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Year-End Action

The Year End List 2012

An interesting thing happened in 2012 – the old dudes won. While the music journos and blogarati continue espousing myriad thinkpieces on the rapidity of music consumption and where culture is heading in our hyper brain lubing digital reality, aging punks quietly went into the studio and released the best music of the year. The artists under 30 on the following list are the clear minority. The new guys rode trend waves and tailcoats. The seasoned veterans reinvented themselves or honed their craft to its critical mass. While 2011 seemed to offer a greater volume of great albums, this year offered greater albums – works that are determined to become classics, and uproot previous efforts as some artists’ master works. It was a hell of a roller coaster ride. Alright, let’s do this…

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Spotify Playlist

SIX ORGANS OF ADMITTANCE – ASCENT

A friend of mine once wrote that his first experience seeing Six Organs of Admittance live caused pure dementia,  in addition to believing things that were not true.  He was convinced his apartment had a fourth room, which it did not, and he was ready to take a hammer to the bathroom wall to discover it.  This, of course, only scratches the surface concerning the mystical power of Six Organs’ incandescent, eastern tinged, enveloping psychedelic modal noodling. Chasny has meandered a bit too ambient the past few years, but he finally returned in full force on Ascent, initiating his evil divining rod to communicate across the mortal coil and lobbing out his best effort since 2006’s The Sun Awakens.

LANDING – S/T

Save for a quick 7″ one-off, husband and wife space rock power duo Landing has remained radio silent for almost six years. And in the interim, it appears Landing discovered trace amounts of caffeine, or ginseng, or perhaps 5 Hour Energy and/or PCP. Landing ropes in the flying, hypnotic ambience that made the Connecticut-based slow-core outfit adored amongst those tuned in to the otherverse, this time over a significantly higher BPM count. Album highlight, “Heart Finds the Beat,” offers up lessons in jet propulsion coupled with ancient healing powers. It’s celestial pop worthy of transmitting over the SETI system, antennas pointed toward possible intelligent life in the universe. Hell, I could even label this song, unironically, a salient club banger. More importantly, “Heart Finds the Beat” bolsters a cathartic, soaring chorus gorgeous enough to use as a spiritual litmus test. Landing is a surprising, satisfying listening experience throughout, providing a benchmark example of how a veteran space/post rock band can stay fresh and inventive throughout their career.

ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE – SON OF A BITCHES BREW

The descriptor “cultish” tends to attach itself to myriad second and third wave psychedelic artists, from the NPR-safe Edward Sharpe to perennial blog favorite Prince Rama to the aptly-titled Brian Jonestown Massacre (Miranda Lee Richards even said as much about the latter). But no artist feels more like a cult, one that possesses the power to bend young minds no less, than Acid Mothers Temple. The shapeshifting Japanese collective has adopted varying monikers across their releases, some of them tongue-in-cheek, and others so bodacious they could only be conceived with the assistance of the world’s finest getty green. For their latest, Son of a Bitches Brew, Acid Mothers Temple open another chapter in the Melting Paraiso U.F.O. catalogue. While most of the Paraiso repertoire hones in on drone and freak-out standards, Son of a Bitches Brew delivers an umbrella synopsis of Acid Mothers Temple’s newfound infatuation with the album’s primary inspiration and source material: American jazz, warped for their own otherworldly plans. No, this isn’t tote bag-wielding dinner party music; it’s far too terrifying. Rather, the sprawling double LP is informed by sharp Mingusean free jazz standards, amalgamating intergalactic funk, dissonant horn arrangements, broken melodic structures, and spot-on syncopation to probe the gnarliest crevasses of the known universe.

BROTHER STEPHEN – BAPTIST GIRLS

Many folk-leaning artists in the complicated indie rock realm bolster a feeling of “hard traveled troubadour” through crestfallen acoustic riffing and waxing on dirty motel rooms and missing home. What makes Brother Stephen much more remarkable than the general fare of folk and freak folk varietals – he actually lived it. Up until last year, nomadic Midwesterner Scott Kirkpatrick lived in his car; relentlessly touring, crashing with friends, and took jobs that require that an amount of travel agreeable to a touring musician. Scott now has a mailing address, but his narrative torch ballads are undeniably relatable… and authentic. It’s an old sounding record not because it tries to be, but because Baptist Girls revels in the most storied and humanistic tropes. Earnest music is hard, but Brother Stephen makes it feel urgent. As a long time fan of rustic folk like Pentangle and Fairport Convention who has become increasingly become bored by harsh noise dub art whatever-the-fuck, it’s nice to find a retreat in the pastoral sonic green space of Baptist Girls.

TY SEGALL – TWINS

Goodbye Bread proved Ty Segall is a master of less-is-more psych folk pop. Twins has made him dangerous. While “You’re the Doctor” offered up one of 2012’s most destructive anthem’s, the gospel tinge of “The Hill” is of such a genius level that Ty Segall is now a full-on formidable force, as the newsdesk of WGN learned this fall. Chicahhhhgoooooo!

DEATH GRIPS – THE MONEY STORE

Yeah, I drank the Kool Aid on this one. But you know what? It’s nice to hear some good old fashioned, family friendly, frightening-as-shit doom hop. You can have your Kendrick Lamar and play slap dick all day for all I care, I’m on team #moneystore.

FELTBATTERY – BEHOLD A GOLDEN THRONG

Behold a Golden Throng, the massive 21-song release from The Research Triangle’s feltbattery, provokes a remarkable sense of wonder. On the one hand, the compositions of Benjamin Trueblood summon the tropes of the apocalypse, making prodigious use of field recordings with bees, locusts, and frogs. On the other hand, much of this loose concept record about the parallels between colony animals and human behavior transmits a prismatic, fantastic channeling of natural splendor through electronic static– not too disimilar from the approach of Boards of Canada or The Focus Group, yet with an angle all his own. “Bivouac” opens the album with the ambient soundscape of nature films and scientific instruments before launching into loose, rhythmic birdsong on “Beat Harvest” and an omnious swarm of crawling samples and textures on “Coronation.” Throughout, Trueblood showcases a unique accumen for using tonality and sound sculpture to overtly and accurately replicate the living world. At times a playful kaleidsocopic collage (“Sun Cycle,” “Tiny Hairs”) and at others a suffocating (“Woman With Skeps,” “Drona”) and sinister swirl of awe, Behold a Golden Throng is both an extremely adventurous listen and also one of the most accessible noise albums since Black Dice’s Creature Comforts.

OLD BABY – MISUNDERSTANDING HUMAN BEHAVIOR

Old Baby is a new supergroup of sorts, and a disparate one at that. Members of Shipping News, Dead Child, and Sapat lay the foundation for rustic folk singer and wild mountain man Jonathan Glenn Wood to lay out some nasty ass primordial psych proto-metal with a (what We Listen For You dubs) recession rock bent. This is Folsom Prison Blues after the complex has been burned down and all the guards were force fed the brown acid.

SHARON VAN ETTEN – TRAMP

 As if Tramp’s inclusion on this list needs to be explained, but it was one that I almost slept on until I caught her powerful performance with The War on Drugs this spring. What an absolutely devastating album. And yo, I kinda want to punch in the back of the dome the dude that did Sharon wrong, the inspiration for many of Tramp‘s finer moments like “Serpents,” don’t you? It’s hard to reinvent electric folk, an aesthetic that’s been played out into dust. But Van Etten’s unusual melodies, huge atmosphere, and emotively shape-shifting vocals helped concoct a wholly original, remarkable collection of songs.

AXIS:SOVA – WEIGHT OF A COLOR

Chicago’s Brett Sova dubbed his incandescent debut full-length as “oceancore,” and that’s with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Eerie and beautiful, dark and buoyant, Weight of a Color comes replete with soaring cosmic synths, an urgent urban decay crunch, and meditative, damaged guitar meditations that wouldn’t be out of place on a Tower Recordings set. The past few years have seen many pop bands look to the beach, but Axis:Sova’s shadowy take on the genre offers the first soundtrack for beaches destroyed by oil spills and roving plastic patches.

WOODS – BEND BEYOND

When Songs of Shame came out, this blog wrote something like “the strained falsetto, Elliott Smith experiencing zipper-trouble vocals” to describe Jeremy Earl’s throat melodies. We all got accustomed to Woods’ Edoran psych folk since then, of course, and Earl’s distinct songwriting is fast approaching iconic. On Bend Beyond though, Earl’s vocals are wholly different, reflecting the more morose, understated direction this time round. As as one of the few soldiers that have traversed the DMZ between indie rock and jam band culture unscathed by haters, Woods more unabashedly embraces a rootsy, Byrds-esque approach to the formula they’ve tweaked for five years. They even went a little jammy on the amost baroque “”Size Meets the Sound.” What a good move, both sonically and aesthetically – Woods achieves the raw antiquated sound that no amount of reverb and tape hiss could recreate, and they’ve written their best, most simmering and melodically crystalline songs to date (“Is It Honest?” “Back to the Stone”).

DANIEL BACHMAN – OH BE JOYFUL

Virginia-bred and currently Philadelphia-based cosmic picker Daniel Bachman used to record and perform under the moniker Sacred Harp, but now he bears all and embraces his Christian name. That’s the editorial “Christian,” of course. I have no idea what his faith is, though he seems to come from whatever sacred body reared the likes of the father Jack Rose, the son Ben Chasny, and the holy ghost The Incredible String Band. Since he started recording his latest full-length Oh Be Joyful, Bachman’s been keeping his spear sharp, supporting Amen Dunes, recording some live sessions on taste-arbiter WFMU, and generally controlling the weather with the HAARP technology attached to his acoustic axe. Bachman’s engrossing, complex, cavernous guitar modalities convince you that your home is larger on the inside than out like some House of Leaves shit. It’s altered states-ready psychedelic folk blessed by medicine men and mystic healers alike. Most importantly, this kid is super young, and with no shitting here, is on a fast track to be the new John Fahey. The most important, trippy-ass acoustic instrumental album in quite some time.

SWANS – THE SEER

How rare is it for a band that’s been around three decades to release art that still feels vital, even while plastering a wolf bro straight cheesin’ across the cover? To wit, how rare is it for a band that feeds on provocation to keep their crown as world’s most frightening art rock collective in that time span? Despite the fact that Gira dons a cowboy hat and refers to people as “folks” nowadays like a big ol’ dork, the Swans cult leader undoubetedly continues to hang a portrait of Marquis de Sade above his bed and act like a general bastard. Swans evoked a small sense of worry with the relatively tame 2010 comeback effort My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky. Welp, those fears were swiftly, with decisive action, nipped in the bud on The Seer, Swans’ most disturbing, most beautiful, most foreboding, and most importantly, cinematic work in ages. Their best since 1995’s The Great Annihilator.

Also, yo, check my Michael Gira face sometime.

JESSICA BAILIFF – AT THE DOWN-TURNED JAGGED RIM OF THE SKY

With little to no fanfare, Jessica Bailiff gently offered At the Down-Turned Jagged Rim of the Sky to everyone before scurrying away again. It’s Jessica’s first album in six years, undoubtedly her most expansive work yet, and honestly, her best to date. Jessica’s last album, 2006’s Feels Like Home, coupled light touches of rural psychedelia and ominous slowcore-shaped folk into a heady, beautiful listening experience. The crystalline new effort provokes a much more hopeful and luminescent atmosphere; her whispy, melodic, reverberated vocals hovering over cavernous, atmospheric folk painting the canvas of the deep still just before the break of dawn. Grouper owes Jessica no small debt of gratitude, #realtalk. “Take Me To The Sun” masterfully balances the somber and uplifting with a haunting, soaring three minute light flight into territories both known and mysterious, as washes of eerie echoes and rumbling, sludgy, intricately fuzzed textures wash the lingering fog away.

THE MEN – OPEN YOUR HEART

In many ways, Open Your Heart is an album I’ve been waiting years for and never knew it – the most punk post-punk album to see the light of day in years. Much like the trailblazers Swell Maps, Flipper, and Wire, The Men draft high concept, diverse, moody art rock out of raucous, pummeling RnR. Last year’s scuzzy Immaculada barely hinted at the wealth of ideas the Baltimore collective was keeping close to the chest, or how they were about to get The Stooges to take a ride on the Autobahn with Mr. Shields and Company and still throw on an occasional twangy electric folk ditty for giggles and shits. On the surface, the supremely nuanced Open Your Heart is a really great no wave punk record, but repeated listens offer repeated rewards. The title track is perhaps the most strangely beautiful pop song of the year.

GODSPEED YOU BLACK EMPEROR – ‘LLELUJAH! DON’T BEND! ASCEND!

“With his arms out stretched [with his arms out stretched]” When that weird ass field recording from God knows where kicked in and kicked off the biggest surprise of 2012, a brand new album from Godspeed You Black Emperor, how bad did you geek out? Well, I was at work, and I ran out of my office, onto the street, and began an incessant mashed potato dance that lasted, oh I dunno, 15 minutes or so. Then I returned, rewound the tape, peeled back the film over my MREs, cracked open a Cormac MacCarthy over a trashcan fire, and sauntered back into the desolate landscape of GYBE’s aural hell. So in the decade long interim since GYBE’s last studio effort, everything they said about the police state and corporatocracy turned out to be 100% fucking true, and like your friend rubbing in his/her highly accurate NCAA March Madness bracket, they celebrated by taunting the fuck out of you. Also in that time period, GYBE became a goddamn metal band. Was there headbanging during “Mladic” when I saw them at Louisville’s Headliners in October? Yes, yes there was. Ascend! is an astounding effort from GYBE, and truly only their classic Lift Your Skinny Fists surpasses in the catharsis category.

SCOTT WALKER – BISH BOSCH

Challenging, agitating, beautiful, Scott Walker proved himself once again to be the grand sensei. Damn near 70 years old, and Walker is producing art more potent and pummeling than… shit, just about everyone. You young’uns, pack it in, you’re done-zo. Walker won and he’s doing touchdown celebration moves all over your hair-brained “concept album.”  Bish Bosch is the most surrealistic deconstruction of American music since the mid-aughts zenith of noise, and if you’re allowed to dance in hell, “Epizootics” is the soundtrack.

BLACK MOTH SUPER RAINBOW – COBRA JUICY

The self-released Cobra Juicy saw Black Moth Super Rainbow abandoning much of the Technicolor-hued, whimsical, glitchy carnival of sound that rendered the band instantly recognizable over the past decade. Their distinct arsenal of wonky synths and syrupy, slightly sinister vocoder vox remain in tact of course, but the Black Moth hiatus of the past couple of years (which also saw solo releases from many of the collective’s members) seems to have rebooted the project into BMSR v2.0. Cobra Juicy serves up Black Moth’s most focused effort to date, showcasing a songwriting craft that’s elevated Tobacco’s brainchild into new stratospheres. Cobra Juicy offers a more traditional collection of songs while remaining even harder to categorize at the same time, which is kind of a mindfuck. It’s unequivocally one of the best psych pop efforts to come out in a long time, mainly because it, compositionally, has more in common with anthemic classic rock than the general touchtones of psychotic pop. Most impressively, BSMR continues their refined balance of how seriously to take oneself. Cobra Juicy is a triumph.

ARIEL PINK’S HAUNTED GRAFFITI – MATURE THEMES

Ariel Pink has always intensely dichotomized most listeners, that’s to say, the old trope of the brilliant vs. bullshit argument he tends to present. Even his previously best work, Worn Copy, came replete with a healthy smattering of total sonic bullshit. And yet, buried under the washes of wholly demented and warped 8-track pop for the mescaline demographic was a vision. Not necessarily one you wanted to see, but a vision nonetheless. That vision is the thematically complex Mature Themes. That’s not to say Mature Themes is an endpoint, or that this record is what Pink’s entire musical trajectory has been leading to. Rather, it’s a record that provides a quintessential snapshot of Ariel Pink as the anti-artist. Mature Themes is Dada art – arguably the first true form of dadaism in our modern “indie” world.  Mature Themes isn’t schizophrenic, as many would have you to believe; it’s anti-art, a document to point the finger at the current state of art, only to be laughably slapped with critical scores, violating the whole concept.

LOTUS PLAZA – SPOOKY ACTION AT A DISTANCE

Imbuing kraut, shoegaze, and shimmering, aerodynamic melodies, Spooky Action At A Distance develops a strong identity early on. Each of the album’s 10 songs follow a strict formula – riding an early-established groove song-wide, in tandem with blissed-out choruses, pensive verses, muffled incantation vocals, and metronomic rhythm. Following an ambient intro, “Strangers” sets the stage for the entire album – a form of cosmic sing-along that’s both ethereal and tangible. Pundt’s new found dream pop doesn’t launch into the atmosphere, it exists on the surface, extolling the beauty of the nature around us. Geez, that sounded kinda heavy handed and hippie-stupid, but truth be told, there’s a visceral pastoral quality within Lotus Plaza’s shoegaze that doesn’t exist in the genre’s forbearers that informed Spooky Action At A Distance. While, say, My Bloody Valentine’s foreignness feels extraterrestrial, Lotus Plaza’s otherworldly timbre evokes the sensation of watching water droplets in slow-motion or blooming flora at a higher framer-per-second rate. Perhaps it’s the band’s southern roots – a welcome injection into the storied aesthetic. Pundt commands familiar sounds and song structures and construes them into wholly new perspectives, and in the most simple, organic way possible.

 

SPIRITUALIZED – SWEET HEART SWEET LIGHT

It’s safe to say 1997’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space is a modern classic, widely considered that year’s other masterpiece. Jason Pierce topping that album was perhaps the biggest curveball in 2012. It’s no surprise, however, that Pierce told the NME that much of Sweet Heart Sweet Light‘s inspiration came from performing their beloved magnum opus in its entirety for ATP. All the ideas Ladies and Gentlemen put forth as the more theatrical offspring of Spacemen 3 – American blues and gospel standards, space rock, symphonic murder ballads –  have come into the clearest focus of Spiritualized’s career. However, while Ladies and Gentlemen explored places of drug-riddled despair, Sweet Heart Sweet Light sees Pierce as the survivor. He’s been to hell and back, now a happy family man who embraces the unknown. Sweet Heart Sweet Light as a work of joy and uplifting celebration is a great look on Pierce. Not to mention “Get What You Deserve,” “Headin’ for the Top Now,” and undoubtedly “Hey Jane” offer a trifecta of Spiritualized’s most important songs. Sweet Heart Sweet Light is a masterpiece.

The Year End List 2011

The most wonderful time of the year, right guys? ‘Twas the end of December, and all through the blogosphere, not a creature was stirring, except for the sounds of music writers springin’ chub, strokin’ egos, and Bon Iverin’ via the storied tradition of the “best of” list. Well, The Decibel Tolls participates in that jive as well, save for the latter. Be it as it may.

So yeah, man… 2011… shit. 2011 was a turbulent and gnarly year, and as such, we’ve been treated to some truly stellar music. Funny how that works – civic and economic tension tends to inform and catalyze incredible art. Remember when things were really good in the late ’90s? Gas was cheap, jobs plentiful, Spin City made us lawl… but conversely, Eagle Eye Cherry. Those days are long gone, for better or worse, so get cozy in the thunderdome. Protests in the streets, hyper-partisanship inside the Beltway, tsunamis and climate change, Skrillex… 2011 was a sonofabitch. However, from cataclysm and strife comes a very poignant and human need for escapism, and therein lies the protoplasm that cultivates the most remarkable creative endeavors – and we got it by the metric ton this year. For me, 2011 has produced some of the most exciting music I’ve ever experienced.

For the past two years, The Decibel Tolls released the year end list unenumerated and in democratic form, only compiling the cream of the crop and allowing it to exist in a list space without tier. However, it seems that this year produced particularly heavy jams, and thus, some animals turned out more equal than others, at least in my mind. I didn’t want to do it, but I did… this year’s list is ranked. #occupythedecibeltolls. Yeah, that’s weak, whatever… but I’d be remiss to not recognize that, say, the albums in the top 10 sonically kicked my ass in a profound fashion. It wouldn’t be right to present this list any other way. We’ve waded through, I dunno, a few thousands albums, EPs, and other releases throughout the Gregorian calendar year, and the following 30 are the joints that offer a substantial contribution to the propelling, freewheelin’ vehicle we call rock and roll.

Additionally, this year saw reissues of amazing albums that were not only overlooked in their heyday, but also in subsequent releases. We pay homage to those as well in our separate “best reissues” list at the bottom. Enjoy the list, and allow me to raise my glass to you real quick for an excellent 2012 before I spill all this on myself.

MIKAL CRONIN – S/T

This retro prodigy might serve as the most salient garage rock prodigy since The Brian Jonestown Massacre, and maybe even the ’60s. Don’t get it twisted though, Mikal Cronin’s eponymous debut does not simply rehash celebrated sounds without adding additional distinct flavors, prolific instrumentation, and an acumen for theatricality. The fact that Cronin and company could employ a flute solo at death metal speed on album opener “Is It Alright,” then turn around and produce over-fuzzed stadium-ready psych punk anthems like “Apathy” and “Green and Blue” makes Mikal Cronin a shoe-in for an album that ought not get slept on in 2011.

MP3: Apathy

THE CARETAKER – AN EMPTY BLISS BEYOND THIS WORLD

Under The Caretaker moniker, Berlin-based British sound artist Leyland Kirby has taken on the heady subject of memory and neurological illness (seriously no pun intended). While Kirby claims his primary inspiration was the ballroom scene in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, his premise more closely parallels modern cult psychological thrillers like Christopher Nolan’s Memento. On An Empty Bliss Beyond This World, Kirby invites us into the mind of someone struggling to recall images from their past— aural ones, incarnated in samples and shards of old jazz 78s. An Empty Bliss… is a powerful piece of music that demands full attention– not just an ambient record for background play to allow your musically academic friends to scratch their beards (or equivalent thereof).

MP3: Tiny Gradiations of Loss

LE CHEVALIER  – DANCER

Playful, vivid, and deeply engaging, Montreal’s Le Chevalier throws a fanciful spin on the familiar murky sounds of hauntology and mind-altering electronic exploration. His digital LP Dancer (of which he donated 50% of sales to LGBT-outreach charity The Trevor Project) is a gorgeous and brilliant array of aquatic, loosely flowing kaleidoscopic pop. Le Chevalier flies close to the carnival folk leanings of Kevin Ayers and channels the airy vocals of Broadcast’s Trish Keenan, all within a unique analog casing, yielding a refined debut that’s worth your attention.

MP3: Lully Loure

GROUPER – A | A

A mysterious array of “phantom lights” in the high desert near Marfa, TX has intrigued scientists and fans of the paranormal for over 50 years. Known as “The Marfa Lights,” this unusual phenomenon attracts so many visitors that the city erected a viewing platform. Should you ever have the chance to go, there is perhaps no better soundtrack for this ghostly illumination than Grouper’s double concept album, A I A. Though written at different times, and under varying circumstances, the release’s two discs, Alien Observer and Dream Loss, register as a single, fluid, 68-minute meditation. Over A I A‘s 13 tracks, Liz Harris explores otherworldly soundscapes, traveling from the ocean floor to the gasses of a cosmic cloud, and does it with an unrivaled aural pizzazz. A I A, simply put, is not of our known world.

MP3: Alien Observer

NATIVES – LOOSE SECRETS

Louisville six-man double-percussion sludge psych act goes hard in the paint for their vinyl and digital debut. It doesn’t matter how often you shower, as mind-permeating RnR this dirty will make you feel forever unclean. And that’s good for you, if you hadn’t heard. Just try to fuck with the unbridled swamp thrash of “Year of the Snake” and the cinematic “The Moon.” You can’t. Packed with primordial pop caked in impenetrable reverb and Black Francis-evocative vocals emitting from the other side of the wormhole, Natives are already establishing a unique sound – now you can say you were there when the first joint dropped.

MP3: Year of the Snake

TY SEGALL  – GOODBYE BREAD

Dude’s a master of efficiency. On Goodbye Bread, Ty Segall commands compelling psych rock with little effects or instrumentation – usually nothing more than clean guitars with a slight amp gain, three-piece drums, and his Tyrannosaurus Rex-channeling vox play. While Goodbye Bread sees the Sic Alps collaborator reach into his bag of goodies – scorched earth fuzz, tape echo that reaches above the International Space Station – the full-length also expands on his songwriting prowess by way of the newfound slow burning, hash-informed movements that bookend the record. It’s a good look for Ty Segall, and proves he’s not a one trick pony. Or Segall… er, seagull. I’m going to work on my puns.

MP3: My Head Explodes

VINYL WILLIAMS  – LEMNISCATE

Mix all the shit that you and I like – kraut, walls of noise, atmospheric melodies, tremolo bliss-outs – add a few dashes of sacred geometry, Alejandro Jodorowsky-style surrealism, and Egyptology, and you’ll achieve something close to LA’s Vinyl Williams. Williams is a multimedia artist who takes spiritual exploration and varied sonic references very seriously, and as such, his first proper full-length Lemniscate samples the timbres and ideas of psych rock that traverses three decades and myriad locales. Williams is also unabashedly fearless, throwing shades of electro lounge pop next to silky ambience, just to see what happens.

MP3: Higher Worlds

PANDA BEAR  – TOMBOY

Tomboy seemed to have come and gone last spring, unfortunately. Perhaps most people were expecting Person Pitch II, but that, for someone as prolific as Noah Lennox, would’ve been the lamest possible trajectory. Haters gonna hate. The sun-soaked imagery of his mind’s eye Lisbon is all but evaporated, replaced with a more angular, terse approach to Lennox’s good time mind experiments, resulting in a wholly different effort. Tomboy feels cold – almost mechanical. Panda Bear essentially took a gamble and won. This full-length proved that Panda Bear will never allow himself to become a typecast. And when the stake are high, there’s no move I can applaud more loudly. Also, how good is “Drone”?! That’s the cut I throw on when I need a good aural slaying, god damn.

MP3: Drone

PEOPLE LIKE US  – WELCOME ABROAD

For two decades, Vicki Bennett recorded albums and toured the world as People Like Us, a comprehensive audio-visual art project that makes prodigious use of archival films, library music, and vintage Billboard hits, and also coined the phrases “plagiarhymthic” and “irritainment.” You may know her from WFMU’s amazing Do or DIY. But don’t confuse Vicki with some sort of wanky inane mashup treachery or inaccessible noise exploration. People Like Us exists as more of a musique concerte-style sound collage – a carnival of trippy retro-futuristic movements and pop-oriented culture jamming. Welcome Abroad pulls tons of source material from the fair-use Pellinger Archives and her unprecedented access to the full BBC Archive (including the Radiophonic Workshop). What you get is a gorgeous deconstructing and warped reassembling of 20th century pop standards and atomic age ambient electronic that should thrill fans of Ghost Box contemporaries. As fate would have it, the cleverly titled Welcome Abroad was the result of being volcanically marooned in the U.S. throughout much of 2010 (via Iceland). She made the most of her situation by inviting members of Half Japanese and Matmos to contribute, and obviously, the result is awesome.

MP3: The Seven Hills of Rome

UNKNOWN MORTAL ORCHESTRA  – S/T

UMO kinda ruled 2011, didn’t they? And deservingly so, their eponymous debut offered everything we hoped for but didn’t know we did – a winding journey replete with twisted versions of both American and UK R&B, soul, and simple garage rock. Unknown Mortal Orchestra plays like a version of West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band that intercepted Old Gregg’s lactating ball of funk. This shit… this shit is naaaasty. It causes you to scrunch about the nose while bobbing your head all bug-eyed and releasing a breathy gasp of “damn, that’s naaaasty.”

MP3: Ffunny Ffrends

GANG GANG DANCE  – EYE CONTACT

The much-loved New York City-based experimental collective Gang Gang Dance has left me conflicted in the past. Their 2005 breakthrough sophomore effort God’s Money came packed with the sort of warped, world-infused freak-outs that would greatly upset and confuse Chipotle-core artists like David Byrne. And it was awesome. In contrast, 2008’s Saint Dymphna showcased a sonically untamed artist attempting to produce club bangers; their intriguing interstellar mysticism sullied by bizarre grime and house flavors that just didn’t mesh. This year’s 4AD-bolstered full-length Eye Contact, however, offered an extremely focused, brilliant approach to the band’s two disparate sides, providing both a return-to-form and a serious progression. Eye Contact is a polymorphous beast.

MP3: Glass Jar

AL LOVER  – SATANIC TAMBOURINES

I hope claiming that Al Lover conjures the most psychedelically-inclined producer-informed hip-hop since Edan and J. Dilla doesn’t feel hyperbolic, because it’s true. This is a guy who remixed Captain Beefheart’s Safe as Milk in its entirety. How do you even approach that? Well, Al Lover did, and Satanic Tambourines put those serious chops on display for his cassette-only breakthrough release.

MP3: Sweet Breathing and Release

ATLAS SOUND – PARALLAX

Did Bradford Cox write the songs? Then duh, you already know – this music is some of the best of the year. You can’t even touch this dude, especially considering that Parallax is his most emotionally cathartic. I don’t even need to elaborate as to why he’s on the list. Cox will smoke any buzzy fools in our Future Shock-evocative current music paradigm. This is fine experimental American rock music – no other descriptors needed.

MP3: Parallax

PHANTOM FAMILY HALO & BONNIE PRINCE BILLY – MINDEATER

Clocking in just over 20 minutes, the collaborative Mindeater explores the vibes of rustic folk and late ’60s/early ’70s twangy psychedelia, spooky glam swagger, and the desolate milieu where monolithic desert rock meets the Sweetheart of the Rodeo. When Oldham’s on the label, you know it’s good… kinda like Smucker’s. But Mindeater isn’t about the good Prince; it’s about the underserved Phantom Family Halo. The Family has the unfortunate circumstance of not fuckin’ around with en vogue wobbly synths and overcompressed beats, nor do they write stupid songs about the beach or nostalgia. They write vintage, freewheeling space rock psych-outs about nightmares, skulls, and similarly-themed wicked shit. As such, they’ve been ignored outside of Louisville for far too long, and it’s now their time to shine. While I always appreciate Oldham’s approach to the torch ballad, it’s the Phantom-penned moments on Mindeater that stick out and turn what would be a traditional release from the prolific Bonnie Prince Billy into a cross-genre, cross-galaxy sonic vision quest.

MP3: The Mindeater

SUN ARAW – ANCIENT ROMANS

The “sacred retreat” of Cameron Stallones shotguns fleeting moments of spiritual clarity to the end of the astral plane on his double LP Ancient Romans. Guns blazing, the Los Angeles artist returns with his most sonically acrobatic and, depending on your taste, accessible material yet. It’s the type of work that has the potential to broadcast Sun Araw’s Technicolor pastiche of cosmic riddim, sacramental chants, scorched dub, and aquatic ambience far outside the niche catacombs where these sorts of abstract meditations like to dwell. Keep in mind though, Ancient Romans is not just a particularly adventurous effort – it’s rife with misdirection. While the 80-minute offering keeps the ingredients for a concept album on retainer, Stallones intimates both directly and cryptically that it’s really more of an introspective affair. On a casual listen, it might sound like DMT-riddled, improvisational treatment of psychedelic Laurel Canyon lore. In actuality, Stallones reveals an unusual, tremendously detailed-oriented approach to sound sculpting. To wit, any assumptions about Ancient Romans are probably patently false, or at least inaccurate.

MP3: Lute & Lyre

NERVES JUNIOR – AS BRIGHT AS YOUR NIGHT LIGHT

Without compromise and immune to any and all trend-riding, Nerves Junior are paving their own path with a distinct spin on both the twilight fringes of post-punk electro futurism and denser-than-lead dream pop gravitas. Nerves Junior is a transcendent beast, one that can appeal to elitist niche ears as well as casual listeners. As Bright As Your Night‘s melodic sophistication and vast sonic palette is major league in every facet. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

MP3: Champagne and Peaches

PIGEONS  – THEY SWEETHEARTSTAMMERS

Pigeons never intended to pack the sun or the sand in their weathered steamer trunk of ’60s psych flavors. Rather, Pigeons evoke the sounds of the still night long after the Flower Children had fallen into the arms of Morpheus. They Sweetheartstammers exudes the same resonating sense of mystery, sedation, and austere melodic sensibility as last year’s Liasons, but with an added sonic density this turn, as well as expanded lineup (roping in members of No Neck Blues Band and Black Twig Pickers). Despite Pigeons’ nocturnal, cavernous aura, a visceral whimsy rampantly flows behind the spooky façade, yielding a pastiche of ornate prismatic pop that lands somewhere between The United States of America and Pram. An engrossing, ghostly listen.

MP3: Dead Echo

GUITARO  – JJ’S CRYSTAL PALACE

This Vancouver outfit have quietly released brilliant EPs and full-lengths under the name Guitaro since the tail end of the 20th century.  With great injustice, they mostly passed under the radar of the world’s tastemaking music media, save for the critical lauding within their native British Columbia. Hopefully that will change, since after a six year hiatus, this undiscovered gem of a trio may have released the definitive album for shoegazers who like to cut rugs and reach escape velocity. JJ’s Crystal Palace is a ten-song space disco romp through varying moods, tempos, and volumes. Those amongst us who were greatly excited by M83’s Red Cities, Red Seas, & Lost Ghosts and were then fucking pissed by the weak-ass Depeche Mode-shaped turd Before The Dawn Heals Us because it was bullshit, not to mention Tubeaway Army superfans and those who believe Air can do no wrong… are in. fucking. luck. Because you will find myriad treasures within this 10-song beuaty. Guitaro has constructed some truly beautiful, cerebral, and highly hummable anthems, slathered in infectious mid-tempo dance rhythms and a liberal dose of galacticism. It totally rips.

MP3: Chateau 100

RADIOHEAD  – THE KING OF LIMBS

Cutting to the chase, The King of Limbs is Radiohead’s finest work in a decade. Their mid-aughts work, Hail to the Thief and In Rainbows, offered complex dark pop that often felt a bit uneven – the sound of a band attempting to fit too many ideas into concise song-structures. The King of Limbs remedies that issue, focusing exclusively on acutely inventive jazz rhythms, subterranean guitars, and a fragmented melodicism that slowly reveals itself on repeated listens. Radiohead, once again, fully embraces releasing a work that’s both abstract and accessible within an art rock package – something they haven’t captured with this level of acumen since Kid A. This is clearly an album resulting from five guys who listened to a shit-ton of Basil Kirchen and Tago Mago. The alien nature of The King of Limbs‘ songs have, historically speaking, tended to get relegated to the B-side portion of Radiohead’s catalog – the arsenal that happens to house some of the group’s best flashes of brilliance (see “Cuttooth” from the Kid A/Amnesiac outtakes). It’s nice to see Radiohead’s most bizarre approaches to their craft on an album proper again. It’s worth mentioning as well, their Record Store Day release “Supercollider” is maybe the best song they’ve ever done… and longest, clocking in over 7-minutes, prog rock be damned. True story, some Altered Zones (R.I.P.) readers acted kinda miffed that the “Lotus Flower” video was posted because it’s, like, too mainstream or whatever. Dude, Radiohead’s a band that publically embraces Aphex Twin and Harmonia… how is that not relevant to your interests? Quit your trollin’. It’s like this: “Bloom,” “Feral,” and “Separator” provide some of the best recordings from one of the most important artists of our time. The King of Limbs is a triumph.

MP3: Feral

BACHELORETTE  – S/T

Compared to the warm, sample-heavy bedroom folk of her debut Isolation Loops and her mood-altering sophomore effort My Electric Family, the self-titled effort from Bachelorette is icy, distant, and minimal. Bachelorette exudes a particular air of foreboding… at least comparatively. That makes sense, considering the album was recorded and assembled in locales of turbulence, such as her native Christchurch, New Zealand (which suffered a devastating earthquake earlier this year) and Tripoli, Libya (I assume you’re aware of that nation’s civil strife). Though Bachelorette is a decidedly different beast, Alpers’ instantly recognizable blend of electro-folk and space age pop, sardonic OK Computer-evocative lyricism, and futuristic, Stepford Wife vocal play remains fully in tact. Don’t read into the eponymous title of this record – Bachelorette is not a definitive statement. Rather, it ropes in Bachelorette’s innate desire to explore all the possibilities of a solo artist. I have no doubt her best work is ahead of her, but Bachelorette is still another seminal work for Annabelle Alpers.

MP3: Blanket

THE ADVISORY CIRCLE  – AS THE CROW FLIES

No one offers a better preservation of what we once thought the future would sound like in post-WWII society than the world’s finest purveyor of mid-century futurism, Ghost Box. A staple artist, and one of the label’s most accessible, is The Advisory Circle. The moniker of electronic composer Jon Brooks, The Advisory Circle has maintained a rather prolific output over the past five years, dropping yet another full-length just this year – As The Crow Flies. The title track opens with a Raymond Scott-evocative, better-living-through-chemistry fluttering electronic progression, giving way to an intense mid-tempo beat, unfurling a mood equally bucolic and galactic – evoking deep space as much as fading Kodachrome sunlight. It only gets better from there, such as the perfectly catchy yet slightly unnerving “Everyday Hazards.” This is music made with magic.

MP3: Everyday Hazards

PREFUSE 73  – THE ONLY SHE CHAPTERS

Electronic spirit warrior Guillermo Scott Herren eschews all traces of the beat-centric approach he established throughout most of his career on The Only She Chapters. Herren’s latest is a wholly ambient and adventurous affair.  Some of Prefuse’s trademark, glitch-saturated rhythms appear -sporadically at best, of course – but mostly he’s skewing toward dissonant and disjointed song structures, grainy tape samples, sonar calls, reverse vocal snippets, dense sonic space, and the occasional mellotron. Whether you’re surprised by this or not depends on how closely you follow all of Herren’s work. He’s hinted at this direction for a while. The trenchant repetition and eastern mysticism long inherent in Savath & Savalas is fully realized in the seven-minute hypnotic meditation “The Only Repeat” and the cheekily-titled “The Only Thief to Steal Tonality.” The blissed-out amalgamation of acoustic instrumentation and harsh power electronics on “The Only Hand to Hold” offers a fine-tuning of the sonic explorations Herren and The Books laid to tape on the Reads the Books EP. It would be disingenuous to not suggest The Only She Chapters is a challenging listen, especially for fans of One Word Extinguisher and Prefuse 73’s traditional glitch-hop. Yet, if you approach the listening experience understanding this is Herren at his most fluid, formless, and ethereal, you shall reap the rewards – the biggest being one of Trish Keenan’s final recordings on “The Only Trial of 9,000 Suns,” a song as massive as Keenan’s artistry.

MP3: The Only Trial of 9,000 Suns

DISAPPEARS – GUIDER

Sans any schtick, the Disappears sound established by Lux, the 7″s, and live boots consists solely of chugga-chugga rhythm guitar saturated in a metric shit-ton of tape echo, pliant low end, repetition, and the occasional celestial flourish. Sometimes fully realized, glistening melodies make cameos amidst the rigid, dystopian psychedelia. Historically, all these approaches appear within the same song, but on Guider, the facets of Disappears’ sonic simplicity are chemically separated. The opening title track finds Disappears at their most jangly – guitars on the upswing, gentle percussion, and a nasty Bo Diddley-esque garage blues bass groove. Disappears’ three-minute crystalline pop vision then gives way to die Disappears einschmeichelnde motormusik on “Halo.” No hummable melodies, no pomp, no circumstance, just steady motorrad riding through the chrono-synclastic infundibulum at precise 4/4 time. Krautrock done with craft and care, “Halo” has been proven to provide age-defying hormones that make skin look youthful and vibrant. And then there’s “Revisiting.” Hoo boy… “Revisiting.” That bad boy takes up a little more than half the album, clocking in over 15 minutes with nothing more than motorik beats, two chords, a newfound vocal growl from Case, and total marching-into-Mordor-via-the-Autobahn gravitas. And much like old school/best school Stereolab, the song’s intense hypnotic quality could prove medically hazardous. There’s an old legend about Can that suggests the band could focus their repetitive energy so acutely, some audience members experienced severe disorientation, even nausea. That’s power, and I think “Revisiting” proves Disappears can play ball.

MP3: Halo

LA BIG VIC  – ACTUALLY

La Big Vic has written and recorded a body of songs that are essentially pop music, yet bear no sonic resemblance to anything remotely pop. Actually unfurls like a dream, conjuring fragments of familiar songs jumbled and skewed into something both bizarre and comforting. “LYNY” sounds like an anthemic sing-along as you’d hear it exiting the deepest of REM cycles. “Heyo (Silver Morning)” melodically feels like an old electric folk tune warped through some cosmic wrinkle in space-time floating over a driving, colossally reverberated apache beat sinister enough to evoke the sound of God when he’s come back to earth to kill Republicans. The product then becomes a lush and, at the sake of being corny, spiritual shimmering space pop meditation. Kosmische instrumentals “Chinese Wedding” and “Bobka Chocka” are equally as engaging as the more structured pieces – the former dabbles heavy in improv, fluttering electronic washes, and violin shredding, almost resembling Spiritualized at their most otherworldly, while the latter acts as the closest thing to Neu ’11, if that could ever exist in an alternate timeline. Actuallly shuts down shop with “Musica” – a vast 10-minute epic that provides equal time to fluid post-rock and mystic vocal melodies, giving you a damn near perfect ‘to be continued’ for whatever the group has in store next. Again, these descriptions only provide reference points that a music writer must employ. La Big Vic is a fresh musical experience that must be heard.

MP3: Heyo (Silver Morning)

WIRE  – RED BARKED TREE

Red Barked Tree is one of the most strident return-to-forms I’ve heard in quite some time. Even the same guitar tones and phased effects from 154’s “Blessed State” introduce album opener “Please Take.” Wisdom suggests that releasing similar albums over and over again comes off as stagnant and kind of a bullshit move, and that’s usually true. Yet Wire’s revisiting of their source material feels entirely fresh. The band has already tried new approaches, most notably in the past few years with Newman’s quirky Githead project and the band’s Read to Burn EP series. The latter saw Wire experimenting with some of the gothic motifs and industrial buzzsaw rhythms that Primal Scream and Add N to (X) concurrently toyed with. The attempt was commendable, but it didn’t fit Wire’s well-established aesthetic. These were angry sounds. Wire is aggressive, but never angry, as their Situationalist stance will never allow such. Of course, none of that is to say Red Barked Tree is simply a rehashing of their jagged post-punk. The albums’s strongest moments are also their most surprising, particularly “Adapt,” “Down to This,” and “Red Barked Tree” – all heavily centered around acoustic (!) guitar and fluttering ambient flourishes, brushing closer to dream pop psychedelia than anything the band has done in the past. However, Wire doesn’t holistically soften or “mature” (lol) like some of their contemporaries. “Two Minutes,” “Smash,” and “Moreover” prove the group as intense, snotty, sarcastic, and confident as ever. From concentrated, nuanced pop to smart, commentary-laden, self-destructive-with-a-wink punk rock, you’re treated to a full-on demonstration of the breadth and contradictions that historically made Wire so intriguing. Throughout these 11 songs, the only real giveaway that Red Barked Tree isn’t some lost LP from the early canon is the super slick production, rendering some of the lushest compositions the group has laid to tape. The sonic space, detail, and clarity is enthralling.

MP3: Adapt

CHARLAMBIDES  – EXILE

It’s hard to believe psych folk warriors Charalambides have been doing the damn thing for two decades. Even more difficult, the band continues to make important records, and Exile is no exception. With an equal reverence for fellow Texans The Red Krayola and Jandek, as well as the general untamed lands of fringe folk, prophetic duo Tom and Christina Carter have always demonstrated a clear sense of sonic identity. On Exile, their first LP in five years, Charalambides retain their singular vision without evoking any of their old formulae. Yes, they still retain the sparse instrumentation, timelessly haunting vocals, buoyant  guitar modalities, and sense of space that can only be described in scientific notation as always. But that approach works… and works well. As always, Charalambides’ desolate desert dirges remain impervious to light yet buoyant enough to ride over the horizon line, producing an invigorating listening experience. Exile truly soars on highlights like the metaphysically damaged, achingly gorgeous Anglo folk of “Desecrated,” and the prodigious, sweeping 12-minute burner, “Into the Earth.” If you don’t feel affected, perhaps it’s time for you to see your way out.

MP3: Desecrated

WYLA – DEMO

Asheville, North Carolina is a remarkable place – a quaint, historic town nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Appearances can be deceiving however, as Asheville is a freaky and funky enclave teeming with eccentricity. The characteristics of Wyla act perfectly congruent to their stomping ground. Wyla’s facade presents the quintet as a slow-burning, hook-heavy garage rock act, but dig deeper and you’ll discover a complex force of haunting psychedelic pop. Wyla sweeps the grime off the garage floor and pipes it through a ramshackle array of mammoth fuzz guitars, splattered rhythms, and foreboding melodies, which is augmented by Edward Madill’s engaging, cavernous baritone floating a few meters above the swirling noir grooves. Dark and deceivingly catchy, fans of Marmoset, Swell Maps, and Syd Barrett will find something familiar, and something new. This might be the best “demo” I’ve ever laid ears on.

[Bloggins Note: Technically speaking, Bandcamp lists this release as December 2010, but seeing as this release remained in obscurity until Q1 of 2011, I’m moving that shit to this year’s column; count it.]

MP3: Tomorrow I’ll Know

AMEN DUNES  – THROUGH DONKEY JAW

For his 2009 debut Dia, Damon McMahon followed in the great hermetic tradition of Thoreau — holing out in a cabin in the woods, later returning to civilization with a thick beard and a cathartic experience under his psyche. Dia‘s murky color, arboreal soundscapes, insular lyricism, and sometimes frantic mood swings fit the archetype of a creative mind exorcising demons amongst nature’s splendor. On Through Donkey Jaw, McMahon again wears his shroud of mystery well, this time concealing a subtly dynamic sound that bolsters broader instrumentation and songs free of tension. Dia felt claustrophobic and confined at times, rumbling with the sounds of kinetic psychedelia attempting to bubble through the cracks in the walls of McMahon’s Catskill retreat. In contrast, Through Donkey Jaw offers ample breathing room, showcasing McMahon’s sparse and cosmic guitar melodies as they float gently across deep pockets of muffled distortion and dusty trails.  The resplendent sonic palette of Amen Dunes’ grainy acid folk honestly parallels the mind-bending songwriting of Skip Spence and Roky Erickson, though McMahon carves out his own niche. A monumental and articulate effort throughout, Through Donkey Jaw proves Amen Dunes will continue his vision quest, albeit less overtly.

MP3: Lower Mind

WOODSMAN  – MYSTIC PLACES

At the beginning of the year, Woodsman released Rare Forms, a full-length in which the band explored both the grimy industrial labyrinth of ’70s German experimentalism and the rustic, bucolic light flights that resemble sunshine-saturated psychedelia. During my interview with the band for Altered Zones, Trevor Peterson revealed that Rare Forms did not, conceptually speaking, represent where Woodsman is now – the culmination of both the gestation period required to properly release a record and the band’s never-ending creative stream. That was no hyperbole, as just nine months later, Mystic Places establishes Woodsman as a very different act – impressive for relatively a short time. Mystic Places is, in some ways, a harsher, less ethereal effort, with more attention to texture, rigid song structures, and rhythmic intensity. The new sound careens into dark chasms at remarkable velocity while punching at the cave walls, best evidenced on “In Circles.” But as always with Woodsman, that’s only one side of the story. These more concise songs also beget a stronger sense of pop accessibility. More importantly, though the bliss-outs of Rare Forms are all but negated on the EP, the totemic quartet has perfected a type of mach three choruses that would do early Floyd and Spiritualized fans quite well. Songs like “View From the Vision Hand” provide a natural extension to the material on Rare Forms, which offer a perfect complement to “Inside/Outside” – a driving, tension-filled, mostly instrumental piece interspersed with telescreen-evoking vocal snippets. “Parallel Minds” and “In Circles” showcase a well-established dichotomy in Woodsman’s music: one between ambient narcotic mystery tours and pummeling, skyward neo-kraut. The EP’s highlight is “Specdrum,” a four-minute expedition of interstellar overdrive that combines all of Woodsman’s key elements in utterly top form – snaky guitar melodies, celestial ambience, primordial dual rhythms, and gorgeous, shimmering canyon calls. Woodsman has always crafted arresting tribal motorik, but “Specdrum” takes it to some other, intangible level. They’ve hit a stride. What hasn’t changed throughout Mystic Places is Woodsman’s metaphysical flavor. Like their previous albums, Mystic Places draws conceptual inspiration from with various mysterious American southwest environs– the Earth Hum, the Marfa Lights, Roswell, and that oddity that is the Denver International Airport. With Mystic Places, Woodsman becomes, in tandem, more enigmatic, easier to grasp, and more accomplished. A monumental effort.

MP3: Specdrum

THE WAR ON DRUGS  – SLAVE AMBIENT

Slave Ambient kicks off with a trifecta of steadily mid-tempo, supremely psychedelic Americana scorchers that all consist of straightforward electric folk  rife with stratospheric choruses twice-baked in tape echo and a sonic space deeper than an Oceanic trench — borrowing equally from The Notorious Byrd Brothers, West Coast neo-psych, and the best of the Creation artists. But if you think you’ve ascertained the album’s overarching groove at this point, you find yourself mistaken four tracks deep with “Your Love is Calling My Name” – my song of the year. Curveball, fellas! This is a song that separates the men from the boys. Sure, the reverberated, metronomic drum beat that could send armies to war evokes The Boss at his most bombastic, but the layers of lush swirling textures is what launches this vehicle past the sound barrier and The War on Drugs into an entirely different league. This is a song that should make The Arcade Fire feel like assholes. This is a song that’s so simple, yet so abundant with subtle melodies, you’ll notice a new tone, hell, a new song, every time you drop in. This is a song that reaches out across solar systems and down into the deepest caverns of the earth. It’s fucking devastating. But there’s plenty for Slave Ambient for your headspace. The palpable tension collapses into an ambient breather “The Animator,” and since this collective is informed by the classics, they treat Slave Ambient as a cohesive work, summoning the art of the LP listening experience by herein offering the first of multiple inter-song segues. The distant transmissions over the horizon line of “The Animator” are then pulled into the blissful “Come to the City,” the second ‘holy shit’ moment on Slave Ambient. “Come to the City” follows the steadfast, borderline-apache rhythm showcased previously on the album, allowing the tremolo-saturated guitars, silky synths, and call-to-arms troubadour meets Alan Vega vocal melodies to explosively launch into orbit. It’s not aurally dynamic – the ascent is subtle and demands attention… and it’s gorgeous. Those resplendent flourishes return in instrumental form on “City Reprise,” the more cinematic counterpart to “Come to the City.” Inter-album dichotomies – such a nice touch. The album format is not dead, folks. The War on Drugs’ fist pump catalyst returns in full force on “Baby Missiles” – a classic rock swagger banger. Like the “Come to the City” vs. “City Reprise” complement, “Original Slave” farms sounds from “Baby Missiles,” morphs the timbre, and slows down the tempo a notch to create a krautrock meditation that evokes Can at their most aggressive. At this point, Slave Ambient’s pop facets have referenced full-on heartland rock, while its interstellar leanings show shades of no wave, krautrock, and shoegaze – not an easy feat to pull off. The War on Drugs do it flawlessly, coming full circle with the closer “Blackwater” that meshes bar band piano with an intergalactic, monolithic wall of sound as the backdrop, congruent to the album’s opening triad. While Slave Ambient generally dives into three aforementioned distinct approaches on each song – dusty folk, triumphant cosmic rock, and light speed ambience – all three ebb and flow throughout. It’s this deceptive heaviness and aural malleability that acts as The War on Drugs’ weapon of choice for 47 sprawling minutes of unadulterated sonic density. This album is a grandiose statement of aesthetic juxtaposition, ambition, gravitas, and craft. More importantly, it’s a timeless record – as familiar as it is new, as vintage as it is modern. The other War on Drugs originated in ’70s, a decade the band has proven an affinity for, while this War on Drugs appropriates the name for a psychedelic band in an ironic fashion that captures the zeitgeist of the Internet age. This symbolic conflict best encapsulates their vibe, because honestly, The War on Drugs represent no scene. Rather, they are purveyors of a cross-genre pastiche that celebrates attitude and sound architecture with equal reverence, and with Slave Ambient, they’ve released the definitive recorded statement that bridges the sensibilities of stadium rock with the experimental thrash of Basement Show U.S.A. The fact is, nothing in 2011 can match Slave Ambient.

MP3: Your Love is Calling My Name

ED ASKEW – IMPERFICTION

Ed Askew offers another great example of a man with an elite liberal arts education who just couldn’t get on in the practical world worth a damn. Despite crafting a truly original sound, Askew never harnessed the ability get together a serious tour or promote his recordings beyond the cult following in his native New Haven. Better late than never however, as Askew’s rustic torch ballads and bizarre songwriting see the light of day again for the first time, to my knowledge, on vinyl via the new 7″ – Here We Are Together / Yellow Dollars and reissued full-length Imprefiction (originally only reissued on cassette for a brief time in 1984). It’s a perfect sonic time capsule of late ’60s / early ’70s outsider folk, where “challenging” wasn’t an obstacle and boundaries didn’t really exist. Simple instrumentation with an insane approach, fans of The Incredible String Band and Holy Modal Rounders will want to snag these dudes a.s.a.p.

MP3: Deep Water

THROBBING GRISTLE – 20 JAZZ FUNK GREATS / D.O.A THE THIRD AND FINAL REPORT OF THROBBING GRISTLE

:: hhaa : aammbuuurggger laadddyy ::: aadyyy ::::: aadyyy )))))))))))

MP3: Hamburger Lady

SMASHING PUMPKINS – SIAMESE DREAM

Siamese Dream is one of the first CDs I ever owned and the singular reason why I’m the proud owner of a Big Muff pedal, so I’d be remiss to not recognize a sort of nostalgia toward this record that people older or younger than me perhaps don’t share. And that’s fine. More to the point though – critics have always had difficulty categorizing an album as expansive and dynamic as Siamese Dream, which adds a certain enigmatic flavor (in tandem with all the in-studio rumors at the time as well). It’s also annoying. If you strip away the alt rock/grunge pretenses that people incorrectly ascribe, Siamese Dream becomes a phenomenal psych rock/shoegaze album – one that even touches on noise and avant garde (see the last two minutes of “Silverfuck”). This kinda fucks with people, especially those who can’t subdue their own preconceived notions. More importantly though, Siamese Dream offered a formative listening experience within a crucial timeframe for both Gen X and Gen Y, informing and steering musical tastes toward envelope-pushing acts like My Bloody Valentine and Hawkwind – much like how Nirvana contributed to raising general awareness about acts like Flipper and The Vaselines. Not to mention, it’s a great fucking record. Sure, Billy Corgan is a total fucking pud who straddles the line between advanced and embarrassing (Resistance Pro lol), but Siamese Dream has, for 18 years, remained an unfuckwithable collection of anthemic, celestial, denser-than-lead rock.

MP3: Hummer

ERKIN KORAY – MECHUL

For both economic and geographic reasons, Turkey often acts as the de facto representation of east meets west. While this might seem like an obvious illustration when discussing Anatolian rock pioneer Erkin Koray, his trailblazing embrace of Western psychedelia’s edgy aesthetic in a culturally ambiguous mid-20th century Instanbul (that wasn’t quite ready for him) cannot be understated. Erkin Koray is unequivocally considered the father of popular Turisk rock and impetus for increased sonic adventurousness in the burgeoning Anatolian garage scene. However, it wasn’t until the early 70s when Koray was finally afforded the opportunity to record full-length albums, as opposed to the 45 singles he was accustomed to. Here is where Erkin Koray realized a grander vision, and the period in time that the new Sublime Frequencies compilation, Meçhul, captures. Culled from Koray’s personal arsenal of rarities and lesser heard songs, Meçhul opens a brand new window into Koray’s most creative output spanning from 1970 to 1977. It was during this time that Koray looked outword from his psychedelic prism, exploring the ancestral folk sounds of the Turkish interior as well as Egyptian and Lebaneese broadcasts scanning the shortwave dial. The resulting oeuvre looked to the past and the future simultaneously, crossing decades, culture, and borders in one fell swoop.

MP3: Kendim Ettim Kendim Buldum

RIDE – NOWHERE

Do I even have to explain this? Ride was the pop counterpart to the ethereal My Bloody Valentine, yet executed it with a panache that their contemporaries never really nailed. I’ve loved this record for a very long time, and a 20th anniversary commemorative was highly appropriate. While Going Blank Again contained the better songs (i.e. “Leave Them All Behind”), Nowhere, cohesively speaking, was the better record – and the one that truly endeared the band to an audience of varied ears.

MP3: Seagull

NICK NICELY – ELEGANT DAZE

If you dig heavily on Garys of both the Wilson and Numan variety, you may find British outsider electro-psych artisan nick nicely to your liking, as he fits somewhere between the two extremes. Born Nickolas Laurien, the enigmatic and always lowercased nick nicely doesn’t transmit the volatility of the former, nor the new wave dance floor standards of the latter. Instead, he marries minimal disco and post-punk analog washes with the type of quirky melodic structures reminiscent of Skip Spence. Surely Sir Ariel Pink has borrowed some of his vocal inflections from this deep space banger. Captured Tracks has chronicled some of nicely’s most important work with Elegant Daze: Songs from 1979-1986, a 13-song compilation that captures nick nicely’s knack for cold futurism and hummable hooks.

MP3: Treeline

CAROL KLEYN – LOVE HAS MADE ME STRONGER

If you’re on the fence about leaving everything behind and joining a commune, the pastoral beauty of Carol Kleyn might give you that extra push. Her self-released 1976 LP, Love Has Made Me Stronger, is a whismical exploration of arboreal pop and Anglo folk, featuring a voice as powerful and mesmerizing as Sandy Denny. While the harp was often Kleyn’s weapon of choice, she didn’t learn to play until she was 21, after receiving one as a gift from her friend and mentor Bobby Brown (not this one). Kleyn quickly mastered the instrument, and she and Bobby began touring in the renaissance fair circuit and play any rooms along the west coast that would have them– eventually earning a reguar opening gig for Gregg Allman. Despite some notable accolades, Love Has Made Me Stronger remained a bit too eccentric for the general mid-’70s folk sensibility, and was relegated to dusty second-hand record bins and the collections of obscurity enthusiasts. Thankfully, Drag City saved this incredible discovery from the dregs of forgotten outsider folk. The album opener, “Love’s Goin Round,” is devastatingly gorgeous and warm; a worthy introduction to a charming woman who once referred to herself as “the loving shepherdess.” Fitting, as Klyen’s gentle yet haunting sound fits somewhere between cultish and heavenly.

MP3: Love’s Going ‘Round

THE LEFT BANKE – WALK AWAY RENEE/PRETTY BALLERINA

The Left Banke folded sometime in 1967, when chief song-slinger Michael Brown defected to form Montage, partly due to the ever present “creative differences” but primarily because of the Left Banke’s baffling inability to receive much recognition. And as Fortuna is a bitch, that project didn’t take off either. As for The Left Banke, save for some spins during the decline of AM radio, the group never cultivated much of an audience even in the presence of the deafening critical lauding that labeled the group as the American response to The Zombies. Hence, not much has been done to resurrect their complex baroque pop until the mighty Sundazed label up and did something about that with the full reissue of Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina, the first real document of the group’s work in over 20 years (and perhaps done in tandem with some one-off reunion shows earlier this year). This is some of the most acute and expansive music written in one of the most creatively explosive times in history. While their brilliant “Men Are Building Sand” and “Ivy” are missing, “Barterers and Their Wives” and “I’ve Got Something on My Mind” both stand the test of time as possibly the most ornate, glistening psych rock gems you’re likely to hear. And it sounds great.

MP3: Barterers and Their Wives

KIM JUNG MI – NOW

Spiritual scholars often debate the nature of souls, but I think this obscure gem from Kim Jung Mi acts as a great litmus test. This is some of the most undeniably beautiful music laid to tape – if you are not touched, perhaps you are part of what Father Malachai Martin calls “the prefectly possessed.” That’s hyperbolic of course, but try to listen to album opener “Toward the Sunlight” and then tell me it doesn’t dive deep into the soul. Finding tangible information on Kim Jung Mi was practically impossible, and finding her 1973 masterpiece Now even harder – until Lion Productions did the right thing this year. Many have likened Jung Mi to a Korean version of Francois Hardy. Perhaps that’s fair, but Hardy’s music still exhibits a sort of urbanite art party kitsch, while Jung Mi’s approach is a much more malleable folk flavor – and one that uses fairly simple instrumentation to monumental effect. More similar to Os Mutantes’ knack for seamlessly meshing the sounds of their native Brazil’s tropicalia with West Coast psychedelia, Kim Jung Mi incorporates traditional Korean jeongak chamber music into the type of Anglo-folk popularized by Sandy Denny-era Fairport Convention, Pentangle, and Nick Drake (best evidenced in “Spring, Spring, Spring”). You also hear visceral traces of classic American R & B and Spector-esque jangle pop buried within. While sounding  familiar to Western listeners, Kim Jung Mi sings entirely in Korean throughout Now. Though a foreign tongue can sometimes alienate said Western ears (which is always a bogus reason), the more probable reason for her obscurity is, well, that the southeast Asia scene was never considered an epicenter of folk and psych music by the “tastemakers” in the ’60s and ’70s. People looked to London and San Francisco, and artists on the Pacific rim were sadly not given a fair shake until collectives like Sublime Frequencies started discovering such esoteric gems in the early part of the last decade. Remember how rad all those Cambodian psych tapes were? And really, for perspective, Japan’s experimental scene wasn’t truly recognized internationally until the ’90s, when the approaches of artists like Boredoms, Ghost, and Merzbow were too brave not to notice. Yet Kim Jung Mi and the flower power music of Korea still remains a sort of mystery, but perhaps this reissue shall shed more (and well deserved) light on this nearly lost torrent of salient creativity.

MP3: Toward the Sunlight

CAN – TAGO MAGO

This album came out 40 years ago. Forty. People drove cars that looked like this. The band’s native soil would remain divided for almost two more decades. D.B. Cooper was probably still renting an apartment and shopping at the mall. American stamps cost 8 cents and most of the U.S. thought Nixon was a rad dude. Tago Mago came out in 1971 and prophesied the sounds of music decades in advance, with little more than unyielding focus, freewheeling improvisation, and an unhinged yet amicable Japanese dude who was down to ride a dark groove into the twilight zone like a boss. That happened four decades ago, and hasn’t been fucked with by anyone since then. Think about that. More astonishingly, Tago Mago served as Damo Suzuki’s first proper recording with Can, and yet, the album is unequivocally the best and most accurate encapsulation of all the sonic facets this masterful kraut collective mastered. Tago Mago is sacred ground, and Mute’s crisp, redesigned 40th Anniversary Edition serves it justice.

MP3: Oh Yeah

Eric Copeland – Waco Taco Combo
Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for My Halo
Hella – Tripper
Voyageurs – Alien Iverson
JEFF the Brotherhood – We Are The Champions
Yuck – s/t
Peaking Lights – 936
Shabazz Palaces – Black Up
Tune Yards – whokill
Psychedelic Horseshit – Laced
Lumerians – Transmalinnia
Blithe Field – Two Hearted
Helado Negro – Canta Lechuza
Spirit Spine – Glossolalia
Woodsman – Rare Forms
Love of Diagrams – In My Dream
The NEC – Pineapple
Belong – Common Era
White Birds – s/t
Swiftumz – Don’t Trip
The Men – Leave Home

And the band that I’ve slept on the most that I’ll rectify in 2012… Thee Oh Sees

The Year in Music 2010 According to The Gang

Offering up our year end list a couple of weeks ago just wasn’t enough. So I put the call out to a group of individuals – you know, the gang – who make a different in the music scene here in Louisville, asking them to collect a “best of” or “year end” list in whatever format they choose. I discovered some releases that I totally slept on this year. Perhaps you will too. I also discovered some personality quirks in some of my friends I didn’t know existed before. For example, Dom from Phantom Family Halo does not want to attend your potluck. I can appreciate that.

Connor Bell is Shedding, and Shedding is Connor Bell. His latest album Tear In the Sun is sick. Connor’s also a school teacher, which is awesome. I don’t think any of the teachers I had growing up liked music, and if they did, it was, like, Vertical Horizon or some bullshit. Connor also adds “shit, I realized I spaced on the Shipping News, Parlour, and Straight As albums… so let’s make this a top 10 inspiring Europe releases list so I don’t feel bad.” Done!

SND – Vandyk-k Integ Paradise (DS93)
Of all the minimal electronic groups of the late 90s/early 00s this group stuck with me the longest. They seemed to disappear in the mid 00s but they’ve returned with some brilliant work the past few years. There’s something innately funky in its lack of funk that drives me wild in the same way as Neu! or Gang of Four. Stiff, smart, and skeletal. The finest crisp digital funk out there.

Mark Fell – Multistability (Raster Noton)
Mark Fell of SND has been prolific lately and this release is similar funk as the SND EP above. Harsh at times and highly intellectual but still very fresh and funky in its own way. It’s the kind of music that makes me want to actually understand high level math and dance at the same time. When DJs start jamming this in town I will be very happy to hit the dance floor.

Christoph Heemann – Mighty Joe Young (Dom Bartwuchs)
Christoph Heemann has been a favorite of mine for some time and these two songs are hypnotic and repetitious in a way that conjures both Terry Riley’s work and Frederic Rzewski’s underrated “Attica, Coming Together” masterpiece (someone reissue that please!). When I listen, I imagine I dove far underwater and am now staring into the distant shimmering light above the surface. [EDITOR’S NOTE: This is not to be confused with this fine movie]

Autechre – Oversteps (Warp)
I don’t think they can really do any wrong. I sort of lost interest in their work for some time but have gone back recently and I think they have also gone back. They have returned to a more approachable format while still maintaining their dizzying skill in crafting exotic jams.

Bill Fay – Still Some Light (Jnana)
I think this is his first new work in around 20 years since being unearthed and praised by David Tibet and covered by Wilco/Jeff Tweedy. Well-crafted and honest songwriting with wonderfully loose layers of vocalism and mournful lyrics.

Paul White – Paul White and the Purple Brain (Now Again / One-Handed Music)
British disciple of Dilla who has truly arrived with this album. It’s a dreamy blend of hip hop beats and eastern psychedelia. Beautiful double vinyl put together by the Stones Throw imprint Now Again. This is the kind of hip hop you can never fully unravel or understand. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s another example of something that would’ve passed me by if it weren’t for Connor, because publicists seem to think I care more about horseshit like Asher Roth than an amazing discovery like Paul White. Hate all y’all.]

BJ Nilsen / Stilluppsteypa – Space Finale (Editions Mego)
BJ Nilsen has been killing me the last few years and his collaborations with the Icelandic group Stilluppsteypa are no exception and in some ways are perhaps more intriguing than his solo work on Touch. They seem more fun and risky. At its core it is a glacial drone record but it has an ,at times, rather terrifying science fiction flavor that makes it just right for late night listening. Turn out the lights and blare it.

Wareika – Harmonie Park (Perlon)
Bizarre hybrid of a live dub/jazz band and minimal tech project on the can’t miss Perlon label.  I really can’t fully wrap my head around this yet.  Hypnotizing and lush.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9D70B_Ryt8

Reformed Faction – Until (Greytone)
A reformed faction (cough cough), formerly of Zoviet France (an insanely underrated outfit most active in the 80s/90s), are back in the swing of industrial collage. They forego the tribal clanging of some of the ZF records for a more Mirror-esque (see also: Christoph Heemann) drone album. I’m glad they’re making music together again.

Prins Thomas – Prins Thomas (Full Pupp)
I’ve never really fully understood the Scandinavian disco revival that he’s normally affiliated with, but this is an inspired album. A blatant tribute to the kosmische of the 1970s but so perfectly constructed and meticulously produced that it is absolutely ideal not only for blasting but also for studying.

MP3 :::
SND – Untitled 1
Prins Thomas – Nattonsket
Christoph Heemann – Mighty Joe Young Part 4
Autechre – Yuop
BJ Nilsen / Stilluppsteypa – Space Finale 1-1

Dom Cipolla is the man behind the curtain of Phantom Family Halo. Though he recently relocated to Brooklyn, he makes a laudable effort to come back often and spook you. Dom became a hero back in April when Phantom elected not to soften their face-melting edge during their Live Lunch performance on WFPK. You could hear listeners at the $150 level and higher flip off their radios throughout town during the band’s 20+ minute acid jazz saurkraut rock patty melt. Dom even did the station identification in the middle of the jam! Mazel Tov! Dom choose his favorite shows and/or performances he caught in 2010.

1. Yoko Ono & Plastic Ono Band reunion – Feb 16 – Brooklyn Academy of Music
2. Psychic TV – Dec 9 – Club Europa – Brooklyn
3. The Legendary Pink Dots – Oct 29 – Le Poisson Rouge – NYC
4. Glenn Branca – Nov 20 -Le Poisson Rouge – NYC
5. Gary Numan (pleasure principle all the way through!) – Oct 23 – NYC
6. John Cale – Feb 15 – MOMA- NYC
7. Robert Fripp – Dec 4 – winter garden – NYC
8. Ghost – Feb 1 – Andy Warhol Museum – Pittsburgh, PA
9. Acid Mothers Temple – April 14th – Cosmic Charlies – Lexington, KY
10. Ace Frehley – March 21- Nokia Theatre – NYC

Top 5 Disappointments
1. most contemporary music
2. Leslie Neilson’s passing
3. Mystic Dancers
4. The Roots and Boots Movement (you know who you are)
5. Potlucks

MP3 :::
Glenn Branca – Lesson No. 1 For Electric Guitar
Yoko Ono – Mind Holes
Ghost – Part 3: Aramaic Barbarous Dawn
The Legendary Pink Dots – Faded Photograph
Acid Mothers Temple – Ange Mecanique De Saturne
Gary Numan – Films

Brett Shepherd is one half of concert promoter Shark Productions, one whole of “Sweetest Threads in the Metro Area” Productions. Brett collected his favorite releases in no particular order, save for Beach House’s Team Dream. It is, as he proclaims, “his shit.”

Beach HouseTeen Dream
Teen Dream embraces a classic sensibility without sacrificing originality and depth in the process. Alex Scally knifes out exquisite melodies and delivers occasional Shieldsonian soundscapes through notably more immediate guitar stylings. It’s the perfect accompaniment to Victoria Legrand’s soaring, gorgeously lush vocals. Stevie Nicks can eat ‘er cut-off denim shorts for all I’m concerned! Their Mercy Lounge show back in late April was downright riveting.
Phantogram
– Eyelid Movies
Phantogram’s September 26 performance at Zanzabar (Shark Production’s first show) was both sonically and visually stunning.
LCD SoundsystemThis Is Happening
Arcade Fire
The Suburbs
Twin ShadowForget
Catch George Lewis Jr. and his crew at MOTR Pub in Cincinnati on January 15.
School of Seven Bells
Disconnect From Desire
The Radio Dept. Clinging To A Scheme
Gold Panda
Lucky Shiner
Four Tet There Is Love In You
Warm Ghost Claws Overhead

MP3 :::
Beach House – 10 Mile Stereo
Phantogram – Mouthful of Diamonds
LCD Soundsystem – Pow Pow
Twin Shadow – I Can’t Wait
School of Seven Bells – Bye Bye Bye
The Radio Dept. – Heaven’s on Fire
Gold Panda – You
Four Tet – Circling
Warm Ghost – Open the Wormhole In Your Heart

William Benton is the lead guitarist for both Phantom Family Halo and Lucky Pineapple, a time bandit from a bygone era, front desk general at the celebrated 21c, curator of the latest installment of Burn to Shine, and keeper of the fire. You wouldn’t know it from his bands’ generally restrained compositions, but dude shreds.

1.) Gil Scott-Heron – I’m New Here
2.) Swans – My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky
3.) Grinderman – Grinderman 2
4.) Devo – Something for Everybody
5.) Syl Johnson – Complete Mythology
6.) Shipping News – One Less Heartless to Fear
7.) Hank Williams – The Complete Mother’s Best Recordings
8.) Johnny Dowd – Wake Up the Snakes
9.) The Black Heart Procession – Six
10.) Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and the Cairo Gang – The Wonder Show of the World

Top 5 disappointments:
1.) Politics
2.) Marriage
3.) That pot sticker place on Baxter [EDITOR’S NOTE: yeah, that place looks whack]
4.) My social skills
5.) The digital age

MP3 :::
Swans – Reeling the Liars In
Gil Scott Heron – Me and the Devil
Shipping News – Half a House
Bonnie Prince Billy and The Cairo Gang – Troublesome Houses

Dane Waters is keyboardist and vocalist for Softcheque and Louisville’s 13 (or so) member freak ensemble Sapat, as well as a widely recognized opera singer.  If Sapat ever comes to your town, go see ’em, mach schnell! Pure, unadultrated, unfettered insanity… and it’s beautiful. While she considered it a disappointment, maybe the chemicals in the Ohio River help cultivate the strange and wonderful music that incubates in this city?

1. Swans – My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky
2. Rachael Grimes – Book of Leaves
3. Parlour – Simulacrumfield
4. Wax Fang – The Astronaut, Pt. 1
5. Akira Rabelais – Caduceus
6. The Phantom Family Halo – Music for Italian TV
7. The Knife – Tomorrow, In a Year
8. M.I.A. – Maya
9. The return of MONTAG (Headliners, 6.25.10)

Top 5 disappointments
1. The Oil Spill
2. Louisville Orchestra’s Bankruptcy
3. Finding hexavalent chromium in the water supply
4. When favorite bands fall apart
5. Not having enough time to listen to everything

MP3 :::
Rachel Grimes – Every Morning
The Knife – Colouring the Pigeons
Parlour – Simulacrenfield

Sean Bailey is the event coordinator/smiling figurehead at ear X-tacy, not to mention “nicest dude in Louisville” as proclaimed by Velocity Weekly. He’s so nice that any person found complaining about the friendliness of the ear X staff is immediately rendered a shithead upon fraternizing with Monsseiur Bailey. Sean chose his favorite local releases of 2010.

Shipping News – “One Less Heartless to Fear” LP
“RISE: A Louisville Lip Records Tribute to Kinghorse” CD
Cerebellum – “S/T” 10 song LP reissue
Coliseum – “House With A Curse” LP
Wax Fang – “The Astronaut” (Digital EP)
Parlour – “Simulacrenfield” LP
Chime Hours – 6 song EP
Cheyenne Marie Mize – “Before Lately” CD
Minnow – “Hello Hubris” CD
Shedding – “Tear in the Sun” LP
Coliseum – “Goddamage” Deluxe Reissue LP
Jonathan Glen Wood/Natural Geographic Split 7”
Young Widows – “Live Radio Performance April 6, 2009? LP
Phantom Family Halo – “Music From Italian TV” LP
Lee Van Cleef – “Terror Blood” CD
Bonnie “Prince” Billy – “The Wonder Show of the World” LP
Another 7 Astronauts – “Music for Photographs” CD
Frontier(s) – “There Will Be No Miracles Here LP
The Young Scamels – “Tempest” CD
Interstates – “Arrival Without Departure” Digital EP

MP3 :::
Shedding – Instructions
Phantom Family Halo – Third World War
Cheyenne Marie Mize – Best

Tim Furnish has been a central figure in the music community for quite some time. His large ensemble Parlour enjoyed a successful 2010 with their first release in five years, Simulacrumfield, garnering rave reviews. Tim’s also been known to make noise in Shedding and the legendary art punk act Crain. If you don’t know, you better call somebody (or click play on the MP3 I provided at the bottom).

1) SheddingTear in the Sun
2) Trent Reznor and Atticus RossThe Social Network Soundtrack
3) RobynBodytalk parts 1 and 2
4) First Aid Kit The Big Black & The Blue
5) Four TetThere Is Love In You
6) Thomas PrinsPrins Thomas
7) Shipping News One Less Heartless To Fear
8) Cee Lo GreenThe Lady Killer
9) Holy Fuck Latin
10) Flying Lotus Cosmogramma

Top five disappointments:
1) The growth of the Tea Party
2) The Oil Spill
3) Demise of Skull Alley
4) My own productivity
5) The job market

MP3 :::
Holy Fuck – Silva & Grimes
Flying Lotus – Dance of the Pseudo Nymph
Crain – News From Warsaw

As always, thanks for all the readership, support, and hate mail throughout 2010. Talk to you all next year. Big changes coming too!

The Year End List 2010

The Year End List. I think you can appreciate how we approach the obligatory list that publishes in December. We don’t use the words “best” for the end of the Gregorian calendar year wrap, and we don’t enumerate the list. Empirically ranking albums with some sort of number designation, coupled with superlatives, really trivializes such a mercurial entity as music. So we don’t do that. The Year End List is simply a reflection of albums that provided the most accurate representation of our aesthetics, embodying the songs most likely to receive rotation in the personal ghetto blaster for years to come, long after whatever 2010 fads (stupid band names being the most annoying) propagated themselves have long died out. While in the past we’ve differentiated between LPs and EPs, it seems more and more artists are choosing to release shorter EPs more often than the typical cycle of releasing a full length every two years. Hence, this list features any EP more than two songs alongside traditional 45-minute long players.

Honorable mentions include this year’s full lengths from Caribou, Tame Impala, Liars, Ty Segall, and The Radio Department. We wanted to include these records, but in the interest of brevity and making this list more manageable than 2009’s massive extravaganza (not to mention the aforementioned records already got lots of well-deserved love from other blogs), this year end list is kept to 30 releases, many of which may have flown under your radar.

The N.E.C. – Is
Within the first minute and a half of this Atlanta collective’s first major recorded statement, The N.E.C. lets you know where their loyalties lie, and they fight fervently on the side of Echoplex, complemented with triumphant percussion, total decibel damage, and guitars so crunchy that gallons of Korova milk couldn’t make that shit soggy.

It’s Right

CLOUDLAND CANYON – Fin Eaves
Fin Eaves is Cloudland Canyon transmitting your ears serious aural vitamin D – sunny, gorgeous, bombastic melodies coupled with balmy, foggy, deep reverb. 2008’s Lie In Light was large and cavernous, while Fin Eaves is engrossing and propulsive. The visceral, deceiving catchiness of oceanic dream pop movements like “No One Else Around” and “Yellow Echoesz” is subtle, understated, and richly melodic.

No One Else Around

WHITE HILLS – s/t
Scorching acid rock with a bit of ambience and psychedelic proto-metal flair that will sear your eyeballs and turn your brain into a cottonball. Repetitive, greasy, and pulsating with fuzz face guitar tones and primitive tribal rituals – don’t listen to White Hills on any sacred religious holiday. The shit is decidedly evil. Kid Millions of Oneida hits skins under the direction of Aleister Crowley, while Dave W’s acrobatic throat offerings toggle between gutteral and ethereal.

Dead

A SUNNY DAY IN GLASGOW- Autumn Again
Love ya’ll Glasgow! You know what I like. The 11-track LP doesn’t deviate much from 2009’s Ashes Grammar, and it doesn’t need to – nothing but wall to wall soaring, ethereal, cheekily-titled, glitchy dream pop with no additives or artificial coloring. It also glows in the dark. When I saw them at SXSW, I remember slamming Lone Star tallboys and smiling a lot before my fucking face melted off. The white-washed celestial head stew of “Drink Drank Drunk” might be the best pop song of the year.

Drink Drank Drunk

NO JOY – Ghost Blonde
Perhaps it’s the Khanate reference in their name, or perhaps it’s something completely intangible, but No Joy is not all about the good vibes that’s been repeated ad infium by their contemporaries. Sure, you could spin this record at the beach, but a visceral sesne of foreboding lurks under the hazy, murky sonic pallette. This isn’t dreamy, wistful beach pop. As a whole, Ghost Blonde is closer to a sort of sludgey doomgaze. Yet, they still masterfully craft crystalline four-minute pop songs. And therein is what makes No Joy exemplary.

Mediumship

BENOIT PIOULARD – Lasted
As with his previous work, Pioluard sounds like a sort of crestfallen yet benevolent being singing from inside a cavern – powerful hall-reverberated vocals over grainy, arboreal, abstracted moods, Anglo-folk instrumentation, and wistful, hauntological textures. This time around, Lasted’s songs are more focused and mature, with rich melodies that remain subtle for particularly rewarding results. Warm, cascading ambient pieces are peppered throughout, cultivating a cohesive and mercurial body of work. Lasted is a deeply emotional body of work.

Shouting Distance

SOARS – s/t
Soars’ silky and slow burning self-titled album offers a hazy half hour of cathartic sounds and elegant dream pop, all of which congeal into a meditative mood exploration. As such, there are no standout tracks; Soars crafted the rare album that resonates as a single piece. None of those crappy sythns or compressed beats that seem to be creeping into psychedelia these days – just beautifully sculpted guitar sounds, whispered vocals, and compelling melodicism. Simple instrumentation, profound result.

Throw Yourself Apart

WHITESAND/BADLANDS – Seeding the Clouds
This mysterious and shamanistic Minneapolis collective flew low under the radar and crafted a nearly perfect pop record. Ektachrome-tinted, jangly guitars and dreamy textures punctuates magnificent vocal melodies and a general sense of bombastic urgency. Orchestral without the pretense, gritty without the dissonance, Seeding the Clouds establishes a band that’s about to become a force to reckon with.

Angels on a Pinhead

DISAPPEARS – Lux
The songs you know and love from their accidental debut live album, Live Over the Rainbo, were even better than expected when officially laid to tape. Echo, tremolo, chugga chugga, shout, repeat – all caked in a metric shit-ton of warm analog reverb. Their simplicity borders on sublime brilliance.

Pearly Gates

SHEDDING – Tear in the Sun
U.S. Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart defined pornography in Jacobellis vs. Ohio by stating “I know it when I see it.” You can appropriate similar logic for evaluating ambient music. There’s a fine line between brilliance and banality, intriguing sounds and just dicking around with synths. But you know when it’s good, and Shedding’s full length is real fucking good, and infinitely more interesting than Brian Eno’s new one (with all due respect).

Perspective

TOTEM POLE – Caves and Tunnels, Mountains and Stairs
Caves and Tunnels Mountains and Stairs, is a haunting, distant, yet familiar collection of viscerally retro psychedelia, six songs that could easily provide the soundtrack to Valerie and Her Week of Wonders or a similar hyper-surrealistic dreamscape. Taking cues from hauntology, Morricone-style desolate moods, Vashti Bunyan brain-bending folk, and the hazy evocation of vaguem Paisley Underground aesthetics, Totem Pole is a brilliant cross-section of gorgeous sonic milieus and light pop accessibility.

Pointless Love Gallery

DEERHUNTER – Halcyon Digest
We at blog base camp never reviewed this record. There was no need, everyone was listening to it when it dropped. Deerhunter is a unifier. The indie pop dorks and the noise blowhards can both agree that Deerhunter is unequivocally clutch. It might even be fair to say they are the premiere American rock band. The group holds its title again this year with their most mature and emotional offering yet, showcasing the strengths of Bradford and Lockett in complete unison. This is a well-oiled machine, this Deerhunter band.

He Would Have Laughed

WISE BLOOD – +
Space is the place, as Stephen Hawking said, but the jury’s still out on Wise Blood’s thoughts on God (no Dishwalla). Doesn’t matter, Wise Blood continuously dropped secular shag music for the International Space Station throughout the year, carved out a truly new sound, and wins the award for most “dude I have no idea what the fuck is going on but this rules.” The manner in which this Pittsburgh champ sampled The Beatles was pretty ace as well.

STRT SRNS

DEPATTERNING – The Liminal Farm
Found sounds, twinkling analog melodies, woozy oscillators, disintegrated tape, and the sounds of the nature reinterpreted through the pulses of the national grid are Depatterning’s smoky sonic identity, replicating the sensation of wandering an unobstructed remote forest, or scanning the shortwave dial before the dawn breaks. The staples of what is considered hauntology – the old sci-fi sound effects and bumper music of ’50s and ’60s era nature films – are ever present, but it’s hunch, based on Garry Mentanko’s DIY approach, that these sculpted sounds are recreations of the source material, rather than direct samples of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop library. Excellence in library music indeed.

Uranium City, SK

ARIEL PINK’S HAUNTED GRAFFITI- Before Today
No duh this was gonna get rocked on the year end list. We were jockin’ the Pink back when he got booed off stage opening Animal Collective and Slint shows while most of y’all were busy springing chub for Bloc Party. But as Sir Dylan said “times they are a’changing,” and 2010 was arguably his year, for better or worse (gotta be careful what you wish for). Despite apprehensions some had about the move to 4AD and the new, more “listenable” direction the band hinted at when “Round and Round” dropped, Before Today delivers in a big way. Unlike Animal Collective when they dove head-first into pop music and gumballs, Ariel Pink maintained his latent strangeness to satisfy old fans while creating a body of (absurdly accessible) songs that will find a wider audience.

Revolution’s a Lie

THE BLACK ANGELS – Phosphene Dream
Alex Maas and company are no longer sharing their disturbing visions of war and snakes and bad trips from their desert vision quests – Phosphene Dream is, at various intervals, seeing these dark and damaged dudes throwing a super swinging beach party that J Spaceman may or may not be invited to. It’s a surprising recording. Predictability is the ultimate death rattle, and The Black Angels have proven they’re here for a while replete with tricks in sleeves – all while demonstrating a more distinct, sophisticated songwriting prowess. The Black Angles are no longer just prophets from the wrong time recreating niche rock and roll from the past – they’ve truly come into their own on this one.

River of Blood

WHITE FENCE – s/t
Combining art punk’s call and response with remnants of the period when every band, even the “square” ones with matching suits, had to have a least one vaguely psychedelic song, Darker My Love’s Tim Presley crafted a truly bizarre yet catchy body of painfully ignored destroyed-tape pop songs. Where baroque pop and the blank generation meet, you shall find White Fence.

The Gallery

THE BESNARD LAKES – …Are the Roaring Night
The Besnard Lakes are a lot of things. They are a Brian Wilson meets Slowdive type of hybrid organism. They are anthemic yet restrained. They mesh a mean falsetto and siren vocals against The Conet Project and pop dread. They are a band that does not sound like the fuckin’ Arcade Fire. They are the dark horse as well as the roaring night. They either have a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor or they really think a lot of themselves. They also do not fuck around. …Are the Roaring Night continues where …Are the Dark Horse left off, with added songwriting focus. Kids like me who came of age more on classic rock than punk rock have a special place in our hearts for The Besnard Lakes. I mean, look at the fuckin’ flaming sea!

Like the Ocean, Like the Innocent Pt. 1: The Innocent

GROWING – Pumps
The clairvoyant collective of sages and shamans, Growing, was first unleashed upon an unsuspecting Earth as an exercise in catastrophically loud guitar-based minimalism. With 2008’s All the Way, we saw the group move laterally into more focused, song-oriented, dynamic ambience. Their latest, the monolithic PUMPS, sees Growing at the end of their transformation into a fully polyrhythmic unit that retains their certifiably alien sound. Wringing their trademark drones and guitar tones trough intense tremolo, quick pans, and sampler splicers to cultivate a cacophony of driving rhythms, Growing has created an 8-song sci-fi score that I could conceivably see Burning Man patrons dancing to in the future. Distant future. But the time to become a disciple is now.

Hormone

DEVOLVER – Christs Lane
Is it possible to remain unquestionably obscure in the Internet age? Yes it is. Go find some tangible information on the shimmering and destroyed AM pop of Devolver, the clandestine Montreal duo who’ve quietly released songs since 1997. Christs Lane, their first release since 2003, offers up smooth, concise, and sparkling psychedelic pop songs caked in layers of worn copy Pram-evocative, spooky hauntological washes, like a ninth generation tape dub or a distant shortwave radio broadcast. Gorgeously comforting and remarkably unsettling at the same time, these dark, hook-laden spooky psych gems sound more like a mystic relic than an impeccably conceived bedroom pop record. It’s a fucking shame that these guys aren’t selling a billion albums… but then again, it’s their mystery that makes the discovery of Devolver that much more rewarding.

Careful

FOREST SWORDS – Dagger Paths
Lurching samurai vibes, phased vocal apparitions, and menacing bass lines are just a few of the disparate tricks that Forest Swords has up his sleeves. This savvy UK producer lays the groundwork with dark planetary dub-step akin to Not Not Fun affiliates and then decorates with ascending guitar lines that teeter between cloud-bursting ambiance and claustrophobic tension. It’s definitely not a go-to for any occasion, but if you feel like a spaced out trek up Desolation Peak and back, your ride is here.

Visits

HOLY FUCK – Latin
Holy Fuck is smart – melting your eardrums while you’re under the impression you’re having fun. The motorik precision and ethereal heaviness Holy Fuck has hinted at for years truly came into focus on Latin. Despite their lighthearted nature (the name helps for sure), Latin is a heady and complex record, reminding the troops that post-rock can totally be fun. It’s not all dystopian boogie, The Road, and dead flag blues.

Silva & Grimes

GHOST ANIMAL – Summertime in Heaven
There’s a beastly punch within the good vibes scuzzgaze of hard workin’ Ghost Animal that you don’t hear much in “lo-fi,” whatever that is. Ghost Animal rises above their hard-to-Google contemporaries with their acumen for hooks, general panache, and a driving reverberated surf metal stomp meets Link Wray thump that evokes early Jesus and Mary Chain or a sunny version of Loop if they visited a cheap studio, with stand-up caveman percussion to boot. Too boisterous for the Gorilla vs Bear set, too gritty for arena rock – Ghost Animal’s heavy dream destruction is full and soaring while maintaing the intimate graininess that fans of garage rock appreciate.

One Night

FOUR TET – There Is Love in You
A twitchy dub return-to-form, but with all of the perennial elements of Hebdan’s work from 1999’s Dialogue to present, There is Love…is a clever predictor of what the scene would sound like upon its completion. With the emergence of new-school dub steppers like Joy Orbison stealing the spotlight with their organic, staccato spin on a flat-lined genre, Four Tet re-emerges with a complete vision that anticipates this, then expands on it in ways only a seasoned mind could. The results are lucid and immersive. The pulse beat of a heart, a motif of his since early albums, is recreated by the hum of organic sounds carefully cut and expanded, orbiting around an invisible core like a mobile of samples. Voices curl and multiply, even the most obviously synthesized sounds are kneaded into an uncannily human vibe that only Four Tet can diffuse from the circuitboard.

Plastic People

EMILY REO – WITCH MTN
Sunny good-times Orlando doesn’t necessarily seem the type of milieu that begets sequestered and supremely haunting subterranean pop. But it did, and Emily Reo is decidedly in a league of her own. Simple synths, swells of tape warmth, junky drum machines, a touch of vibraphone, and distorted, melodic, post doo wop vocals certainly evokes Tickley Feather, Broadcast, and Grouper. However, Reo adopts a more cathedral-tinged approach to hauntology, as evidenced on the icy, aquatic WITCH MTN, as well as her ultra spooky covers of Built to Spill and Neil Young.

Above Ground and a Golden Cloud

SERENA MANEESH – Abyss in B Minor
Abyss in B Minor in no way resembles a rehashing of the swirly guitar movement. Sure, all the essential elements are there, even down to the blurry album art. However, there’s an intrinsic punk aura about the group, eschewing many of the trends that defined the tongue-in-cheek shoegaze term. There’s no detachment, no navel staring, no aloofness – Serena Maneesh is a rough around the edges, guttural collective. They will beat your ass. If you don’t believe that, exhibit A: they recorded this album in a cave outside Oslo. However, outside the album’s epic bookends, Abyss in B-Minor is a collection of pop songs, and each one is deceivingly brutal under the shimmering surface. If you could strip away the nasty gale of noise and fuzz that I imagine the apocalypse would sound like, you could possibly play this record around your folks. Eh, maybe not.

Reprobate

ARP – The Soft Wave
Alexis Georgopoulos’ ideas come fully into focus with The Soft Wave, an eclectic exploration of electronic and pop music that recalls shades of Eno, Cluster, and Belbury Poly. Expanding the palette of his crafty solo debut, Georgopoulos adds guitar and a surprising vocal presence to his trademark, modular synth-laden meditations. Balancing both lush and sparse arrangements, Arp cultivates high-minded, aerodynamic sonic vehicle sans pretension, informed equally by the academia of John Cage and the accessibility of Boards of Canada.

Pastoral Symphony / Dominoes / Infinity Room

BIG TROUBLES – Worry
Spirit warriors Big Troubles are brilliant and self-aware – from their Angelfire-hosted website to their New Jersey chic circa ’78 videos. The Olde English Spelling Bee upstarts brandish the fuzzed-out guitars and balmy blues pop vocals of Hawkwind and Psychocandy in one fell swoop whilst carving out their own distinctive fucked pop niche. Brain simmering and hummable, Big Troubles bring the fiesta without the kitsch.

Video Rock

J. IRVIN DALLY – Despistado
J Irvin Dally doesn’t have to convince you of his status as a nomadic wild-eyed prophet in dress and demeanor – the music does that on its own. Dally’s handful of home-recorded demos demolish the bedroom walls, creating expansive, adventurous, electric experimental folk. The foundation of Mr. Dally’s free floating dirges is built upon the aesthetics of torch ballads and Dally’s distinctive and rustic vocals, reaching upward toward the heavens in washes of ornate tape noise, reverb, and silky psychedelic textures. While many of his songs stay true to a cohesive vibe, you can subtly hear the dynamic range of Dally’s orchestrated yet understated songwriting, and it’s simply astounding.

Salt Water

ULAAN KHOL – III
Ulaan Khol’s III bounces about the space time continuum with great ease like a pandemensional cosmic ball. Sacred mystic moods and Ben Chasney-esque eastern modal tonalities fraternize with apocalyptic noise and ambient bliss blasts from the future. Both sides make a compromise by settling somewhere in ’70s lo fi freak outs a la early Can. Ulaan Khol is timeless not in the sense that he amalgamates genres from many movements or that he fails to convey what place in time his music exists, but rather, Ulaan Khol has no time. Does that make sense? I promise I’m not stoned.

Untitled 2

The Year End List 2009

Time again for the obligatory year end list. However, ours is a bit different than others you may have seen. For example, this list is not enumerated. Empirically ranking albums rather trivializes the music, yes? Nor is the list in any particular order, save for the fact that we assembled it based loosely on aesthetics – meaning, we encourage you to mash on the little javascript media player in the bottom left-hand corner and enjoy our best-of picks as a mixtape or an uninterrupted block of music. Not only is this a fine collection of altered states laments, but each and every one of these albums is better than the Grizzly Bear borecore collection. Believe it!

>>>>> FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2009
The full length jam hives that we found the most innovative, intriguing, enjoyable, or all of the above.

Broadcast & The Focus Group – Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age
Outside Trish Keenan’s traditional channeling of Margo Guryan and The United States of America and Julian House’s spooky samples, it’s hard to distinguish where Broadcast ends and The Focus Group begins. The collaboration is seamless and ornate, and is a strong addition to the flawless curriculum vitae for both Broadcast and The Focus Group.
The Be Colony | Review
White Rainbow – New Clouds
Did you know ambient music can be funky? When White Rainbow drops the tablas on his bliss outs, it’s time to hit the floor.
All the Boogies in the World [excerpt] | Review
Tickley Feather – Hors D’oeuvres
A more optimistic and concise effort, yet still saturated with her signature melted synths, junky keyboards, cough syrup vocals, and general underwater timbre, Hors D’oeuvres finds Tickley Feather as the compromise between Movietone and Ariel Pink.
Trashy Boys | Review
A Sunny Day in Glasgow – Ashes Grammar
Explosive dream pop with a slight electro edge, A Sunny Day in Glasgow burn the best sounds of Flying Saucer Attack and Cocteau Twins together in the same white-washed celestial head stew.
Failure
Nothing People – Late Nite
A west coast sludgy summoner of stoner rock, Nothing People’s Late Nite is a less spastic and noisy sophomore effort, straddling the median tremolo-saturated, syrupy acid rock and shoegaze – another definitive post-millennial primer for more ominous trips down the rabbit hole.
It’s Not Your Speakers | Review
Woods – Songs of Shame
Songs of Shame is more extroverted and less antiquated than 08’s At Rear House, and is pushed out of the womb with such fervor that I can finally get behind the strained falsetto, Elliott Smith experiencing zipper-trouble vocals.
Gypsy Hand | Review
Amen Dunes – Dia
More and more artists are paying homage to Thoreau lately and recording their music in the midst of a hermetic retreat. Many return with nothing more than a bruised ego and a full beard. Damon McMahon returned with Dia after his pilgrimage in 2006 to the Catskill Mountains. Both insular and cavernous, this debut LP is an uninhibited trek through McMahon’s psychedelic mindscapes.
Patagonian Domes | Review
Lotus Plaza – The Floodlight Collective
The aural equivalent of an Ektachrome dusk, Lockett Pundt proves himself as Deerhunter’s understated force and the the undeniable ying to Bradford Cox’s yang, pinpointing exactly where and how the band gets its balmy, sedated atmosphere. A gorgeous second-wave shoegaze statement.
A Threaded Needle | Review
Disappears – Live Over the Rainbo
Reverberated fuzzy guitars, punchy rhythm, a shoegaze aesthetic, totally damaging heaviness, and a touch of retro chic on acid – Chicago’s Disappears are everything that’s great about rock and roll. They lit a fire under my ass so severe that I still keep the Solarcaine stocked.
Hearing Things | Review
Phantom Family Halo – Monoliths & These Flowers Never Die
Phantom Family Halo’s sprawling 2LP post-apocalyptic lament is evil and would make you think Louisville is a scary place or something. While the entire body of work can be classified as psych garage rock or acid rock, the record’s all over the place within the parameters of brain melting. A bit of Boards of Canada style ambient explorations here, a bit of krautrock motorik rhythms by way of Faust there… and then insanely reverberated crunchy guitars ascend from the primordial ooze scary enough to make Fever Ray poo her trou. These dudes are sonic warriors.
Child of Light | Review
Real Estate – s/t
Phased surf guitar working and a dejected tropical attitude operate in tandem with autumnal acoustic overtones and gossamer melodies to produce something along the lines of a slacker Yo La Tengo.
Fake Blues | Review
City Center – s/t
City Center was probably recorded underwater. I’m not sure how Fred Thomas did this without shorting out his gear, but this record’s precise aquatic timbre and dark reverb could’ve only been achieved submerged. Another gold star for the sampsycore camp.
Bleed Blood | Review
Sun Araw – Heavy Deeds
Ever since Scratch Perry lost his goddamn mind, we’ve needed someone to don the dub crown. We nominate Sun Araw.
The Message | Review
Bachelorette – My Electric Family
New Zealander Annabelle Alpers’ debut for Drag City, and second proper album, has been described by a couple of writers as a sort of quirky “bedroom pop.” I wholeheartedly disagree. My Electric Family is expansive, radical, and ionospheric. Packed with reverb, sweeping moods, and surrealistic lyrical motifs, Bachelorette is way too large for any bedroom. It also has a hypnotic quality so acute and permeating that we can safely say that Alpers has invented “cult pop.”
The National Grid | Review
Times New Viking – Born Again Revisited
The Columbus total damage trio makes Robert Pollard look like Phil Spector. Punk as fuck. And underneath all the shit – great pop songs.
Hustler, Psycho, Son
Fungi Girls – Seafaring Pyramids
If there’s anyone that can remove the fashion-conscious aspect of noise-pop that creates filler and polarizes bands like Wavves, it would probably be a bunch of kids in their basement playing to no audience. Recently championed by Psychedelic Horseshit as “the greatest band in the country,” Fungi Girls are these kids, and they’re surprisingly more nihilistic and creeping than most of the recent shitgaze bands who paved the way for them.
Crystal Roads | Review
Oblisk – Weather Patterns
True-to-cannon heavy shoegaze with a cavernous and dramatic eastern flair, all focused through the ominous looking-glass of their native Detroit.
Tiger Fighter | Review
Kurt Vile – Childish Prodigy
Gentle fingerpicking, bright tonal sprays of analog synths, and an impeccable ear for vocal melody holds every song on Childish Prodigy. A disciple of both Neil Young and R. Stevie Moore, Vile’s amalgamation of influences is arresting in both its musical scope and bravado. All the while, Vile’s signature, a bourbon-soaked Avey Tare croon with a shot of impenetrable confidence, steers and unites this eclectic, cohesive work.
Inside Lookin’ Out | Review
Lightning Bolt – Earthly Delights
While the Bolt hasn’t exactly gone verse-chorus-verse on us just yet, the newfound tightness Earthly Delights is much more structured and, at times, almost hummable compositions. That is not to say that LB has lost any edge, but simply that Earthly Delights throws a little Occam’s Razor into the mix. The group’s opting to keep their disposition a bit simpler and less freeform.
Transmissionary | Review
Atlas Sound – Logos
Dream folk like “Criminals” makes Logos a good album. Epic motorik anthems mixed in, a la Cox’s collaboration with Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier on “Quick Canal,” make Logos a great album.
Quick Canal | Review
Nudge – As Good As Gone
While the subterranean groove and minor key construction evoke a more haunting, nighttime-appropriate flavor, there’s also a visceral optimism that runs underneath the LP like groundwater. Perhaps it’s the playfulness between genres and moods, or the freewheeling construction of the songs… or perhaps not all noise/freak psych kids like to make nihilistic records. Not to be confused with The Nuge.
Two Hands | Review
Tara Jane O’Neil – A Ways Away
While some of her recent work has adopted a more intimate and traditional folk approach, A Ways Away is lush, weird, and engrossing. Psych folk is the closest reference point, yet TJO is also entirely something else. In a way, A Ways Away is a return to form and a maturation. The crafty utilization of space and syrupy slow tempo is reminiscent of the Louisville scene in which she came, while at the same time, TJO is fully owning her sound. The result is a beautiful and accessible work that relishes in desolate sounds and bucolic late night wandering.
Beast, Go Along | Review
Castanets – Texas Rose, The Thaw, and The Beasts
Strongest effort from this definitive freak folk collective since Cathedral, and certainly the most ominous of his career and a textbook example of brilliant use of sonic space. Sometimes it’s the notes you don’t play.
On Beginning
Fever Ray – s/t
Scary-ass Bjork releases a spacious and minimal analog electronic creeper that’s better than The Knife, and comes equipped with the best/funniest lyrics penned in quite some time. Still can’t listen to this shit at night without getting all paranoid in my head tech.
When I Grow Up
Black to Comm – Alphabet 1968
Closer in spirit to experimental figures of yesterday like Moondog and Bernard Herrmann than current artists, Marc Richter seems dead set on completely disorienting our frame of reference. Richter does manage to arrive at moments of extremely cinematic avant-garde music that’s unlike much we’ve ever heard before.
Rauschen | Review
Eric Copeland – Alien in a Garbage Dump
Even in an increasingly noise-tolerant music culture, this is an adventurous listen, and that alone should have your earbuds watering by now.
Auto Dimmer | Review
Ducktails – s/t
Ducktails masterfully crafted an album with a lulled but not quite hypnotizing quality, similar to the nature documentary sound that Boards of Canada achieve, with occasional lo-fi tape tinkering like on “Backyard,” with its phased bucket-toms and Robert Fripp inspired distortion shifting. Beautiful.
Dancing With the One You Love | Review
Tune Yards – Bird Brains
Bird-Brains is completely demented and angular, kinda like Xiu Xiu, but without treading the blurry line between “artistic vision” and “sonic bullshit” that Mr. Stewart always straddled firmly. Everything from dub to yoddeling finds itself on what I’d guess you could call a kitchen sink freak folk album. Whatever it is, this shit is gospel.
Fiya | Review
The Flaming Lips – Embryonic
We’re very pleased to hear that, seemingly, the band is taking acid again.
Worm Mountain
Psychic Ills – Eyes Closed
Mind altering modulating jungle boogie bogged down on purple drank and tribal bangin’ replete with sinister ragas and general skulduggery, Mirror Eye is one of the more pleasantly evil releases reared in ’09.
Eyes Closed | Review
Dragon Turtle – Almanac
Dragon Turtle’s debut, Almanac, is an expansive 45-minute trek that explores an alternating fear and awe of the natural world, and everything in between. They didn’t pack lightly either, hoarding a curious mix of folk, kraut rock, post rock, and small touches of calypso.
Belt of Venus | Review
Black Moth Super Rainbow – Eating Us
The massive arsenal of antique analog equipment that defined BMSR’s first three albums remains in tact – the vocoder-saturated vocals of Tobacco, the thick and swirling novatrons and mellotrons that cultivated a general feeling of sunshine and old 8mm films about nature, etc. However, Eating Us showcases a more organic band, incorporating more acoustic instrumentation and mellow moods without disregarding the group’s traditional glitchy, Technicolor timbre.
Iron Lemonade | Review
Roj – The Transactional Dharma of Roj
The original keyboardist from Broadcast peaks out from his lair to release another fantastic testament for Ghost Box who, like Motown and Creation, created a whole new aesthetic in music. Roj has distinguished himself as the tinty, rhythmic, retro-futuristic sci fi voice in hauntology.
What I Saw
Peaking Lights – Imaginary Falcons
Super positive rural psychedelia best experienced with peace pipe in hand and vision quest in front. Made from warm tape excursions from them to you. Feels good to vibe this hard.
All the Good Songs Have Been Written
Wetdog – Frauhaus!
The girls’ new album Fraushaus! has one foot in the shit-gaze movement and another recalling the gleaming-amateur looseness of the Shaggs, complimented by unexpected touches of found sounds and flea-market synths.
Round Vox | Review

>>>>> FAVORITE EPs OF 2009
Though no longer than 20 minutes a piece, these nuggets of joy deserve some mention

Pigeons – Lunettes
There are certain sounds synonymous with the Summer of Love, but what about the winter that followed? Bronx trio Pigeons have a decent guess in mind. Their account of classic psychedelia is a much colder affair than most’. Stringing together a bizarrely addictive mix of paranoia, mystery, and seduction, their new tape-splintered 7? Lunettes is something I could only describe as psych-noir.
Tendress | Review
No Age – Losing Feeling
No Age demonstrates here, moreso than Nouns, a mastering of their craft in profound ways. They’re no longer trying to capture the sound of My Bloody Valentine’s early EPs. They’re becoming completely their own thing – dream punk.
Losing Feeling
Bardo Pond – Peri
The Philly subterranean brooding fuzz plus flute collective does no wrong, and their contribution to the Three Lobed subscription series is no exception. Do you know what a Bardo Pond is? Me neither, but it’s probably where God kills Republicans.
The Path
Vibes – You God It
We could tell the girls of Pocahaunted were getting antsy when they started injecting dub and dance hall elements into their trademark campfire drone sessions on last year’s Island Diamonds. To remedy this, they’ve teamed up with members of Sun Araw, Robedoor, Magic Lantern, and Fantastic Ego to ditch the delay pedals in favor of some wah-wah.
Honeycomb | Review
The N.E.C. / Jovantes 10″ [split]
Sloppy yet lush psychedelic punk that hits hard. Consider Atlanta’s The N.E.C. the southern response to No Age.
Old Medicine
Banjo or Freakout – Upside Down
Lush arrangements, non-grating noise walls, and oceanic melodies, Banjo or Freakout is the tech-savvy, post-millennial incarnation of Slowdive. Looking forward for the full-length!
Like You
Ganglians – Blood on the Sand
Super retro, super cinematic crunchy garage stomp with interstellar overtones, dramatic turns, and harshed mellows. Blood on the Sand is exactly what is sounds like – beach times gone wrong, Weekend at Bernies style.
Blood on the Sand
Bibio – Ovals & Emeralds
Ovals & Emeralds is full of disorienting growths of sublime field recordings, toy-chest noises, and coarse synths. Bibio’s signature creekside guitar is barely present, but here he has crafted his ambient work to equal perfection. The sun goes down on his usual idyllic pastoralism to bring out a bleaker landscape with a slightly menacing air to it like the meditations of Wolfgang Voigt.
Carosello Ellitico | Review
Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy & Cheyenne Mize – Among the Gold
Not to be cliche, but no other piece of music partied like it was 1879 harder than the vinyl-only issue Among the Gold.
Silver Threads | Review
Lucky Dragons – Open Power
No, The Books didn’t take the bad pills. Lucky Dragons are the jovian trance music of the century after next. With woodwinds.
Power Melody

>>>>> FAVORITE REISSUES/COMPILATIONS OF ’09
Our ten favorite that needed to be heard again

Everything on Sublime Frequencies
Everything you all do is amazing. Great job! Keep ’em coming. Fans of weird field recordings and anthropologists owe you a big batch of homemade cookies at the very least.
Night Recordings From Bali – Peliatan Night Walk
V/A – Give Me Love: Songs Of The Brokenhearted, Baghdad, 1925-1929
Honest Jon’s compilation of 1920s Iraqi recordings is truly a gem, but it’s not for everyone. It isn’t the type of “world music” employed for NPR bumper music or in the living rooms of people who like to feel “cultured.” Documenting very otherworldly dance and, for lack of a better word, Middle Eastern blues music, these recordings were remastered from some of the earliest 78s ever pressed. This disc features ardent vocal performances over violin, hand percussion, an occasional lute, and not much else, relying more on raw performances that, at times, resemble a prophetic view of west coast folk and free jazz.
Badria Anwar – Lega Taresh Habibi
39 Clocks – Zoned
While their timeline coincides with New York’s no wave movement, their Deutsche no wave is something else entirely. Amalgamating the dadaist cool and nervous energy of Suicide, their homeland’s motorik rhythm, the loud and detuned psychedelics of Spacemen 3 (whom 39 Clocks actually predate), the organ-as-diving-rod experimental pop ethos of Silver Apples, and a Nuggets-ready proto-punk punch, the mensch of 39 Clocks chew up kraut and psychedelic subsets and spit them out into a ball of drug-riddled prophecy and rock and roll shenanigans.
Dom Electricity Elects the Rain | Review
Kraftwerk – The Catalogue
A lot of people complain about Kraftwerk, saying “oh, I can do that.” Yeah, well, they did it first, and you didn’t. Everything between Autobahn and The Man Machine rules hard and sounds beautiful, so shut the fuck up. It’s worth mentioning, and perhaps is a bit ironic, that the sound of Kraftwerk is slightly more powerful with the analog recordings, if for no other reason than to provide a timeframe. How ’bout that? Regardless, it’s nice to have all their best work in one place and sounding awesome.
Antenna
Guru Guru – Kanguru
The landmark 1972 record that should’ve included them in the same sentence as Faust, Can, and Neu, but for some reason didn’t. Perhaps it was because they sounded too much like Blue Cheer? Either way, Kanguru’s reverence is long overdue.
Oxymoron
V/A – Warp20
You put Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin, and Broadcast on the same release, and it’ll end up on a best-of somewhere on this blog. Like the Movern Collar soundtrack, but without the shitty movie that accompanies it.
Boards of Canada – Amo Bishop Rodan
Red Red Meat – Bunny Gets Paid
Believe it or not, Califone was Tim Rutili’s calmer project compared with Red Red Meat’s shit-blues zenith Bunny Gets Paid.
Rosewood, Stax, Volts, and Glitt
The Beatles – Mono + Stereo Remasters
This band was awesome. You can talk about how rad [insert hawt buzzband here] is until you’re blue in the face. But guess the fuck what. The Beatles did it first. Thanks for playing. While the only difference I can tell between the Remasters and the original is the volume, MagiMystour always gets royal treatment on this blog.
Flying
The Vaselines – Enter the Vaselines
The Vaselines were one mighty contradiction – a massive sound crafted by only two people, double entendre lyrics sung with coyness, gritty production and sloppy instrumentation coupled with truly soaring, gorgeous melodies – this duo was a real gem.
Lovecraft | Review
Death – For the Whole World to See
A combination of bad timing, arguments with the label over the band’s presentation (namely, well, their name), and a generally ill-prepared state of music allowed this missing-link of punk rock to fall through the cracks until Drag City intervened this year. A remarkably well-aged time capsule of hefty hooks and driving power, For the Whole World to See is a blistering proto-punk artifact.
You’re a Prisoner | Review