February 1, 2010

Okay, You Asked For It...

Well, somebody did. Although anyone as deeply involved, nay, IMMERSED in music as I am knows, it's exceedingly difficult to nail down any kind of Year End list (or really any "Best Of" list for that matter) to merely ten. But, since personalities like mine are also compulsive list makers, for the sake of argument/discussion I will do so here. Obviously these lists exists in a constant state of flux, as the nebulous winds of the ether blow them this way and that, and they are as hard to pin down as a starry smear of night sky as one entry twinkles, then the next and the next and the next until it's impossible to tell which one is currently shining brightest, especially what with the speed of light and all. Anyway, here goes...


1. Assemble Head In Sunburst Sound "When Sweet Sleep Returned"
2. Sleepy Sun "Embrace"
3. And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead "Century Of Self"
4. Super Furry Animals "Dark Days/Light Years"
5. Flaming Lips "Embryonic"
6. Oneida "Rated O"
7. Cave "Psychic Psummer"
8. Fuck Buttons "Tarot Sport"
9. Volcano Choir "Unmap"
10. Japandroids "Post Nothing" / Ganglians "Monster Head Room" (tie)

Yes, that's a tie for 10th - I really can't decide. Honestly. You choose. And also because narrowing it to only 10 is just so very unsatisfying, here are the runners up (just five, uh, or six, er, seven...? wouldja believe...?)...

Honorable Mention:
11. Helvetia "Helvetia's Junk Shop"
12. Dan Deacon "Bromst"
13. Stardeath and White Dwarfs "The Birth"
14. Tortoise "Beacons Of Ancestorship"
15. Health "Get Color" / Woods "Songs Of Shame" / Real Estate s/t / Pterodactyl "Worldwild" (four-way tie, sorry, it's all so good!)

Okay, enough of that, on to the playlist! Featuring the Very Best of 2009 (to the best of my omniscience)... PART DEUX! (see last month's post for the first installment).

We begin with a rambunctious romp through the urban jungle with Animal Collective, with their latest album seemingly influenced by the African music so du jour with their Brooklyn peers. A math rock ensemble (called Meneguar) gone folky, Woods put out an album of sublime little ditties that bite and scrape like campfire equivalents of early Flaming Lips. Volcano Choir is a match made in heaven between the elaborate experimentalism of postrockers Collections of Colonies of Bees and the heavily treated vocal stylings of avant-folkster Bon Iver. Speaking of heaven, apparently there be bears there, and this Bear In Heaven has some of the dreamiest, most enigmatic and oddly arranged symphonic shoegaze I've heard in a long while (not to mention that their band name evokes the great Space Needle song "Beers In Heaven").

Deerhunter maestro Bradford Cox moonlights as the more stripped-down Atlas Sound and put out a strong second full-length, with the track included here quite possibly the finest on the album, featuring vocals by none other than the inimitable Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab. L.A. dark psych afficionados The Warlocks have also streamlined their sound with this new album, and to great effect, especially on this track with its melty My Bloody Valentine guitar swoon. UK goth weirdos The Horrors have undergone a complete transformation from cartoony Birthday Party hairfarmers to spaced out shoegazers with their second album. And A Place To Bury Strangers continue their self-described vocation as The Loudest Band In New York - despite the bandleader's day job as guitar effects entrepreneur, their Joy Division roots are showing.

Underground noisemongers Health return with a follow-up to their debut that's stronger and more focused, and dare I say it, more accessible. The same could be said for O.G. noize boys Black Dice, although in their case it's been a slow transformation over many albums, this being their strongest since Beaches And Canyons. No-fi guitar scuzz gets a sunny kaleidoscopic makeover by Wavves on his sophomore release. And Future Of The Left return with an album that's both as furious as their previous incarnation as Mclusky, the most pissed-off postpunk Wales has ever seen, and somehow more refined.

A lot of talk has circulated through the uber-underground community concerning the preponderance sloppily psychedelic (if you can imagine vintage Black Flag as an LSD-enhanced soundtrack for tripping beachtown slackers) guitar-and-drum duos like No Age and the aforementioned Wavves, but none has seized me as immediately as Japandroids, perhaps because they trigger memories of late-greats from outside the genre as diverse as Swervedriver and The Archers Of Loaf. So on the subject of obscure musical genres, please allow me to now coin the term spazz-jam. To be a spazz jam band you should be less than the standard rock and roll four piece, care nothing about your outward appearance, work entirely from improvisation, and preferably reside in Brooklyn. While none of those are prerequisites, it certainly applies to originators Oneida on their umpteenth release, a three-CD progrock cornucopia of epic proportions that spans the gamut from free-noise freakouts to grinding motorik repetition and nonsense. It also applies to Pterodactyl who return with another slab of shrieking start-stop insanity. And Cave continue their Krautrock-infused neanderthal noodling while Wooden Shjips offer more of their hypnotic neoprimitive groove.

Sometimes well-known and respected musicians form super groups, and oftentimes the outcome is less than super, the whole being less than the anticipated sum of its parts. But in the case of Them Crooked Vultures it works - it sounds exactly like you'd expect singer/guitarist Josh Homme of Queens Of The Stone Age with Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones on bass and the ubiquitous Dave Grohl back where he belongs behind the drum kit. Rawkin'! Prolific multi-intrumentalist and musicologist (and Friend Of The Spacerock Continuum) Emil Amos of Grails put out his sixth and seventh releases as his solo project Holy Sons last year and they're the best work he's ever done, IMNSHO. And while we're on the subject of moonlighting, Beak is an against-type side project of Portishead's Geoff Downes and it's absolutely confounding and entrancing.

Real Estate is a young New Jersey ensemble that's more Feelies homage than Jersey Shore guidos, and their crystalline jangle pop is absolutely refreshing. Hardworking Seattleite Jason Albertini put out his fourth self-produced album as Helvetia, named for the country (what's now Switzerland) not the font, and to my mind he stakes his place as the poor man's Broken Social Scene (and that's a compliment!). And in the most startling of comebacks, everyone's favorite North Carolina warped and twisted mathrockers the mighty Polvo return to both pick up where they left off and expand on their already impressive, if abstruse, unique vision.

We get heavy at the culmination of this set, but for me if it's metallic it's gotta be progressive, and that aptly describes both the trodding dirges of Pelican and the lofty flights of Russian Circles. Philly-delic stalwarts Bardo Pond is sandwiched between these two heavyweights in order to showcase a track from a record company sampler that perfectly encapsulates their modus operandi. And longevity seems to have paid off for Austin prog-punks And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead as they released their strongest album in years. I've concluded this set with a mind-altering excursion from one of the most sonically inventive bands in recent memory, the elusive Fuck Buttons, and hopefully it's enough to propel you starward, away from earthly concerns, at one with the cosmos.

The following tracks should appear in the player below:

Spacerock Continuum Intro - bRambles - BeeDub's Spacerock Continuum
Summertime Clothes - Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
To Clean - Woods - Songs Of Shame
Island, IS - Volcano Choir - Unmap
Dust Cloud - Bear In Heaven - Beast Rest Forth Mouth
Quick Canal - Atlas Sound - Logos
The Midnight Sun - The Warlocks - The Mirror Explodes
Mirror's Image - The Horrors - Primary Colours
In Your Heart - A Place To Bury Strangers - Exploding Head
Die Slow - Health - Get Color
Ultra Vomit Craze - Black Dice - Repo
Get In The Sun - Wavves - Wavvves
Arming Eritrea - Future Of The Left - Travels With Myself And Another
Crazy/Forever - Japandroids - Post-Nothing
No Sugar - Pterodactyl - Worldwild
Ghost In The Room - Oneida - Rated O
Encino Men - Cave - Psychic Psummer
Motorbike - Wooden Shjips - Dos
Elephants - Them Crooked Vultures - s/t
Arranged Release - Holy Sons - Criminal's Return
Backwell - Beak - s/t
Suburban Beverage - Real Estate - s/t
All The Money Is Gone - Helvetia - Helvetia's Junk Shop
Dream Residue/Work - Polvo - In Prism
Strung Up From The Sky - Pelican - What We All Come To Need
Lord Of Light - Bardo Pond - Every Noise Has A Note
Malko - Russian Circles - Geneva
Isis Unveiled - And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - The Century Of Self
Surf Solar - Fuck Buttons - Tarot Sport