The end of another year, so here’s another list for which to feed your eyes and disagree.
As was the case last year, the numbers that I’ve used this year to rate the reviewed albums have been reconsidered for this list and links will take you to the actual review. Also, having contributed some blurbs for No Ripcord’s Top 50 Albums of 2008, I’ve recycled some of them for this list.
Hope you enjoy and thanks very much for reading. It’s been a great year and I hope to earn your continued support.
Here’s to a happy and healthy ‘09,
Letters From A Tapehead
15). The Black Angels - Directions To See A Ghost
All of Directions To See A Ghost, second album from psych-revivalists The Black Angels, is enveloped in distortion and weather-like thickness. Atmospherically, it’s top notch, the steady bass line of “Science Killer,” the Badalamenti rockabilly of “Mission District,” and the Velvets inspired “Never/Ever,” pulling together some very heavy mellow. This album unfortunately suffers from length and begins to feel redundant after its first half. Still worth a listen and the extra twelve bucks in your pocket.
14). Wire - Object 47
(Transcribed from No Ripcord’s Top 50 Albums of 2008) — Post-punk pioneers, Wire, returned this year with Object 47, an enjoyable and heavily rhythmic mixture of danceable indie pop tunes (“One Of Us”), industrially inspired robotics (“Hard Currency”) and experimental bouts of musical eccentricity (“Patient Flees”). Bassist Graham Lewis, remaining prominent throughout the album, thickens the mesmerizing “Circumspect” and pushes some intensity into “Mekon Headmen.” Otherwise, singer/guitarist Colin Newman and drummer Robert Grey are both a testament to precision and post-punk perfection. Not necessarily out from the shadows of their most seminal work (the essential Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154), Wire still persevere and impress, continually finding ways to make simplicity sound complex.
13). Mike Patton - A Perfect Place
Mike Patton’s mission to enhance the short film, A Perfect Place, with original music is accomplished, his soundtrack being better than the film. As he continually explores musical avenues, it was only a matter of time before Patton turned to scoring, which he so deftly achieves, focusing not only on thematic backgrounds (“A Perfect Place,” “A Little Poker Tomorrow Night?”), but noir-tinged movie elements as well (“A Dream Of Roses”).
12). Between The Pine - Friends, Foes, Kith and Kin
Folk musician James Diotte, a.k.a. Between The Pine, avoids typical folk categorization by experimenting with instruments and tempo, while layering some lush string performances overtop of his entrancing compositions. Myself mostly impervious to the “wah boo hoo” grasps of most singer/songwriter types, upon first listen of the single “Coca Cola,” I was drawn in and impressed.
11). Ten Kens - s/t
Probably my favorite debut of the year, the self-titled album by Canadian alt-rockers, Ten Kens, felt like a return to pre-90s rock nirvana (for lack of a better term, though the pun is appropriate). Unpolished and loud where it needs to be, Ten Kens has to be signaling SOMETHING, a hinted move past the 80s revivalist quicksand Indie music finds itself irrevocably trapped inside. We can only hope: a new decade is upon us, so anything is possible.
10). The Grails - Doomsdayer’s Holiday
Knowing full well that desert noisemakers, The Grails, put out two albums this year, Take Refuge In Clean Living and Doomsdayer’s Holiday, I chose the latter for this list based on its shear strength and dark tonality. Refuge, though acting as a 5 song existential journey of some epic proportion, didn’t grab me like Doomsdayer, which takes the existentialism and adds a strong dose of Sabbath to it, making for a stormy trip to someplace faraway and frightening.
9). Dub Trio - Another Sound Is Dying
A mathematically Metal variation on Dub Reggae? Sure, why not. Dub Trio continues to rise to the challenge of varying their formula, coming up this time with a Helmet-sized collection of head-knocking body slammers (“Not For Nothing,” “Regression Line”), atmospheric near-balladry (“Felicitation,” “Respite”) and another perfect collab with the inimitable Mike Patton (“No Flag”). Perhaps one of the best rhythm sections in rock music, definitely one of the most violent.
8). Man Man - Rabbit Habits
Philadelphia’s own Man Man feeds a moonshine sailor a Waits/Zappa cocktail and a plunged Gospel olive for ornament’s sake. Rabbit Habits, their third album, is a modern day goofball of exciting energy, combining playhouse aggression (“Hurly/Burly”) with piano soul (“Rabbit Habits”) and ending in an almost Broadway Blues narrative (“Poor Jackie”).
7). Bauhaus - Go Away White
Surprising the comeback skeptics like myself, Goth-mislabeled Post-Punk heroes Bauhaus return with their first album in 25 years and, somehow, pull it off. Cultivating a deep seeded sense of nostalgia with new material, Peter Murphy’s croon showing no wear, Bauhaus sum up the last eight years with “Too Much 21st Century,” shift, crank and pull through the fuzz heavy “Adrenaline” and take it slow for “Endless Summer Of The Damned.” Definitely not a step above the Bauhaus of yore, but Go Away White is at least a dignified return to form.
6). Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!!
(Transcribed from No Ripcord’s Top 50 Albums of 2008) — Following the raw intensity and vitriol-laced experimentalism of last year's Grinderman, Nick Cave's fourteenth offering with the Bad Seeds finds the collective expanding their sound, acting as eclectic and mood-enhancing backdrop for Cave's detailed and intelligent commentary. The album's title track is a joking and tabloid-styled account of a modern-day Lazarus whose unwanted re-emergence into the physical universe leaves him a tragic (and dead, again) celebrity figure. Cave's often flamboyant and exaggerated tonality does more than enhance the isolated and eerie “Night of the Lotus Eaters” and the almost industrial churn of “We Call Upon the Author,” the latter's testimonial-based content exhibiting some of the album's most inspired moments. With “Today's Lesson” and “Lie Down Here (& Be My Girl),” Cave croons over solid, fuzz-laden rock n' roll while “Hold On To Yourself” and “Jesus of the Moon” provides the album's introspection and beauty.
5). Sic Alps - U.S. EZ
Still the most underappreciated and criminally unacknowledged product of the Garage revival, San Francisco duo, Sic Alps, continue to bring the past into the future, their brand of Nugget-psych adorned with lovingly manipulated distortion that effortlessly achieves what the big names are still aiming for: Vintage lo fi of authentic derivation.
4). Deerhoof - Offend Maggie
With the acquiring of guitarist Ed Rodriguez possibly being a large factor, Deerhoof’s Offend Maggie is less of an electronic and experimental funhouse and more of an Indie rock jam album. Not to say that Deerhoof have lost their touch for whimsy and unadulterated oddity, but with less embellishments Deerhoof craft a raw sense of identity, at times hard-edged (“The Tears Of Music And Love,” “Eaguru Guru”), and other times soft spoken (“Don’t Get Born”). Upon first listen of “Buck And Judy,” one of the few instances of any synthesized intervention, I was hooked. Great album.
3). Opeth - Watershed
Metal magnificence that ANY musically inclined listener could appreciate, Opeth’s Watershed is an impressive, and very progressive, album of equal parts beauty and brutality. Its searing howl (“Heir Apparent”) winds up cooled at every turn (“Burden”) and epic concepts are aplenty (“Hessian Peel”). Definitely the album I’ve listened to the most this year.
2). Triclops! - Out Of Africa
A masterpiece of acid-drenched progressive punk pulverization ranging from political, (“Freedom Tickler”), to anatomical, (“March of the Half-Babies”), to entomological (“Lovesong for the Botfly”). One of the few albums in years that I’ve actually been able to call “mind blowing.”
1). Marnie Stern - This Is It And I Am It And You Are It And So Is That And He Is It And She Is It And It Is It And That Is That
(Transcribed from No Ripcord’s Top 50 Albums of 2008) — Remarkably distinct and chaotically robust, Marnie Stern's second album is a refined variation on her finger-tapped odes to anarchic, sensory madness. Her naïve melodies still cultivate a personal touch and add an appreciated dose of honesty with observations like, "There are dimensions I must enter to see what I am made of." Despite drummer Zach Hill's propensity for free form hammering, he reels it in enough for Marnie to hit some strides with “The Crippled Jazzer” and the somewhat cherubic “Ruler.” Otherwise, she is her ever-unpredictable self and we are thankful.
16). Sigur Rós - Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust
17). The Roots - Rising Down
18). Eagles Of Death Metal - Heart On
19). Boris - Smile
20). Beck - Modern Guilt
21). Fucked Up - The Chemistry Of Common Life
22). The Gutter Twins - Saturnalia
23). The Black Keys - Attack & Release
24). Foals - Antidotes
25). Aether - Artifacts
The album most likely to fall from grace once the laws of hindsight are enacted:
TV On The Radio - Dear Science
Chances are, once the hype settles, a lot of the fans and critics that sung this album’s praises will realize that it’s not that great and not representative of TV On The Radio’s oft-proven talents. Possibly the biggest “eh” moment of the year.
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