall tone.
The Raveonettes - Pe'ahi -- While little has changed in the way that Sune Rose Wagner composes his melodic surf-noir mini masterpieces, his willingness to experiment with varied instrumentation gives Pe'ahi a different flavor than all previous Ravonettes releases. This time around, the subject matter touches on the recent passing of Wagner's estranged, alcoholic father, giving some of the material (in particular "Summer Ends") a caustic bite.
The Men - Tomorrow's Hits -- Although a few of the moments on Tomorrow's Hits seem a little bit trite (the horns on "Another Night," in particular) these shape-shifting (former??) Brooklyn punks can credibly add "70s FM Radio" to their list of conquered genres.
The Austerity Program - Beyond Calculation -- Infinitely more intense, furious, and generally awesome than two geniuses with a drum machine have any right being.
Todd Terje - It's Album Time -- To me at least, it's high praise to mention that several of these songs could be easily mistaken for alternate backing tracks from Gorillaz' excellent Plastic Beach album. It's Album Time is relentlessly diverse, reimagining the best work of contemporary electronic artists (Holy Fuck, Maserati, Ratatat before they jumped the shark), tipping its cap to classic '80s synthpop sounds, as well as indulging in other assorted playful goofiness.
Bobby Bare, Jr. - Undefeated -- The perennially underrated alt-country lifer finds songwriting inspiration in heartbreak (in particular, the dissolution of his relationship as depicted in the documentary, Don't Follow Me (I'm Lost)), interminable, low-reward touring, and the inherent sadness of absentee fatherhood. But it's not all doom and gloom; "North of Alabama by Morning" is a tale of dogged perseverence, and album closer "Don't Stand at the Stove" is an undeniable barn-burning rocker.
Sharon Van Etten - Are We There -- Three major features set Sharon Van Etten apart from generic confessional coffeehouse claptrap. First, her lyrics are so deeply evocative and self-deprecating that hearing them can, at times, be uncomfortable. Second, she possesses a singing voice gorgeous enough to swath her pointed words in soothing honey. Third, she has an uncommon gift for pop songwriting unmatched by other current artists with the dreaded "singer-songwriter" tag (this album would be worth it for the incredible "Tarifa" alone).
Guided by Voices - Cool Planet -- basically a toss-up here between Cool Planet and GbV's *other* 2014 release, Motivational Jumpsuit, this one gets the nod due to superior contributions from GbV second-fiddle Tobin Sprout. Yes, GbV's musical landscape is dotted with all manner of in-jokes and throwaways, but to those who have the necessary patience, that just makes discovering their diamonds in the rough all that much more rewarding.
Honorable mention: Guided by Voices - Motivational Jumpsuit; Haunted Hearts - Initiation; Floor - Oblation; Swans - To Be Kind; Pelican - Arktika; Low Fat Getting High - Poor Circulation; Mogwai - Rave Tapes; Death Vessel - Island Intervals.
[Blackout's press photo, a/k/a the band photo that renders all previous and future band photos irrelevant.]
In all my years of excessive show-going, I don't think I'd ever attempted attending three different shows in one day, but with me having absolutely nothing else going on this lovely Saturday, I figured why the heck not. Right?
First stop was Union Pool for the second installment in their 2013 Summer Thunder weekly series. I've seen scores of shows at Union Pool, but this was the first time I'd ever seen one outdoors. Got there in time to catch the second half of opener Love As Laughter's set, which was highlighted by J Mascis joining in on guitar for the final song, a raunchy, slow two-chord monster that sounded an awful lot like Neil Young's "Like a Hurricane."
This foreshadowed what was *supposed* to come next - a performance by Mascis' Heavy Blanket side project. I thought that the Heavy Blanket album was too wanky, but I can totally get behind the psychedelic / bluesy / gratuitous guitar solo thing in the live setting. Unfortunately, with Mascis and his backing band right in the middle of their first song, they were told by what appeared to be venue management that the show was shut down because of noise complaints, and they complied after finishing that first song. This really sucks, and it doesn't bode well for the remainder of the Summer Thunder series, one would think, because it really wasn't all that loud.
[I talked with a few Union pool employees after the show who told me that the bar's elderly neighbors had complained about the noise, and Heavy Blanket posted on their Facebook today that, in fact, the cops had insisted on shutting it down. And simply moving the show inside wasn't an option. Sucks.]
Anyway, the show getting shut down was only the second worst thing that happened here, with the worst clearly being the dude wearing a Paramore tee shirt. Wtf? [Oh, yeah - don't bother watching the below video unless you really, really like looking at the backs of people's heads.]
So, tail between legs, I headed back to my apartment for a couple comfy hours before heading over to Vitus for White Widows with Blackout. Although I've heard both of these bands' studio work (the White Widows EP is pretty damn good), I'd never seen either of them live before. This was a free show, serving as a video shoot for a White Widows song. [Note: it looks like the band has officially changed its name to White Widows Pact, which makes sense, seeing as how "White Widows" was such a good name it had to have been used before. At this show, vocalist David Castillo introduced the band as "White Widows," so who knows.]
Blackout's set consisted largely of dirge-slow stoner / doom licks. Here's a small, unsatisfying tidbit:
White Widows was up next, and they brought the thunder, featuring heavy-as-fuck thrashy licks, dual lead vocals, and lightning quick drumming. These guys are tight as hell and I highly recommend their live show.
Needing to catch up on my pregame, I busted it out of Vitus a bit early and hurried back to my apartment to fuel up on cheap vodka. J train into Bowery, then walked over to Sullivan Hall... got inside at 11, just as Lawn Boys were finishing tuning up. This was my second time seeing these guys live, with the first being in late January, also at Sullivan Hall. I raved about the band's performance at that show, but they've somehow managed to further improve their jamming. The set was crammed to the gills with impressive type II improvisation.
Comparing any cover act to the band whose songs they're interpreting is rarely a flattering exercise, but Lawn Boys really stand out in that regard. For one, the song selection is spot-on, with nary a "Joy" or "Show of Life" or "Alaska" in sight, and these guys' attention to detail is really remarkable. What's more, they're unafraid to give big-time workouts to songs that Phish themselves rarely "jam out" these days - notably "AC / DC Bag," "Gumbo" and "Destiny" (the latter of which Phish has never really jammed out, to my knowledge) in the first set alone.
Highlights for me were the hilarious crowd participation during the "Secret Language" bits, said aforementioned "Bag," and "Gumbo," a "Gin" which seemingly channeled the legendary Great Went version, a jam on Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" jam in "2001," and, oh yeah, they nailed "Glide." Just a great show, with a rowdy, appreciative crowd, an extremely talented band, and holy shitballs what a setlist:
Set II: Ha Ha Ha$, Carini% > Twist&, Tweezer* > Ghost > 2001+, Gotta Jibboo, Harry Hood, Run Like an Antelope
Encore: Character Zero, Loving Cup, Tweezer Reprise
*with all fall down, Simpsons, and random note secret language in intro
**with Sand jam
***with Mind Left Body jam
@with NICU tease and extended Theme from the Bottom jam
# with plinko jam
$ band announced this was the 100th Phish song they've covered live
% brief Mind Left Body jam
& Oye Como Va jam
* with brief Tweezer Reprise tease in intro and with random note secret language
+ with Get Lucky [Daft Punk] jam
Lawn Boys played for over three hours with about a 20 minute setbreak, and I wound up not leaving Sullivan Hall until after 2:30 AM, and not getting home until about 3:30 thanks to the total joke that is late night J service. A pretty great Saturday, as well as great primer for Summer Tour '13 which.... HOLY SHIT I JUST REALIZED SUMMER TOUR IS LESS THAN A MONTH AWAY!!!!!!!!!!!!! YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!!!!
Bill Frisell - Solos: The Jazz Sessions -- This album is the "soundtrack" to Original Spin Media's Bill Frisell installment of their Solos series. Haven't seen the DVD, but this recording intersperses brief interviews with unaccompanied, live Frisell performances of some of the finest tunes from his catalog, and it contains some of the most gorgeous music you will hear all year. The interview segments, however brief, are awkward and distracting, however.
Best song: "Wildwood Flower / Poem for Eva."
Dinosaur Jr - I Bet on Sky -- It's not that this is a bad album in the least, it just seems a little phoned in. And don't get me wrong, it has everything we've come to expect from Dino's post-reconciliation output - J's joyously sunny riff-tastic rockers; J's wistful, glowing ballads; J's bashful, sensitive-dude semi-laments; Lou's lumpy and dense songs that stick out like a sore thumb; plenty of effortlessly nimble guitar soloing. But, like their previous Farm (and unlike '07's triumphant return, Beyond), there aren't really any standout tracks on here to sink your teeth into.
Best song: "See It on Your Side."
Swans - The Seer-- Man, people seem to love this. I guess I was hoping for something that would be as immediately accessible as 2010's excellent My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky. But fuck me, I really haven't put in the time necessary to fully digest a two-hour double album (includes a 32 minute song, a 23 minute song, and a 19 minute song). If you need me, I'll be listening to (and enjoying) Lonerism for the millionth time so far this week.
Turing Machine - What Is the Meaning of What -- Some of these tracks were recorded prior to drummer Gerry Fuchs' tragic death a few years ago. The rest of the band deliberated long and hard before deciding to complete these recordings, receiving assistance from some of Brooklyn's finest drummers along the way. It's Fuchs' relentlessly creative, propulsive drumming, in part, that makes this punchy krautrock album probably the best workout record of the year. Think Maserati but with more crunch and less reverb?
Best song: "Yeah, C'mon!"
Heavy Blanket - Heavy Blanket -- If you ever found yourself thinking, "man, I wish I could listen in on a J Mascis jam session when he's stoned off his ass," then this heaping plateful of noodly wankery might appeal to you more than it does me.
Beach House - Bloom -- Exactly two people have mentioned to me that they think this album "sucks." These people, in a nutshell, are assholes. (I know them well). Don't be an asshole.
Now, is Bloom as good as Teen Dream? No, it's not - there's a run of a few songs towards the end that don't quite live up to expectations. But let's not forget, people, Teen Dream is one of the finest records of the aughts, and, most importantly, Victoria Legrand's dusky vocals remain as irresistably charismatic as ever.
Best songs: "Myth," "Lazuli," "Wild," "Other People."
with any high profile reunion comes the obvious possibility of disappointment due to unrealistic expectations. Within the first few seconds of this show any fears of MBV not being all they're cracked up to be were long gone.
Yes, it is as loud as you've heard described. The band provided the crowd with thousands of pairs of earplugs, which most of those in attendance wisely used. One of the loudest show's I've ever seen.
Kevin Shields owns a lot of Jazzmasters.
The setlist drew predominantly on songs from Loveless, Isn't Anything, and theYou Made Me Realise EP. The band played for about 70-75 minutes total, including a 16 minute version of "You Made Me Realise" to close.
The band's secret weapon is drummer Colm O'Ciosoig, whose beats turned much of the set into an ass shakin' good time. Of the many adjectives one can use for Loveless, "highly danceable" is likely not one that immediately springs to mind, but on this night much of the crowd was using their shoes for dancing rather than gazing.
I was surprised at how young the crowd was as a whole; to me it seemed as though the vast majority of 'em were NYU kids who must have still been in short pants when Loveless came out. Great to see so many young'uns with good taste in music.
At least in the area directly around me (about 10 people back from the stage, directly in the center), it seemed like a fairly knowledgeable crowd. People were losing their shit with each successive song.
The opening bands were terrible, although J Mascis joined the second band Wounded Knees for a noodly jam session, trading off licks with a flautist.
The infamous "noise segment" in "You Made Me Realise" was so loud that crowdmembers who were holding their hands aloft could actually feel the music traveling through the air. I've never experienced anything like this; it looked, felt and sounded like an airplane taking off.
$52? Pish posh. Worth every penny.
Yes, I'll be there tonight, too. Till then, Tuddd out.
FINALLY I'll get crackin' on this sum'bitch. Between working 60 hours/week and dealing with moving into my new apartment, spare time has been fleeting. Oh, yeah: plus, my dad died, so there's that. But as I sit here unable to sleep before trudging off shortly, I realize I'd better fire this shit up before it becomes totally irrelevant (i.e. last year's "Best of 2005 List" which I didn't post until like June).
The only rule is that reissues are not included, so that eliminates TimeLife's excellent 10-CD "Malt Shop Memories" compilation. Fortunately, this rule has little bearing on the Chavez retrospective, because Chavez just isn't good enough to make the list anyway.
Disclaimers: I've heard about 50 albums that were released in '06 proper, including a bunch of the usual crap that you'll find on many other year end lists (The Hold Steady, TV on the Radio, The Raconteurs, etc.). Again, to be sure, these albums are excluded from this list not because I didn't hear them, but because they're terrible.
THE BEST ALBUMS OF 2006
20.) Thom Yorke - The Eraser -- This sounds exactly the way you'd expect a Thom Yorke solo joint to sound, which is not such a bad thing. But buyer beware: it's ultra monotonous, which is not such a good thing. Oddly, it sounds *kinda* like Radiohead, but still has its own singular identity: The Eraser is not as experimental as Kid A orAmnesiac; not as RAWK as The Bends; not as violently spotty and uneven as Hail to the Thief, and nowhere near as good as OK Computer. Although it is a "solo" release, Yorke wisely kept ace producer Nigel Godrich behind the boards -- his mastery of dynamics conjures a "new Floyd-for-the-do-it-yourself-digital-age" vibe. Best song: "Analyse."
19.) Keene Brothers - Blues and Boogie Shoes -- solid-if-unspectacular collaboration between Tommy Keene and Robert Pollard, crammed to the gills with competent powerpoppage. Almost a little bit too "mature" (as Bob himself would say) for my tastes, but it's obvious that Bob went out of his way to fire up some decent melodies on this one, as opposed (for example) to his downright shabby efforts on the Airport 5 records, which is a shame, because I prefer Airport 5's musical bedding (supplied by former GbV second fiddle Tobin Sprout) to that of the Keene Brothers. *sigh* Tobe deserved better. Best songs: "Death of the Party" and "Heaven's Gate."
18.) Howlin' Rain - Howlin' Rain -- side project from Comets on Fire frontman Ethan Miller. After the first three Comets records (this was released prior to Avatar), the, um, "restraint" on this one is super obvious (i.e. no echoplex freakouts, no Keith Moon-on-crack drum breaks and no harsh-as-nails processed vocals). And it's easy to dismiss this as a full album of CoF castoffs, but so fucking what, it's still some mighty fine good listenin'. Best song: "Calling Lightning with a Scythe."
17.) Beck - The Information -- I'm torn re: Beck. Half of me wishes that he had quit/left/died/whatever after Odelay, while the other half of me is happy that he's able to keep pumping out serviceable-yet-totally-inessential records to give my ears a brief respite from the usual metal/punk/postrock/indie stuff that I listen to these days. Since I have absolutely no tolerance for the robotic monotony of beat-centric electronica and I openly revile hip-hop culture, Beck's blue-eyed and funkified junk sculpture is pretty much as close as I get to either of those genres. In other words, what he lacks in melody, cohesive lyrical content and substance he more than makes up for, well, by sounding absolutely nothing like anything else I appreciate. On The Information, he re-ups with Sea Change producer/Radiohead guru Nigel Godrich, who no doubt provides most of the bleeps, bloops and sound effects. Has Beck shat out Guero II (or, just as accurately, Odelay III)? Probably. But just as long as he's not subjecting me to faux-earnest whinefests like Sea Change I'll keep on listening. Best song: "Cellphone's Dead." Does Herbie Hancock get royalties from this? 'Cuz he should.
16.) Wolfmother - Wolfmother -- My God, there are so many reasons that, in theory, I should *HATE* these fucking guys. Musically, completely unoriginal/totally derivative. Prettyboy frontman. Questionable drumming. "Third verse, same as the first" aesthetic. Credential-free, meteoric rise to stardom. The same two-note riff in what seems like every fucking song. And, plainly put, the worst lyrics not written by Lenny Kravitz. But when you RAWK like these fellas, you make it fairly easy to overlook all that. Probably the Party Record of the Year (unless you're a heroin addict, in which case you'd probably favor Mogwai's Zidane soundtrack). Best song: WOO-MON!
15.) Ratatat - Classics -- This is officially the first electronic-related record I've enjoyed since the ketamine flowed like nostril-imbibable wine a few years back. To Ratatat's credit, instead of skewing the mix towards some absurdly banal beat as a given track's focus (as is predictably the case with most electronic artists), they put the emphasis firmly on melody. Yes, at times it sounds kind of Tetris-y, and it's as dangerous as a glass of milk, but hot damn are some of these jams catchy. Best song: "Tacobel Canon."
14.) Robert Pollard - Normal Happiness -- [insert yearly "well, Bob's probably not as good these days as he was around Bee Thousand/Alien Lanes, but he's still better than pretty much anyone else around/this album has some great ones and some really, really awful ones/probably not going to convert any non-believers but Pollard fanatics will eat this one up"-themed comment here.] Best song: "Top of My Game."
13.) Two Gallants - What the Toll Tells -- Got turned onto these guys when I saw 'em opening for Wolfmother (surprisingly awesome) and Gov't Mule (shudder) in September. They're about as irony free as you can get; in fact, if you can't stand ultra-earnest lyrics you're likely to have your head explode while listening to this record. Lots of songs about being an outlaw/rebel/misfit/outcast -- kind of in the vein of a more literate Mike Ness. However, where Social D base their trademark sound around a wall of crunchy-ass guitars, Two Gallants' foundation is vocalist Adam Stephens' raspy howl, which many may instantly find off-putting. Part of me wishes these guys would just bite the bullet and pick up a kickass rhythm guitarist, but on the other hand that could severely fuck up more delicate songs like "The Prodigal Son." Hmmm. What the fuck do I know. Best to leave well enough alone, I guess. Best song: "Waves of Grain."
12.) Built to Spill - You in Reverse -- I've always thought of BtS as kind of the ultimate cock-tease band -- they come so close to actually rocking that, at times, they can be mistaken for actually rocking. Other than that, this record is a tough one to pigeonhole on the "Is it Indie?" test. It's indie: two-chord songs. It's not indie: said songs occasionally last 8+ minutes. It's indie: crummy vocals. It's not indie: fancy guitar playing. It's indie: sounds kinda like Modest Mouse. It's not indie: sounds kinda like Neil Young. Best song: everybody says "Goin' Against Your Mind," but I'm going with "Conventional Wisdom."
11.) Boris - Pink -- Um, WTF? This album obviously came out in '05, but I've seen it on so many year-end best-of lists (i.e. those compiled by people more punctual than I) that leaving it out would be foolish. Musically, these guys cover pretty much all the appropriate "loud" bases: grandiose post rock, gritty speedpunky metal, noise, doom, you name it -- all kinds of great riffs. Plus I kinda dig not having any idea what the vocalist is singing about. Best song: "Farewell."
10.) Bobby Bare, Jr. - Nick Nacks and Paddy Whacks -- Live/tour CD by an artist who, until '06's The Longest Meow (which was recorded largely live in the studio) was definitely better appreciated in concert than on record. Bare Jr. just simply sounds better when presenting his songs with Pixies-ish instrumentation than he does on the subtler, rootsier album versions. The only thing keeping this out of the top 5 is the questionable omission of "Valentine" and "Motherfucker," which really defies all logic, considering that those are two songs which benefit most from the live treatment. Best song: Hmmm. Lotsa good'uns. I'll have to go with "Terrible Sunrise" since I already have several great live versions of "Flat Chested Girl from Maynardville."
9.) Robert Pollard - From a Compound Eye -- Again, with a few outstanding exceptions, the songs on this record are _not_ immediately accessible pop masterpieces, and at least for me, FaCE required practically a full year in my listening incubator thingy before I thought it was much good at all. And as with any of Bob's recent records, one's apprecation forFaCE will hinge largely on how one feels about Todd Tobias' production. To me, one of the greatest things about Guided by Voices in the pre-Tobias days was that their songs, even when primitively recorded, almost always were exactly as loud as they needed to be: no more, no less. That's obviously not the case on this album. The versions of songs on FaCE like "Dancing Girls and Dancing Men," "I'm a Widow" and "Love is Stronger than Witchcraft" are flat out limp, and come nowhere near rocking. On the other hand, it's difficult to imagine "The Flowering Orphan," "Cock of the Rainbow" or "50 Year-Old Baby" without the lush Tobias touch. Regardless, there are just too many great songs on this album to pass it up. Of particular note is "The Right Thing," in which Pollard gives the listener a window into the process by which he turns basement scraps into full-fledged songs. The track begins with a brief, repetitive three-note pattern, accompanied by non-descript, generic (probably improvised) lyrics before switching key, switching gear and rocking the fuck out. Fuck yeah! Best song: "US Mustard Company," also the best song of the year.
8.) Comets on Fire - Avatar -- When is a top 10 album still a disappointment? When you've started your career off as The Kings of the Hard Rockin' Freakout, challenging Mogwai for the Planet's Greatest Band crown, and then you drop an album that sounds as much like a Phish/Allmans hybrid as it does your earlier output. Face it, "Dogwood Rust" sounds like Phish's "Birds of a Feather," "Hatched Upon the Age" sounds like the title track ofBilly Breathes, and nearly everything else has at least one moment where you think, "damn, this sounds like" either "Whipping Post" or "Elizabeth Reed." Phew, at least there's no Rusted Root thrown into the mix! And were we really eager to hear what Comets sounded like playing ballads, for fuck's sake?! God, I know that may sound harsh; after all, this is still a really good album. It's nowhere near Comets on Fire or Blue Cathedral, any way ya slice it, however. Many of the songs feature wildman drummer Utrillo Kushner on piano (yeah, I know), which moves echoplex maven Noel Von Harmonson off his squallin' shriek machine onto the drumkit, which in turn leads to a decrease in noise, distortion, and overall unpleasantness. This is definitely not a positive development. The only song that really sounds like old-school Comets to me is the all-too-brief "Holy Teeth," which clocks in at about 3 minutes. Seriously, guys: NEEDS MORE ECHOPLEX. Best song: probably "Dogwood Rust."
7.) Bobby Bare, Jr. - The Longest Meow -- So this is what good alt-country sounds like! Having heard more than my fill of overrated / mediocre acts like Ryan Adams and Wilco had made me dismiss the entire genre as nuthin' but a bunch of talentless hacks and watered-down jamband-lite wankers. But fuck that, Bobby Bare Jr.'s the real fucking deal. On The Longest Meow, which was recorded virtually entirely live in the studio, Bare splits the difference between his alternative-ish past and his more country-grounded solo records with the Young Criminals' Starvation League, retaining both the grinningly clever lyrics and the RAWK heft. In closing, the fact that Bobby Bare Jr. is not insanely popular is all the proof you need to know that America is full of dumb assholes. Best song: "Stop Cryin'."
6.) Witch - Witch -- True meat n' taters stoner rock at its finest, with J Mascis (!) on the drumkit. Of course, the lyrics are a bit over-the-top generic (lots of burning pyres, funerals, magic spells, and even a succubus!) but c'mon, the blueprint for this (or any other great stoner rock) is Sabbath, so juvenile things-that-go-bump-in-the-night imagery is not simply given a pass: it's revered. The guitars are downtuned and fuzzy, and Mascis does as good a Bill Ward impersonation as anyone. My only real complaint is that the vocals are a bit too Claypool-esque for me. Minor complaint, though: make no mistake about it, this is a damn fine album. Grow yer hair out, bust out the air guitar, and thrash along to the opening lick to "Rip Van Winkle," you pussy. Best songs: "Rip Van Winkle" and "Seer."
5.) Tool - 10,000 Days -- If anyone needs me, I'll be listening to Alice in Chains and pricing Faith No More bootlegs on eBay. Best song: "Jambi."
4.) Russian Circles - Enter -- Now, this is some damn hot flashfingered instru-metal, done up post-rock style, and cheers to 'em on that. This album is meant to be enjoyed as a succession of linked mini-suites, and a continuous theme is definitely noticeable the whole way throughout: not in a rock opera-ish way, but more in an overall "this is our style, so deal with it you pansy" type display of manliness. At times slow and brooding, at times manically aggressive, just like any great metal record. Any chance Mogwai picks these guys up as openers on their next trek across the States? Pwease? Best song: "Death Rides a [motherfucking] Horse [vulgarity added]."
3.) Tapes 'N Tapes - The Loon -- See, since I grew up listening to Zeppelin, Guns N' Roses and Metallica instead of Pavement, Jesus Lizard and Morrissey I don't suffer from the jaded hipster tendency to bury every great new album under an insufferable game of "spot the influence." Presumably, this is why I like bands like Interpol, The Raveonettes, and all kinds of shit that others simply dismiss with a "meh, they're ripping off Gang of Four" and a cluck of the tongue. The Loon was easily my most-listened-to new album in 2006. It's the type of record that, at first, seems awkward and self-consciously self-conscious before you realize A.) these dudes can play, B.) they know what goes into writing some damn fine songs, and C.) said dudes really manage to RAWK without simply relying on excessive volume (make no mistake, that's really fucking tricky). "The Iliad" stomps, "Insistor" shuffles, and "Jakov's Suite" is the best rock n' roll underture not written by Pete Townshend. And you can't leave out the vicodin-and-comfy-chair perfection of "Manitoba." Good, good shit. Best song: "The Iliad."
2.) Robert Pollard - Moon -- As the old saying goes, "Everything sounds better live." In the case of the songs from this year's FaCE (see above review), this adage is proven true with the album versions fleshed out into fully-formed, beefier versions of themselves. For the uninitiated, Moon was recorded during Robert Pollard and the Ascended Masters' (goddamn, I love that band name) two-show stint opening up for Pearl Jam. Oy vey, who knew that they'd be able to make "Dancing Girls and Dancing Men" listenable? It's a real fucking shame that the ticket-buying public is such a bunch of clueless shiteaters, because if Bob could have sold out some of the shows on his tour supporting Normal Happiness, he wouldn't have had to bust up his excellent backing band (Tommy Keene on guitar/keys, Jon Wurstur on drums, Jason Narducy playing bass, and Dave Phillips on guitar). Of course, since I'm a scab-scratching nitpicker, I have a few bones to pick with the chosen setlist. For example, for Christ's sake, where the fuck are "US Mustard Company," "Denied," "I'm a Strong Lion" and "Recovering?" And if Bob was going to bust out some songs from Normal Happiness in front of the Dockers n' North Face set in the Pearl Jam audience, why not "Top of My Game" and "Rhoda Rhoda?" And couldn't he have squeezed a second GbV chestnut in there somewhere? Either way, and with all my petty bitching aside, this is a fantastic record, significant because it's really only the second proper live album Uncle Bob's released, and it seems, sadly, that his beer-fueled caravan won't be hitting the road for the foreseeable future, which is a shame. If you never saw a Pollard solo show, or never saw GbV live you really, really missed out. Best song: "The Right Thing." I AM HIIIIIIIIIIIIIGH!!!!!! "Conqueror of the Moon" is incredible too, though.
1b.) Mogwai - Mr. Beast -- If you think that YoungTeam is better than this, you're an asshole. Best song: "Glasgow Mega-Snake."
1a.) Oxford Collapse - Remember the Night Parties -- This might just be the finest summer album ever put out by anyone, and, on top of that, it's an indie album that actually RAWKS. These songs are packed with as much nostalgia and wistfulness as they are with huge, arena-sized hooks, and the songwriting is great enough to actually pull that tricky combo off without sounding insincere. Previous Oxford Collapse outings have been decidedly scrappier affairs, but on RtNP they're making no attempt to conceal that they're boldly swinging for the fences. Best song: gotta be "Burno" but there's no shortage of great songs on here.