Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Everybody's got one

Every year websites and media outlets across the land trot out their "Best Ofs". I pride myself on being the last. On the one hand, I'm lazy - but on the other, at least I waited until 2009 was over. In actuality, every year I compile a list of my favourite 10 albums for pennyblackmusic.com, the British website for which I also write reviews. It usual sees the light of day in early December. Here it is again - the brief descriptions are a National Capital Rock deluxe add-on bonus web-only material:
1. Antlers, Hospice: This album of mournful bedroom pop is about a hospice worker and his relationship with a dying patient. Some of its impact is personal, since I saw my own father die in hospital last year, but it's a very strong set of tunes even without personal tragedy behind them.
2. Major Lazer, Guns Don’t Kill People ... Lazers Do: It's good to know that my taste in Jamaican music doesn't stop in the mid-1970s, this is a very fun set of dancehall tunes.
3. Cauldron, Surrender to the Nite: When I was going to high school the kids all listened to Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. I listened to a lot of 1970s and 1980s metal these days (and kicking myself for not getting into Mercyful Fate earlier), so it's cool to have a modern incarnation of the classic metal sound.

Cousins at 443 Kent Street
Cousins at 443 Kent Street, September 11, 2009

4. Cousins, Out on Town: More lo-fi bedroom pop, this time from a Canadian performer. I bought the album when Aaron Mangle and Co. performed at 443 Kent St.
5. Girls, Album; I listened to a lot of stuff in the "shitgaze" vein (criminy, what a stupid name for a genre), including Kurt Vile, Night Control, Wavves and Sic Alps, this year. This was the catchiest of the bunch.
6. Iron Age, The Sleeping Eye: I like punk. I like metal. What's not to like about Iron Age?
7. Evangelista, Prince of Truth: Carla Bozulich sounds like she's undergoing some harrowing personal transformation over her albums, and she's found the perfect backing band in the Constellation Records crew.
8. Sylvester Anfang, II: Weird, spacey freak-out music from Belgium. It's described by some as "funeral folk." That's a mighty strange funeral, pardner.
9. Yoga, Megafauna: A confession - I bought this album because I thought it was by Megafaun, who performed in town with Akron Family a while back. As it turns out, Yoga is (allegedly) some kind of black metal home-recording outfit. I don't think of Megafaun as being all that black or metallic, just a weird psychedelic soundscape which repeatedly reveals intriguing new corners of sound.
10. Mastodon, Crack the Skye: I like these guys so much more since they started singing instead of growling. And I'm a sucker for duel guitar heavy metal (and also single guitar heavy metal, but that's another story).
It's an awfully peculiar list, because it omits releases from some of my favourite bands, bands who released excellent albums in 2009 (or albums that arrived in town this year). Consider the following to be added: The Drones, Havilah; Drive-By Truckers, Fine Print; Neko Case, Middle Cyclone; Big Pink, A Brief History of Love; Sunn o))), Monoliths & Dimensions; Reigning Sound, Love and Curses; Various Artists, Ottawa Gaga Volume 1; Marduk, Wormwood; The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart; Krallice, Dimensional Bleedthrough; The Gates of Slumber, Hymns of Blood and Thunder; there were also a bunch of awesome releases locally (apart from the aforementioned Gaga comp) - I think my favourite was Year Zero's No Tongue For Eros.

Year Zero at Atomic Rooster
Year Zero at Atomic Rooster, August 13, 2009

Now, on to less contemporary music: Yes, every music blogger and their dog has inflicted a Top 10 of the decade list on their by now all-to-suspecting readership. And why should I let you lot off? I love music lists; mostly because sometimes there's an album I haven't heard (or hadn't considered before) of surrounded by a bunch of stuff that I have, thereby giving me something else to check out. It doesn't work so well for wrapping up a decade, since there are fewer surprises when you skim the top off such a large pool (which is why I bumped the list up to 20), but here goes anyway  ...

Acid Mothers Temple at Babylon
Acid Mothers Temple at Babylon, April 30, 2007

1. Acid Mothers Temple and the Melting Paraiso UFO, Universe Zen Ou de Zero a Zero (2004). No surprise that a band I own upward of four dozen albums by gets a nod. But in terms of scorched earth psychedelica it doesn't get much better than entree Electric Love Machine (with guest guitar from Hiroshi Nar of Les Rallizes Denudes), while monster raga Soleil de cristal et lune d'argent is for me the band's finest moment.
2. The Drones, Gala Mill (2006). I think every album by Australia's heart-shredding roots rockers The Drones is ace (with the exception of the live Spaceland recording), but Gala Mill stands out for the uncanny invocation of dread in Sixteen Straws.
3. RTX, Western Exterminator (2007). I did not have high hopes for Jennifer Herrema's post-Royal Trux project, but I have to say she sounds like she's having a lot more fun than her ex-partner Neil Hagerty does on his albums with her streetwise L.A. hair metal update.
4. The Wrens, Meadowlands (2003). Sounds suspiciously liek the fuzzy rock I listened to in college grew up, got a job settled down and generally grew older and wiser. Now will someone just rerelease their other material, for Pete's sake?
5. The Hellacopters, High Visibility (2000). Some people prefer The Hellacopters's early hot rod punk - the stuff on the singles and up to Payin' The Dues, but for me their best came at the turn of the millennium when they finally succumbed to outright Thin Lizzy worship.

Neko Case at Ottawa Bluesfest 2009
Neko Case at Ottawa Bluesfest, July 12, 2009

6. Neko Case, Blacklisted (2002). My favourite voice in music, and a tough one to choose a favourite for since her Fox Confessor Brings The Flood is also magnificent.
7. Marissa Nadler, Bird On The Water (2007).Nadler is a lovely guitarist and singer, but what really sets her apart are her lyrics, which manage to be diamond hard even when they're utterly oblique.
8. Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (2008). This album made me seek out and buy every Spoon album I could (apart from the one I already owned, Girls Can Tell). Fractured guitar rock and Britt Daniel's laconic drawl make a great combination.
9. Electric Wizard, Dopethrone (2000). The finest stoner rock band going, to my ears.
10. Reigning Sound, Time Bomb Highschool (2002). I always loved The Oblivians, but I think I like Greg Cartwright's take on Memphis soul rock even better.
11. Sunn o))), Black One (2005). A fine album to listen to when you want time to stand still and the rafters to shake.
12. Shearwater, Palo Santo (2006). I like sad songs, and few sound sadder than Shearwater.
13. High On Fire, Surrounded By Thieves (2002). I bought their first album on Man's Ruin at a time when I was buying just about everything on the label. I think of them as being like Sleep, Matt Pike's old outift, with a serious Motorhead injection.

Martha Wainright at Ottawa Bluesfest 2008
Martha Wainright at Ottawa Bluesfest, July 13, 2008

14. Martha Wainright, Martha Wainright (2005). I'm glad I landed a review copy of this album in a slow week, because the musical output of other Wainrights has failed to move me. The 1970s style singer-songwriter music works well with Wainright's blunt confessional lyrics.
15. Psychic Paramount, Gamelan Into The Mink Supernatural (2005). I prefer my post-rock to also be post-"the musicians losing their mind and listening to a lot of Faust's weirder moments."
16. Spencer P. Jones, Fait Accompli (2003). I like all of Jones albums, and his comically gritty tales of being down-and-out in Australia get superior backing from even grittier guitar.
17. Soundtrack Of Our Lives, Behind The Music (2000). The first time I listened to this album, my reaction was lukewarm. The second time I thought it was amazing. Their latest, Communion, had a similar effect.
18. Outkast, Stankonia (2000). I think of Outkast as being the true heirs of George Clinton's Parliament, in their willingness to be the funkiest oddballs on the block.
19. Comets on Fire, Field Recordings From The Sun (2002). My favourite band of skronked out space jammers. Could use a bit more Echoplex, though.
20. Sloan, Never Hear The End Of It (2006). A double-album turned out to be the best thing for the journeyman pop-rockers, particularly since they don't dawdle over any individual song.
I'm leaving off a ton of stuff that really should be on hear - I never thought I'd make a list like this without any Mick Collins albums on it ... I could have mentioned the Marked Men, Joanna Newsom, Robin Hitchcock, Drive-By Truckers, Six Organs of Admittance, Nikki Sudden, Queens Of the Stone Age, Devendra Banhart, Pleasure Forever, Starlite Desperation, David Picco and on and on and on ... but I won't because writing Top 10 lists is really dull.

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