It’s well into 2012, and I have been too lazy on this, but I’m finally ready to post my best of 2011 mix. Hoo-ray? Hoo-cares? Who knows? but it’s something I’ve been doing every year for the past several and I enjoy it. I hope you enjoy it too, and what the hell, free music, right?
So how was 2011, musically? I made a commitment early in the year to try to listen to as much new music as possible, to make the year-end list the best it could be. Unfortunately, I think the more new music I listen to in a year, the harder it gets to go through it all and come up with a coherent and accurate picture of what my favorites were. I worked on this list through the last half of November and all of December, and spent most of January picking tracks for this list and fretting over whether this or that album really belonged on it.
But eventually I decided that second-guessing myself was a mug’s game, and here you go. My favorite albums of 2011.
|20. Russian Circles – Empros
Song: Mladek (00:00-07:20)
Russian Circles is a Chicago-based band who plays heavy instrumental rock in the vein of Pelican, but with a more melodic feel. I’ve been following them for several albums, but I think this is the first time they’ve appeared on my year-end list. This album is interesting in that their sound has grown to incorporate some more extreme elements but also quieter interludes, and the songwriting is as good or better than on any of their previous albums. The song I’ve selected highlights their typical heavy and heavily layered yet melodic sound.
|19. Deer Tick – Divine Providence
Song: Let’s All Go To The Bar (07:20-10:30)
Deer Tick are among a group of bands (like Blitzen Trapper) working a certain corner of Americana with a smirk and a stomp and an ironic mustache. They’re not typically my favorites, though I do enjoy listening to them. But this album is a bit more muscular than previous efforts, and makes it into my list almost entirely on the strength of the meathead anthem I’ve selected for this mix. Its simplistic call and response structure may not belie deep thoughts behind, but its frantic energy is a clear an homage to the Replacements as I’ve heard in years. And yes I’m probably a bit of a meathead, so the song itself appeals to me on an entirely unironic level.
|18. Charles Bradley – No Time For Dreaming
Song: No Time For Dreaming (10:30-13:19)
I was late getting into the whole Daptone thing. Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings have been putting out some great records for a while now and were never on my radar until a friend of mine brought them up to me almost a year ago. See, I listen to a lot of new music but almost completely at random, whatever strikes my fancy on a given day. And I miss a lot that way, especially since I tend not to check a band out at all if I find the hype annoying. But after dropping the ball on SJ&tDK I was on the lookout for some good throwback R&B, and this Charles Bradley album came along at just the right time. Also a Daptone artist, his James Brown-inspired sound could have been recorded in 1970 and saved in a time capsule until now.
|17. Hunters – From Birth To Soil
Song: Engine of Deceit (13:19-18:11)
Hunters are another Chicago-based band (I do like to check out the local talent) that play a kind of groovy, almost stoner-like sludge metal informed by the intensity of death metal. Comparisons could run the gamut from High on Fire to Mastodon to Carcass with a line running back through Pantera to a heavy 70s Sabbath-style groove. I’ve elected to focus on the stoner/groove aspect with the song I’ve selected, but even there it takes a break to delve into pure sludge partway through the track.
|16. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Here We Rest
Song: Never Could Believe (18:11-22:14)
Jason Isbell, formerly of Drive-By Truckers, still writes probably the best Truckers songs out there. Unfortunately, the band he’s playing with now, as good as they are, don’t quite have the same balls as DBT, so the songs don’t have the same raunchy immediacy that I think the boys would have given them, even if the songs’ subjects are as down & dirty as anything Isbell has written previously. But the songs themselves are of course still the strength here, with the focus on Southern characters and their troubles. Never Could Believe is a funky little honky tonk number with great interplay between the guitar and piano that I dig.
|15. Symphony of Science – Symphony of Science Bundle
Song: We Are All Connected (22:14-26:20)
OK, so I guess I’ve finally gotten around to cheating a little bit. I have certain rules with these year-end lists–no compilations, no rereleases, no EPs, just full-length albums initially released that year. Symphony of Science has been putting together these amazing songs out of autotuned snippets of voiceovers by some of the great minds in science (among others), sourcing them from science shows, lectures, etc., for a few years now, with accompanying youtube videos. But I believe this year is the first time they’ve released them as a downloadable MP3 album, which technically–technically–qualifies it for this list. I’ve selected a song containing some great quotes from some favorites of mine, including Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson.
|14. Larry And His Flask – All That We Know
Song: Blood Drunk (26:20-29:53)
Larry And His Flask are an Oregon band playing the same kind of punk-rock breakneck bluegrass that seems to find its way onto my list every year in one form or another. These guys have energy and chops and a great sense for melody. The song I’ve selected has a bit of darkness to it, but tempered by a singalong chorus and a sense of fun.
|13. Absu – Abzu
Song: Abraxus Connectus (29:53-33:44)
Absu’s Abzu, the second in a planned trilogy of records, is a psychotic onslaught of thrashy chaos. The opening 20 seconds or so may mislead you into thinking you are listening to a bad 80s hair metal throwback, but once the girlish wail subsides and the band gets to its business, the pummeling your gut takes from the lightspeed riffing will convince of the wrongness of that initial impression. I’ve selected the 3rd of six songs for this mix, and it represents this album at its best.
|12. Tombs – Path of Totality
Song: To Cross The Land (33:44-39:37)
Tombs plays a depressive style of metal that definitely draws on the influences of Neurosis-style post-metal, but has its own blend of black metal and sludge and a half-dozen other subgenres as well. The sound can range from a patient sparsity to an enveloping shroud of downtuned guitars and blastbeats but the remarkable thing about the album is the emotionality of it–oppressive, paranoid, despairing, claustrophobic… I have to admit that I’m not a guy who can really pick out lyrics in most metal, especially with harsh vocals (can anybody? I guess so but it’s hard to believe sometimes)–the emotions I’m talking about, I’m getting strictly instrumentally. The song I’ve chosen builds slowly, starting with a repeated figure that builds in frantic intensity into a blastbeat-punctuated pronouncement of doom.
|11. Original Cast Recording – The Book Of Mormon
Song: Hasa Diga Eebowai (39:37-43:59)
Show tunes? Well, I do have a little bit of a theatrical background but I don’t keep up too much. This new musical though, from Matt and Trey of South Park fame, piqued my interest, as I do tend to enjoy a good laugh (even if I don’t watch too much South Park anymore) and they can always be counted on to raise a few eyebrows. This show is… it’s just so slick; the people they teamed up with to bring it to the stage really knew their Broadway musicals, and it shows. As profane and offensive as you might expect, this soundtrack shows a real love for musical theater, with homages to everything from the Lion King to Sound of Music to bad Bono-led celebrity charity albums and a real affection for its characters, no matter how goofily it portrays them. Regarding the song I’ve selected for this mix: odds are it will offend you, but there’s also a lot to be said for the way it upends the cheeriness of the Lion King’s Hakuna Matata in favor of a darker (but funnier) look at conditions in Africa and the way people react to them.
|10. Necrocomiccon – Hot Dog Cart Hunger
Song: Everybody Wants To Rule The World (43:59-46:36)
Necrocomiccon is a black metal band that plays black metal versions of pop songs from the 1980s. They are absolutely brilliant, and they’ve released an EP and another full-length since this album without a dud among them. I’ve selected their version of a classic Tears for Fears song; it’s amazing, so is the rest of the album, look them up on Facebook and check them out because they are a couple of geniuses.
|09. Yuck – Yuck
Song: Get Away (46:36-50:11)
Shortly after this album came out, I considered it a lock for the #1 spot on this list. Something about the Dinosaur Jr. guitar tone they use liberally (though if you listen to the whole album they do veer away from the Dino Jr. formula quite a bit, most notably on a Burt Bacharach inspired number that made me think of Butch & Sundance riding bicycles) just seems to grab directly onto my spinal cord and make me do its bidding. But I think I burned myself out on it early, and truth be told there’s not much else on the album as strong as this opening song. Still top 10 material though.
|08. Low – C’mon
Song: Especially Me (50:11-55:37)
Low, though they’ve been around forever, first came to my attention with a fantastic (silly but fantastic, and it could hardly be otherwise) version of Toto’s song Africa that they did for the AV Club, and I checked out this album on the strength of that performance. Consistently mellow, and lyrically not always the strongest, still these 10 tunes present a solid wall of mesmerizing vocal harmonies. Probably the overall best song from the album (aside from the hypnotically repetitive Nothing But Heart) is the one I’ve chosen for this mix, which features Mimi’s enchanting vocals and the dreamlike sound that characterizes much of the album.
|07. Elliott Brood – Days Into years
Song: Hold You (55:37-60:14)
Elliott Brood are a perennial favorite of mine, and this album features their “death country” sound with improved songwriting. I’ve had them on my year-end list before and don’t know how much new I can say about them. Hold You is a great thumbnail of their sound; if a song can be simultaneously plaintive and anthemic, this is it.
|06. Fucked Up – David Comes To Life
Song: Life In Paper (60:14-64:50)
Fucked Up’s album David Comes To Life is an epic work that I admit, I haven’t fully been able to wrap my head around yet. But that’s not a knock on it–there’s a lot to come to grips with. Musically speaking, I’ve found it analogous to The Hold Steady in certain ways; instrumentally, you’ve got a style of music (in Hold Steady’s case it’s classic rock, in this case it’s indie punk) that I find enormously pleasing, when vocally I find both bands grating. But whereas I never really fully was able to reconcile Craig Finn’s drunken sneer with the bar band stylings of his cohort, I’ve come to appreciate the way Damian Abraham’s hardcore screaming works with the wall-of-noise guitars Fucked Up brings. The album’s epic length, daunting as it is, has presented another barrier to my understanding. But more and more, I find myself pleased with the prospect that I will probably still be wrestling with this album through the remainder of 2012.
|05. Liturgy – Aesthethica
Song: Tragic Laurel (64:50-68:55)
It’s my understanding that Liturgy often faces the epithet of “Hipster Metal.” As if metal is a ghetto undergoing gentrification, and Liturgy are the skinny tattooed white kids rolling through on tall bikes and smoking American Spirits. I don’t know about that. I dig metal, and while it’s true that I tend to lean more toward certain types of metal, that flows from the way something sounds and how that affects me more than from the application of some outside aesthetic. I have a friend who absolutely hated this album. I know there have been multiple internet bitch fights about this album. I guess I cared enough to notice, but not to keep it from being my highest-rated metal album of the year. Because it’s just so damned interesting. I’ve tried to explain it using phrases such as “it’s like somebody took pieces from a puzzle labeled ‘black metal’ and ended up putting together a math rock album with them instead” but apart from being a clumsy simile it’s not quite right either. I’m not always the best at articulating what I like about music, and honestly I’m not a guy who always goes for the most challenging fare, but something about the way that they took black metal sounds and did something completely different with them appealed to me.
|04. The Red Hills – I’m A Nightmare
Song: News And Bombs (68:55-73:09)
Here is a random Bandcamp download that ended up captivating me for a good portion of 2011. It started with the song San Diego, and eventually the whole album just got under my skin. I can’t really find out too much about these guys other than that they are from Portland Oregon and are related to the (fantastically named) band I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch In The House. This is dark alt-country, touching on dark subjects, and without much to break that mood. But it’s compelling stuff.
|03. Amerigo Gazaway – Fela Soul
Song: Stakes Is High (73:09-78:25)
Is this a cheat? I guess I’m not familiar enough with the original works to tell how involved the work was that went into these mashups. But the concept is great, and the outcome is even better, and this list is more about my favorite new music than the most technically accomplished. Fela Soul is a mashup of works by famed Afrobeat artist Fela Kuti with songs by De La Soul and related projects, and I’ve spun it compulsively enough this year to land it high on my list.
|02. White Denim – D
Song: Burnished (78:25-81:01)
I heard these guys on turntable.fm one day and immediately sought out this album. It’s indie rock with a jazzy/mathy sound and a bit of Southern flair (the band is from Austin if I’m not mistaken). Some songs are more straightforward, but the one I’ve chosen showcases their love of complexity, with shifting time signatures and noodly, intertwining dual guitars.
|01. The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar
Song: The Everchanging Spectrum Of A Lie (81:01-88:03)
This Welsh band’s full-album debut is sort of a companion piece, in my mind anyway, to the previously-mentioned Yuck album. Where that album reprised the noisy early-90s sound of indie bands like Dinosaur Jr., this one incorporates the early 90s shoegazy sounds of a My Bloody Valentine, but with a bigger crunch and a louder thump and an urgency that demands my attention.
It’s IRON DJ time again! Which means that a bunch of people are going to upload themed mixes and try to compete with me! Unfortunately for them, not only do I have unbeatable taste in music, but this time around I even have the IRON DJ theme going for me: GRADUATION YEAR.
The idea is to put together a mix where the theme is the year you graduated high school. I graduated in 1988, and there was so much good music made that year that I could have made 3 mixes that would blow your mind.
But instead I made this one. It’s semi-autobiographical, in that for the most part, the songs are played in the order in which I discovered them. Not all of this is music I’d have listened to back in 1988, but it’s all great. I hope you dig the mix, and whether you do or not, leave me some feedback in the comments please!
1. Danzig – Mother
2. INXS – Devil Inside
3. Living Colour – Desperate People
4. The Church – Reptile
5. Dead Milkmen – Stuart
6. They Might Be Giants – Ana Ng
7. The Pursuit Of Happiness – I’m An Adult Now
8. Bad Religion – What Can You Do?
9. Fishbone – Bonin’ In The Boneyard
10. Jane’s Addiction – Mountain Song
11. Pixies – Gigantic
12. Fugazi – Give Me The Cure
13. Cowboy Junkies – Sweet Jane
14. The Pogues – Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six
15. The Waterboys – World Party
16. Dinosaur Jr. – Freak Scene
17. Sonic Youth – Teen Age Riot
18. Galaxie 500 – Temperature’s Rising
2010 was a milestone year–among other things, personally, it was the year my 13 year old son grew to be taller than me, which is a reminder of mortality if anything is (I mean I have to crane my neck to yell at the boy now! crazy!)–and it was a great year for music too. It’s January now, and 2010 is in the bag, which must mean it’s time for my annual year-end best albums mix!
Hooray! Let’s get right to it!
|20. Justin Townes Earle – Harlem River Blues
Song: Move Over Mama
This guy puts out an album every year, and you’ve heard me talk about him before since it seems like they always end up on my year-end lists. This album represents a further maturation of his sound, marrying disparate elements–country but urban, sad but upbeat. Move Over Mama is a rollicking honky-tonking good time of a song about a woman who takes up too damn much of the bed.
|19. Lair of the Minotaur – Evil Power
Song: Riders of Skullhammer, We Ride the Night
A crushing sludgy Chicago thrash band and a perennial favorite of mine, Lair of the Minotaur has tightened up their sound from the epic bloody thrashfests of their album The Ultimate Destroyer, which I loved, through the (to me) less-focused and inferior War Metal Battle Master, and now here, they’ve distilled their brand of brutal Greek Mythology influenced fantasy metal into sharp chugging 2 minute bursts that say everything they have to say and are done.
|18. Gil Scott Heron – I’m New Here
Song: I’ll Take Care of You
Soul poetry? Immediate, revealing, intimate even, the man who told us the revolution would not be televised lays himself bare, with bleak songs and poems about growing up in a broken home, about disease and self-destruction, all very minimalistic but made raw by the power of Scott-Heron’s voice and words. This song is a cover of an old soul song, originally recorded by Roy Hamilton but covered by everyone from Elvis Costello to Mark Lanegan of the Screaming Trees. After this, I’ll never think of it as anything but a Gil Scott-Heron song.
|17. Flaming Tusk – Old, Blackened Century
First full-length from NYC metal quintet is a grab-bag of extreme metal influences. I expect even better things from this band in the future but this album hits almost every note I want to hear out of my metal. Ichor is a song about the Vietnam war, which isn’t a terribly common subject for metal but why shouldn’t it be?
|16. Jesuslesfilles – Une Belle Table
Just some joyful, upbeat, jangly and noisy pop that brings to mind early Pixies. As their lyrics and most of the information about the band are all in French I can’t really tell you much about them, but it’s all terribly catchy stuff.
|15. Dear Astronaut – Escape from Rainbow Mountain
Song: That Thing Which Could Not Be Put Back
Jeb, the singer/guitarist/driving force of Dear Astronaut is a friend of mine. This, their final album, was years in the making due to production issues, and by the time they had the album release party they had to relearn the songs since they hadn’t been playing them in so long. But this album marks their full transition into the heavy-hitting sludge sound that takes better advantage of their talents than the earlier mad circus folk had. So while it’s sad to see them go, at least they went out on top.
|14. Black Breath – Heavy Breathing
Song: Escape From Death
Black Breath is a Seattle band playing heavy and loud as hell sludgy crossover thrash/death metal with plenty of hardcore influence as well. Escape from Death is a death metal song, appropriately enough, about the undead, craving human flesh, from their own point of view.
|13. The Lights – Failed Graves
This is a compelling piece of garagey punk/post-punk from a band that’s been kicking around Seattle for a while.
|12. Arsis – Starve for the Devil
Song: Beyond Forlorn
A thrashier sound than their previous strict technical death metal, with speed metal and cock rock leanings. The album is a group of songs revolving around the guitarist/singer James Malone’s battles with an eating disorder, and “Beyond Forlorn” is about the depression and loneliness that come with it.
|11. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor
Song: Richard II
This is a sprawling civil-war-themed concept album featuring exotic instrumentation, repeated themes, and some extended jams. It’s also a punk rock record. Somehow it manages both.
|10. Enslaved – Axioma Ethica Odini
Song: Ethica Odini
This newest release from the longterm Norwegian Viking/Black metal greats features driving thrashy black metal punctuated by melodic clean-vocalled segments. Less meandering and progressive than previous efforts, the songwriting is perhaps simplified, but also more focused. This song, Ethica Odini, which leads off the album, is a prime example. It opens with a wintry but razor sharp riff that drives through the harsh-vocaled verse until the clean vocals of the chorus hit and tumble it apart into something beautiful but forbidding.
|09. Leatherface – The Stormy Petrel
Song: Another Dance
Arty punk that at times brings to mind Husker Du, with melodic guitars and raspy vocals that still manage to belt out singalongy choruses. If I were to make one complaint about the album it’s that there are a few songs in which the singalongy choruses take on a kind of sameness, but this song avoids that, and all are well worth hearing.
|08. Les Savy Fav – Root for Ruin
Song: Excess Energies
A new album from this fiery NYC indie band, which I consider to be every bit as good as their previous efforts. The main criticism people seem to be levelling against it is that it’s very much like those previous albums, but when “more of the same” from these guys involves more of their edgy, angular rock, aggressive and antic, well I can live with it.
|07. Trampled by Turtles – Palomino
Song: Wait So Long
Trampled by Turtles are a “progressive” bluegrass band from Minnesota and, put simply, they shred. The high points of this album feature musical instruments that seem on the verge of spontaneously combusting. This song leads off the album with a great fiddle melody exploding into a bloody-fingered ripper of breakneck… is bluegrass punk a genre? It is now I guess.
|06. Woods – At Echo Lake
Song: Death Rattles
Murky low-fi falsetto pop that is really well done, its sound at once barebones and lush, owing as much to fuzzy psychedelia as it does to country and folk music . The songwriting is what shines though it also hints at depths that the band doesn’t fully plumb here, perhaps teasing us with the potential, but that is also part of the appeal. Death Rattles is a atmospheric mood piece full of eery sound effects and high-pitched minor key crooning, with an unsettling result.
|05. Glossary – Feral Fire
Song: Save Your Money for the Weekend
Soulful workingman’s southern rock, just the kind of thing for a beer and a shot and maybe even some troublemaking, ’cause as they say in this song (which brings to mind Billy Joel’s Only The Good Die Young but in a good way I swear), “Honey there’s gotta be some hell somewhere waiting to be raised”
|04. Superchunk – Majesty Shredding
Song: Learned to Surf
Superchunk are indie giants who’ve been around for decades but hadn’t released an album since 2001. Then this album dropped and reminded everyone why this band was the best thing anyone had ever heard 20 years ago. Non-stop infectious power pop perfection.
|03. High On Fire – Snakes for the Divine
Song: How Dark We Pray
I know some people had some issues with the production of this album–it’s less murky and bottom heavy than previous albums, but the high end comes out cleaner and you can hear the lead guitar better so I think it shreds regardless. The songwriting continues to be excellent, with urgent pummeling drums driving a blistering guitar assault and Matt Pike’s throat-destroying roar coming through more clearly than before. With a few songs though, including this one, they slow their usual gallop down a bit and if anything are even heavier and more menacing as a result.
|02. The Besnard Lakes – Are the Roaring Night
Song: Like The Ocean, Like the Innocent Pt II: Like the Innocent
This album of dreamy shoegazy irresistable space rock came out early in the year, and was one of my most-listened albums all year long. Expect falsetto vocals with Beach Boys style harmonies, elements of 70s era prog and power pop, all blended into a package so smooth you could slide on it in your stockinged feet.
|01. J Roddy Walston and the Business – J Roddy Walston and the Business
Song: Used to Did
JRW&tB plays anthemic fist-pumping piano-driven rock and F@&%ING roll, born in the south but schooled in Baltimore. With choruses that won’t leave your head for weeks and an energetic delivery in the best tradition of Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard, it will make you want to jump on top of something, anything, and start stomping.
This is my best of 2009 mix, containing samples from my 20 favorite albums of the last year. I’m not a professional music critic and I don’t listen to every album ever released by any means, so I’m sure there are plenty of holes, and if you’d like to tell me an album I missed, please leave a comment and I’ll check it out.
As usual, my listening has been dominated by country/southern rock and metal, but there are a few digressions in there as well. Some pretty strange transitions but as a whole I think it flows pretty well. So give it a listen and let me know what you think! Below is a list of the artists, albums, and sample tracks along with a blurb giving my take on each album. I’m not announcing tracks during the mix (it’s already over 90 minutes) so you may want to follow along below.
But now, to the tunes!
Artist: Those Darlins
Album: Those Darlins
Track: Snaggle Tooth Mama
Those Darlins are a 3-piece all-girl band from Murfreesboro, TN (4-piece with the drummer) who, like so many of the bands I really like, bring punk rock energy and attitude to country music. They’re raucous, boozy and fun.
Artist: The Protomen
Album: Act II: The Father of Death
Track: The Hounds
The Protomen are a band that creates Megaman-themed rock operas. This makes them a novelty act superficially, but they treat their subject very seriously. I’ve read that they even refuse to break character for interviews. Their second album, Act II: The Father of Death, is far more epic and technically accomplished than the first, leaving behind the 8-bit sounds they used sparingly on their debut in favor of further exploring their straight-up Meatloaf-style bombast and early 80s arena rock sound. To give you an idea, one of their B-sides (not on either album) was an excellent cover of Robert Tepper’s “No Easy Way Out,” among the cheesiest of 80s rock anthems, theme from the movie Rocky IV.
Artist: The Mountain Goats
Album: The Life of the World to Come
Track: Genesis 3:23
Historically, the Mountain Goats is mostly just John Darnielle, writing great songs and recording them on a boombox. The last several albums have been professionally recorded with regular enough collaborators that they can be truly said to be a “band” now, but Darnielle’s songwriting ability hasn’t suffered. He may be the best songwriter working in music today. The latest album is 12 songs named after Bible verses but I wouldn’t call it overtly religious. In JD’s words, it’s “twelve hard lessons the Bible taught me, kind of,” so take that as you will.
Album: A New Constellation
Track: Follow Me
Nahemah is a progressive death metal band from Spain. I liked their last album quite a bit, and was excited to hear this one as well. It didn’t disappoint. When you hear “progressive death metal” you probably think of Opeth, and some comparison may be inevitable. These guys use a similar combination of harsh and clean vocals to Opeth, but they are less repetitive. Also less aggressive, leaning more toward the post-metal style of early Isis with progressive flourishes.
Artist: Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy
Track: Beware Your Only Friend
What can I say? If Will Oldham (the man behind the ‘Prince’) releases an album, 9 times out of 10 it’ll end up on my list. Musically, the album is more lush than previous BPB albums, mostly a richly produced country and western sound. Lyrically, it veers from the disturbing to the tongue in cheek.
Artist: Portugal. The Man
Album: The Satanic Satanist
Track: People Say
I guess these guys are from Alaska, I don’t really know much about them. This album is indie rock/pop that’s a little bit spazzy, a little bit folky, a little bit soulful, and kind of all over the place. This song is the first track on the album and it’s a strong opener.
Artist: Russian Circles
Russian Circles is a Chicago band and one of those bands that falls inbetween post rock and metal, sprawling instrumental music that ranges from quiet reflective passages to thunderous chugging metal riffs. After loving their first album (one of my great albums for staring out of train windows), I didn’t care too much for their second, but they’ve more than made up for it with this release.
Album: Veraldar Nagli
Track: Mountains of Mana
I won’t beat about the bush; Rimfrost is straight-up Immortal worship. Which I can get behind.
Artist: Mumford & Sons
Album: Sigh No More
Track: Little Lion Man
Brits with banjos, these guys took the place in my heart this year that two years ago was firmly occupied by the Avett Brothers. Folk and bluegrass with fantastic harmonies.
Artist: Mantic Ritual
Track: Murdered to Death
Like the band Rimfrost in this countdown, this band exists largely as homage, in this case to “Kill ‘Em All” era Metallica. I’m a sucker for thrashy metal and this is a throwback that caught me at the right time and in the right mood. If you like 80s thrash, it’s definitely worth checking out.
Album: 1372 Overton Park
Track: What are You Willing to Lose?
Lucero is a perennial favorite of mine. They started life as a country band started by a bunch of punk rock kids, but their music has moved over the years from country firmly into the rock genre. 2007’s Rebels, Rogues and Sworn Brothers added some piano to their basic drums/bass/guitars setup for a classic rock sound that pretty strongly brought the Boss to mind. This time around, they’ve added horns and evolved their sound further, bringing in a bluesy soulful sound that compliments the stomping rock they do best. But the elevator still goes all the way to the ground floor, as there are songs that wouldn’t feel out of place on some of their previous albums either.
Album: Axe to Fall
Track: Dark Horse
I saw these guys at the Dethklok/Mastodon show earlier this year and thought at the time they were a weird fit. After hearing the album, I don’t feel like they were as out of place as I initially thought. They’ve added some very thrashy elements to their hardcore sound (which, I realize, isn’t a stretch by any means) and their energy is undeniable.
Artist: Justin Townes Earle
Album: Midnight at the Movies
Track: Black Eyed Suzy
JTE made my list last year and though I personally like that album better than this year’s, he’s still one of the better artists working this corner of Americana. This time around he relies more on solid songwriting than mining the past of country/western music (and I think that’s what I liked so much about the previous album, the old-timey feel) but he still falls more comfortably within the old school of country music than anywhere else.
Album: Supporting Caste
Track: Supporting Caste
My friend Jeb is a huge Propaghandi fan, and I’d never listened to them. He hyped this record so much though that I checked it out and I’m glad I did. Propaghandi’s a Canadian punk band, but this album ventures beyond punk: fast, angular, yes, melodic, thrashy in parts, some songs complex bordering on progressive.
Album: Breathing the Fire
Track: Longing for Domination
Skeletonwitch is one of my favorite new bands. Their previous album, Beyond the Permafrost, was one of my favorites of 2007, and this one is a worthy followup. The sound is a little cleaner, more focused, but composed of the same basic parts: blistering thrash riffage, complimented by aspects of death metal and black metal, and with a melodic dual lead that brings to mind Iron Maiden and other greats of the NWOBHM.
Album: All Shall Fall
Track: Norden on Fire
Immortal’s follow-up to one of the best metal albums of the decade, and an essential metal album by any measure, Sons of Northern Darkness, was going to face an uphill battle. How do you follow up a classic like SoND? if you expect a better album you’re sure to be disappointed, but All Shall Fall delivers on being another great record from Immortal, and that’s all I really wanted.
Artist: Scale the Summit
Album: Carving Desert Canyons
Track: The Great Plains
I’m not going to lie to you, this album is all about guitar wankery. That doesn’t float everyone’s boat, but this is some impressive progressive instrumental metal by some guys who know what they’re doing.
Artist: Crippled Black Phoenix
Album: 200 Tons of Bad Luck
Crippled Black Phoenix is a sort of post rock/doom metal supergroup, with members from Mogwai, Electric Wizard, and other bands. They weave a gloomy series of epic-length songs combining the expected doom and post-rock genres with some laid back dreamier Floydesque passages and more aggressive hardcore sounds as well.
Artist: Blut Aus Nord
Album: Memoria Vetusta II: Dialogue with the Stars
Track: The Alcove of Angels (Vipassana)
All year, I expected this to be my #1 album of the year. In this release, Blut Aus Nord combines some of the melodic shoegazy aspect of the current crop of French black metal with a basis in the harshness that is elemental to classic black metal, in an amazing way. Then, somewhere in the course of the album, some soaring soloing somberly swoops in and out like whalesong and you’re hooked.
Album: Blue Record
Track: War, Wisdom and Rhyme
Baroness is a band I’m still exploring, after having been introduced to them late in the year by a friend, but I was impressed enough by this album for it to shoot to the top of my list after only a few weeks of listening. It combines a sludgy metal with southern rock and acid/stoner rock in an engulfing wall of sound.
Artist: Ben Nichols
Album: The Last Pale Light in the West
Track: The Kid
This is a bonus song from an album that deserved a place somewhere in my best-of lists, but I couldn’t quite fit into either my 2008 or 2009 list. Ben Nichols is the lead singer of Lucero, and this, his first solo album, had an official release date in January of 2009, but because of a download available with preorders was all over the internet by September or October of 2008. I had considered it a 2009 release so left it off the 2008 list, but it seems like everyone else veered the other way. So here it is, belatedly, a great short concept album based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel Blood Meridian, combining Ben’s excellent songwriting with a more stripped-down country sound than what his band Lucero is playing these days.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Well it isn’t St. Patrick’s Day yet of course, but it’s coming up, today is the Saturday before, and I’ll wager many of you are already enjoying the holiday cheer.
I’m more ignorant of my Irish heritage than I’d wish to be, but there isn’t anybody left to teach it to me at this point, so I have to content myself with the Americanized version. And I like it well enough; I’ve seen Darby O’Gill and the Little People more times than I’d care to admit, I love a good dark ale, I vote early and often and I have a ton of kids.
But one part of that heritage I’d love to explore is the music. I love the idea of the traditional music session, where talented local musicians gather around their favorite table in the local pub and play sets of traditional reels and jigs. I also love the modern take on Irish folk music from bands like the Pogues, and even the Irish-influenced punk and metal bands out there. And yes I probably do like the Pogues too much, what’s it to you? So anyway, I’ve put together a little mix for all of you, and I hope you’ll give it a listen during your St. Patrick’s Day festivities and that it’ll help you get into the spirit that much more.
- The Pogues – Mountain Dew
- The Fenians – Come Out Ye Black & Tans
- David Kincaid – Kelly’s Irish Brigade
- Dropkick Murphys – Worker’s Song
- Stiff Little Fingers – Tin Soldiers
- Flogging Molly – Factory Girls
- The Waterboys – And a Bang on the Ear
- Various (Music at Matt Molloy’s) – Cape Breton Jigs, McGurk’s
- Various (Music at Matt Molloy’s) – Kilkelly
- Waylander – Bru Na Boinne
- Cruachan – The Very Wild Rover
- The Pogues – Medley: The Recruiting Sergeant/The Rocky Road To Dublin/The Galway Races
- The Bothy Band – Old Hag You Have Killed Me
- Shane Macgowan and the Popes – More Pricks Than Kicks
- The Dubliners – Fields Of Athenry
- Lúnasa – O’Carolan’s Welcome/Rolling In The Barrel
- The Pogues – If I Should Fall From Grace With God
This is a chill mix.
This is not a chillout mix.
This is a journey from light to dark and light again, in the vein of last year’s mix for staring out of train windows, only this time there isn’t a train, there’s just you and the music and a dark place inside yourself.
shoegazy postmetally triphoppy doomy twangy weirdness. It’s downtempo but it ought to keep your attention
- Grateful Dead – Box of Rain
- My Bloody Valentine – When You Sleep
- Massive Attack – Inertia Creeps
- Pink Reason – Up The Sleeve
- Unbunny – Let It All Burn
- Shawn Lee & Clutchy Hopkins – Bad Influence
- Dear Astronaut – Never-Ending Nosebleed
- Isis – In Fiction
- Rocky Votolato – Where We Left Off
- Salem – Dirt
- God Is An Astronaut – Suicide By Star
- Lou Reed – Perfect Day
- Sly and the Family Stone – Spaced Cowboy
- Fishbone – No Fear
Just your basic mix of cover songs. Ska covers! Bluegrass covers! Metal covers! Punk covers!
I know, it’s been done, but dammit it’s MY TURN.
It was brought to my attention though that on a few of these, the original songs may be less well known, so I’ve created a second mix containing the same playlist in the same order, but all original songs rather than the cover versions.
01. Turisas – Rasputin (Boney M)
02. Van Canto – Kings of Metal (Manowar)
03. Dinosaur Jr. – Just Like Heaven (The Cure)
04. Melvins – Going Blind (KISS)
05. Apocalyptica – Welcome Home (Sanitarium) (Metallica)
06. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – Puff The Magic Dragon (Peter Paul and Mary)
07. The English Beat – Tears of a Clown (Smokey Robinson and the Miracles)
08. Fishbone – Date Rape (Sublime)
09. Reel Big Fish – Hungry Like The Wolf (Duran Duran)
10. The Meat Purveyors – Round and Round (Ratt)
11. Iron Horse – Polar Opposites (Modest Mouse)
12. Lucero – Kiss The Bottle (Jawbreaker)
13. Ramones – Needles and Pins (The Searchers)
14. Seu Jorge – Five Years (David Bowie)
15. The Slackers – Wanted Dead Or Alive (Bon Jovi)
16. Five Iron Frenzy – It’s Not Unusual (Tom Jones)
17. The Urge – This Is Radio Clash (The Clash)
18. The Protomen – No Easy Way Out (Robert Tepper)
My Best Albums of 2008 Show!
These are the albums I have decided are the best albums that a) I’ve listened to, b) have an official 2008 release date, and c) are full-length LPs, not EPs or compilations.
Since I listen to a broad variety of music, some of the segues are a little jarring. Some voiceovers might help there but since my microphone isn’t currently available that’s not going to happen. Since the mix clocks in around 80 minutes, you don’t need me babbling on anyway.
I’ll be playing one song from each of my 20 favorite albums of the year, counting down from #20 to #1.
20. Girl Talk – Feed the Animals
Wild fun mashups. No source is sacred. For instance, in the sample track, Queen, the Police and the Jackson 5 are shaking their asses along with Busta Rhymes and Wu Tang. Can’t beat that.
Song: What It’s All About
19. Drive-By Truckers – Brighter Than Creation’s Dark
Perennial favorites of mine. This won’t go down as one of their true classics but there are some darn fine songs on here.
Song: 3 Dimes Down
18. The Gaslight Anthem – The ’59 Sound
Rocking Boss worship
Song: Miles Davis & The Cool
17. Darkestrah – The Great Silk Road
Kryg black metallers, second year in a row they’ve appeared on my list
Song: Cult Tengri
16. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – Lie Down In The Light
Will Oldham’s back, didn’t care too much for his last one but plenty to make up for it here.
Song: So Everyone
15. Kiuas – The New Dark Age
Finnish Heavy/Power Metal favorites of mine, they typically use elements of more extreme metal but the sample track is more of a straightforward acoustic powerballad.
Song: After The Storm
14. Neuraxis – The Thin Line Between
Melodic Technical Death Metal with progressive elements
13. Clutchy Hopkins – Walking Backwards
Mysterious purveyor of chill beats
Song: Song for Wolfie
12. Amon Amarth – Twilight Of The Thunder God
Swedish Melodic Viking Metal. And of course as you know, Vikings are awesome. Also wins for best album cover of the year and best video of the year.
Song: The Hero
11. Blitzen Trapper – Furr
Fantastic blend of pop and Americana, alternately channeling the Beatles, Neil Young, Tom Petty…
Song: Saturday Nite
10. Spiritualized – Songs in A & E
Intense psychedelic rock, I was blown away by their set at Pitchfork
Song: I Gotta Fire
09. Justin Townes Earle – The Good Life
Just some good old-fashioned country music
Song: South Georgia Sugar Babe
08. Harvey Milk – Life… The Best Game In Town
Chugging churning sludge metal that still manages to contain some surprising pop hooks
07. The Rural Alberta Advantage – Hometowns
Canadian Americana? fuzzy low-fi energetic rock/pop with eager vocal harmonies, just very pleasing to the ears.
Song: Don’t Haunt This Place
06. Elliott Brood – Mountain Meadows
More Canadians, they call their sound “Death Country” This album seems to combine the things that worked in their Tin Type EP and their last full-length Ambassador
Song: The Valley Town
05. Cynic – Traced In Air
Progressive Tech Metal with robot singers? Actually less of the robotic voices this time around, and the sound is a little more prog and a little less metal but still musically sound and deftly performed.
Song: Evolutionary Sleeper
04. Guillotine – Blood Money
Swedish thrash metal that brings to mind some great older German thrash metal. Tight, energetic. Great riffs, pummeling drums.
Song: Welcome To Dying (Death, Destruction, and Pain)
03. Týr – Land
Faroese Viking Metal, calling heavily on traditional poetry and Viking choruses.
02. Akimbo – Jersey Shores
Epic hardcore, reminiscent of Oceanic-era Isis, a concept album about sharks. Sharks, like Vikings, are awesome.
Song: Great White Bull
01. Murder By Death – Red of Tooth and Claw
Southern Gothic, deep-voiced crooner singing over rich instrumentation. I’ve described it as Nick Cave singing an Ennio Morricone western soundtrack with cellos.
Halloween is almost upon us. As is the mode of our society, the day has become a celebration of consumer culture, with cheap plastic costumes filling the shelves at your local walmart, children begging for whatever character is at the top of the Nickelodeon pyramid this year.
But in the same way that many people will tell you that Christmas isn’t at all about Santa Claus, I’m here to tell you that Halloween isn’t about the Power Rangers. No matter how many pretty pretty princesses or Marvel superheroes you may see, always remember this.
Halloween is about the dark. Halloween is about ghosts and demons and creeping, crawling things. Halloween is about begging a world you don’t understand to let another year go by without killing you.
HALLOWEEN IS SUPPOSED TO BE SCARY
I am not doing any song announcing during the mix, just a brief intro at the beginning, so in order to make it easy for you to tell which song is which during the mix, I’ve put the songs’ running times in the track listing.
- Intro (00:00-00:36)
- Avenger of Blood – Bloodseeker (00:36-04:47)
- Interlude – The Undead (04:48-06:08)
- Guillotine – Skeleton City (06:08-10:00)
- Watain – Underneath the Cenotaph (10:02-14:13)
- Morbid Angel – Chapel of Ghouls (14:14-19:09)
- Interlude – Ghosts (19:09-20:20)
- Electric Wizard – Funeralopolis (20:20-29:02)
- Sear Bliss – Omen of Doom (29:02-34:35)
- Obtained Enslavement – Witchcraft (34:35-40:44)
- Interlude – Witches (40:44-41:51)
- Denial of God – Curse of the Witch (41:51-48:43)
- Walknut – The Midnightforest of the Runes (48:45-53:12)
- Church of Misery – Killfornia (Ed Kemper) (53:12-61:25)
- Interlude – Slasher (61:25-62:31)
- Skeletonwitch – Sacrifice for the Slaughtergod (62:31-65:23)
- Revocation – Empire of the Obscene (65:24-70:23)
- Belenos – L’ombre Du Chaos (70:24-76:33)
- Interlude – Demons (76:34-77:38)
- Medeia – Devouring (77:38-80:50)
- Raventhrone – The Stargazer (Chastise the Absolute) (80:50-84:59)
Way back in the day, a bunch of kids thought rock and roll was boring and started playing some super fast, sloppy, but extremely catchy rock and roll and breathed new life into a music scene that kept throwing different repackaged versions of the same 3 bands at the music consuming public. That music ended up being called punk rock.
This mix has nothing to do with that.
Somewhat later, a similar group of kids, punk rockers and other malcontents, thought that country music was getting boring and decided to do something similar. Some of them threw in a rockier edge, some of them went back to country’s roots and played a more traditional style with some modern innovations, some of them were just plain weird. It’s all recognizably country, yet distinct from the shiny candy-colored pop that the country music industry keeps throwing at an audience that, admittedly, eats up the shiny candy-colored pop like it was the greatest thing ever.
This mix is mostly alt-country, with some southern rock and some twangier folk rock thrown in, and also one mainstream country song by a superstar recording artist. Oh, you know who I’m talking about, or you will when you hear that unmistakable sonorous voice. I hope you like it; feel free to leave me some comments below.
- Two Cow Garage – Make it Out Alive
- The Knitters – The Call Of The Wreckin Ball
- Scud Mountain Boys – (She Took His) Picture
- Palace Music – Work Hard/Play Hard
- Murder By Death – Comin’ Home
- Drive-By Truckers – Decoration Day
- Hackensaw Boys – Oh, Girl
- Lucinda Williams – Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings
- The Meat Purveyors – Thinking About Drinking
- The Blacks – Why Drunky?
- Elliott Brood – Edge of Town
- William Shatner – Real
- Lucero – My Best Girl (7″ version)
- The Avett Brothers – The Weight Of Lies
- Justin Townes Earle – Hard Livin’
- William Elliott Whitmore – Take It On The Chin
- Reckless Kelly – Drink Your Whiskey Down