Friday, January 04, 2008

Perhaps it's best

The year will soon be a goner, so it's time to post the oft-dreaded (by readers, mostly) "Best Of" list. I've already yapped about stuff I liked a lot this year, here and elsewhere, and things are bound to get a bit repetitious, but here are my faves, arranged thematically by month for no good reason at all:

A cruel and frosty January: Wolves in the Throne Room get the No. 1 spot for producing two fine albums. Granted, Diadem of 12 Stars was actually released in 2005, but it only had a chance to spread its wings beyond its Cascadian origins this year. Two Hunters is also fine; it isn't as immediately satisfying as Diadem is, it's still my fave metal album released this year.
The runners up:
I bought quite a bit of metal this year, so it's a long list. The superb Weakling CD, Dead As Dreams, (which has been around a while); Monarch!'s Dead Men Tell No Tales; Watain's Sworn to the Dark; High on Fire's monstrous as usual Death is This Communion (even if it was only a cruddy, skipping promo); black metal from Furze and Striborg ... I also dug into Judas Priest's back catalogue - if I buy any more I'm going to start having flashbacks to high school.

A short, crisp February: I don't know how much noise HTRK has managed to make on this side of the Atlantic: I got a copy of Nostalgia via, the British indie music website for which I sometimes write. It's wasteland music of a high order from Australian expats living in Berlin. I was perhaps being a bit overwrought when I described it as "black and white film, empty factories, desolation. It’s a cold wind blowing through an abandoned industrial park" and "a superb premonition of doom" but I still say they're a good act to hunt down if you like Joy Division or Die Haut.
The runners up:
I have to point people in the direction of Celebration's The Modern Tribe. Like HTRK I was tipped to this band by a review copy. It's intense keyboard-driven new wave throb with one of the most versatile vocalists around. Exclaim! gave them an exclamation-pointed review, Matthew Pollesel stuck them on his 2007 best-of list and Arthur just published a fulsome interview with them (you can probably grab a copy at Sounds Unlikely). Also worthy are Atavist's II: Ruined - it starts off a bit silly but finishes strong and whichever Nadja release came out this week.

An oddball March: I'd never heard of Sapat before I bought Mortise and Tenon, but figured since it was on the newly resurgent Siltbreeze label it would be worth checking out. Their weirdo backwoods trance is one of the most singular psych rock offerings I've heard in a last few years. Synth jams meet banjo scraping and full-tilt boogie and it all sounds great. These guys remind me of Sunburned Hand of the Man in all the right ways.
The runners up:
Speaking of whom, is Fire Escape a fab album or what? (That's a trick question, the answer is not "or what.") A couple of freaky, limited edition vinyl albums also tickled my fancy. The Christian Family Underground is a No Neck Blues Band offshoot and sounds like it. Jackie-o-Motherfucker's Freaker Pipe is a slayer as well. And Loren Connors' Gift of the North Star is as special as all the folks say. Hopefully it will be released on a larger scale so regular folks can take a listen (and by regular, I mean a larger number of weirdos). Citay's Little Kingdom is more direct but still has that special, otherworldly quality in its grooves.

April, looking up: Shearwater's Palo Santo was originally released in 2006 and then expanded for 2007. The album is an uncanny crossbreeding of Radiohead, Jeff Buckley and Okkervill River (with which it shares a member or two). The haunting vocals and spare Americana are just the thing for overcast days. Like a few other entries on this list, it also made me hunt down their other albums (albeit with less success).
The runners up: Nobody came even close to tugging at the old heartstrings to the same degree, but for prettiness, I'll rate Panda Bear's Person Pitch and The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse close by. Damon & Naomi seemed to have slipped off the radar for a lot of folks. That's a shame, since Within These Walls is their best yet. I'm also digging the guitar splendour of Alcest's Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde, which heads deep into shoegazer territory. I bought it because of the members connection to a French black metal outfit, but as far as the sonics go, it's all My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins.

A bouncy May: Spoon get on the list for their latest sterling effort, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. As I've mentioned before, I got Girls Can Tell when it came out in 2001. I seem to recall liking it quite a bit, but it was pushed aside after a few months by other purchases - I was on more of a garage rock kick back then. Not so for Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga - I still listen to it all the time, and its raspy vocals and abrasive pop smarts pushed me to acquire all the Spoon albums I didn't have.
The runners up:
I liked The New Pornographers' The Challengers more than a lot of people did, but I confess to feeling a bit deprived in the bouncy pop division this year. Even Saturday Looks Good To Me didn't seem to hit the spot. Black Moth Super Rainbow's Dandelion Gum was jolly fun, but nonetheless I must give the silver to Field Music's Tones of Town (also a swell live act, as noted earlier).

June turns on the heat: Rock Dream was one of two albums featuring the team-up of Japanese psych monsters Boris and noise master Merzbow I bought this year (the other was the Walrus/Groan 12-inch on Hydra Head). I also bought a bunch of other Boris things this year, but Rock Dream is the one I'm sticking with ... hmm, on second thought I'll say it's a tie with Rainbow, their team up with Ghost and White Heaven guitar guru Michio Kurihara.
The runners up:
All the other Boris albums I bought this year, and all the Acid Mothers Temple stuff ... heartiest regards also go to Mammatus for their appropriately named blown-out California psych-rock opus The Coast Explodes. It was also cool to see the return of George Brigman, the man behind cult album Jungle Rot return with the very solid Rags In Skull. Weedeater's God Luck and Good Speed was amusing too, in a brain-damaged kind of way.

July goes crazy: I would probably buy a Royal Trux record if all it consisted of were druggy mumblings and random guitar noises - come to think of it, where's my copy of Hand of Glory? - but fortunately the latest offering from Trux offspring Royal Trux, Western Exterminator, is solid all the way through. It's a damn shame Neil Michael Hagerty has split from Jennifer Herrema to do his own thing, but she's definitely keeping the flame alive with this wicked slab of L.A. acid rock.
The runners up: The Wooden Shjips' album wasn't nearly as wiggy as most of the reviews might have it - it's just mighty fine psychedelic rock. Let us also praise Goon Moon's Licker's Last Leg, Queens of the Stone Age's Era Vulgaris and Monster Magnet's Four-Way Diablo.

A sultry August: There was no Drive-By Truckers album this year, but we have something just as good in Jason Isbell's Sirens of the Ditch and Bettye LaVette's Scene of the Crime. Both ex-Trucker Isbell and resurrected soul queen LaVette have Truckers aplenty on board. It's all soulful roots rock with killer guitar tone. Any DBT fan should pick up the Isbell album, any fan of gritty soul should love LaVette's.
The runners up: I got far less soul this year than usual ... I finally picked up Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings on Boxing Day and was a bit underwhelmed. It's good, but I'm just jaded after seeing her live show. In other Dap-Kings related news, I really liked Amy Winehouse's Back In Black.

September strangeness: The first thing about the Psychic Paramount's Gamelan Into The Mink Supernatural to grab me was the cover (I bought the LP, not the CD), the second was its completely nutbar Circle-on-acid psycho-blowout rock. Like the Spoon album, it made me want to get their whole catalogue, and I've subsequently picked up Origins And Primitives Vol. 1 + 2, which is a bit easier-going but quite enjoyable and their live European tour CD which is a swell racket all 'round.
The runners up:
The two actual Circle LPs I bought this year are also fine, but I think the double-CD reissue of Arkades just edges out Katapult. I've already said nice things about White Lichens. The Lichens collaboration with Cloudland Canyonis also really good. No Fun stalwarts Mouthus' Saw A Halo sometimes puts me in mind of Bailter Space. I'm starting to think that pretty is the new ugly.

A colourful October: I'm fond of massed vocal work - my CD collection has a corner dedicated to polyphonic works by groups like the Hilliard Ensemble and Oxford Camerata - and The Choir Practice's self-titled album fills a similar sonic space, even if its collective of West Coast indie poppers and rockers don't have the same chops (and I have some doubt I'll ever hear the aforementioned assemblies singing "Take off your clothes! Take off your clothes!" anytime soon). I'll also mention Choir member Ida Nilson's Great Aunt Ida, since I've fallen in love with How They Fly, released late in 2006.
The runners up: Plants and Animals, with/avec and Miracle Fortress's Five Roses. The time will come when the Polaris awards committee follows Secret City's A&R people around and just hands the award out to whoever they're having lunch with ...

November breeds a monster: Okay, part of Oshawa's high ranking in my esteem is no doubt because of how recently I've borne witness to Mongels' mighty stage show. Between even if I hadn't experienced the Montreal combo's rock power in person I think I'd be singing the praises of this swell offering.
The runners up: Yeah, I bought Pride Tiger's The Lucky Ones too, and it's nice and all, but it's so close to being a Thin Lizzy album I figure I might as well listen to Phil and the boys instead. For real rock there was loads of stuff closer to home: LPs from Four'n'Giv'r, Tokyosexwhale and The Fucking Machines - long live vinyl! Black Lips Good Bad Not Evil was a nifty offering. Of course, for real rock overkill there was no topping Kim Salmon's electric guitar orgy Rock Formation.

Snowfall in December: I love a good female vocalist, and one of my favourites is Marissa Nadler. She appeared on both her own third album, Song III: Bird On The Water and Mountain Home's self-titled effort. I liked Song III better by a bit - she's also a canny lyricist - but her voice is the main selling point.
The runners up: Nearly as entrancing is The Roches' Moonswept. I bought that along with a couple of used LPs after falling in love with The Hammond Song, first heard on the Oxford American's Music Issue sampler CD. Fern Knight and Megan Baird also released swell collaborative albums (with much overlap).


matthew said...

Cool list! I agree with you on several albums (esp. Celebration and The Choir Practice), and there are a few others I'll be wanting to check out now...especially Oshawa. I heard part of it a week or two ago, and now I'm kicking myself for missing that show...

A.C. said...

It's definitely worth the ducats - I actually prefer it to a lot of Tricky Woo's output.