Every year, I like to examine what I think is the best albums the year has produced thus far. And this year has been an interesting one at that. A lot of new phases in my musical loving. I have been doing a lot of research in bands that I missed along the way (i.e. Big Star, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) but let's forget all the old stuff I'm catching up and see what the new artists are churning out. Most of these I have already blogged about, but thats because I usually only write about things I can fully enjoy. I just picked up a few records from this first half of the year but wont include them until my head can fully wrap around them (namely DCfC and Nick Cave's latest.) I was going to to top 10, but I dont think some of the scraps I have leftover are worth including. So 9 it is.
Without further ado.
9. Lemons are Louder Than Rocks - Gallop
Just like last year, some local yokels have put out some of the best music to offer yet. The Jersey bred boys pack a handful of witticisms and honesty amidst their brand of freak folk melodies and, well, freak outs. The titular track itself is a goofy campfire ditty stacked with enough fun sing-along fodder for the next six months that you can't imagine what else the band is going to pack into their first full length record. More silliness comes in the carefree package of "Roast Beef Sammich" about a date gone terribly wrong. "Looking at Me" feels like a Paul Simon track that never made it out of the basement and it has great sentiment in its simple guitar picking and whistling. Gallop is the kind of album you bring to the beach with you late at night with a handful of friends sitting around in prayerful silence sometimes while othertimes you sit and giggle about times of old. Sentimental and fun. That's the recipe for success.
Standout Track: The 7 minute feelgoodery anthem "Keep My Bag"
8. Islands - Arm's Way
I may have sounded a bit misleading with my short write up on the latest Islands effort, but the truth is this is a solid album. Polished and a great listen overall. My only concern was the strangeness of the first album made it so great. This one is more from the heart (the album cover itself suggests that) "The Arm" is a baroque sensation and an excellent first track/single. The guitars taking the forefront with a bed of strings behind it in a way that Arcade Fire might turn their heads. It's a worthy single to pick up as there is a sweetass cover of Beck's "Cyanide Breath Mint" on it. The track "Abominable Snow" was a leftover from the debut, but fits in with the tracks here than it would on the first album. The whirly organ swirls in the background give it a fun house feel and reminds me a bit of The Fever, God rest their souls. The 7-minute in the rushes is anthematic enough for the album to give it a prog edge amidst its indie guitar posturing and baroque string veils. It's a valiant record.
Standout Track: The kinetic energy of its first half and the calypso breakdown of the second half of "J'amie vous voirre quitter"... its only 3 minutes long and it packs a punch.
7. Saviours - Into Abaddon
American Metal is NOT dead. Not that anyone was saying it was, but it's not all just commercial shit floating around. Some bands still get it. And is there a whole lot to get with metal music? If there really is, Saviours understands. The best way to describe what Saviours does on Into Abaddon would probably be a maelstrom of ear splintering riffage. From the first seconds of "Firewake Angel" to the apex of "Mystichasm" earth shattering guitar antics, it's no holds barred metal. Their live show is nothing to sneeze at, but these boys from Oakland know where they found a good home and thats at Kemado Records. The one label holding the sword high (no pun intended... see later) for bands who want nothing more to do but rock as hard and as ballsy as they want. Tracks like "Cavern of Mind" and "Raging Embers" hearken back to the riff kings of the early 80s American metal scene.... Metallica?! Remember those guys? Well, sort of like them. The real treat here is the intensely different lyrical delivery. Hardcore screams fade into the guitars as if to give them further distortion. It's great driving music, but you better be in a biker gang to get away with blasting.
Standout Track: "Mystichasm" will have you trashing from beginning to end. And when the closing solo comes, you still won't be prepared.
6. The Mars Volta - The Bedlam in Goliath
More intensity care of the fallen angels of At the Drive In. My first reaction to this album was perplexity. It's so fitting an album name for what you will get yourself into. But after 5 listens, you still won't feel it. After 15 listens you realize it's just crazy. After 30 listens you realize you keep replaying it over and over. And if that's not a sign of a good album, then by 50 spins you will. The album starts so overwhelmingly fast with "Abernikula" that you really have no clue whats going on. The songs structure is so radically great that by the time the funk breakdown near the end comes in, you will let your guard down and "Metatron" will kick in before you knew track one ended. It's moments like that that make The Bedlam in Goliath a stellar outing. I still have some problems with this album as a whole. It might be a little but too long in the tooth. But it is a Goliath record. So why not excess it up? After more spins then my head can remember, it's a worthy outing nonetheless.
Standout Track: "Goliath" owns supreme over all other tracks as the one track that is probably the most coherent in the Volta's entire catalog.
5. The Sword - Gods of the Earth
Enter the other Kemado Records rockers. And not the last of that labels ear candy for the year. Doom, Stoner, Hipster... whatever genre limit is thrown their way, the Austin boys raises their axes upon high and slay yet again. No slump this time around, the follow up to their blistering debut Age of Winters, is steadfast in it's mission: to keep hard rock alive one heavy riff at a time. Don't let the acoustic intro to "The Sundering" fool you. It will turn up as fast as you turned it on. The songs plod on with the fury of Thor's hammer. Tracks like "How Heavy This Axe" and "Maiden, Mother and Crone" will show their ability to write a track furious and catchy. The heaviest track is the blistering post apocalyptic/biblical image fest of "Fire Lances of the Ancient Hyperzephryians." I have no idea what a Hyperzephyrian is, but I know I wouldn't fuck with them if I bumped into them on the streets. All in all, The Sword know how to rock as hard as they can and their ultra intense live show will leave you shaking with fury.
Standout Track: "Lords" has a riff that will stay with you for a long while and the song has the most interesting structural elements the band has unleashed yet.
4. The Raveonettes - Lust Lust Lust
Leave it to Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo to back peddle after the fantastic genre bender Pretty in Black to a simpler sound and make it refreshing. Lust Lust Lust is a mood piece and a half and it's lamentations of the titular deadly sin is done with a spacey gusto the band has yet to produce. Production wise, this is the most stylistic the Raveonettes have sounded yet. Recorded with wall of sound fullness and Sonic Youth style feedback filling in the already crammed atmosphere, the songs still have a cloudy feel to them thanks to the harmonizing genius of the two. I feel The Raveonettes won't ever get the credit that is due to them thanks to the comparisons to other acts that they get (JaMC to name the most frequently compared), but songs like "Aly Walk With Me" and "You Want the Candy" still show that the band has its own vibe. Mixing surf guitars and delicate lyrics dripping with sexual innuendo is what the Raves do best. And on Lust Lust Lust it's all amped up. Listening to these tracks on my over-priced-but-worth-every-penny headphones at high levels is worth the hearing loss risk. So much is hiding amidst the reverb.
Standout Track: "Dead Sound" is sumptuous turned as high as your stereo, iPod, recod player or computer can go.
3. Portishead - Third
As much as I loved Dinosaur Jr.'s return to form last year, there is something to be said of the radical change that Portishead has taken. Dropping their trip-hop vibe for something entirely different, Third sees Portishead taking their 11 year break to come back with something hauntingly radical, yet keeping their original mission of melancholy. "Silence" starts off with a pulsating hypnotic rhythm that will set you in a trance and when it abruptly ends, the jarring notion is quickly lost as the dreamscape of "Hunter" creeps up and again hypnotizes you sonically. This record is as moody as it gets. It sets the pace for the paranoid times we live in and the melancholy will wash over you. It's weird thinking that the third record of a band could be so drastically different in ways yet seems like the right follow-up to the rest of their stalled career. If any world I have overused already in this write up could best sum up the album, it's hypnotic. And maybe that's their trip elements coming back in amidst the guitars, synths and mangled drum machines.
Standout Track: "Machine Gun" hits with such force that it's hard to not feel it inside your rib cage.
2. Danava - Unonou
The undefinable Danava are yet another of a few acts on this very list that have spit in the face of the sophomore slump. The Portland Oregon troops have churned out a glam prog masterpiece of sorts. It's sprawling anthemetic passages scorch the 55 minutes the album provides the listener. From the titular tongue twister of a title to the swirling synth intro of "The Emerald Snow of Sleep", Danava keep you guessing where they will take you next. It's hard to think of where these guys really come from. Their music is so other worldly in an alien way, it makes for a unique listening experience. When they bring in trumpets and strings on "A High or a Low" you wonder what exactly they want to do with their music, but you want them to keep doing it. Sure, "One Mind Gone Seperate Ways" sounds eerily like Zep's "Achilles Last Stand" at times, but hell if you are going to sound like something why not an amazing epic such as that. Easily one of the most impressive live acts you will see this year, Danava is something not worth missing. It just is a fools game. The music is so amazing and epic in every aspect that you must find a way to get this record. Apparently its only worth 6.99 on iTunes right now, which is kind of insane, but take advantage of that and enjoy.
Standout Track: "Where Beauty and Terror Dance" is a perfect single and a rollicking track filled with a catchy riff and an amazingly tripped out outro.
1. Black Mountain - In the Future
And there it is. I don't see this getting dethroned from the top spot anytime soon. Black Mountain has proven that they can write all different songs all within the scope of their classic rock vibe. The tones of the guitar, the varying usage of synthisizers and melatron and the dueling vocals of Amber Webber and Stephen McBean just scream greatness. "Stormy High" is a track for the ages that kicks the album off right while spacier elements come in trough songs like "Wucan" and "Queens Will Play." Webber's ethereal "Nightwalks" closes the disc in the perfect manner after the sprawling epic "Bright Lights" will floor you with it's sonic fury. It isn't that Black Mountain is bringing anything entirely new to the spectrum of music that makes them outstanding, its more the command of songwriting and style that makes them as good as it gets. Without excellent songwriting, it would be style for the sake of style and without style, it would be stale rock and roll exercises. But Black Mountain rises above these pitfalls and fills their craggy anthems with refreshing dynamics to rock and roll traditions. That is what makes In The Future outstanding.
Standout Track: "Tyrants" is the best song of the year. Still leaves me with chills.