Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Thirteen New Albums I Heard in 2015


*** A Top Five List ***
*** And Then Another Eight In Alphabetical Order After That ***

Not that some albums didn't leave me scroggled, and I'll list those out for you shortly, but I think that the feeling I am left with nonetheless from the year in music is one of disappointment. Deafheaven and Deerhunter, whose albums I each spent most of the year anticipating, both failed to build on 2013 masterpieces, and Locrian also turned out a record not as good as their last.

Well, every year ain't 1969, or 1986, or 2000.

Let me be clear: nothing I bought new this year sucked, and I'm still a fan of every band on this list. But on the other hand, I think the only five-star albums I know from 2015 are the first two I'll mention.

1. Sannhet - Revisionist

- Tremendous beautiful luminous gorgeous heavy music, occupying much of the same territory that Sunbather did a couple years ago. If anything, it is even more audacious.

2. Enslaved - In Times

- Enslaved are an entity unto themselves. You could say "Progressive Black metal" or you could simply say "Enslaved Music." Their progression since Isa has been uncanny, with each album since being better than the last. In Times keeps that forward motion going. I'm a fan of Opeth, too, but Mikael Akerfeldt wishes his band was this consistently innovative. Enslaved are the shit. Enough said.

3. High On Fire - Luminiferous

- Definitely better than De Vermis Mysteriis, and probably the trio's best since Blessed Black Wings. Only the failed foray into slower territory with "The Falconist" keeps it from being flawless. Lemmy's tragic recent passing makes me think that Matt Pike is the greatest and heaviest rock 'n' roll lifer we have left; may he have many more triumphs like Luminiferous.

4. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit And Think and Sometimes I Just Sit

- Not a particularly obscure pick, and probably a little afield for me, but like some of the critical darlings dear to me, it's quirky, and it rocks.

5. Protomartyr - The Agent Intellect

- A very worthy successor in a year short on them to Under Colour of Official Right, recorded live, and I am extremely psyched to know that I will be seeing them in February.

Lesser, somewhat flawed lights--

Bosse-De-Nage - All Fours

- Rolling Stone recently did a little featurette on the metalgaze scene (or blackgaze as they called it) and in it, they said this was the best metal album of the year. So I jumped on it, but in keeping with the year, I was sort of disappointed. Moments of power were not in short supply, but moments of grandeur kind of were.

CVLT Nation Sleep's Holy Mountain Cover Project

- I still don't know Sleep's first album as well as I might, and I know nothing of the bands who recorded these covers beyond their appearances here, but my immediate reaction was that this was a cover of Sleep's weakest album by weaker bands. I've definitely not given up on it, though, and if my opinion of this thing in two years is radically different, well, I wouldn't be surprised. Frown's cover of "Nain's Baptism" will be a good place to jump back on when I do.

The Heavy Eyes - He Dreams of Lions

- A couple years ago, I discovered a song by this Memphis stoner band called "The Iron Giants," which I absolutely loved. Somehow I got onto their bandcamp mailing list, and sometime during the summer, I received an offer to buy their discography for some ridiculous price. So I jumped on it, and it included this, their offering for 2015. Maybe nothing as good as the song I knew, but nonetheless, this is good heavy melodic stuff.

Locrian - Infinite Dissolution

- Lost in all the Sunbather mania in 2013 was Locrian's Return to Annihilation, an album that mixed electronic noise with ambient and shiny shiny black metal. Their new one is a little less focused, and probably another follow-up from 2015 that doesn't reach its predecessor's highs, but Locrian remain a band for me to follow.

Deerhunter - Fading Frontier

- I think of Jeff Beck and Brian Eno, who had car accidents that changed their careers. Bradford Cox wasn't driving, but he got hit by a car and Jesus Christ, he's like made of twigs, it's a wonder he wasn't killed. But instead, he was simply laid up in the hospital for a long while. But instead of inventing ambient, or conceiving mad designs involving the talkbox, he just decided that his band should regress. Monomania, a masterwork in my opinion, was a radical departure for Deerhunter, and Fading Frontier retreats from all of it.

This may not have been a big deal if the "ambient punk" songs they returned to were as good as they were on Crytpograms or Microcastle, but for the most part they are quite simply not. However, let me give some props to "All the Same," which does reach some of those heights.

Parquet Courts - Monastic Living (EP) In a year when artists like Deerhunter and Deafheaven failed to move forward from career highs, Monastic Living is one example of a band who did move forward in 2015. After fucking with krautrock and covering Lee Hazelwood in 2014, 2015 saw Parquet Courts moving into angular postrock and skronk. I have perhaps never seen such a hilariously negative review of a buzzband on Pitchfork, please read it, the savagery for a band merely trying to broaden themselves is unreal, but know this: Monastic Living is out there, it's experimental, and it ain't perfect. But we like out good bands to try new things, so if anything I am more of a fan of Parquet Courts after Monastic Living than I was before.

Deafheaven - New Bermuda - Yeah, Pitchfork. You can look this one up, but they gave New Bermuda a 9.0. It's not a bad record. I like intensity, and you can't say New Bermuda is not intense, but the majesty of Sunbather is missing. The beauty, the shit that shakes your soul, it's there only in sporadic doses, perhaps the most on "Brought To the Water.". This is more metal and less gaze, when I would have probably preferred the opposite.

Carach Angren - This Is No Fairy Tale - I started seeing Carach Angren a lot on tumblr, and figured I should download a couple albums to check 'em out. Perhaps if I were deeper into black metal (or even power metal) the orchestral touches would strike a heavier chord with me. It seems so European to me, and of course I'm a child of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Metallica. It's good stuff, clearly, and they have ideas, but I'm never going to love this band, or bands like them.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Problem With Radio Part XVIII

One of the things that old people who are seriously into music like to do is bitch about the state of commercial radio. We don't do this bitching as much as we used to, because, let's face it, radio is just about last on the list of places where people who care about music get it these days. The problem is just not as relevant as it used to be.

But, never fear, we still manage to bitch, on occasion, and this is one of those occasions.

A little background--and this is somewhat embarrassing to admit on a blog named after an iPod--but I don't currently have one. An iPod, that is.

About six months ago or so, my last Shuffle unit broke, and then Melanie and I had to move, and then there was fixing up stuff around the house to get to, and then the oven exploded*, and I had to fix that, and then Melanie was out of work for a little bit, and then my lawnmower died.

Plus, I put things off. I just last weekend got that haircut I needed four months ago, for example.

So I haven't had the needed combination of a decent chance and the required money to go down to the Brandsmart and get another iPod.

The good thing is that the car I'm driving now is old enough to have a CD player**. For a while there, I was in the habit of burning CD's of stuff I downloaded overnight in the morning as I got ready for work, and then bringing it along with me for the drive in. And I was also going through my library of you know, store-bought CD's, pretty well, also, including stuff that I've had for years, but had never really listened to. For example, I listened to Young Lions the other day. If you've forgotten or more likely never knew, Young Lions was Adrian Belew's 1990 LP. He covers "Heartbeat" on it, and David Bowie contributes a track. Otherwise pretty forgettable, which is why it was never in heavy rotation in the first place, but whatever, I listened to it, and stuff like it.

And of course, now and again, I buy a new CD release. Over the past six months, these have included the new High on Fire, the new Protomartyr, the new Deafheaven, the new Locrian, the new Deerhunter, the second Sannhet, etc, etc.

So, hopefully I've established, at home's never been an issue with the iTunes always running, and I've been listening to music on the way to and from work, in general.

But I don't know, over the last couple weeks I've been skipping the music on the way in, and at lunch, and I've just been listening to NPR. Maybe that's because of the Paris attacks, or because of the #Clowncar. Or maybe it's just because I've run out of blank CD-R's, but anyway, fair enough if I want to take a break from continuous free time music, except today they pre-empted their mid-day stuff and All Things Considered for a School Board meeting.


So off we hop to FM music radio, right? Turns out there's this fairly new commercial "alternative" station in town. 104.3 "The Shark" if you can deal with that, and I mostly can't. The blurb on their site says "The Shark plays alternative music that is modern and mainstream," which makes me think they are having troubles with the meaning of the word "alternative." But, anyway, they play QOTSA and The Offspring and Panic! At The Disco and Lenny Kravitz and I'm pretty sure Tame Impala, which is better than the "Rhiannon" they're probably playing on the classic rock station, so when the NPR thing goes sour, I move over to this "Shark" first.

Later, I'm heading home, negotiating the Toyota through the typical bullshit traffic, lightweight stuff on the radio unknown to me barely registering--no Queens tonight, folks. And then I recognize a song: "Can't Stop" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Now, I don't hate the RHCP's. In general the funk-rock thing doesn't move me, but I like that "Give It Away" tune alright. I like "Catholic School Girls Rule." I even like "Under The Bridge." It's pretty, you know? But what I quickly come to realize is that this "Can't Stop" song--which I've heard a hundred times if I've heard it once, but for the first time this is really registering with me--"Can't Stop" is utterly and fantastically BOE-ring. It is totally the sound of a band going through the motions.

But no time to worry about that, because the next song is on, and it sounds like a heavy riff, and I turn it up a bit. And then the riff stops, and I have no idea of the name of the song, but the riff stops, and it becomes apparent, from the slow, turgid, stiff groove, that the band is in fact Sublime.

So I turned it back down.

To be honest until four or five years ago, I'd never heard Sublime. I'd read a story in Spin that was sort of about them, and sort of about their tribute band, Badfish; I'd seen people wearing T-shirts. I knew the lead singer had died of a smack overdose. But I'd never heard the music until the kid in the warehouse brought their compilation in for me.

And boy, was I unimpressed. Why would you want to play ska, or skacore, or whatever you want to call it, if you had no sense whatsoever of groove? If an actually somewhat decent band like the Chili Peppers were sleepwalking through "Can't Stop," Sublime seemed to me to be sleepwalking through their entire catalog, through all of the music that you'd guess would have been an inspiration to them.

Ska's never been a big thing with me, but I love "Mirror in the Bathroom." I don't love The Specials, but I like them. I *definitely* like The Specials. I like Operation Ivy. So I don't think it's anything like, well, I'm just unable to appreciate the style of music they play, as if Sublime had played, let's say, salsa. Which I just do not get.

No, I think it's that Sublime just weren't that good at music; they were stiff and had no feel for what they were doing. You usually think of bands as being experts at music. The other day, for example, I was reading about how Billy Gibbons was totally into Depeche Mode. Or maybe you remember how Ric Ocasek was a big fan of Suicide. Yet, Sublime do not come across as being experts in anything.

Enough already with the panning of Sublime. Back to the radio. So I had this horrible experience, these two horrible songs thrust at me back-to-back, and it occurred to me. To me, who'd twenty years ago done enough bitching about Classic Rock stations, about Dark Side of the Moon at 3:00 in the afternoon, and about REO Speedwagon anytime, to last me for the twenty still to come. To me, that the problem with radio is not with "format," per se. The issue is not with classic rock, or with the all-too-often cheesy bands who played it in the seventies. The origin timeframe of the music is immaterial. All you have to do is turn on a supposed "alternative" station, and you'll find the same thing: a much too casual relationship between what is played and what is actually any good.

* No, really, it did. (Return)
** This is what we in the biz call "backhanded praise." (Return)