31 December 2007

Albums in the Year 2007

As opposed to 'Albums of the Year 2007', on account of this isn't a finished list. It's just a list of how things apparently stand at the end of the calendar year, having not heard certain things I really want to, but while still wanting to do something timely for once. Rest assured, it will soon be 2005 once more. Then I might do 2007 before 2006 to maintain at least some semblance of zeitgeist. So here is a top ten, with brief notes.

01. Dillinger Escape Plan Ire Works

Not as much of a leap from earlier albums as I'd hoped, but they do the speedy stuff as well as ever (OK, not as well as they did on Under the Running Board), and the slightly 'braver', rocky, stuff is fantastic. The last song on the album is seriously the best new song I have heard all year.

02. The Wildhearts The Wildhearts

I didn't think it would get topped for a while there, but then I thought the same thing about Melt-Banana so what can you do. The album flags a bit near the end, but the first half is so good (in a bizarro stuck-in-time kinda way) that it doesn't really matter. When everything is either Nemo or drone, it's great to hear some prog-thrash-pop-metal.

03. World's End Girlfriend Hurtbreak Wonderland

I don't listen to this kind of 'post rock' any more. And at eighty minutes it's way too long. That said, WEG regularly attains heights of tender beauty the likes of Sigur Ros will never again reach and Arcade Fire/Explosions In The Sky et al never would anyway. The quality has outed! And what a surprise that it was someone Japanese.

04. Melt-Banana Bambi's Dilema

Speaking of the greatest rock nation in the world, here's Melt-Banana. Have to admit I slightly over-killed on mp3 before the album came out, but this poppiest album from the band is still a catchy adrenaline rush that is still as heavy as one would want it to be. Bubblegum grindcore!

05. Pig Destroyer Phantom Limb

Speaking of grindcore, there's this lot. Having not yet received my Baroness vinyl, I have no idea whether this is the best album of the year with Baizley artwork, but it is fantastic anyway, as well as being smart, horrible and technically pretty dazzling. It's a bit of a shame the metal media is trying to suggest this as some form of all-time grindcore highpoint (as though Brutal Truth and Discordance Axis never happened), but it's thrilling and not too long.

06. Boxcutter Glyphic

This is one of a few albums for which I have written initial blog thoughts, but further thoughts indicate it is rather disappointing on side one/some of two, but really opens up into cool musical shapes as the record goes on. Whether this was a result of Barry not wanting to initially alienate fans of the first album or what I don't know, but I do think it's the superior album to Burial at the moment (as I admittedly did with their debuts at this time last year). Very good stuff that could end up being considered Boards Of Canada-level-ish.

07. Bloody Panda Pheromone

Still waiting for a vinyl release of this one, therefore I have yet to buy it. However from listens to bogus mp3 files on duff speakers, I am digging this a great deal. What's not to love about slowcore bludgeon riffola while a strange woman screams the lyrics in a style somewhere between a black-metal dude and the late, great Johnny Morrow? Pithy Kerrang-style lazy comment: it's Melt-Banana's secret mutant sibling that's been locked in the attic all its life!!!???!!?!

08. Shining Grindstone

Like the Jaga album in 2005, this was a great early contender for album of the year whose excellence has not at all dissipated over the subsequent months. Weirdly Dillingerish offering from the bombastic arm of the Norwegian jazzrock crew, this album is both testing and sumptuous. A touch cold at times, but that just bolsters the cool-Scandinavian aesthetic.

09. Burial Untrue

Said stuff about this tres recently pon de blog, so read that. This is great. 'Archangel' and 'Raver' especially. If for whatever reason you haven't yet heard this album, these be the songs in which to dip toes.

10. Mira Calix Eyes Set Against the Sun

Had to mention this one really, especially seeing as it seems to have got no press at all (so apols to The Tuss, Landstrumm and Villalobos, who all just miss out on the ten. But try to have a good new year boys). Musically like the best possible Liars album - well, about on a par with Drum's not Dead, probably - this one really stretches out over its four sides of too-good-to-be-bog-standard-120g vinyl. Despite the end of the nineties seeing Mira making clonky noise electro, this is more tender, like an idyllictronic take on what Leila was doing on Courtesy of Choice. A new Leila album would be nice...

30 December 2007

Here is something else I wrote on a message board.

Burial – Untrue

So much to say about this album, and so little that hasn't already been driven into the ground and rendered cliché. I’ll keep it short, as my time with the album still hasn’t been as long and involved as I would have liked. At a time when the term 'rave' is being misappropriated for use on marketing cheap 'n' gaudy jackets and finger-painting indie bands, it's nice to know some people know what the term actually means.

One such person is Neil Landstrumm, whose Restaurant of Assassins set earlier this year was an incredibly satisfying melange of basic three-chord punk Ardkore melodies and modern production techniques (rather reminiscent of LFO's storming last album – Stealth (2003) – then). The bass was humongous and dominating, the whole thing was vibing like people in 'intelligent' 'dance' circles had largely forgotten to do in the late nineties and it was a riot.

Meanwhile, the closest thing to what we used to call 'raves' today is the local dubstep sound-system: you’d have DMZ, Skream, Kromestar and co testing the bass bins and noise pollution laws while people get high, get low, get mashed and feel the power. But while all that is happening, the jubilation of the rave-naissance and general middle-class debauchery (not that there's anything wrong with that) rings hollow with one man: the mysterious Burial. Burial has been thinking about rave too, and he also knows what it's all about. He's not one to pretend everything's OK though.

Burial is thoughtful and sensitive, lurking existentially in the corners like Hamlet while his peers pray at the altar of the divine party. He's mourning what he considers the true epoch of rave, that halcyon time of ice pops, Game & Watch, shell suits and the voices of ubiquitous anonymous rave divas filling the clubs. Where is it now, he asks, to nobody in particular. The signal's echoing randomly out there somewhere, so Burial devises a means of dragging the fading signal into the now. But rather than attempt any kind of futile resuscitation like all too many revivalists in the here and the now, he is content to use his technology to peer longingly and distantly at what remains, like a musicological Hubble staring at the extinct beauty of sonic stars long imploded.

Whether by the music's own design or a lingering artistic frustration with the trend of hauntology, our plucky hero transcends the limits of this hypothetical music-time continuum, and the ghosts we hear in the grooves are imbued with the emptiness and decay of the black holes that remain where those stars once shone so brightly. We're stuck in time. The anonymous vocals, at one life so proud and exuberant are now pained and withered, and the anguish of a lost lifestyle is plain for all to hear while the transmission gets interrupted by stray rhythms and the mist of gloaming. Like those super-powerful lenses that allow us to see what once was all those millennia ago, and like the ruins of great civilisations that can be seen today in mainland Europe and South America, Untrue is at once a jarring reminder of what has been lost and a time-capsular snapshot of what stands in its place now.

In his painstaking reconstruction/deconstruction, Burial has created an album – a document – that should be a self pitying exercise in futility. However, Untrue manages to sidestep such fate with its doomed last ditch nobility in the immutably unyielding shadow of Chronos. This music knows it is going to die. It really already is dead, despite the necromantic efforts of Todd Edwards, the Riff Raff Crew et al. Burial just doesn't want us to forget a great lost musical civilisation, and who are we to deny him a moment of reminiscence when his thoughts are filled with such beauty as this?

22 December 2007

Catch You, by Sophie Ellis-Bextor

There are few things as satisfying in the world of popular music as the stalker song. Most notable is that ode to prolonged harassment ‘Every Breath you Take’, by The Police. Now, though, comes a contender to that throne; an absolute banger that throws the ominous solemnity of Sting’s shrubbery-lurkage out of the window in favour of a more turbo-charged, frantic psycho approach.

This ditty’s lyric is perhaps most thematically reminiscent of that time in Seinfeld when Elaine was stalked by her demented colleague Sam. Her answer-phone diatribe of ‘Elaine...I am going to find you. If not in your office then in the Xerox room or the little conference room near to the kitchen...’ is very much echoed by Bextor’s own semi-lunatic raving:

The morning paper
Look in the mirror
On your key chain
Or in the coffee spoon

On your shirt sleeve
In the flat-screen
In your mailbox
I'm breathing over you.

Of course the intentions of the television character and this song’s narrator are quite opposite; Bextor’s psychosis is driven by love rather than resentment, and it is for this very reason that it is so powerful; obsessive lust is a far deadlier foe than mere office rivalry (‘Come on baby, when will you see’, she demands, ‘that you and I were meant to be’). The sense of a very English eccentricity at the heart of the mania is seeded by such turns of phrase as ‘but may I remind you’, delivered in Home Counties English lurking betwixt the more trad pop threats that ‘there ain’t no engine fast enough / My love’s gonna catch you’.

And it is this intense lusting that really frightens, as Sophie follows that popular posh-kid perspective of the spoiled sector insisting they get whatever they want (c.f. Franz Ferdinand and their surely rhetorically-monikered anthem of the Rohypnol fiend ‘Do You Want To’: ‘I’m gonna make somebody love me / And now I know that it's you’). So it is with Bextor, she too uses the word ‘love’ as a threat, the Damoclean sword dangling ominously over her quarry and ready to drop at any moment: ‘Why waste your energy / No point in fighting’, she sings, as she suggests the relationship she demands is the target’s ‘destiny’.

The music has enough bite in its grooves to keep up with the lyric: buzzing synthetic guitars zip around, mingling in the mix with alien insectoid keys that swarm in the background. The beat is basic but powerful as it gets Sophie’s point across suitably bluntly. Most satisfying of all is the chorus which explodes as bombastically as one could want; it doesn’t feel like an exaggeration to compare it favourably with that of Rihanna’s omnipresent ‘Umbrella’. ‘Catch You’ is Bextor’s most oddly compelling song, and I would be content if she never topped it.

14 December 2007

The Neurosis Album Hierarchy

Talk on a message board recently turned to Neurosis, and what their best albums are. I got involved and that, combined with having not written anything for ages, results in the following. Listed in ascending order:

The Eye of Every Storm (2004)
Pain of Mind (1987)
The Word as Law (1990)

TEoES was just bland. Bland stuff with the only really good song being 'Bridges'. Pain of Mind is cool for the completist, but a tad pointless when it sounds so similar to the better recorded The Word as Law.

Given to the Rising (2007)

A total return to form after their 2004 fudge, the riffs were solid as fuck, there were some grand songs... but it all seemed a bit going through the motions. Ever since 1999, they had been getting more melodic, slightly more adventurous with each release. This was good stuff, but very safe territory for them. Quiet-loud, recorded by Albini, we get it.

Times of Grace (1999)
Souls at Zero (1992)

Times was shockingly disappointing for me at the time, because I was expecting it to be further out into the unknown, when they actually did the opposite. I blame Scott Kelly, and his banging on about 20-minute songs before release. That, and the release with Grace made it seem like I was getting half an album. The dust settled and it turned out it was really fucking good. 'The Doorway' and 'Under the Surface', especially, are fantastic. Souls was kind of a different and similar story, being the first Neurosis album I went to after TSIB. It was like being a musical archeologist, seeing where their key sounds were founded, and what they had sounded like back in the day. Massive Joy Division influence, but they were really starting to spread their wings. There is a segment on the wonderful 'Stripped' which is a career high, with its combination of rock solid riff, bombastic fanfare and chimes of punctuation. Proper precursor stuff.

A Sun That Never Sets (2001)
Enemy of the Sun (1993)

More v different-similar juxtaposition. Sonically these two couldn't be more separated. ASTNS is the apex of the Albini era for me, as they finally get confortable with being melodic, but before they fell off the precipice into Anathema-AOR. They bring the riffs, but also the inventiveness like on the vocal patterns of 'Fallling Unknown' and the dramatic ending of the album. Enemy, meanwhile, is the darkest Neurosis album, and probably the hardest to get into. It's essentially three movements between Epic Neurosis, fuzznoise freakout and pre-sunnO))) terror atmospherics. Each album also has a total standout classic: 'Crawl Back In' which sees them out-Mogwai Mogwai in the tenderness stakes before building back up to massive catharsis, and the momentous 'Lost', which is TSIB-level in its semi-industrial dynamic meltdown. Awesome false finish too

Through Silver in Blood (1996)

And this is when it all came together. Not just a collection of their best riffs, nor just the best mix of ambience and rage (the quiet parts worked so well on their own that the album was co-released by Release Records, Relapse's short lived ambient arm), nor merely their most inventive. What set this album apart was the combination of all these factors with the sheer sense of malice that drips from the records grooves. Steve Von Till at the time referred to it as 'user unfriendly', and that's what it is. For every time they play an earth shattering riff for four bars, they trance out with five minutes of repeating chords. The riffs are pure evil, as are the quiet bits: rarely in metal were quiet passages anything more than punctuation but in this case they were as integral to the carnage as the louder parts. Then there were all the little touches. The times Dave Edwardson's FX-laden vocals boomed emphasis onto the lyrics, the bassline nod to Cape Fear in 'Aeon', the drone & bagpipe duet that shouldn't have worked; the ten minute death rattle that is 'Enclosure in Flame'. It's just too boss for words.

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