The Records That Were Important to Me This Year But Not Necessarily Released This Year, pt. 1

Because year-end lists are to blame for all my rage.

Music is an art form just as much as any other medium. One cannot put two paintings side by side and say one is a 7.1 and the other a measly 4.9.

‘Nuff said.

This is what I dug this year. The reason that I am scribbling about it is that I enjoy writing about music, especially music I like. Some are better than others but the only ears I have are mine.

Morrissey

Years of Refusal


Anyone that knows me to a significant depth knows that I have been a fan of this guy since my teens. And this is not a weird phenomenon. The cult that surrounds this man, a mysterious, asexual, self-loathing, and astute British gentleman man of letters, consists of rabid scavengers salivating at every mention of a crappy b-side. Granted his canon is wont to have a few duds but the big picture is somewhat surprising. “It’s a miracle/I even made it this far,” he belts in the opening track of his latest, Years of Refusal, and it can’t ring more true. His time in the Smiths is well-covered and it is his solo career that has fascinated me for the greater part of my life. He’s gone from long, dramatic, and mostly cheesy synth ballads (“Late Night Maudlin Street,” Viva Hate, “Driving Your Girlfriend Home,” Kill Uncle, et al.) to in-your-face powerhouse rock (“The Boy Racer,” Southpaw Grammar, “You’re Gonna Need Someone On Your Side,” Your Arsenal, blah blah), all while remaining both reclusive and top 200 chart-worthy.

That’s a lot of cult members for someone that gets little to no airplay. And thank whomever for that.

I didn’t even bat an eye at the last few, You Are The Quarry and something about a circus or something. I had given up. He had given up. At least in my mind. Critics loved them. Critics get too much free shit. They weren’t good.

Then, out of the blue, my old friend, Morrissey, stopped by to blow my…mind. Years of Refusal is both his gift to me and his acknowledgment at my wise decision at not paying attention to him the last five years.

Welcome home, Moz. Have a pint and some veggie nachos with me. We can even just talk about my dog if you want.

Wild Beasts

Two Dancers


I didn’t fully appreciate Two Dancers until I bought a car with a sunroof. You can usually find me in this fine Texas weather at a stoplight looking directly up through said sunroof at where the color don’t change. You can honk to refocus my attention. I understand you have places to go.

Wild Beasts (yes, more Brits) play what I wanted Paul Simon to play circa Graceland. Simply take out what I don’t like and fill it with near-meaningless quips about bootycalls turning into violent outbursts. The magical interplay between the instruments is what really yanked my ears…each attuned to the next player who is focused on the Russian-boy-choir-worthy vocalist, Hayden Thorpe. What a name. From that I can surmise that he is:

  1. a good swimmer.
  2. a good liar about wine.
  3. more knowledgeable about music than expected. Unfortunately it is about Paul Simon.

I don’t know what it is about Paul Simon and his virgin ascent into my life. Last year was Yeasayer.

What does un-Paul Simon have in store for me next year?

Built to Spill

There is No Enemy


I am a late Built to Spill bloomer. Friends dug them back in the day and I ignored them. I was wrapped up in Swedish death metal and discovering my tolerances for alcohol. As I age, so do they. With my recent discovery of their DEEP catalogue I realize that we are now perfectly aligned.

It was on a trip to the Yellow River National Forest that I discovered their song, “The Weather.” Though my daydreams fell through, the poignancy rings true.

With the years I was absent Doug was answering my future questions. “What happens here stays here/’Cause no one, anywhere else/Gives a damn,” (“Tomorrow”) pretty much sums up what one will learn in life:

  1. With meeting new people, don’t relate a story of your own to one of theirs based solely on one congruence. They won’t care.
  2. With age one finds solidarity in one’s own likes and the penchant for the majority of others to just not get it.
  3. What you learn as a youngin’ will stay with you and lie to you the rest of your life.

These points are not brought to the surface to turn the frown upside-down…nay. Put these life principles to music like the Spill boys are capable of and everything balances out once again.

The Walkmen

Live Session EP, iTunes Exclusive

I will buy anything from these guys. Even if that means going though iTunes. Sure, the sound quality is fine but my need to put one song on a mix for a friend is impossible without also supplying my iTunes password. Let’s hear it for security.

The Walkmen live are always a sight to behold. I’ve shared their greatness here and here. Sure, the electricity of the crowd is fantastic and so is watching them pull it off live, but when one has the opportunity to grab the sound and enjoy it at home…mercy.

Hot chocolate’s got nuthin’ on this EP.

Shrinebuilder

Shrinebuilder


Them Crooked Vultures

Them Crooked Vultures


A supergroup used to be a 100% letdown. We Are the World? Done. A monumental thing happened this year: two supergroups, one metal and one almost, formed and actually did what was promised.

Shrinebuilder, the more powerful of the two, combines the Voltron power of Wino (The Obsessed, St. Vitus, dot dot dot), Scott from Neurosis, some dude from Om and Sleep, and some dude from the Melvins. This collection managed to pull off one of the greatest scare-your-neighbors-until-they-come-over-and-hear-the-brilliance moments in the history of metal. Slow and drudging at times, slow and loud at others, Shrinebuilder is a shark behind the sticks of a wrecking ball, a drunk lion at a day care.

With headphones and a dangerous volume it is easy, somehow, for even the lips to go numb.

Them Crooked Vultures is a terrible name obviously dreamt up at an afterparty somewheres in these States after a night of god-knows-what-these-guys-have-access-to. You all know the story. I believe it will be a short-lived project, but one that I was lucky enough to be around to see.

The only thing that could top it would be a soulful duet between Cobain and Mrs. Butterworth at the corner store that you happened upon while just needing some mayo for a great tuna salad you were getting ready to prepare.

The Black Heart Procession

six


A friend introduced me to these guys back in the days of Indianapolis living. He was a positive dude, never drunk, high, or questionable in his manner. Supportive and open-minded as he was, I took his musical advice and checked out the Black Heart Procession.

He said it would be surprising.

I thought that he meant that, besides the name, these guys were smart, airy pop.

I think the surprise was how dark they truly were. Singin’ about the ol’ fire ring (“It’s a Crime I Never Told You About the Diamonds in Your Eyes,” 2) and utter, sparse loneliness, these guys have the ability to unwillingly trap one in their own basement, drown in their car, and get their leg severed in a freak axe accident…all in one afternoon.

Dark, fucking dark.

Do not combine with anti-depressants.

And now for a more upbeat selection by the grooms of gloom:

Children

Hard Times Hanging at the End of the World


Record nerd intro: I was introduced to these guys by going on a whim and picking up their Death Tribe 12″ last year. One ten minute thrash epic on one side and a sweet etching on the other side of a cobra with a Flying V. It was also by chance that I found their full length, Hard Times…, at the missed (by me, it’s still in business) Dave’s Records in Chicago.

Excellent Exodus-esque thrash, complete with good, silly humor (see video below), bombarding the speakers and making the wait for these Austin stoplights as pleasant as a beer session with a friend. Fist-pump-worthy drums (courtesy of Adam Benatti, also of throw-back copiers Early Man) matched with fine-tuned whammy bridges makes this a sure listen for the beach. Pack the Sunkist and vodka, though close to home, we’re goin’ on a mental vacation.

Medusa

En Raga Sul


Southern Indiana is my home and will always be. Bloomington, Indiana is the center of the Hoosier music scene and it is by no means anything to pass over. Home to the much respected labels Secretly Canadian and Jagjaguwar, this little college town was my second home growing up and my primary for about four years. In that time I discovered organic foods, basement shows, wandering aimlessly, and coffee. Everyone was involved in something, whether it be a band, collective, movement, or, christ, I don’t even know. Anyway, projects like Medusa are entirely fathomable and doable.

Consisting mostly of sister band Racebannon (more on them in a bit), Medusa punish in a straight-forward way: fist-to-throat. Simple but enjoyable morsels pepper their album, En Raga Sul, perfectly so that repeat listens are not only punishing but also terribly, terribly frightening.

Racebannon

Acid or Blood


The culmination of Captain Beefheart worship, Hoosier anger, and the open-walled creativity of southern Indiana, Racebannon are the epitome of artistic freedom. Together since high school, the Bannon do what they want…they’ve been together this long, ain’t no record company gonna start putting their stamp on it now.

Chaos is the the easiest word to describe their impossible-to-describe multi-track vocal, guitar, bass, drum mayhem. All are agreeable personalities off stage, even “gentle,” but with weapon in hand the darkness eeks.

One can only witness it live to see the real look in Mike Anderson’s (vocals) eyes as he vomits such classics as “Flip ‘N Fuck.”

(I know I’ve posted this video numerous times before and on various websites but the beginning, when the beat is laid and you see the guys draped in Bloomington Brewing Company Hoodies, his eyes, Mike’s eyes, surely beckon a fight. I’ve seen it happen before and I wanna see another Racebannon-fueled fight before I die.)

Richard Swift

The Atlantic Ocean

Overzealous in its pop synths and polish, Swift’s 2009 The Atlantic Ocean was everything I wanted in something as unlistenable as this: original ideas, proper melodies, and surprises around every corner. (These three things make it unlistenable to the general public in its simple brilliance, and that’s sad.)

Running a parallel with my man, Harry Nilsson, Mr. Swift started small, had the propensity to enlarge, and decided to do his own thing, all with the help of a classy label, a listening public, and his heart, easy to read on the sleeve and all. “The Original Thought” is a perfectly-written pop song despite the obvious woe-is-me lyrical content; a soft intro to introduce the listener to the melody, a surprise upheaval in tempo and attitude, and then a ruckus ending. As he sings, “…it was a typical shame,” one discovers that yes, it is a shame that not only will his music never reach the notoriety it deserves but the artist himself is aware of it.

The soundtrack of a breakdown.

The New Year

The End is Near


Released sometime in to 00s, ex-Bedhead brothers from Dallas follow up their already strong downer canon with something that sounds remarkably like everything else they’ve done. But it was done so well before…you know the rest of the sentiment…

Simple, but complex guitars intertwine to build a blanket to hide under on lonely weekend nights and the subsequent mornings. Brooding and hanging, this is waking up on a wood floor and a moving truck, not a surrender, per se, but an acceptance of broken noses.

Keep understanding the down times and the uptimes by these melodies and cheese, please. I’m on my knees.

Daniel Amos

Doppelgänger


There is a sweet spot in my heart for late eighties, early nineties Christian alternative. Here is where the outsider, from the Christian mainstream, flexed their prowess and exercised their true ability to say whatever it is they wanted. Whether it is anti-Capatalism (“Mall (Over the World”)  or the ridiculousness of, er, Capitalism (“A New Car!”), Daniel Amos, brainchild of mastermind Terry Taylor (of Swirling Eddies, DA, Terry Taylor fame) never fails to deliver.

This may seem out of place but it is, in fact, right where it should be.

You see, I wasn’t allowed to listen to “secular” music growing up. Therefore I relied upon my friends in the Christian underground (there’s an underground everywhere…you just have to search) to supply me with original, thinking music for my teenage years. Now the DA and Daniel Amos stuff was delved into later in life, the Swirling Eddies were my soundtrack for many un-Christian activities.

Maybe I’ve been reflecting, maybe just enjoying well-written songs…we’ll never know. Or at least I won’t. The fact remains that when Terry Taylor dies he will be one of the forgotten geniuses of the 70s, 80s, 90s, and beyond.

Pissed Jeans

King of Jeans


This is the perfect example on how the “Best of…” lists are unfruitful, vaguely debatable, and all around useless. Nowhere was Pissed Jeans on a top ___ list, and why? Because lists make no sense.

This is Jesus Lizard power mixed with a bloody, honest delivery ala Darby Crash but without the dumbed-down nonchalance. Here is full-frontal posings on such things at keeping one up at night, the disagreement about wearing a certain colored shirt, and general misgivings that may have taught one something all delivered with such butter and ease that power drinking may come back into my lifestyle only to listen to these cuts.

Behemoth

Evangelion


The opposite of heaven is hell.

The opposite of happiness is sadness.

The opposite of explanation is Behemoth.

Brutal beyond belief. More melodic than thought could be possible. Talented as all get out.

Whoa.

It’s a good thing that Behemoth wasn’t at the feet of Jesus as he lay dying…he would’ve known that these souls are beyond redemption. And to boot they can write a waaaaaaay better song.

Enjoy an angel being ripped to shreds:

James Jackson Toth

Waiting in Vain


A singer/songwriter from Memphis known for his time in Wooden Wand and a fellow-columnist at Your Flesh, Toth immerses himself in what he knows: southern hospitality, hearth, and health. The heartbreak that comes with it is merely a side effect, but one that he has a penchant to write about.

Lay back and let your balls be grabbed by a thing as simple as a good song.

…I have to write this in two parts. There was just way too much cool shit this year.

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