Heheheheheheh. Ah, 2014: another year where I tell myself 'this is the year my obsessive show-going addiction ends;' another year where I see more shows than anyone I know who isn't employed at a performance space / venue. WHEEEEEEEEE!!!!
A quick list of locations where I've seen shows this year:
--Brooklyn (double natch)
--on a boat circling Manhattan
--Commerce City, CO
--Miami (in 7 days!)
As of this very moment, I've seen 93 concerts this year, and I've got at least three more coming up - Uncle Ebenezer at Knitting Factory Saturday night, Television (first time seeing them) at Irving Plaza on 12/28, and a little up-and-coming rock band who I think are called Assface in Miami on New Year's. The following is my totally subjective, largely meaningless, and wholly amusing (to me) recap of the best stuff I saw in '14.
Oh, and Happy Holidays to all!
The Ten Best Phish Shows I Saw All Year:
1.) Phish, 10/31/14 MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas
2.) Phish, 7/13/14 Randall's Island, NYC
3.) Phish, 7/27/14 Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD
4.) Phish, 8/29/14 Dick's Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, CO
5.) Phish, 11/2/14 MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas
6.) Phish, 10/22/14 Santa Barbara Bowl, Santa Barbara
7.) Phish, 7/26/14 Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD
8.) Phish, 10/28/14 Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Fran
9.) Phish, 7/11/14 Randall's Island, NYC
10.) Phish, 8/31/14 Dicks Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, CO
There are few bands with as distinctively singular a style as Russian Circles. Over the course of their five mostly-excellent albums, the band has created an aesthetic that's entirely their own, carving out a niche that's instantly identifiable amongst the legions of post-rock pretenders. There are many disparate elements that make up Russian Circles' sound; from brooding atmospherics to harsh riffing to looped guitar pyrotechnics to shimmering arpeggios, with each of those utilized liberally at this show.
At a Russian Circles show (this was the eighth time I've seen the band live - read a much lengthier review from when I saw them last April here), the setlist is largely irrelevant, as the band conjures magnificent peaks and valleys regardless of the specific songs they choose to play. The music's intensity is bolstered by the stark, white lighting the band is backlit by, conjuring a sublime, dreamlike (at times nightmarishly so) atmosphere within the room. The sold-out crowd was appropriately rapt.
The set was highlighted by personal favorite "Carpe" (the leadoff track from their first album, Enter), as well as multi-part epic "Mladek," and a couple from their most recent album Memorial (which I very much enjoyed), with the setlist featuring material from each of their albums. This was, I believe, the first time I'd seen them live where they hadn't performed perennial set closer "Death Rides a Horse."
Canadian noisy hardcore trio KEN Mode opened, supplying a surprisingly groove-oriented set of bleak sludge. I had only heard a few studio tracks by the band prior to this show, but I've since checked out (and enjoyed) out their most recent album, Entrenched. Listen here, and check out a video my buddy Michigan shot at the show below.
Yeah, this one's not even close. After being fortunate enough to attend 12 shows during Summer Tour, then 9 of 12 shows on Phish's Fall Tour (and couch touring the other three), I have to say that these sonsabitches haven't performed / improvised at this level since the legendary Fall Tour '97 / NYE Run '97 / Island Tour '98 era. With '13 NYE Run just 5 days away, we can only hope that they deliver something close to what went down from late October thru early November. STOKED BRAH.
In Russian Circles' sonic arsenal, the atmospherics are the glue that binds their whole bag of tricks together. Curtis, formerly of Secret Machines (and a touring member of Interpol), has helmed the last three (excellent) Russian Circles albums, helping to shape the band's evocative, dramatic music into something that's entirely lyrical despite being totally wordless.
This one's kinda a dark horse. It's loud and fast, which will help you keep the RPMS up. But the fact that it's scary as fuck will want to make you outrun it like it's a relentless methed-up boogeyman who's looking to get some tail. (Yours.)
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."
When I first heard news of this show, my first thought was that this was a cruel April Fool's joke, weeks in advance. Fortunately, this was a real live honest to goodness show, and this would be the most intimate Russican Circles show I've seen since I caught them opening for Dalek at Mercury Lounge in February '08. Having recently galivanted across the country as the undercard on a bill featuring Coheed and Cambria / Between the Buried and Me, these guys spent a couple months playing the big rooms; their NYC stop on that tour was at Radio City.
Still not sure how I feel about seeing shows at Saint Vitus. Yes, the sound is great, and, yes it's nice to have a legit metal bar reasonably close to my apartment. [deleted a couple sentences here. Changed my mind n' stuff.] Whatever, as long as St. Vitus keeps booking great acts, I'll keep coming back in spite of that.
Was glad to run into Justin from Austerity Program at the show - there hasn't been much news from his band lately, but he shared that they've recently completed writing an album's worth of material. With Hydra Head now out of the picture, they're looking to release music on their own going forward, and they've apparently gotten some major hurdles out of the way in getting the infrastructure set up for that. I was also told that Austerity Program would be opening for Zozobra at Saint Vitus in just a few days (check back on Thursday for my review of that show).
Day-of, St. Vitus still had "TBA" listed as the opening act for this show. I put two and two together, hoping that St. Vitus-affilited band White Widows would be added to the bill, and although this didn't happen, I enjoyed both opening acts plenty. The first band, Descender, had a sound (rock-solid riffy / hook laden post-hardcore with seamless tempo shifts) and presentation (intense) which reminded me quite a bit of Goes Cube. The second band, Primitive Weapons served their own brand of crushing post-hardcore downtuned and noisy, with their vocalist (who splits duty with White Widows) seemingly spending as much time agitating shit in the audience as he did onstage.
At setbreak, the house music noticeably switched over from Saint Vitus' usual soundtrack of classic thrash / stoner / sludge to a steady, slow drone, foreshadowing Russian Circles' set. For those who have never seen Russian Circles live, theirs is a blend of foreboding atmospherics and dazzling metal chops, similar to Pelican in some ways, but with much more of an emphasis on quiet vs LOUD dynamics and tension release.
Taking the eerily backlit stage around eleven, Russian Circles' set on this night reminded me of why these guys are such a formidable live act - for the songs flow seamlessly from one into the other for lengthy stretches, bound together by ethereal, ambient minor key tones. The playing blends together the chugging riffs and flash-fingered soloing of thrash with the glacial grandiosity of Mogwai, dramatically punctutated by calm-during-the-storm minimalist segments.
The first half of the set (or so) seemed to be performed as one lengthy, multipart suite with several familiar themes from throughout their career popping up during the 20+ minute slab of music. The evening's highlights (for me) began shortly after this, with the band lurching into the excellent "Carpe" from their debut album, Enter. This seemed to wake the crowd up a bit as well, as the pit opened up directly in front of where I was standing, sending me to the bar for some water. (Check here for a brief, crappy video I took at this point in the show for proof of why I went to the back of the room.)
The final two songs of the evening were met with the greatest cheers of the evening by the sweaty crowd. The epic "Mladek" is probably the band's compositional masterpiece, beginning with gorgeous, bordering-on-inspirational arpeggios, and somehow seamlessly winding its way to a crushing conclusion that includes the most brutal playing in the Russian Circles catalog. After that, perpetual set closer "Death Rides a Horse" (I've seen the band at least seven times, and they've closed every set I've ever seen with this standout) galloped along to its fiery conclusion, managing to cram everything that's great about this band into as satisfying a set closer as there is.
[I feel I should mention something incredibly odd which I THINK I saw at this show - two smaller guests were accompanied by a pair of massive, left-tackle sized dudes, and if I'm not mistaken (I was not the only crowd member to have come to this bizarre conclusion), the bigger dudes were serving as the smaller peoples' bodyguards, standing with them on the edge of the pit and protecting them from stray elbows. Good work if you can get it, I guess!]
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.