[All hail Metz. Also, all hail this Metz tee shirt, which is appropriate to wear absolutely nowhere.]
OK, I gotta get this one done quick - the stamps have let me out of my cage just long enough for me to stretch my legs and get a drink of water. Let's do this.
THE BEST (AND WORST) ALBUMS OF 2015, pt. II
The King Khan and BBQ Show - Bad News Boys-- Reunion album for these garage-soul bad boy lifers. For all of their public bickering and onstage meltdowns, the fact that remains that the much of the best music *both* has made throughout their prolific careers has been in the company of one another. Grade: B-
Lightning Bolt - Fantasy Empire-- Ya had to laugh when purists fretted about Lightning Bolt's decision to finally record an album in a proper recording studio. What did people expect, a fucking No Doubt record?! Fortunately, the material on Fantasy Empire fits in nicely with much of Lightning Bolt's previous output, with the benefit of a little added clarity and dynamics. (Not to mention what's likely the best song of the year.) Grade: B
Liturgy - The Ark Work -- This is either one of the worst albums I've ever heard, or another chapter in what just might be the greatest troll in history. (Either way, trust me, you don't want to listen to it.) The ever-irascible Triple H has incorporated all manner of cheap, shitty-sounding keyboard effects here, while somehow transforming Greg Fox' once-mighty drum sound into something that makes the production on St. Anger sound like a job well done. Grade: F
Lower Dens - Escape From Evil -- It's a little disappointing that as the proper follow-up to their their deep, dark, thrilling breakthrough album (2012's Nootropics), Lower Dens has settled for more conventional songwriting and occasionally aimless, bland melodies. But this one is growing on me. Grade: B-
Metz - II -- True, Metz does only one thing, but they do that one thing better than any other band does ANYTHING. Just a devastatingly awesome sonic assault, and the likely Album of the Year. Grade: A
Mike Pace and the Child Actors - Best Boy -- Pleasant, wistful power pop from the former Oxford Collapse main man. Nothing on here manages to approximate the infectious awesomeness of Oxford Collapse's landmark (well, at least in my mind) Remember the Night Parties album, but it's still a decent listen. Grade: C+
My Morning Jacket - The Waterfall -- This is the type of Dad Rock you listen to if you really want your kids to think you're a total pussy. Grade: F
Palma Violets - Danger in the Club -- The Palmas' debut, 180, was a surprise success on the back of countless, uh, "repurposed" '70s UK post-punk riffs. Now that these blokes have actually gotten around to writing their own riffs, the results are predictable. Grade: D
Pelican - The Cliff -- The title track (and centerpiece) of this EP includes vocals, an anomaly in Pelican's nearly entirely instrumental / post-metal catalog. Amazing, then, that the lyrics (written from the point of view of a creepy, desperate man, seemingly on the precipice of committing a violent act against the unwilling object of his affections) hits the nail on the head so perfectly. Grade: B
A Place to Bury Strangers - Transfixiation -- Amazingly, probably their noisiest, most feedback-scarred release ever, and it's a good look for them. Best APTBS album overall since 2009's Exploding Head. Grade: B-
Ok, that's it for now. Will try to wrap this up next week, or not. Memphis tomorrow!
While at SPAC this past weekend, my buddy Bricer reminded me that pretty much every time I'm posed the question of "what should we listen to now?" invariably my answer is "Oxford Collapse - Remember the Night Parties." Heheheheheh. Fair enough - in my estimation it's the finest summer album by anyone ever. These guys were one of my favorite bands when I was finally getting ready to make the move to Williamsburg, and I remember seeing them play this song at one of the McCarren Pool Parties - they somehow worked Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk" into the middle of it, and shit was awesome.
(If you're keeping track, my posting on this blog is probably going to be minimal 'til mid-next week or so, while I attend / recuperate from attending a bunch of Phish shows. SPAC was incredibly fun, I'm taking off towards Holmdel shortly, and my 100th Phish show will be this Saturday at Merriweather. FUUUUUUUCK YEP.)
With nights one and two now in the rear-view mirror, and with two drastically different shows in the books, which Phish would we get on night three: the playful, exploratory, clever band responsible for night one's incredible "Wolfman's" and joyous "Tweezer," or the band seemingly content to perform solid-yet-commonplace versions of their songs during night two's boisterous "party show" atmosphere? Or both? Either way we stood to win, although there's a difference between getting the Toys R' Us $500 gift card or the Heathcliff temporary tattoo in your Cracker Jacks, if ya catch my drift.
Of course, reducing how much fun one can have at a Phish show simply to how the band plays is foolish: I've seen many friends ruin their show (and, in some instances, mine) by preshow overindulgence over the past couple of years. Personally, I've become markedly better in that department since the all-around shitshow that was Coventry, with really only one notable blemish on my report card during 3.0. Spoiler alert!
In retrospect, I wish I hadn't started drinking so early on 12/30, but allow me to put forth an incredibly lame excuse nonetheless. See, The New York Football Giants still had their playoff hopes hanging by a very thin, fraying thread, and what better way to end the regular season than with a game against the hated Eagles, accompanied by bloodies and beers? We all met at 4th Down on North 4th shortly after noon, and began drinking - and sports-enjoying - in earnest. Things looked great for awhile, as the G-Men thoroughly dismantled their hated rival to the tune of a highly entertaining 42-7 thrashing. (Don't get me wrong, due to their own atrocious performances during the '12 season, Andy Reid and Michael Vick probably had already punched their own tickets out of Philly by this point, but it was nice to give those two scumbags a hearty boot up the ass on their way out the door.) Sadly, the Lions didn't hold up their end of the bargain, and, with the pressure off, we headed over to Spike Hill for more drinks simply because it was empty (except a couple random Hasids, if you can believe it).
After sitting, staring and drinking for about 4 hours, we had worked up a fearsome hunger, so we stumbled over to Fette Sau for some pork-tastic mealin'. With all the (justified) hoopla over Briskettown (combined with the fact that I rarely eat pork or beef anymore), it's easy to relegate Fette Sau to back burner status, but make no mistake, that place is still fuckin' great. And an A+ to the bartender who kindly put up with my friends obnoxiously pestering her with dumb questions / comments about Briskettown, as she chose to drown them out with a steady diet of Ramones.
By this point, we were all pretty sauced, and I was feeling pretty exhausted, worrying that I wouldn't be able to give the usual 115% at the evening's show. Fuckin' fuck, I don't think I've ever felt more elderly. We limped back to my place for a few beers, comfy couches, and some pre-show non-Phish tunez (mostly Cheeseburger, Oxford Collapse, White Denim and Parts and Labor) before getting a car service into the city.
For this show, we knew we had tickets behind the stage, but we were pleasantly shocked to find that when we got to our seats "ROW 10" actually meant "fifth row." (Not that I really care anyway, considering that I spend the vast majority of all Phish shows rockin' out with my eyes clamped shut.) Pleasant surprise number two was that the sound from our spot was crystal clear, and, let's face it, it's always cool to watch Fishman subtly run the entire show from behind his kit.
The first set started with standard-solid versions of "Jim" and "Cities." "Cities," had been one of the few bright spots during last year's New Year's Run at the 12/30/11 show exactly a year ago, and although tonight's version had none of of last year's extra mustard, it was well-played nonetheless. "Divided" was up next, and with "Reba" and "Bathtub" already off the table, there's literally nothing I'd rather hear as a classic "meat of the first set" song more than "Divided."
"Back on the Train" followed, providing the first light improv of the evening. Very nice version clocking in at nearly 10 minutes. "Ride Captain Ride" was up next. Works for me, since I, for one, was happy for a quick pissbreak. And wake me up when "Ocelot" becomes something better than the poor man's "46 Days." Over 11 minutes in length, none of them terribly interesting or inspired. The set rounded out with a peppy "Ya Mar," pissbreak #2 during the somnambulent "Horn," the oddly-placed but always welcome "My Friend," and the obligatory solid-standard first set-closing "Antelope."
So, three shows, three largely "averageish" first sets, with the lone exception being night one's "Wolfman's > LDB > Wolfman's" for the ages. Hopefully they'd pick shit up in the second set (they would), and hopefully I'd get my second wind at some point (I would not). Well, I guess one out of two ain't bad.
A stupendous 19+ minute "Disease" opened the second set - just what the doctor ordered (rimshot). This "Disease" played around with several gorgeous themes, resembling night one's "Tweezer" both in the pure quality of its uplifting improv and in the fact that the jam really picks up over its last few minutes (in this case, led by some funkalicious Page).
"Twenty Years Later"... I mean, at least it wasn't "Joy" or whatever, but it still signaled a mass bathroom exodus and one of the few legitimately troublesome urinal queues of the run. The "Carini" that came next easily made up for it, however, and after many relistens, I've come to the conclusion that it's probably 1.) the best jam of the run, and 2.) the best Carini I've ever seen (with the possible exception of 8/31/12 Dick's - OK, fine, twist the arm; 9/14/00 Darien was a great version too). Man, what a jam - cacophonous, noisy and borderline unpleasant like a good "Carini" should be, veering off into some serious Type II, with the finale sparked by some real assertiveness by Fishman as he dutifully pounded out the "Tusk" drumbeat while the rest of the boys experimented (successfully!) with a couple of different haunting grooves. I've made a fool out of myself more than once trying to explain to non-believers that what sets Phish apart from EVERY other band on the planet is their unmatched skill at "improvisational composition" - by the end of this jam, what the band is actually playing has as much to do with "Carini" as it does a Justin Bieber song. No, wait; that's a terrible comparison.
I have to say I've never been happier to have "Number Line"'s smarmy sentimentality jammed down my throat than at this moment - I needed a reason to sit and hydrate. And I'm just gonna come out and say it - fuck "Julius." It's this type of soulless, smug, quasi blues wankery that gives Phish a bad name amongst people who have decent taste in music. Anyway. Classic second set closer "Slave" came next, affording me the opportunity to bob my head and smile silently to an old favorite while resting my tender vittles. "Hood" in the encore mined similar emotive territory as "Slave", only moreso - always great to hear, and always a great soundtrack to quietly reflect on how many unforgettable and incredibly unique musical experiences this band has led me through since '96. Honestly, I would've cried my damn fool eyes out during this "Hood" if I hadn't been so dehydrated. By this point, even closing the encore with nobody's favorite, "Show of Life," couldn't knock the perma-grin off my ugly mug.
Post-show we again walked a few blocks east before hailing a cab back to Billyburg; again Luckydog was too packed for us to venture inside so we finished the evening at Rosamunde with tasty beer, sausages and fries. Word to the wise - I LOVE LOVE LOVE spicy stuff, but the chicken habanero sausage at Rosamunde is JUST TOO DAMNED SPICY, PEOPLE! I mean, really!
One night to go, beetchez. I'll finish these recaps up next week n' stuff. Tuddd out.
Luuuuuunch. Anyway. As it turned out, thanks to rain, and lots of it, I really don't have much to report from the Williamsburg Street Music Festival thingy on Thursday night. Rain throughout the day postponed openers Best Fwends set, which I really didn't have any interest in catching anyway. Instead, my friend and I had beers at The Abbey on Driggs. I wound up drinking 5 1/2 beers in less than 45 minutes, so I had a decent buzz going by the time we finally exited. We missed the first song of Cheeseburger's set, but they played "Money for the Heart," "Derby Day" and part of "Hot Street" before the thunderstorm came sending everyone scurrying. We somehow eventually made it back to my friend's apartment in Sunnyside to max, relax, and eat Peruvian chicken. The rain cleared up after less than an hour or so, so who knows, maybe Oxford Collapse got a set in after all, I have no idea -- but at that point getting me off the couch with my mouth stuffed with beans n' rice, yuca and that awesome green sauce wasn't happening.
On to Friday's show. Bobby Bare Jr. is definitely amongst my top five favorite live performers at this point. I was trying to come up with a list of other artists whose shows I prefer that still perform regularly, and all I could come up with was Comets on Fire, Mogwai, Arcade Fire, Social Distortion, and the now semi-retired (from playing live, at least) Robert Pollard. This being the third time I've seen Bare Jr.'s live show, I've still never seen him headline a set. Last year he opened for Drive By Truckers and pretty much blew them off the stage, and later I caught him opening for Centromatic. No Centromatic fan am I: he made those guys look like a fucking Barney sing-along or some shit.
Fortunately, Thursday night's Bobby Bare Jr. show was indoors. (Again, I'm aware that The Slip were headlining this show but I find them to be bland). Openers Meowskers kind of reminded me of bands like Bon Savants and Cheyenne, if only because of three reasons: 1.) chicks obviously dig 'em; 2.) their schtick is basically spare melodies delivered over inoffensive chording and 3.) I (embarassingly) kinda like 'em, too. Seriously, there were a ton of eminently porkable college chicks who showed up for these guys' set, most of whom were drinking heavily. Of course, ya had to know that as soon as Meowskers left the stage, these chicks would be gone and there would be plenty of room up front. "Hate to see you leave, but I love to watch ya go." [Flips down shades]
After the last shrill teenybopper cheer died down, Bare and his band began setting up immediately, and I noticed that the personnel -- and notably the instrumentation of his backing band, the Young Criminals' Starvation League -- had changed entirely. No more handlebar-sportin' well-dressed guitar dude (Richie? Is that his name?), but instead a dude on guitar/bass/trumpet/keys and a woman splitting time between bari sax and keys. Of course, I cheated and looked at their taped-to-the-stage setlists, pleased that they were planning on playing a heaping portion of great songs.
Opening with a somewhat more sedate version of "Valentine" -- complete with horn intro -- it became obvious that this would be a more pensive Bobby Bare Jr. show than I was used to. Throughout the set his jams seemed trippier than his usual countrified Pixies/ramshackle powerhouse RAWK. As his backing band seems to constantly be shifting members, it's cool to note the differences in performance styles. Well, for me at least. Cool shit. The set's second song, "Borrow Your Cape," featured the band roaring straight through in full bore hard rockin' mode. "Flat-Chested Girl from Maynardville" followed, and like previous versions I've seen the closing freeform coda was cacophonous and super dissonant. More faves were to come, amongst them "Uh Wuh Oh," "Mayonnaise Brain," "I'll Be Around," "Heart Bionic." According to their setlist, they had planned on playing "Stop Cryin'" before ultimately ending with "Terrible Sunrise," but... fuckin' time constraints. They closed their set with the requisite cymbal-crashin' big rock ending, after which I pretty much booked out the Bowery door to my car. Seriously, sticking around for The Slip's first couple songs would have been pointless because, face it, I was going to leave anyway, and always better to check out on a good note.
So, yeah, here's hoping Bobby Bare Jr. and the Young Criminals Starvation League comes back real soon (y'hear?) and that they can fire up a full 90 minute-or-so set of the good stuff. I'll be chewing my toenails in eager anticipation.
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.