In this month’s podcast we focus on some of the best metal albums to come out in the past few months. You’ll hear new tracks from Chelsea Wolfe, Deafheaven, Myrkur, High On Fire, Windhand, and Locrian. I also discuss the documentary “Alive Inside” and contemplate the future of the Bob Dylan song tradition to finish off each episode. You can listen to the episode HERE or you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Stitcher (search: BDWPS). Podomatic has also recently released an app that allows you to listen to the episodes that is worth checking out.
It’s that time again – time to look back on all the great albums released this past year. 2012 has been filled with fantastic albums, and as a result, I’ve come up with a doozy of a list. You’ll find a variety of genres here ranging from rap to folk to metal to punk. No matter what type of music you enjoy (minus country) you’ll find something on here that you’ve either already been enjoying or music you should be enjoying. Whatever the case, enjoy!
This year in music reminds me of the 2011 NBA Draft. There hasn’t been any stand out stars in the releases thus far, but there are a lot of quality albums on the cusp of greatness. Last year, I had no doubt about what albums would make my top five for the mid-year list, but this time around, I moved albums up and down the list indecisively for days, finally settling on the order below. My point: there could be a lot of shuffling when the real list comes out in December. Before getting into 20 albums that you shouldn’t miss out on, here are six honorable mentions that could easily end up being this year’s Jeremy Lin.
In the third installment of BDWPS Podcast you’ll hear new tracks from Lotus Plaza, Andrew Bird, Action Bronson, High On Fire, and Magnetic Fields. Also, I talk about the TV show “Quincy M.E.” and the biography of Pistol Pete Maravich. Download the Podcast at iTunes (look up BDWPS) or simply listen to it here:
If you don’t pay attention, you’ll love “Teen Dream” because of Victoria Legrand’s smoky voice. If you don’t pay attention, you’ll quickly be singing along to the dreamy melodies of each memorable Beach House song. If you don’t pay attention, you’ll like this album simply because it’s tranquil and tender. Wake up. There’s no time to rest with Alex Scally on the guitar. You may not have noticed him at first with such a powerful voice up front taking charge, but take one look in the background – there! Behind the organ! Do you hear that eerie character sneaking in and out of the mix? Do you feel his energy floating around the room, bouncing from wall to wall, possessing your speakers and taking these already incredible songs to a euphoric level? Once you’ve spotted Scally, you’ll no longer be able to listen to “Teen Dream” without noticing his spirit. He’s the friendly ghost of the album, and he only makes “Teen Dream” a more welcoming place to sit and enjoy for a spell.
9. Crystal Castles
[Fiction/Last Gang/Universal Motown; 2010]
The Crystal Castles last release was about as confusing as releasing two self-titled albums in succession (which they did). Half of the songs were chilled-out dance songs, while the other half was comprised of Nintendo sampled scream-o freak-outs. It was a great album, if not in part due to this unpredictability, but it also seemed like the band was still trying to figure out exactly who they are. With their 2010 release, it’s obvious that they’ve figured it out. The Nintendo gimmick has been dropped and in its place is an electro-dance album that is melodic and chaotic at the same time. While most music of this genre is usually feel-good, Crystal Castles emanate frightening synths, produce a menacing beast within the beats, and hide an alienated, distant scream within the vocals of Alice Glass. As a result, this is an album of loss, disorder, and fear, all balled up into one focused dance album that aims to destroy all ravers in its path. Who needs ecstasy when you’ve got anarchy?
8. High On Fire
“Snakes for the Divine”
[E1 Music; 2010]
I must be honest, I have not been a metal fan for long. SongsSuck has been turning me onto all forms of metal over the past five years, but it’s been a slow, methodical process. Last year, after becoming obsessed with Slayer, the iron doors flew open and a newfound love for the genre was born. Being such a new budding metal fan, I can’t claim to have the best ear for what’s a great riff, or what’s a great solo. I’m just learning the differences between black metal, stoner metal, and doom metal. Really, it’s all quite confusing and new to me. Despite my utter metal ignorance, I do know one thing: “Snakes for the Divine” is a fucking incredible album. Unlike other albums on this list, I can’t pinpoint exactly what makes it so viciously thrilling. Maybe it’s the over-flowing amount of turbulent riffs. Maybe it’s Matt Pikes barking bellow from the depths below. Maybe it’s Greg Fidelman’s production. Whatever it is, this is an album to be reckoned with. The strangest part for me is that I always thought metal was “angry” by nature, but listening to “Snakes for the Divine” does the opposite, awakening my spirit, refreshing my energy, and igniting the flames of fortitude. Simply put: “Snakes for the Divine” makes me happy.
7. No Age
“Everything In Between”
No Age have always been noisy, but there is something different going on with “Everything in Between” that took me a while to figure out. Instead of the all-out art-punk wave of distortion that past albums have prominently featured, “Everything in Between” is as stripped down as you can get while still being abrasive. It shows the band taking a mature step toward using their biggest strength sparingly to leave the listener yearning for even more earaches. While they once splattered the overdrive and feedback haphazardly, they’ve now figured out how to access their palette and use these shades of sound when necessary. With the walls of noise torn down, the band’s masterful songwriting is left out naked for all to see, and as a result, “Everything in Between” is their most revealing album yet. Once bare and exposed, Dean Spunt sings of heartache, betrayal, depression, and addiction. I used to just like No Age because they wrote kick-ass two-man punk songs that split my ears; now I love them because they’re writing pop songs that cut straight to the heart.
I used to hate Deerhunter. Let me rephrase that; I used to hate the critics adoration of Deerhunter. Maybe it was a case of raging against something I didn’t understand. What I’d heard of “Cryptograms” was spacey, aimless stuff that floated around lethargically, much like a jellyfish. Basically, it bored me to shreds. A year later “Microcastle” came out and the critical acclaim continued for the band, so I decided I had to get down to the bottom of this whole Deerhunter phenomenon. I still found much of it to be pointless meandering, but then one day something happened: “Nothing Ever Happened” to be exact. Out of nowhere, a song arrived that, unlike the other Cnidarianstuff, had a backbone, had a beat, had a purpose. Fortunately for me, their 2010 release “Haclyon Digest” is comprised mostly of this same goal-oriented music. Don’t worry old-school Deerhunter fans; even with a backbone, the music is still frail as ever. The listless sound has been replaced by depressing lyrics like “No one cares for me, I keep no company” from “Helicopter”. Rest assured Graham Cox, I didn’t used to care for you or want to keep company with your music, but I’ve now officially joined the army of Deerhunter lemmings. Let us all rejoice our miserable demise!
5. Owen Pallett
[Domino Records; 2010]
Of all the albums I reviewed in 2010, Owen Pallett’s “Heartland” received the highest score of a 9. Here’s what I wrote: “ ‘Heartland’ is a gargantuan effort, an album produced on such a grand scale that I can’t imagine how Domino Records could fund such a monumental display. Every song is oozing with a sweeping string section, a verbose collection of horns blasting out triumph and turmoil in the same breath, and the concerto percussion group rattling away with thundering snare rolls that blend naturally with the drum machine hidden behind the timpani. The once unassuming one-man band has created a monster that D&D fans could only imagine.
Songs like ‘E is for Estranged’ and ‘Flare Gun’ are the type of orchestral fare you might hear in a Meryl Streep film, while offerings like ‘Red Sun #5’ and ‘The Great Elsewhere’ show Pallett meshing the prim with the in-proper as synths and pulsating rhythms bleed into the strings, a symbolic sound that fits with the storyline of the album. It feels as if the future is looming in the shadows, waiting to pounce upon the chaste and steal away its innocence.”
4. Titus Andronicus
[XL Recordings; 2010]
Earlier this year, I wrote what I consider one of my best pieces in my review of Titus Andronicus’s “The Monitor”. Here are some parts I culled from it: “One of the only New Jersey bands that truly fits the Bruce Springsteen mold is Titus Andronicus. Not only are their songs every-man anthems, but their constant references to the Garden State are pure Bruce. They play a wide range of styles yet define them within their own rustic parameters, another Bruce trait. And although it’s no Clarence, Titus even throw in some saxophone for good measure. Chirst, on the opening track, singer Ian Graetzer makes an allusion to the Springsteen classic ‘Born to Run’ singing ‘Tramps like us, baby we were born to die!’ and later he admits ‘I’ve destroyed everything that wouldn’t make me more like Bruce Springsteen.’
This is not a concept album, rather a concoction composed of pop-culture and history, resulting in a multi-layered, dizzying narrative. This album is like T.S. Elliot’s ‘Wasteland’ if he had written the entire poem on bar napkins while a drunken local played ‘Nebraska’ on the jukebox. The entire concept is a bit weird and pretentiously over-reaching, yet it all melds together magically, creating a world where ‘our forefathers’ and ‘a keggar on a Friday night’ can live side by side. The album does run a bit long, yet you can’t hold back a muse that was definitely born to run.”
3. Fang Island
[Sargent House; 2010]
Fang Island’s self-titled release made the number one spot on my “Best Summer Albums of 2010” and it didn’t just make it because it was “summer-y”. No, this is an album as complex as Battles “Mirrored” yet as goofy and immature as Andrew WK’s “I Get Wet”. Here’s what I had to say about it this past summer: “The opening track to Fang Island’s self-titled album features the sound of fireworks popping, reminding me of when my dad used to take us out on the 4th of July in his fishing boat to watch the display over Spirit Lake. ‘Dream of Dreams’ multi-layered, Queen-like chant brings me back to the year ‘Wayne’s World’ came out and how whenever the song ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ came on the radio my brothers and I felt compelled to re-enact the famous car scene. ‘Davey Crockett’ has a swirling synth/guitar line that conjures up memories of watching ‘Reading Rainbow’ with my brother Alex and laughing our asses off at the strange synth outro, and then commencing to imitate it the remainder of the day. ‘Careful Crossers’ punk rock anthem reminds me of the summers my friends and I would make trips up to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to see punk bands sweat it out at the now closed Pomp Room. ‘Daisy’ and its organ heavy backing track transports me to the summer I worked the late shift at a gas station and listened to Bob Dylan’s organ-heavy ‘Blonde On Blonde’ while selling cigarettes to meth addicts. ‘The Illinois’ is filled with guitar solos that almost seem stolen straight from classic video games, pulling my consciousness back to the days when, after a long day at the swimming pool, my friends and I would ride our bikes to the video store to rent the latest Nintendo game. Simply put: Fang Island makes me feel like a kid again. And isn’t that what summer is all about?”
“King of the Beach”
[Fat Possum; 2010]
If you haven’t noticed yet, both my top 40 albums list and top 100 songs list are riddled with pop-punk. I guess you could say I’m a sucker for a catchy little punk song. So what makes Wavves “King of the Beach” better than 2010 releases by others pop-punk greats like Male Bonding, Superchunk, Cloud Nothings, and Ty Segall? Well, “King of the Beach” is more than just a collection of memorable 2-minute songs. On the surface, you may place the pop-punk label on this album with its front-loaded first three animated anthems. Although the fun is briefly interrupted by the “Pet Sounds”-esque “When Will You Come” the album quickly returns to the skate park for a couple more adrenaline fueled melodies. Then, mid-way through the entire album, the real turn toward the strange occurs. “Baseball Cards” and “Mickey Mouse” are filled with expanding atmospheres reminiscent of Panda Bear’s “Person Pitch”. “Convertible Balloon” and “Linus Spacehead” are adventurous pop songs held within the same strange world found in Brian Eno’s “Here Come the Warm Jets”. But Wavves are at their best when all of these various sounds come together like they do on “Green Eyes”. On the song, Nathan Williams sings “My own friends hate me, but I don’t give a shit.” And really, why would you give a shit when you can write songs that seem so simple but are truly complex masterpieces that don’t fit within one specific genre; not even pop-punk.
1. Arcade Fire
With the economy the way it has been this past year, you would think it’d be pretty tough to be an American these days, but somehow we continue to survive. Maybe it’s our steady diet of fast food, or maybe its our ability to distract ourselves with reality television and celebrity gossip. Whatever the cause of America’s resilience, it seems nothing can keep us from our daily, zombie-like trudge through life. It really is pretty easy to get through adversity with the American model of excess equals happiness…but then there are those moments, sitting in traffic, dazing off into the horizon of billboards – those moments of self-awareness. Questions arise: how did I get here? Where has the time gone? When I did I get old? What happened to my dreams?
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re either fooling yourself or listening to Bill O’Reilly on your commute home. On “The Suburbs” Arcade Fire have created a grandiose collection of songs that explore the modern man and the world of distractions we’ve created to forget the reality of what we’ve all become. Throughout the album, motifs continually rise to the surface, whether it be kids, cars, letters, darkness vs. light, or of course the suburbs that have erased our memories (and street names for that matter). The album is one long drive through suburbia, searching for that childhood home that has now been buried under “dead shopping malls (that) rise like mountains”. You would think with 16 tracks all focused on the same overlying idea, “The Suburbs” would get about as monotonous as a real drive through suburbia, but following the Bruce Springsteen model, each song shows the same theme through a different lens, creating a well-rounded study on the perils of the American Dream. In the end, we are all lost in the sprawl “searching every corner of the Earth” for that home we lost so long ago.
On face value, this is just another punk rock song, but if you listen a little longer you’ll hear exactly what makes Eddy Current Suppression Ring different than others within the genre. While most bands would wrap this song up at the two minute mark, ECSR have just begun. The next four and a half minutes of “Tuning Out” Eddy Current takes front stage, manipulating his Stratocaster to its limit, making a gluttonous amount of squeaks and howls, showing exactly why this is his band.
24. “Crank Resolutions”
Back in Septemeber, I wrote of Meursault and this song: “While most bands are forced to rely on a more polished production value to push the sense of urgency to a higher level, Meursault rely solely on a strange mixture of popping beats and crunching piano riffs that are reminiscent of a CB radio broadcast. ‘Crank Resolutions’ features a beat that is beyond description (which is a good thing).”
23. “Don’t Look Back”
Usually, Kylesa are pretty damn scary, but on “Don’t Look Back” they sound strangely inspirational. Tony Robbins better watch his back (on second thought Tony, heed Kylesa’s advice and don’t look back).
22. “Like the Ocean, Like the Innocent Pt. 2: Innocent”
I saw Besnard Lakes perform this song at SXSW this past year, and since then, I haven’t been able to remove the soothing chorus of “Ooh, you’re like the ocean” out of my head. You can put your ear up to my cranium like it’s a seashell and hear the sounds of “Like the Ocean” softly echoing inside.
21. “Hey Cool Kid”
“Hey Cool Kid” is a story of an outsider, realizing that his idol is nothing but an asshole who will “beat me back into the ground”. Despite this, his insecurity pushes him to still keep asking for the cool kid “to come around”.
20. “Suburban War”
When I first heard this song I liked it because the guitar lick reminded me of The Rolling Stone’s “Gimme Shelter”. Then of course I made the mistake of listening to the lyrics, and this once upbeat song spawned sorrow for those friends I’ve lost in their pursuit of adulthood:
My old friends
I can remember when
You cut your hair
We never saw you again
Now the cities we live in
Could be distant stars
And I search for you
In every passing car
19. “Sleepless in Silver Lake”
Les Savy Fav
As far as I’m concerned, there are way too many songs about Los Angeles. Where are the songs about Bozeman, Montana for Christ’s sake!? Despite the saturation of “I Love L.A.”s and “Under the Bridge”s, Les Savy Fav present a fresh take on the City of Angels with “Sleepless in Silver Lake”:
The walking wounded wrap their face in gauze.These kids’ll kill ya just because they can. Their teeth are bleached and their tits are tan.
18. “Black Bubblegum”
I’m 86% sure that this song is about Sherry Becker who chewed Black Jack bubblegum, wore an orange dress, and witnessed Jerry Seinfeld returning Tropic of Cancer to the library in 1972 (or was it Dentyne?).
17. “The Tree”
Blitzen Trapper (featuring Alela Diane)
Another highlight of 2010 for me was my last minute trip to Portland with my brother. The two of us rented a little Vibe and drove around the area, hiking whatever peaks we could fit in within our three-day stay. While hiking along the Cascade Ridge, we came upon 300-year-old Sitka trees – an army of menacing patriarchs, standing judicious and strong, looking down upon all that pass by. Whenever I listen to the 2010 release from Portland’s own Blitzen Trapper I can’t help but think back to that trip, more specifically this song with its lyrics of a tree that “grows never-ending”. Upon each listen, I’m brought back to that day, standing with my brother and looking up at the majestic beasts that surrounded us. The addition of Portland’s first lady Alela Diane to the song only sweetens the song’s enchantment.
16. “Take It Easy”
Starts off with a tropical feel, moves into an early 90s alternative chorus, and ends with an 80s U2 outro: this is what we call a song quilt.
15. “The Boys are Out”
Whenever I play this song I feel guilty. I bought the Hanoi Janes latest release, and after listening to it all the way through a couple times, I found myself continually going back to this song (ignoring the rest). There is just something about the little freak out that arrives at the 30 second mark- maybe it’s the drumstick cracks, or it could possibly the call-and-response guitars that reverberate from one speaker to the other- whatever it is, “The Boys are Out” is the most fun you’ll have in under a minute thirty.
14. “The Winner”
“Twistable, Turnable Man” was an album of Shel Silverstien covers that came out this past year, and despite an impressive list of bands featured on it (My Morning Jacket, Andrew Bird, Lucinda Williams) the best cover is performed by old reliable, Kris Kristofferson. His raspy baritone naturally works with Silverstein’s narrative songwriting. When I listen to this song, I imagine the narrator is LeBron James and Tiger Man the Cool is Michael Jordan. It just seems fitting after finding out this past summer that James doesn’t understand what it takes to be a winner.
13. “My Gap Feels Weird”
I would prefer if this song were about having a pain in your taint, but it ends up ol’ Mack wrote it about going to a show and realizing you’re the oldest one there. I hate to admit that I can relate. At least I can take comfort in knowing old folks are always welcome at a Superchunk show.
12. “Night, Night”
Big Boi (featuring B.o.B. and Joi)
“Night, Night” is one of the finest rap call-outs you’ll ever hear, not pointing out one specific MC, rather annihilating all the fools that can’t hold themselves up to Big Boi’s standard. To back up his flow built on intelligence rather than empty threats, Big Boi blends a funky bass with a spunky female choir that is completely devoid of auto-tune. It truly is “something new.”
11. “Marimba and Shit Drums”
Earlier this year, I wrote of this song/album: “There is only one 20-minute song on Moonface’s EP “Dreamland” and it is called “marimba and shit-drums”. The title is straight to the point because, in fact, the song is comprised of just that: a marimba and shit-drums. Of course, you also hear Spencer Krug’s voice, but otherwise it is simply a marimba and shit-drums; nothing more, nothing less. The constant pulse of the marimba gives the song imminence; a feeling that the echo of the wooden bars being struck by a mallet is building towards something, racing toward a culmination. Then, of course, the shit-drums kick in and it’s on. The crackling of the harsh rhythm plays as the perfect antithesis to the happy-go-lucky marimba. Krug has taken the joyful sounds of the African instrument and somehow given it tension, made it angrier, made it sound more, dare I say, hardcore. With only two simple instruments Krug creates music that is just as dramatic and heartfelt as anything by Explosions in the Sky. Creating explosions with only two instruments? In essence, Krug is the MacGyver of the music world.”
When Dean Spunt sings “I want you bad underneath my skin”, he’s encapsulating addiction. It could be a dependence to drugs, alcohol, food, sex, or maybe even an abusive relationship; whatever it is, the speaker knows it will cause harm yet craves it. For me, the addiction is to the screeching distortion that lurks in the background of this song. To many, I’m sure this sounds like simply noise, but I keep coming back. Not because I enjoy pain, but because I’ve found beauty within that dissonance. I can’t get enough of that needling noise underneath my skin.
9. “Dance Yrself Clean”
I present to you an auditory cleansing. The first three minutes will help you relax, help raise your spirits. And then, well, then it’s time. James Murphy’s pumping beats and throbbing bass line burst through the speakers and spray you with an energy you didn’t have moments ago. Suddenly, without warning, you’re on your feet moving; washing away your worries; shaking away your negative energy; dancing yourself clean.
8. “Desire Lines”
If you asked me a year ago to name the top ten songs of the past decade, Deerhunter’s “Nothing Ever Happened” would have easily made the list. Its fluid movements from one riff to the next continues to leave me in awe. I didn’t think the band could ever top the song. Then along comes “Haclyon Digest” with the song “Desire Lines”, and I’m thrown for a loop. Not only does this song follow the same transformational model (three minutes in the madness is unleashed), but it also features an even catchier chorus to start things off. “Nothing Ever Happened” probably remains the quintessential Deerhunter song for me, but they are sure making things difficult.
7. “Post Acid”
Only a year ago, everyone hated Nathan Williams for his meltdown in Barcelona, even his drummer. But now it’s officially time to exonerate him of his past mistakes. Not only are his songs more instantaneously satisfying, but he’s also apologizing in “Post Acid” when he sings “I was just having fun with you.” Ah shucks Nathan; we forgive you.
6. “Wide Eyes”
The harmonizing voices, the machine gun drums, the twinkling guitar riffs: “Wide Eyes” is an example of a band finding their true potential. While much of “Gorilla Manor” is milk-toast mediocrity, this song proves that when all the pieces are put in the right place, Local Natives are capable of making extraordinary music.
5. “Round and Round”
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
All of the parts of “Round and Round” work together like a merry-go-round of melody, moving round and round, up and down, creating an experience that will have you begging for another ride through simpler times.
4. “Snakes for the Divine”
High On Fire
The metal anthem is not dead, despite what sports arenas around the country would suggest. They’d like you to believe that fist pumping and head banging died with AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses, and Metallica. Wrong. Imagine if you will, your favorite sports team running onto the court/field/ice as the opening to “Snakes for the Divine” rumbles through the stadium, building a frothing mass of furious, energized fans, filled with bloodlust for a win, shaking, twitching, standing on the verge of a completely chaotic riot…. actually, it’s probably a good idea to keep High On Fire out of the stadiums (especially Detroit).
Kanye West (featuring Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nikki Manaj, and Bon Iver)
When Kanye West sang his song “Runaway” at the VMA’s, most thought it was an admission of guilt to Taylor Swift. Not so fast my friend. Soon after “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” came out and all thoughts of apologies disappeared. On “Monster” Kanye erases any suggestions of humility or guilt When he spouts, “I’m living in the future so my presence is my past. My presence is a present kiss my ass.” This is the musical version of Hulk Hogan joining the NWO; Kanye takes pride in his villainous portrayal. The scariest part of “Monster” is not the flows of Rick Ross, Kanye, Jay-Z, or even the soothing vocals of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. That honor goes to Nicki Minaj’s venomous verse that electrifies and brings this monster of a song to life.
2. “A Cold Freezin’ Night”
Set to what resembles the theme music to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, “A Cold Freezin’ Night” features samples of a little boy ranting about how he will kill you with a rifle, a shotgun, and cut your toes off. In response, a little girl admits that boys are better than girls, even going so far as to wish she was a boy. And somehow, all these chauvinist, psychotic threats are joyful due simply to a great dance beat (and a short harmonica solo never hurts). If only it was this easy to make little kids tolerable in real life.
Earlier this year I bought a record player and soon after found myself with a vinyl obsession. Most of my records were used purchases, but I also dabbled in buying the vinyl of new releases. With many labels including a free download code with a purchase, it just seems to make more sense to get the larger than life packaging/artwork. One of my earliest purchases was Ty Segall’s “Melted”, and it quickly became a mainstay on my turntable. Every time I listened to the album, I would get up and push the arm back to the beginning of “Caesar” to hear it one, two, maybe even three times in a row. A month ago as I was compiling this list I put “Melted” on again only to find that during “Caesar” my record now skips. While the loss of this song saddened me to no end, the scratch also symbolized my undying affection for this pop-punk gem. Fortunately for you, you can listen to the clip above as many times as you like without fear of a scratch (but you won’t get the full effect without it crackling out of a record player).