Sunday, December 14, 2014

Nothing New But... something different

I don't like top ten lists. I don't like year-end recaps. I don't think of music as a competitive sport, and I don't like the concept of Art as a nostalgia vehicle. Both are crap ways of approaching something that should be a dialogue.
So, why, after lo, these many years, am I doing a year-end top ten of music from the past year? There is actually a point to this. You can disagree with me. I'm really beyond good with that. I not only expect you to disagree, I want you to disagree. I'm not being ironic- I actually am no good at irony. I  really, really liked these records, and they really are the top ten records I listened to this year- but my tastes aren't the point- the point is your tastes. I want you to have favorites, I want you to think you have better taste than me, and I want you to want to correct me, make your pitch, and sell me on your viewpoint. No, not in the comments, I want to have stuff to read, I want to hear new music, I want more of all that makes me a fan, and a consumer of culture. So, I'm doing a top ten in the hopes that someone out there actually reads this, and disagrees enough to point me in the direction of a better blog than this, or sets me in the direction of a better band, or otherwise improves my viewpoint by broadening it. But, I'm must warn you- I think my list is pretty bullet proof.

10. Moutheater- Passing Key. That this is bottom of the list should tell you how diamond-polished my list is. You want catharsis? You want angst, and raw emotions. This is, far and away the most harrowing stuff I heard all year. I don't want to invalidate someone else's feelings, but this tapped into mine. You want to know the secret behind my smile? Here it is. This is where I live, dude. I'm a dark guy, wanting to be a goofball, and failing. Listen to Rochambeau. You can hear "My War" era Black Flag being forced into a much more structurally pleasing straightjacket. There's no aimless noodling here. Every beat counts. Every word means something. Every measure brings you somewhere. The nightmare at the heart of Generation X infantilism is at the heart of this, and it's as inescapable as that self-righteous more politically correct than thou jackass on every internet forum. You won't survive this record. You will adapt or die. Yes, it's that strong.
9. Sage Francis- Sick to D(EAT)H- I'm not a hip hop guy. I like some, but I'm not versed much past 1991. So, don't take this inclusion as some kind of endorsement or attempt at currency with people who really are heads. I just really like Sage Francis. A song like Blue just is a great song.  A song like Gimme Dat will stick with you. A song like Ubuntu will give you something you can't get elsewhere.  This is full-spectrum music, it communicates much more than what I get from even the best hip hop- the ideas are so complex, and communicated so clearly that you will literally feel Sage Francis. That it's a mixtape compilation shouldn't deter you- this is stronger than his decent, but still not as good actual record, this year.
8. St Vincent- St Vincent-  Technically, this is a mainstream record, and I don't think I even talked about it, mostly because I knew it wasn't any kind of a discovery, nor any kind of surprise. There still isn't much to say beyond that it's a very excellent record, and if you see Annie Clark live, you will understand, and you will have reservations against her and this music no longer. Even my Mom likes it. It synthesizes all of the 1980's- from Laurie Anderson to Prince, and adds a layer of virtuoso songcraft, guitar shredding, and vocal acrobatics that I just never hear in mainstream rock. I'm no bigot against the top forty, but the surprise is that this makes some very complex musical ideas so very popular.
7. Tilts- Cuatro Hombres There is a window of opportunity for rock music. Basically, if you don't catch on between the ages of 10 and 20, you never really will. Oh, you might develop an "appreciation", but it'll never be real to you. It's like Pro-wrestling, Horror Movies, Science Fiction books, British Poets, Equestrian pursuits, or Hello Kitty- if you don't catch on  in an Adolescent way, you are missing something vital. Tilts not only know this, and embrace it , they expand it. This isn't like Eagles of Death Metal where it's all a big joke, This is knowing it's teenage, and inappropriate, and turning around, grinning like an idiot and saying "Ain't it great?!?" They recognize that we might have higher pursuits, but there's still a part of us that just wants to have a blast. Yes, it is cheesey, silly, and goofy- it's also seriously awesome, and the music that is played in paradise. Seventy virgins? Naah, just promise me a Tilts concert and a girl who gets it, and a few decent beers, and I'm there, dude. Strap me in.
6. The Powder Room- Curtains  People misunderstand noise rock, punk rock, garage rock, and rock in general- the assumption is that because "anyone can do it"- that everyone can do it, that there isn't enough skill, or talent required. That, quite frankly, is bullshit. Tell it to Gene Woolfolk. Not only is he a skilled, and talented guitarist, who clearly knows his way around both a studio and King Crimson riff, he's an artist in the truest sense of the word- every sound is chosen, for a specific effect on the overall impression. An example- the slapback echo on "Frayed" . A subtle thing, but it's deployed at exactly the right tempo to convey a sliced, and ripped tone, like the title says- frayed, and it doesn't detract from the mean as hell riffs which is a next-level ninja kind of sonic touch. It's got just enough feedback to be threatening, but it's sharp as a razor.That Gene and his band aren't revered on the level of Jack White, Steve Albini, or Greg Sage, shows a serious prejudice. Against what I don't know, but I, for one, want to correct that- This is about as genius as you have any right to expect.
5. Triggerfinger- By Absence of the Sun  In Europe, this is bigger than anything else on this list. That you don't have instant recognition of them shows how  awful things are in America. These guys are like The Black Keys, Jack White, Queens of the Stone Age, and The Hives all rolled into one. Sincerely, they are rock stars of the highest caliber. I'm not one for Rock Stars, mostly because my base nature says that we all suck equally, but, I can find no suckage, here. For most people, go see them live. For Americans, watch a live show on Youtube. This is a state of the art rock band. If you like showmanship, and a visceral pop thrill- they're literally the most streamlined and efficient machine at delivering that. From the suits, to the stage banter- this is the perfect rock machine. Nothing wasted but the front row of the audience. Makes AC/DC seem like has beens, and they blew the Rolling Stones off the stage. If you can't appreciate that, there is no shame in being a jazz fan.
4. The Austerity Program- Beyond Calculation. Umm, Well, They're on the Rolling Stone Top Twenty Metal list. The only thing I can possibly say is that while this record kills, in the stand up comedy sense of the word-It's not a metal record. It's just not. Yes, there are some metallic sensibilities, but this is the exact same kind of super aggro hardcore-alternative post punk as the midwest was producing 1985-1992. Yes, Big Black, but also Scratch Acid, Helmet (as much as Big Black) Cows, Arcwelder and Laughing Hyenas. There's also math-rock exactitude about it. Precision, symmetry, control and focus are key. All this appeals to me. With so-called noise rock, the thing that lets me down is when the focus is let go. It's the difference between Sun Ra and John Zorn. I fully recognize both are perfectly capable, and prefectionist musicians- but I listen to Zorn more because there's always that sense of composition. There's nothing with a tighter focus than the Austerity Program.
3. Ume- Monuments I don't think Lauren and company were intending to come up with the Sludge- Stoner rock album of the year, but, in a year with some great stuff ( Hell, YOB released something- freakin' YOB!) I kept coming back to this record. I'm not the biggest 70's rock fan. In the 70's, I hated music, for the most part, and before Punk Rock clicked for me in 1978, the only music I liked was funk/disco. So, take my credentials with whatever amount of salt you need, but for that big block rock, with some swirling prettiness, this is right up there with Melvins, Baroness, Red Fang, QOTSA, and so on. I think it boils down to this- Lauren just contains too damn much rock. Look at the Black Stone video. The riff is actually a shoegazer riff, but she rocks it so damn hard, coming in on that downstroke so furious that it evokes the Asheton brothers. That's the key, right there- Ron Asheton really wanted to play hippie jazz, but he had so much rock in him that he couldn't help himself, His right hand came down like he was laying haymakers into the pickups, and the volume jacked up louder than the proverbial bombs. Am I saying that Lauren, and therefore Ume, is like the very foundation of Rock- in the Stooges? Yes, yes I am. I cannot believe that people aren't recognizing this, but yes, Ume, in 2014, put out a record that would make Jimmy Page very, very frightened in 1974, but that Ron Asheton would've emulated in 1969. Put it on, turn it up, watch your speakers burn.
2. Aeges- Above& Down Below - Speaking of Heavy, ye gads! Aeges traces its roots to Pelican and The Rise, so yes, Heavy is to be expected, but damn. Kemble and company must have it in for their amps. As I was saying before, Mike Land is key, though- this guy hits harder than Bonham auditioning for the Kodo drummers- like to be all of them.So, yes, very, very heavy. But, I think what people want to hear is that they're a 1990's throwback- to Soundgarden, Quicksand, and Hum. I understand that, and what they do can definitely be read as a continuation of hard rock from the 1990's- but I would invite you to think about it a little less confined by genre- they're not grunge revivalists. I mean, they're using bitcrushed, not big muffed guitars- this isn't "retro"- it's following ideas to new conclusions. So, much like a scientist is necessarily indebted to others in the field, who established some of the paradigms, but does their own research- Aeges owes something to hard post-hardcore, and grunge, but they're doing something new, and finding their own formulas. Gorgeous melodies, mixed with a heavy beat, and volume-addicted stringed instruments- it's what all truly great rock has, and yes, they are putting out some truly great rock. Listen to Echoes, and Fault  and tell me they don't compete with virtually all rock from about 1970, onwards. Listen to their blistering cover of Elliott Smith- which is the first time my wife actually liked an Elliott Smith song, despite me trying for years. Oh, and join my campaign to get them to get the clearances, or whatever is necessary to officially release this cover/mash up/ reimagining of Big Data and Nine Inch Nails, which I'm going to say is Only Dangerous....
1. Disasteratti- Cerebral Hack Artist- Something has to be number one, which is my big problem with these lists. Because I don't know if this was the best record of 2014. I know I played it more than all others. I know that I liked it a lot. I know that I think that Disasteratti are truly genius. But, the best to me might just be the best to me- and that's kinda the whole point of my blog. I'm not trying to make you think like me, I'm not trying to get you to see things my way, and I don't think there's anything special about me. I just want you to think about those who are telling you to see things there way, and, from where I sit, in America, there's nothing more pernicious than this drive to make people into masses. I get disgusted by our nationalism, I am horrified by our homogenization, I'm ok with Art being commodified, because the aim of many, many artists is commercial, but I'm not ok with the audience being turned into a demographic, and therefore, a commodity.  All these things stem from the same root. I can see the indoctrination everywhere, in our schools, at our workplaces, on our TV's Radios, in our Magazines, all over the internet- there's massive amounts of pressure to tell you who you are. The worst part is I see people doing it to each other in social media- stuff like "How can you say you like Metal if you don't like Slayer" or "How can you like that crap?". So, the whole point of this blog has been for me to say "This is what I like. You don't have to like it, too, but this is why I like it. I hope that you can see my reasoning". So, declaring some absolutist horseshit about "This is NUMBER ONE" is anathema to me.
So, let me talk about Disasteratti a little, and then I'll devote the last paragraph to why I did this, ok?
Disasteratti are a three piece from the twin cities who play noisy roots rock. In many ways they are the distillation of everything I like in music- they have the aggression of the best Punk rock, they have the precise formulas of math rock, they recognize tradition, and traditional structures, but expand them into new musical  territory. They're clear about their influences ( Girls Against Boys, Shellac, Roots Rock) but aren't limited to them. I see them as Noise rock, of the precise type, like Austerity Program, Shellac, and United Sons of Toil, run into punk rock styled Roots music, like Gun Club, Rank and File, The Blasters, Minutemen, and X, but with the post-hardcore groove of GVSB and Hot Snakes. The songs lilt and lurch, sputter and slam, but never lose that sense of being coherent songs. The guitars snap, twang and snarl, The bass rumbles, roars and and rocks. The drums roll, stomp and shimmer. What I'm saying is that it all falls into place, exactly as it should be.
So, while I do like Disasteratti's Cerebral Hack Artist, and probably more than any other release this past year,  I think you can guess my real purpose.  I'm not saying that this is it, and I'm out, but I'm treating it like I am. I probably will post something, at some point, but I'm not fixing that point, now. It might be tomorrow, but it might be never. I think it's pretty obvious why, but that doesn't matter. Here's the only thing that matters: that there's something more out there.

1 comment:

  1. Great list. Some overlap with mine too. I like the cut of your jib, sir!