02 January 2011

Albums in the year 2010

Hello! A day late (edit: okay, it took til 1am on the 2nd) on this, but that's certainly better than over a month tardy, eh? You know the deal by now: 2010 was a year; I listened to some music, but not all of it; I liked some of it more than others; the ten favourites are below, accompanied by some explanation. Ready? Go!

01. Shining - Blackjazz

Pretty solidly the album of the year, this one. Funny thing is, I knew as much four days into the year! And then for sure by the end of January. How boring, right, readers? Wrong! Wrong because Blackjazz was the gift that kept giving: its gleaming spires and whirring cogs held within them enough depth for you to gaze into for months without getting tired.

It was almost like a black hole, but instead of destruction and anti-matter, it gave and created. Everything about it is fantastic. It opens up with some pretty easy to digest tunes and soon gets bigger and more complex, til it ends up consuming itself. There are references here to all types of metal, numerous types of non-metal, and there are even nods to Shining's own past; old ideas and motifs get dusted off and given a new coat of paint. Of course it was going to be album of the year. If there was anything better, the concept of music itself would likely have been cheapened due to the onslaught it was receiving.

=02. Black Breath - Heavy Breathing
=02. Ke$ha - Animal

I am really having trouble deciding between these two. You'll know, and dislike, one of these, and you probably won't know the other at all. I'll start with Black Breath. Some members of the band were in a hardcore outfit called Shook Ones, who I heard of but never actually heard. Rumour has it Black Breath was started as a bit of an ironic thing. Hur hur, let's do an old school thrash thing, they probably didn't say to each other. Anyway, they gave it a go, and it turned out they are really good at it. They put out an EP called Razor to Oblivion a couple of years ago, which was on that Saviours/Accused/Black Cobra tip. As good as it was, it was nothing on this album.

I don't know if I'll actually do a 'proper' review of it, so here are the key points. It kicks in pretty much from the start. No spooky acoustic arpeggio interludes for Black Breath! Only on two songs does this band let up at all: the title track is an eerie instrumental tune that puts me in mind of Splatterhouse or Halloween or something; proper menacing. The other is 'Unholy Virgin', which at first sounds like it's going to be Alannah Myles' 'Black Velvet', but instead bludgeons, just pretty slowly. The rest of the record is a wicked mix of Discharge-style speedcore and early Entombed death 'n' roll. Both of which are legitimate things. Best thrash album in absolutely years. Since either the first Haunted album (1998) or second Strapping Young Lad one (1997). And better than any Entombed album. Yeah, I said it!

Ke$ha is the one you will now. She's bratty and trashy and loud, so it'll have been hard for you to avoid something like 'Tik Tok'. This album was just a pure sugar rush to me. I listened to it a million times. Those million were mainly in the first few months of the year, but I still love the album, even if I over-played it a bit. As the 'big dog' Westwood would say, Animal is heavy hit after heavy hit. It's officially a problem! I love the hooks, the production and the attitude Ke$ha displays. Some people say she's a Gaga knock-off, but where Gaga is the high-class would-be Madonna, Ke$ha has a lot more in common with the pure energy blasts of Andrew WK or Be Your Own Pet. And coming from me, that is high praise indeed.

04. Harvey Milk - A Small Turn of Human Kindness

I know, I know. Harvey Milk were officially cool in 2008, when they released the fine, quite catchy, Life... The Best Game in Town. I'll let you in on a little secret: this is a lot better. Another album I wish I'd got off my arse and reviewed for Fact, it's a beautifully sad album that people mistake for ugly or difficult. It's not difficult at all; its 37.5 minutes actually pass by pretty quickly, a victory of musical integrity.

I don't mean integrity in terms of the chest-beating hardcore punk 'don't sell out!' thing. Integrity in this case is an album wherein each song flows straight into the next. It's a single, 37.5 minute, entity. But not in the boring drone-doom sense. Each song is its own man, but there is still a thematic coherence lacking in pretty much all other albums nowadays. Look at some of the song titles: 'I Just Want To Go Home'; 'I Know This Is No Place For You'; 'I Know This Is All My Fault': it'd be almost emo, were the emotions here not so raw and real. This is beyond the sludge of their early material. It's emo for men, and yes it is harrowing, but sometimes you can't just look away from the painful things in life. Milk have a history of taking the piss a little, and this may just be a laugh, but I'm taking it super-seriously, because it's a work of art. The last two songs are actually utterly life-affirmingly beautiful. Melvins wish they were this good.

05. Mike Patton - Mondo Cane

Yes! When he wasn't travelling the world, making millions of dollars with the dusted-off Faith No More, Patton was actually releasing new music! And not just any old new (?) Mike Patton music, but easily the best Patton album since those two ridiculously awesome ones in 2001. You know the ones: the Tomahawk debut and the Fantômas 'sophomore effort', as Americans might say. Funnily enough, while FNM were peddling creaky 1990s nostalgia to 30-somethings, Mondo Cane was a different kind of nostalgia.

It was all 60s and 70s Italian pop songs, apparently. Well, it was all in Italian, anyway. And that was nice, because we heard Patton sing in Portuguese on 'Caralho Voador', and his label put out a magnificent Ennio Morricone compilation in 2005, so it made perfect sense - especially when you consider Mike's love of film themes, a lot of this sounding like that. So it's very poppy - really strong melodies, cool orchestration, and the insanely high standard of vocal performance to which we have become accustomed from the great man. While largely faithful (I imagine) to source, there was still some blatant Pattonism. 'Urlo Negro', for example was weirdly hardcore in its delivery of the verses, juxtposing to my endless amusement with the instant jump to one of the jauntiest choruses I have heard in my life. It was as though someone had stitched Sick Of It All together with Gael's cover of 'I Want You to Want Me'. Magnifico!

06. Warpaint - The Fool

I have actually reviewed this one, so I'll leave my banging on for that. I will just say that this is the second fantastic record this all-female band from LA have put out, and it's (just) their best. But it's not 'shoegaze' or anything like that. Closest genre would probably be post-punk, somewhat anachronistically; maybe a soft take on Riot Grrl, I dunno. Anyway, it's lovely and not very obvious, and I'm happy such a good album has got some hype. But everyone should check out Exquisite Corpse too.

07. Swans - My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky

I have also reviewed this, so yadda yadda. All you need to know, til I post the aforementioned, is this is brilliant. While all your other bands, like FNM, Soundgarden, Pixies, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and everyone else ever just reform to play gigs and make money off the weight-gaining and balding, Swans did it right in 2010. When Michael Gira brought back his legendary band, he made sure it was because there was an album good enough to justify the return.

And My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky was it. It's not like he'd been sitting about, counting his money in the 14 years since Swans got dead, or - worse - trying to make music but realising he sucked without his 'classic line-up' (eh, Frank Black and Chris Cornell?). Gira had spent the whole time with Angels Of Light, who sounded like a more introspective, quieter version of what Swans turned into anyway. So it only made sense that, when he did want to make some noise again, he'd bring it out as Swans. But beyond that, it sounds different from any previous Swans album. It's a new one, and sounds new. It's called 'artisic development', a concept sadly all too alien to most veteran musicians today.

08. Hayaino Daisuki - The Invincible Gate Mind Of The Infernal Fire Hell, Or Did You Mean Hawaii Daisuki?

Not really an album, at four songs and 12 minutes. It's good enough that I don't care. While Dave Chang, now the human avatar of grindcore music it seems, didn't quite get the new Gridlink album out (February 2011, apparently), he did get out the now-traditional warning shot, from the alter-ego Japanese speedfreak thrash mentalist Hayaino Daisuki. The Invincible Gate Mind Of The Infernal Fire Hell, Or Did You Mean Hawaii Daisuki? followed debut EP Headbanger's Karaoke Club Dangerous Fire in similar style: insanely fast, heavy, shouty and... well, just insane, really. And moreso than the debut.

It's the kind of thing non-metallers hate. You know that really annoying phase, around the start of last decade, when metal fans became all self-loathing, and got into 'music that non-metallers can listen to'? Isis, Pelican, and all them? "Ooh, listen to how lovely it all is. There are none of those nasty vocals or riffs or bits of iconography to turn people off. It's all very Mogwai and Sigur Ros, isn't it. Would you like a cappuccino?" No! I wouldn't. And I don't want to listen to your poxy metal that pretends it isn't metal. It was fun for a while (Isis, Neurosis, Kayo Dot and The Angelic Process did put out some fantastic examples of the form, admittedly), but then it dragged on for far too long and bored anyone with half a brain completely senseless. That's why thrash came back: a response to the utterly inert, self-important, po-faced crit-metal nonsense.

Anyway, this is the ultimate in that. Your friend who owns Takk will absolutely hate it. Good.

09. Best Coast - Crazy For You

Read what my man Adrien Begrand had to say about it. He's not as hate-filled as me. Go on, I'll still be here.
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OK. Lovely, wasn't it. Now, obviously I don't like it as much as he does, but it was sufficiently summery and delightful to melt my heart. Best Coast are a bit like Vivian Girls but, though it pains me to admit it, rather better. Crazy For You is girl-pop played by a band, and it's got enough songs to rule but doesn't outstay its welcome at all. Its hooks stay in your head even though you don't intend them to, but you don't mind at all when they do. It's a very traditionally feminine sense of musical yearning performed in a more straight-forward fashion that that of, say, Warpaint. It's quality.

10. Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh

I really didn't listen to this as much as I should have done. Erykah, like her sometime musical partners in crime Sa-Ra Creative Partners, is so good that I'll listen once to her record, know it is absolutely excellent, and then not disturb it any more. And it's an absurd thing to do, because whenever a song from this record hit my ears, I was bowled over as though it was completely new to me. I really should just immerse myself in the work she and Sa-Ra have put out since 2007, because it's aesthetically cohesive, very expansive, and just brilliant. You should too!

There was other good stuff, too. It included, but was not limited to, The Secret, Dillinger Escape Plan, Nails, Autechre, Squarepusher, Jaga Jazzist, Jaguar Love, Ceremony, Pale Sketcher, Eskmo, Melvins, Flying Lotus and Joanna Newsom. And Lovers, who should totally have been somewhere in the top 10. Damn it! Not to mention the inspired and ongoing thrash metal revival of Exodus, Overkill and Death Angel. Quality albums all. I love thrash!

Then there was the stuff I didn't listen to, and wish I had (some of which I do actually own): Actress, Mt. Kimbie, Phantom Band, Venetian Snares, Cee-Lo, Janelle Monae, Ghost, Agalloch, Oneohtrix Point Never, the Shackleton Fabric thing and probably a fair bit of Fact's list.

Let's give a mention to the bands whose albums I was hoping for in 2010, but which never materialised: Gridlink, Genghis Tron, Aphex Twin, Rye Wolves and Akimbo! Get off your fat arses and give me more music!

Whose albums am I looking forward to? Well, it'd have to be Propagandhi (pleasepleaseplease), Pig Destroyer, Lady Gaga, Gridlink, Cave In, Melt-Banana, Ear Pwr, Duke Spirit... look, everyone, just surprise me, okay? And, go on, I'll issue my annual appeal to Lift To Experience. Come on, a second album ten years on from your debut would be just poetic!

Last, and very definitely least, is the most disappointing album of 2010: the Captain Ahab one. It was so disappointing that I do feel the urge to make a separate post on it, so watch out for that one. It's seriously one of the biggest drop-off albums I have ever heard in my life. For shame!
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