Late Entries/Stuff I’m Just Unsure About
The Men, Leave Home: I am spending more time avoiding hype about this band then I am actually listening to them, lest the ad copy cloud my earholes. They have a new one out which strange screens tell me rivals the resurrection of Christ– no, the resurrection of Sprite. Will I ever catch up to The Men? Funny thing is, despite the hype they cop a real “we’re just a bunch of dudes” attitude in the interviews. You’d never know they mattered so for so many people who spend time waiting for something to happen to them.
UV Race, Homo: Recorded by Mikey of the Eddy Currents, I’ve only heard this once and it reminded me of heavier, Fall-induced throbbing I’ve come to wait for, but not expect, from every quarter-generation of kids. I may be raving about this in two weeks.
King Khan and the Shrines, The King Khan Experience: This feels jokey and one-off-y after the he came/she came/everybody came lovemaking session that was What Is?! Maybe if I can shake off that burdensome memory and the attached expectations, I can enjoy Khan in this well-produced but wavering context? More an experiment in vibesmanship than album rock. Maybe listen to it when you’re sore or have a rash down there, you know? You do.
Cloud Nothings, Cloud Nothings: Wow, people remember Braid and lesser, more melancholy cults like Rainer Maria or Jejune? Maybe a little Jawbreaker in there? Midwest-y melodious emo lives. ‘Just now listening to their ballyhooed, Albini-helmed alb from 2012, and it sounds like, as they said, Steve did spend much of the sesh playing scrabble. Don’t get too big for you Paducah County Hockey, 1974 hoodies, blokes. Sometimes “new direction” is code for “that scene in Spinal Tap that totally implicates your band’s supposed maturation.” Sometimes it ain’t, though. I need to hear the alb more.
Zs, 33 ep: I don’t know when I went from being a dude who bought capital-E Experimental records to being a guy who mostly likes rock albums with experimental elements. Thank cripes I still have friends who think highly enough of me to send double 7″s with no labels and no guide as to how the sides are meant to be sequenced. Perhaps they’re not? Going back to my Knitting Factory days, I recall how such a trio of gtr/sax/drums could and would often work. I just need to do a few factorials and listen to this thing in its other possible orders before telling you if its sophisticated and stylish or frenetic and rich.
Natural Child, 1971: Hey! The seventies! As discovered by young dudes! Some of the rock songs rock, here, and some of the others are half-loony and reminiscent of Cats and Dogs-style Royal Trux. I need to know more. Good thing they’re set to release 3 lps in the next year – absolutely no way that could turn out to be overkill, right?
Young Governor, Where It’s Quiet ep: First off, Cosloy has no business name-checking Dwight Twilley, and barely any business talking power pop, when he describes this workout from one of the Fucked Up dudes. Second off, I like this okay. There’s a lot going on in the background of the power-hooks, but the aforementioned “lot going on” is perpetrated through what sounds more like daisy-chained 4-tracks than a big board or a craptop computer. That’s nice.
Thee Oh Sees, Castlemania: Good lawd, what happened here? I had purchased 2-3 Oh Sees albs by the time this one came out, each time finding certain cuts that cut me along with lesser, a-wandering neo-neo-neo-psych recapitulations. This was plenty frustrating, given both the aforementioned ability of Dwyer et. al. to churn out sterling singles, and the irrevocable impressions left by seeing this well-endowed sound crew swing wrecking balls in the live format. Well lo and behold, this was the album that made me say “no more of this, I will avert my gaze.”‘ Heartbroken thereafter, I took my death-toilet-psychedelia wallet elsewhere.
Boris, Attention Please: Now just wait a fucking second! I knew this was supposed to be Boris-as-Chris-Gaines, temporarily foregoing their famous heaviness for a dalliance with shoegaze of a, y’know, heavy variety. Wow. I selected the wrong point of entry with this band, whom herein sound not unlike a cross between Bailter Space rehearsal tapes warbling behind the contempo Blonde Redhead if they were even bored-er than they’re already bored.
Brave Irene, s/t: Okay, okay. Someone I crushed on once mixed-taped me a bunch of Rose Melberg, who’s famous for the Softies and her really worthy solo materials. Rose sings songs that make you wanna throw on mittens in the Summertime and pin down someone to write notes to: sipping coffee
cocoa in the snowy/silent East Village and all that, ca. 1999. Brave Irene is Rose returning to “rock” context, avec doubled vocs and the occasional okay hook. Okay. It’s okay, Rose. You’re a soft letdown, not a heartache or a heartbreak but a sentimental pang.
Drive-by Truckers, Go-Go Boots: I give up. I’ve done a good job, you’d have to say if you knew me ca. 2005, of purging most of the y’alternative from my aural and cognitive mapping. These guys (and lady) have always had multiple songwriters who could churn out hits, and they have always been fine with tasteful guitar tones and 70s Stones’ raunch-i-cality. I could say they’ve plateaued, but it’d be Southern-er to say they’re laid up on a runaway truck ramp, smelling each other’s Pabst farts. Merry Xmas, funny guy. Happy Easter, serious guy.
Richard Buckner, Our Blood: Now Buckner I will never give up on, though many of my friends who don’t overvalue “loyalty” (like majorly depressive children of divorce) have. To those friends I say, careful what you wish for, Scooby, Judy, Ruth and Maria. Your chief critique of contempo Rick – that he keeps making the same album over and over again – has been flattened like sidewalk gum. Rick’s made a different kind of album, and its considerably duller than the last coupla-few that I slurped just fine. Well, not Our Blood, which keeps sliding down the wrong pipe and coming up acrid and brackish and pukey and medicinal. Our Blood had a pained birth, which might account for something of the lethargy, excessively prosaic mutter-sigh expositions and uninspired instrumentation here. No wonder Pitchfork gave it an 8.0.
Young Widows, In and Out of Youth and Lightness: Aha! Do you know what we have here? I can tell you exactly. Here we have the 90 Day Men syndrome. Remember how the 90 Day Men came out of the gates like a mean, interesting rock-art gang? Remember how, over time, they seemed to go the way of late period June of 44, acting out involved, cubist tempo experiments that added and subtracted rock elements in a way that seemed a little too much like they thought they’d invented that kinda addition and subtraction? Yep, we all remember that.
Peaking Lights, 936: Two records I’ve bought by this band, ‘fuck if I know why. I put a lot of faith in the reviews over at Dusted – and especially Mosurock and the Still-Single team – and occasionally that faith blows up in my hand, sorta like faith in God will ultimately punish even the most ecstatically unfucked corpse. Is this what chillwave is, maybe? I’m reminded that I once dug records by A Sunny Day in Glascow and To Kill A Petit Bourgeoisie that sort of orbited the same planet as this shit-brown moon. Maybe I’ll listen to those “records” instead, which are on cd and thus holding the resale value of the aforementioned unravished corpse’s stale organs. This is bleep-bloop music with loops on it and lady vocs and I guess some satin-gloved gesture towards “dub.”
The Rapture, In the Grace of Your Love: I actually loved this band, once. Not just back when everybody’s forgotten about, when they made that amazing ep for Gravity; uh-uh, also I loved the fabulous Pieces of the People We Love. The latter was much more of the disco ball school of roller-skating Gang of Four impressions featuring DJs I know nothing about, and made for a smashing time when I lived the appropriate life. There were a lot more hippie speedballs for me, back then, and I tried to carry off many errands and much philosophy with a moment-to-moment sense of “angry young fancy man” humor. That’s not my game, anymore: my “French Redneck” look is lost. I’m just trying to stay alive. Maybe that’s why there’s no joy for me in this supposed “return to form,” supposedly connoting the album, Echoes, which I always found unfinished and brittle. Maybe you’ll think different of this wax slab. Best of luck.
Gillian Welch, The Harrow & the Harvest: Lemme go ahead and spoil my bona fides: not only did Gillian put on one of the best five (and several of the best seventy) shows I’ve ever seen, I still think her friend-man and sidekick David Rawlings could be the coolest gtr player in the USA. Better still, their album before this, the crappily-entitled Soul Journey, really threatened to break with the rootin’-tootin’-la-fa-moo-moo “roots” influences that were soiling their old time-y outfits and quicksanding them back onto the bluegrass circuit again and again. Well, 5 years pass and…so much for that promise. What makes this depressing is not just how it hop-skip-jumps over Soul Journey and Time (the Revelator) – check out the title track from the latter, btw – all the way to the earliest, rootsiest stuff. What makes this depressing, aha, is how this backward drift seems less a cynical recapitulation than it does like the boring gesturing of songwriters who are plain out of songs. You’ve got a great voice, Gillian, and your main man should have as many solo instrumental albs out as Jack Rose… but something’s gotta give unless you’re having fun playing vineyards fulla sandal-wearers at $45/person.
Boston Spaceships, Let it Beard: The last Robert Pollard alb I purchased was Mag Earwig, on the day it came out, after a tear of years – since Propeller – of vacuuming up any and all GBV releases I could find. Then, I burnt out. The band changed to the Cobra Verde dudes, which was fine, but things started sounding more “pro,” and then I heard a gnarly story about Bob getting into a fight with Ted and Dan Leo, two people I preferred at the time – hell, I still prefer, from afar and in my memorial mind – to any and all record albums. So I just dropped off, hearing a cut or two occasionally but never feeling tempted to dig back in until, uh, now. I think I heard Tom Scharpling say good things about the album, and I had some emusic bucks to spend, so….yawn. I think some of this was okay? And there’s a dude from the Decemberists in the group? Turn-off. I’m sure there are five other Bob Pollard side projects I could seek out and get rocked by, but I’d rather try and figure out what the hell Dan Leo has been doing since the Holy Childhood.
Mikal Cronin, s/t: Hmm. This year I focused more on garage-psych-punk-space-gnarly records than I have in some time, if ever, and this oft-top-tenned album just never managed to break through the chasepack to rock me, babe. Despite some standout tunes, it just kinda comes off like, I’m sorry to say, the sideman from Ty Segall’s band making his own alb. Again, some good tunes: there’s just a lot of other face-melting garage-psych-punk-space rock gnarling my nostrils and otherwise running away with my time.
Dum Dum Girls, He Gets Me High: I don’t get it! I wanna get it. What’s so fab about power-chord pop sans dynamics, or warbling sans heart-hooks? Can you really rock breathily?
GG King, Esoteric Lore Hotlanta, baby! Of course one of the great things about my deliberate return to death-fuck-punk and boner-y-power-pop is that you’re all of a sudden back in the realm where the 7″ record, sorta like the sonnet in centuries past, looms as the ultimate format. I read good reviews of this outfit, instantly fell in love with the band name in this time when band name’s uniformly suck, and was rocked senseless by the singles. Featuring Greg from the Carbonas and some other blokes from other bands I should probably check, this record is characterized by ripping riffs, fuck-you vocs and compositions that are better described as plain than as simple. My only critiques are that some of the best cuts from the 7″s are missing, which seems like a waste, and that there’s an interstitial piece – kinda like a rap record – in which the fellas goof off in Byronic couplets on topics like queefing. Not a shock for any band with ‘GG’ in their name, but I’ve got high hopes for this group and anything less than the best is a felony. Also, please note that I scored this lp at the same time as the Cola Freaks s/t (see below), which so rocked me as to make the rest of punk rocking seem as immediate as a one-legged man stepping into Action Slacks.
Apache Dropout, s/t Speaking of ponk rock – this being of a more classicist, very VU variety -there’s not a damned thing wrong with this prolific squadron’s contribution to the Family Vineyard catalog (really looking forward to a double bill with them and Loren Mazzacane.) A pretty heady, pretty heavy onslaught of hummable riffs undergirded with super-interesting John Cale bass lines, and nothing less.
White Fence, Is Growing Faith Wholly uninterested in the spirit-journey implied by the album’s title, I was in fact taken in by its sometimes Byrds-y, more often Tower Recordings-y pilgrim’s progress. Catchy choruses, only slightly and purposefully fucked over by scratchy renditions, recording blips and other sound-semiotics of “looseness,” make for a late arrival in my emusic library, which, properly burned to compact disc, now half-confounds me from the confines of my Toreador Red Ford Focus and its gaudy disc-slit. If I ever mount a full-time archaeological dig into the 640 albums of Matt Valentine and EE, this thing may get tossed out in the street. But until that day it’s a ripe Etruscan Urn for thinking on.
Purling Hiss, Lounge Lizards Not as great as the last one, Hissteria. Hissteria was a motherfugger, y’all. But really, after running off a list of half-appropriate references (i.e., Stooges, Major Stars, Sir Lord Baltimore?), what I need to try and explain is how this band parses or “performs” the “return” of lo-fi aesthetics. The many scare-quotes preceding should clue you in on my cynicism about this development…Christ knows a lot of Pro Tools mastery is going into making stuff these days that sounds like it was recorded into a 4-track from a semen-soaked tissue box. But Purling Hiss make something really interesting happen, whatever the exact routing of whichever signals, and the secret is of course their deep bench of hard riffs. Filtered through their chosen hazy fidelity, these riffs are like a couple-three consenting young adults making fuck-love during a tornado: the listener is straining, from a helicopter above, for as many lurid glances the tornado’s flow-ebb happens to allow. Another metaphor would be the auto-erotic adventures of pre-teens, trying to make out the workings of the unpaid-for Playboy channel through squiggly tv lines. The listener is straining, and getting off for his/her troubles.
Sex Church, Growing Over: Best and worst is the news that, at the moment, you can find a band homesteading on every square inch imaginable of the spectrum between punk rock and art rock (let’s leave the appellation post-punk aside for eight years, as it’s getting weighed down.) Sex Church remind me of the Scientists, somehow, with their minor-melodic-pathological riffing and the way it trudges on and on to screaming halts, or just screaming. Another late entry in the sweepstakes, this alb has outclassed both The Men and UV Race for inclusion herein. But god knows I cannot afford and will not countenance the passing hegemonies of every “big deal” on Hozac or Sacred Bones. I mean, I would if they sent me free records, but in the meantime I rock Sex Church, ponder the punk-art spectrum, and feel less horrid about the future of anger, loss, lust and frustration amidst dissonance, harmonics and a crowded fugging punk-art-drone field.
Veronica Falls, s/t: Very 4ad-y, but also K-y, take on a familiar formula. Imagine racing through an album in an attempt to capture the same “ethereal” flag that Galaxy 500 made famous with they way they stopped time? Excellent female vocs with wine-dark lyrics and not a few choruses that might haunt you, or at least hate you.
J Mascis, Several Shades of Why: Now here we have one that jumped, at the last minute, from the “letdown” pile into “honorable mentions,” as I did my homework and afforded it one more listen. It’s damn catchier than I remembered it being, despite my well-worn chagrin at the sound of violins, violas, cellos or whatever, brought in to make things sound “sweeping.” Of course the guitar playing is obscene – its architecture bared, finally, in the absence of Dino-distortion and its sticky film. Moreover, the unusually audible lyrics, even when they veer towards human sentiments, hit me like a hammer with the true truth of rock history: J Mascis is more opaque and contemptuous than the Dylan of Don’t Look Back; more lost in the erection of self-effacing, literate scat-monuments than Malkmus; and more emotionally evocative than Lou Barlow. Throw in how Dinosaur – long canonized for their returning rock to hardcore and thus incubating indie rock to come – actually don’t really sound like any of the classic forebears to whom they’re often assumed to be paying tribute, and you begin to restore this man to his own off-putting and monstrous glory. This alb won’t hurt that process, if you find yourself called to serve. I always will, probably.
Life Partners, Music is Hard I’ve known Dave Dougan of the Life Partners, Ride the Snake Records and the mighty Major Stars, since the mid-90s. Ah, high school. We both hated it. ‘Played in a band. Scoured NYC for records and books and flicks. Didn’t get along with the jocks at school, can you believe it? Anyway, as I say, we played in a band. I was the mediocre one and Dave was the one with the writing/playing goods. (Accordingly, he rocks and socks ’em while I blog to you from a heavily medicated spare bedroom.) I first saw the Life Partners when they were in a four-piece formation, over a beery weekend in Boston I’m happy to even half-recall. The Life Partners’ gig: they played the Law + Order theme song, were much more abrasive and less rock-y than you’d figure from Music is Hard, and Dave’s vocals seemed more under the spell of Mark E. Smith. Hearing Music is Hard, one’s greeted not only with the title track’s all-too adroit summation of the state of the scene, which is clogged like a toilet with non-real-things like me who somehow make records and think highly of themselves enough to ask you to listen; moreover, one gets to dance with an honest-to-god, y’know, rock band. While Dave goes back and forth from vocal assailing to actual crooning, the fucking band makes real the dreams that nobody’s ever had: Bad Company backing up the Frogs, Kill City-era Iggy in a field of delicate field of jazz chord flowers. Mike Dupuy is a gtr-warrior, Dave Dougan is your man and this is a good band-cum-great band.
Top Lps of 2011 (in descending order)
Sloan, the Double Cross: We need Sloan more than ever in a year without a Ted Leo alb. There’s no other Ted Leo like there’s no other Sloan, but both entities wage thick pop that’s sung merrily, and both domesticate literary clumps upon which your average skinny pop addict’d choke. This is viable-all-the-way-through, song for song, and features the glorious “Beverly Terrace.” Remember when Midlake used to be able to sound like Fleetwood Mac, before they donned the robes, like on “Roscoe?” “Beverly Terrace” is a sequel, or maybe riposte, to that kind of AM, adult-oriented longing. And that’s advanced D+D, kids. It’s songwriting, not genre-hopping.
Jayhawks, Mockingbird Time: One of rock’s tragic bands allows themselves a shot at redemption. With the return of long-departed Mark Olson into the loving harmony-arms of Gary Louris on their duo alb, Ready for the Flood, it was foretold that there’d might again be a Jayhawks tour featuring all the original so-and-sos. But new material? Yes, new material. I’ve often said of the crime writer James Lee Burke that he writes terrible books filled with great sentences. Well, these Jayhawks and their harmonies are so unsurpassed that I can tell you, deadpan-like, that none of these songs go without one dumb change or bridge, just as none lacks for armor-piercing singing and better-than-you leads from Louris. “Ain’t that enough?,” sang the Teenage Fanclub. It’s more than enough to make your business day teary.
The Bats, Free All the Monsters: I believe it was SM who urged us, “Don’t worry/we’re in no hurry.” Again I think of the speedy-melancholy Veronica Falls record and nod approvingly at the impossible airiness that wafts like a fragrant stench off this record of assured veterans, in no hurry, going about their business. Is it wrong or right to call an alb “deliberate” and “ethereal” at once? Or is this actually “tossed off,” is this some kind of “fun” they’re having at the recording studio? The Bats are maybe past critical appraisal, and this is another album of their music. For me and my own parochial reasons, their high point’ll always be the Live at WFMU 7″, but if you’ve ever wondered what comes after fashion-twee, sarcasto-Gainsbourg and all those other ruling ideas…it’s as easy as spinning this or any of their albs.
To say this is “more of same”-y is also to say “i need these chords, these vamps, in order to breathe.”
The same goes for this alb from my favorites, whom I finally got to see live this year. The jams are a bit extended here, and there’s one instrumental, plus some interesting slide leads from Mr. Archer Prewitt and, on the opener, an almost unbelievably busy and melodic bass part from Claridge that’s just like, “how could that possibly work so well?” Meanwhile McEntire purses his lips and his sticks hit drums with the precision of an assassin’s chops to the throat. Prekop croons and pieces together these unbearably difficult-easy arrangements. I don’t know how to fix a fence, and I don’t want to, either. But I’d kill to know exactly how these four parts mesh together so far beyond synergy or symbiosis. Their sound will always be a proximate mini-utopia for me, blessedly available somehow on this bloody earth, consistently making their way even as things get so steadily worse. I have no idea about their politics, but their music manifests my yearning for socialism (with apologies to the dudes from Audioslave.)
11) Ty Segall, Goodbye Bread: Ty’s third full-length in 3 years, on Drag City?!? Okay, he deserves whatever cache he hasn’t already effortlessly accrued. While great pains were taken by one-sheet writers and the rock reviewers who obey them to paint this as a more insular, confessional, “songwriter” alb from Ty, I could hardly detect a difference until I scored Goner’s wonderful compilation of all Ty’s singles from 2007-2010. Now that mortherfucking 2XLP is pretty much a ceaseless hammer to the head, enough so that I realized, yeah, Goodbye, Bread‘s a little bit not like the others. Ty’s weirdo-ness – which is always there, albeit wrapped more or less sometimes in distorto-cock-punk – is played up a little more, here. You hear the SF in his development, maybe, more strongly than on the Melted and Lemons contributions he made to Goner. But I won’t go much further than that. I wanna say this rocks, and suggest that maybe, like another famed sometimes-Californian scribe, we’re meant to understand all of Ty’s everything as back-to-back-to-back installations in one long epic. This guy is in the major bleeping leagues, and talk of his “progress” or “development” best be abandoned: he’s here, we’re queer, let’s get rocked until one of us buys a boat, or even after.
10) Tim Hecker, Ravedeath, 1972: Sometimes I wonder if whatever constitutes my continued interest in ambient and drone stylings is really a pissy, personal quest simply to find myself “a new Labradford.” That band is very special to me, but neither the Stars of the Lid’s great density nor Tim Hecker’s moon-y vandalism deserve subjection to comparison or my shotty wishes for reunion with some something-or-other I lost in the French Quarter. Comparisons aside (sic), Ravedeath shares a topographic exploration vibe with Eno’s On Land, but eschews any and all of the timelessness that Eno mastered and so many followers rehashed into same-y trash. This record moves. Noise interrupts tonal drones like sheets of ice. Sounds fade and get bigger. It’s alive!!!
9) Obits, Moody, Standard and Poor Why do I keep wanting to bring up CCR when I talk about this band? It’s not because anybody’s wearing flannel or singing about this or that bayou, lemme assure you (though I love flannel and bayou songs.) I’m reminded of what my step-brother once said about the great, sorely-missed Grifters, that could also apply to Fogerty et. al.: there’s something about them, just beyond articulation, that every band wants (or should want) to emulate. Maybe its their provenances or maybe it’s really just the music, but the Obits, who play garage-y punk rock, transcend those boundaries, and thus are always miles ahead of being sentenced to that bulging genre-bullpen of “gunk punk” or “garage” or whatever. Maybe, like Shellac and AC/DC, they simply located an algorithm that makes their rock songs hit with an elemental force. (My ex always said this was a secret of Bob Seger’s hits, that he’d simply located a pocket, “the Bob Seger Pocket,” from which you could see for miles, sing for days, and make millions.) At first, I found Moody, Standard and Poor to be a tad of a letdown from the out-of-nowhere blow to the solar plexus that was I Blame You, but eventually this album wore me into awe and wonder. It’s testimony, again, to the thesis that they’ve locked into some secret power source that even a series of Time-Life Books could describe, but never properly analyze. I don’t know if it’s best described as a threshing machine or a landslide – man-made or climatological – but the boys have plain rocking down to a science.
8) Atlas Sound, Parallax: My fave “mental health” album of the year. Now I know Mr. Cox has had some troubles, and having had some troubles, I cannot help but dickishly posit an affinity between him and me. (Oh fuck off! I moved away from everybody I knew and have, like, two friends in this town! I might as well make this kind of shit up.) Anyway, Atlas Sound being the solo undertaking of Mr. Cox from the acclaimed Deerhunter, it shouldn’t be surprising to find that, as time passes, Atlas Sound has come to sound more and more like Deerhunter, but without the benefit of live drums. I’m not sure even my imaginary friendship with Mr. Cox can overcome my preference for live drumming, but I hasten to add that Atlas Sound is one of 4-5 projects I’ve ever liked that was largely based on one man and a digital effects processor. And Atlas Sound is also, besides maybe the Papa M of Live From a Shark Cage, the most ambitious music to emerge from that interface. Speaking of ambition, Mr. Cox utilizes artwork and aesthetic direction from the dude who photographed for Roxy Music’s For Your Pleasure, a move that is endearingly audacious. Good thing the music rises to the occasion, though, or all these backstory babbles and aesthetic assholic stipulations wouldn’t mean much. Only a few times do we dip into the actual abjection and reef of dysthymia that Cox’s albums always threaten us with; au contraire, we’re greeted with the likes of the charming “Mona Lisa” along our journey into a weirdness that neither “happy” nor “sad” can adequately capture. For the most part, the marvel worth considering is how the other-worldly, piecemeal assemblages of riffs and atmosphere find their way to meet Cox’s voice. They intertwine as lovers do. Or maybe like a little boy and his teddy bear, snuggling against a horrible world.
7) Thee Oh Sees, Carrion Crawler/The Dream: My wife looks amazing in the Thee Oh Sees tee I got for her. It’s grey, screened on that American Apparel jersey fabric that’s so entirely comfortable (I know the company is evil, thanks), and really, uh, fits her well. She mostly wears it at night or I’d probably’ve tried to photo her in the shirt, but it’s best for everybody we keep the amount of bare lady legs and panties to a minimum on this site, non (see below)? Anyway, I got m’wife the shirt at a Detroit gig that floored me, even though they got on late and I was dreading a long drive home and all that old man crap. I tell you all this because I panned Thee Oh Sees’s Castlemania above, as you’ll recall if you somehow are making it through this list in one sitting, and I want you to understand that it was the combination of my wife’s bodily form and the memories of the Detroit gig that moved me – fuck it! – to give the band one more chance on record. Also, Ben Johnson from Chunklet assured the world that, yes, this was the alb where they realized their potential, and that was meaningful to me. So I bought the record, and…holy guacamole! What’s weird is that neither the Nuggets nor the Mamas and the Papas elements that characterize my previous favorites are on display here. This album feeds on, uh, “dynamic tension” built between guitar, bass (or is that organ-bass?), organ and drums, interrupted with wicked guitar spice that careens from precision into oblivion-precision. You just have to hear it, certainly the place to start with this group. It’s the highest-ranked album on my list that I haven’t heard even 5 times yet, and with the exception of Numero Uno, just may be the 2011 LP I feel most certain to be rocking in 2016.
6) Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Matt Sweeney, Must Be Blind ep: There’s plenty of good reasons, most of which I won’t bother you with, for why I underrate Oldham and Sweeney’s beautiful Superwolf LP. For one thing, I reached the same place with Oldham I have described in regards to Bob Pollard, in which I punished the artist for his prolific output (not at all for any decline in quality) by shedding my dollars for other comers. I also feel like Oldham is reaching a point where, having been a Hollywood actor and male model and coffee roaster and painter and all that, albeit never at the expense of his music, he has become an institution in a way I admire endlessly but fail to relate to. Sweeney’s a more accessible character to me, for various reasons, but he too could be said to live something of a charmed musical existence, such that if I didn’t no better, I might have feared this record would be more about friends wanking then about collaborators working. I would have been wrong if I’d done that. “Must be Blind” is beautiful and “Life in Muscle” is GUITAR CITY, and that’s how and why the damned thing speaks for itself.
5) Total Control, Henge Beat: I’m not going to mention, via mentioning, the Eddy Current Suppression Ring connection, and I’m going to simply advance the prose-dance with another non-mention via mentioning: it would be okay with me, really, if the Eddy Currents didn’t get back together, so long as Total Control is allowed to unfurl their commanding sound-flag and mount it on the top of my home field crucifix. I could be killed or kissed to this music, and if as it happened I could tell which was which, well that’d be all the extra frosting on life’s shortbread butter-biscuit. This sound is enough. People say “Joy Division,” I guess, when they try to plot this band’s coordinates. I don’t like Joy Division enough to join in that point-plot. I think of other coulda-beens like Beautiful Skin, maybe? All the songs move from A>B, captained by an assured vocalist who charts a lyrical course that overdoes neither the earthy nor apocalyptic sides of things by favoring both. These songs go places, but you don’t. There is no moment-to-moment for you, getting lost in the wallpaper of decorative synths. There is no being-on-the-ground, as guitar-bass-drums hammer you. Only Mikey can talk you through this. I’ll miss the Suppression Ring if they don’t rise again; hell, I wear their button on my jacket, and honestly I’m too old for that stuff! But this band must be allowed to unfurl. And I’ve gotta live to see them live, because it’s been a bloodbath of a year and they’ve helped make things seem worth the effort of continuing to exist. Maybe they’ve got buttons.
4) Tie: Kurt Vile, Smoke Ring for My Halo and So Outta Reach: I once had a step-son. He’ll always be my step-son. I’ll never see that young man again, probably. And if I believed in souls I’d call it soul-murder, which it is, even if I don’t believe in souls. Well, we all take time to hate ourselves, and we all lose people without the right goodbye. ‘Thing is, for a long time I heard Kurt Vile and withstood the accompanying vulture-strike of media acclaim and thought to myself, I wonder if this spot Vile’s in is something close to where my non-stepson is now. The latter was playing K records-y, cutesy/shrill stomps and home-taping a bunch when I knew him last, but he was also making inroads into Fahey-y acoustic gtr moves. And that’s what Vile meant to me: nothing, but a lot. Fahey-y guitar moves and Siltbreeze-y “rock” accompaniment being there beside him. But also a moroseness that was all Vile’s and unlike my aforementioned former main man.
And then the earth shook a bit, and this Smoke Ring for My Halo record dropped like a curtain. It was so assured, so rock. The Agnello production was a major help, the band was tight from relentless touring, and all of the classic rock allusions that had trailed this young dude were finally getting vindicated. Some of these songs are damn FM, and the deep cuts almost could be, but they’re better than just album tracks, and they’re placed in service of the moodiness that makes Vile Vile. His lyrics ain’t shit on paper, that somehow one marvels at how his writerly voice is so distinctive and fully realized for a young man or woman or anybody. When I heard him cover Springsteen’s “Downbound Train” on WFMU, as is done on the So Outta Reach ep, I had it: right, shit, Born in the USA! This goddamn album vibes like the synth-y deep cuts on Born in the USA. I can appreciate that because those deep cuts were the first deep cuts I’d known, and it was odd to hear ’em echoed in the side dude’s atmospherics behind Vile’s acoustic gymnast shit and vocal mope. Great album, great album.
The War on Drugs, Slave Ambient: What was that I was just saying about the deep cuts on Born in the USA? As it turns out, it’s the War on Drugs, the band fronted by Kurt Vile’s bud Adam Granduciel that has struggled until now to get out from under the Vile shadow, that I really want to hear tackle “Downbound Train.” With a voice more likely to carry a melody upstairs into your chest cavity – where Vile’s drawl slides down your back like a deeply-inhaled doob, or the massage hand of someone you shouldn’t be shirtless for, but wanna be – Granduciel paints more detailed fields with his words than does Vile. On a clear day, you can make out a bunch of okay people, collected together by their common yearning for something that’s not around. Granduciel’s guitar work takes a backseat to the synth and rhythms behind – often basing songs on the movement between two, maybe three chords – but then he surprises you with elongated licks, tone wreaths and other sonic constellations that no doubt sound great juxtaposed to Vile’s acoustic gymnast shit. They sound great with this War on Drugs thing, which I’d really like to hear do “Downbound Train.” Or even just the line “And I work/down at the car wash.” On the one hand, there’s a simplicity to Bruce’s backstory line that seems worthier of Vile, but I believe it’s Granduciel and band that could really take you there. This is another record I want to live in. And my wife looks good in this band’s t-shirt, too.
2) The Reigning Sound, Abdication… For Your Love: Who is a better songwriter than Greg Cartwright in 2012? Bob Dylan? No. Townes Van Zant? Dead. Brian McMahon? A union electrician in Kentucky. Emmit Rhodes? Long since embittered and out of the game. This free album, made available by a car company happening enough to hire tastemakers and solicit hot bands, is better than most of “the best shit” most of us can think of. It’s not, oh no, better than the last proper Reigning Sound alb, Love and Curses. It is better, however, than any mortals like us should be allowed to expect. Leaving aside one number about watching a woman get dressed – we all dig that, but how come the “woman dressing” genre always includes references to stockings? – and the great-but-relatively-subpar opener, this collection just hits you and hits you and soothes you and slaps your bare back. Maybe some of you have heard Cartwright’s DJ stints on WFMU, in which his miles-deep grasps of rock, honky rock, bubble punk, fuck-soul and power honky musics lay bare the insides of a man who births songs – not riffs, vamps, or changes, but songs – that would hang in gold frames if their shoulders didn’t shrug just a little too much? What if God was one of us? Now you know. I just hope the next album leaves this alb’s sexy soul-to-sole vibe and takes me home to the gun buzz of Too Much Guitar. Is this the best band on earth?
1) Cola Freaks, s/t: The best of the year needs only the plainest description. Harboring my own, perhaps idiosyncratic, definition of “straight punk rock,” I can tell you it’s rare to find an entry from said genre topping my list or defining my sonic year. But this is it, this is this, the record I unconsciously slapped on the platter all year round, for an audience of friends or just an audience of me. This is the best “straight punk” record I have heard since at least Jay Reatard’s Blood Visions. But that’s a bad referent, since the only thing anybody ever remarks about the Cola Freaks is how they were bound to be Jay R.’s band before his untimely demise cut short said summit. Skipping Fugazi, whose “straight punk” records I like less than their “we’re into Slint and downbeat stuff” records, could I maybe tell you that Cola Freaks’ punk rock swings the needle into arty, noisy territory a la the Unwound of New Plastic Ideas? I will say that, and even say the three words The Modern Dance, but then remind you that said needle always swings back into the punk rock zone. Yeah, this is maybe the best punk record since the New Bomb Turks Destroy! Oh Boy! in my humble estimation. I’ve chased down any and every 7″ by these dudes – as well as a live LP – and all I can think to say is “thank you, Danes, thank you.” Sometimes punking’s good, and sometimes when you spooj it’s less like “good” and more like falling down a flight of stairs. Well, I fall down the stairs butt-first on this one. Cola Freaks make punking fun, even for the old, with Autumn closing in…