(Almost entirely written December 2015-January 2016, and then left in a drawer until now....)
MEG BAIRD Don't Weigh Down The Light (DRAG CITY) This is the Blastitude Record of the Year, 2015. I wonder if a folk record should be the record of such an electronically advanced year as 2015, but it's beautifully sung and played, and sinks deeper and deeper with every listen, and folk music is always back because it never goes away, and I'm certain we need it more than ever as an option for universal/societal calming, quietude, and deep-breathing. It's the AntiTrumpstitude, and believe me, on Don't Weigh Down The Light the breathing gets very deep via brilliant two-person playing, Meg laying down heavy song after heavy song on guitar and voice, Charlie Saufley's instant electric guitar arrangements equally heavy and beautiful throughout, both of them adding subtle overdubs on piano, organ, etcetera... the atmosphere is incredible.
WOLF EYES I Am A Problem: Mind In Pieces (THIRD MAN) A radical new Wolf Eyes record in many ways. The first thing you hear is a Fender Rhodes piano, and instead of being obliterated by industrial noise terror, it's patiently joined by softly sketching saxophone (which will be familiar to most Wolf Eyes fans already, and especially to fans of side band Stare Case), all building into an incredibly somber track called "Catching The Rich Train" that I can honestly say is a 'genre' of music I've never heard before. And the whole album stays in that genre (#mustbetripmetal), with several more great tracks... the twisting slow (trip) metal riff at the heart of "T.O.D.D.," the devastating (actual) metal chorus hook of "Enemy Ladder," the living Stooges sample that is "Twister Nightfall"... and two more, one of which ("Cynthia Vortex AKA Trip Memory Illness") has me recalling Byron Coley's stark words regarding Skip Spence's Oar ("There's a quality of loss and disorientation on this record that has the palpable taste of LSD"). First Wolf rec (I know of) that comes with a lyric sheet, but it's barely possible to follow along with Nate Young's vocals with the ruptures and disjunctures brought about by the band's always-evolving cutting/mirroring vocal delay tactics. But then, just when I'm sure I won't get a handle on it, I happen to be looking at the lyric sheet during the aforementioned "T.O.D.D." not knowing the name of the song yet, and my eyes fall right on the words he's speaking/singing, just in time for a fully intelligible line that stops me in my tracks: "I burn my dreams just to stay warm." I haven't gone back to the lyric sheet since, as that one line has become the theme of the entire record, encapsulating the back story revealed by the band in interviews, the seemingly incongruous cover imagery now a warm fleeting vision of beauty from another burnt dream...
CIRCUIT DES YEUX In Plain Speech (THRILL JOCKEY) I can't really think of another artist who has taken the leap that Haley Fohr aka Circuit Des Yeux has in the last few years. She first came on our radar as some sort of teenage no-wave siren from the wilds of Indiana, playing what I thought (I'll admit I didn't investigate deeply at the time) were deconstructed punk howls. That was something in itself, but fast-forward a few years and she's moved to Chicago and developed her voice into a stunning operatic baritone that brings to mind Scott Walker himself, her songwriting leaping right along with it, crafting extremely honest and emotional works that leave out none of her many avant-garde inspirations but also clearly aspire to the occult grandeur of her beloved Led Zeppelin. So, like Scott Walker singing a more drummerless "Kashmir" but in the Chicago art damage milieu of a woman in her 20s in the way-too-singular 2010s. The album where this breathtaking style really came clear was 2013's self-released Overdue, but 2015's In Plain Speech, for the higher profile Thrill Jockey label, takes it even further.
THRILL JOCKEY) Extendo jam psych that actually hits some of those Gottsching/Harmonia nodes we usually only encounter by playing records that were recorded 40 years ago. Besides, what else can you say about a band that lives in Portland but travels to a cabin deep in the woods to record extremely heady psychedelic rock improvisations, each of which they craft into nigh-side-long pieces which they name after a plant indigenous to that region, other than that they are Living the Dream?
VDSQ) This is technically a reissue of a privately/barely released cassette from 2014, but that issue was so ephemeral, and only a year older, that I'm going to put this on Best of 2015 anyway. Pasquarosa has several projects and all are interesting... to name just a couple of many, he plays teenage downer punk with Gluebag, cosmic psych folk with Crystalline Roses, and brilliant solo acoustic guitar instrumentals as himself. He can be heard to great effect in this setting on the same label's VDSQ Solo Acoustic Volume Seven, but Morning Meditations is a different strain of music, its structures more intensely minimalist, extremely patient and slow-developing (although 'developing' into 'something' isn't even the goal here, because it already 'is', so never mind).
12XU) "The title of this brand new 2015 album refers to his band; McMillen plays guitar and sings, while JJ Ruiz plays drums and Mitch Frazier plays bass. JJ and Mitch both sing background vocals as well, so it certainly works from that spaced-out roots-rock Crazy Horse trio template, but this is no carbon copy. JJ and Mitch are light, open, and swinging, and McMillen brings his own loosey goosey voice to it, really coming into his own as a songwriter. I think I saw someone (on Instagram?) compare this album to the Meat Puppets, and they might've even dropped a II into the comment. A big claim, but I really think it's an accurate description of the style." That's what I said back in November.
MAGAS Heads Plus
MOON POOL & DEAD BAND "MEQ" 2LP
VIANDS Temporal Relic
MICK TRAVIS Face Disappears After Interrogation (MIDWICH)
Wrote about these great records and label last year too, read it here!
75 DOLLAR BILL Wooden Bag (OTHER MUSIC) Best LP released this year of microtonal Mauritanian/North Mississippian guitar played by a Korean from New Haven and accompanied by a percussionist whose main instrument is an amplified wooden crate that he both plays and sits on, bar none!
HELEN The Original Faces (KRANKY) Liz Harris AKA Grouper, one of my favorite musical artists of the 2000s, here doing something different in the 2010s as the frontperson of a dreamy raging shoegaze band.
DAN MELCHIOR'S BROKE REVUE Lords of the Manor (IN THE RED) I was already loving this material, just from seeing very heavy YouTubes of Dan and the Revue playing it live in 2014. You may remember me openly wondering if there was a studio record that had these songs on it in last year's almost-a-year-late "Best of 2014" year-end post. Well, Lords of the Manor is that studio record, and it is indeed really goddamn heavy.
KURT VILE B'lieve I'm Goin' Down (MATADOR) After loving Kurt's first few albums back in the late 00's (you can read about it in several previous posts), I kinda got off the bus with Wakin' on a Pretty Daze. It seemed like his songwriting was getting lost in his atmosphere, which allowed for pleasant-enough listening while it was on, but not a whole lot to take away. Well folks, the takeaway is boldly back with this one. The reverby wash is dialed down and the instruments and lyrics stand unadorned, leading to what may paradoxically be his heaviest album ever. Central track "That's Life, Tho (Almost Hate To Say)" makes me cry, and it's followed by the almost-as-devastating "Wheelhouse." Like Wolf Eyes earlier on this page, Kurt is also adding electric piano to his sound, and it's great, as on the superb track eight, "Lost My Head There," still melancholy, but more a smiler than a weeper, or the instrumental "Bad Omens," which almost sounds like it could've been one of the piano-driven instrumentals on Garcia (1972)! I'll admit I thought the lead-off single and album opener "Pretty Pimpin'" was kinda annoyingly quirky the first couple times I heard it, didn't like the title, etc., but it's actually a damn good song as well.
RYLEY WALKER Primrose Green (DEAD OCEANS) I've long been impressed by Walker's ability to execute aspects of Buckley/Drake/Jansch/Renbourn traditions at a high level, but not always sure how much from the present day was in it. Primrose Green still seems like it's of another time, right down to the Astral Weeks vibe of the cover art, but this record marks Walker and his band really starting to make this music their own. His songwriting has gotten there, and the musical interplay of a consistent full band (the core seems to be Ben Bowe on keyboards, Frank Rosaly on drums, Brian Sulpizio on guitar, and Anton Hatwitch on the double bass) has gotten all the way there and then some...
BILL MACKAY & RYLEY WALKER Land of Plenty (WHISTLER RECORDS) And with this record Walker does something different, combining his six-string skills with those of fellow Chicago guitarist Bill Mackay, both considerable, songs and traditions and freedom boiled down to pure all-instrumental guitar duo interplay, a really dreamy and haunting thing.
MAMMAL Lake & Sand (ORMOLYCKA) I know there's a small but dedicated group out there who really loved Mammal's Lonesome Drifter double-LP, released in 2007, and have waited very, very patiently ever since for the followup. Gary Beauvais, who is Mammal, told me about 7 years ago via email that the followup was almost done! I was excited, because he said it was "even more 'deserty' than Lonesome Drifter," but the record was not forthcoming... until now. Believe me, I can relate to an artist who is excited about a project but for one reason or another, or many, is simply unable to complete it or release it. (Sort of like how I'm publishing this "Best of 2015" blog post in mid-2017.) Either way, I'm glad Lake & Sand got done because it's a very good record. It is indeed more desert-y than Lonesome Drifter, certainly more subdued, less distorted; the pure-noise genre music that Lonesome Drifter still included intermittently is now almost completely gone. What remains is haunted, fragile, extremely direct and distilled. There is what I would call outright balladry on here, but composed and delivered in Beauvais's cold downer tone. Sometimes the lyrics are possibly too direct, but I like the music enough that I'll forgive certain phrases for erring on the side of precision and candor.
RAMLEH Circular Time (CRUCIAL BLAST) Absolutely monumental most recent album by this long-running British underground ensemble. I've never quite had a handle on this band/project (is it a band or a project?), and have barely skimmed the surface of the vast Broken Flag label that they emerged from. I'm finally making my way through the excellent Gary Mundy/Broken Flag career overview/interview in the first issue of As Loud As Possible, but you really need to be hearing it as you go with an article like that. If only that ALAP paperstock came with some sort of embedded sound samples... c'mon guys, where's the future tech? (Oh yeah, we do it ourselves, and it's called YouTube.) One thing I do know is that much of the Broken Flag catalog, and indeed previous work of Ramleh itself, does not sound like this. Most Ramleh is solo or small-group noise/electronics music, but this incarnation is a full-on pulverizing psychedelic rock'n'roll band. Drums, bass, and two very loud guitars, sprawling way the hell out over two CDs, and all I can say is thank you.
LIGHTNING BOLT Fantasy Empire 2LP (THRILL JOCKEY) Not too far off from what Ramleh are doing! But of course Lightning Bolt can hyperdrive it like no other band, and on this, their 7th full length album, they seem to have more riffs than ever. Sonics are terrific too, recording & pressing wise.
SUN CITY GIRLS Torch of the Mystics LP (ABDUCTION); BEAT OF THE EARTH & ELECTRONIC HOLE boot LPs; WOLF EYES Slicer LP (ORION READ); THE FLESH EATERS A Minute To Pray, A Second to Die LP (SUPERIOR VIADUCT); VELVET UNDERGROUND Matrix Tapes 4CD (UNIVERSAL MUSIC ENTERPRISES); probably 100 more
Ornette Coleman, Chris Squire, Edgar Froese, Daevid Allen, Andy Fraser, Chris Burden,
Chantal Akerman, Anita Ekberg, Leonard Nimoy, Sam Simon, Manoel de Oliveira, Percy Sledge, Ben E. King, B.B. King, Christopher Lee, Roddy Piper, Bob Johnston, Yvonne Craig, Wes Craven, Tadeusz Konwicki, Oliver Sacks, Rico Rodriguez, Setsuko Hara, Candida Royalle, Moses Malone, Yogi Berra, Allen Touissant, Philthy Animal Taylor, Ellsworth Kelly, Haskell Wexler, Lemmy... I'm not even touching 2016 passages until next year...
So, I'm already working on my Best of 2016, and if all goes well it should be done around.... September 20........18? Confused yet? Believe me, I am too, which is why I listen to old records at least 92% of the time. (NP: Marion Brown Vista (ABC Impulse, 1975).)
Wednesday, April 05, 2017
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