#21

November 4, 2010

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Yeah Yeah Yeahs EP
punk-rock, garage-rock, indie-rock
2001

Little I’ve heard this decade has blown me away quite like the opening moments of “Bang”, the first track on Yeah Yeah Yeah’s self-titled debut EP. An amazing, rubberband-riff of punchy electric guitar that’s been compressed to the width of a razor, it just about sawed me in half when it first burst out of my headphones, and when Karen O’s irrepressibly in-charge vocal slides in (how’s “take a swallow, as I spit, baby” for a lyric to introduce yourself to the world?) the whole song elevates to a higher level that’s just impossibly kick-ass. It’s clearly the highlight track here, and easily rates as one of the best songs of the decade, but the rest of the EP very nearly matches it, be it via the melodic punk-rock of “Mystery Girl” and “Our Time”, the rumbling, gravel-roar chorus and wickedly dirty humour of “Art Star” or the gritty propulsion of Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Yeah Yeah Yeahs“Miles Away”. A lightning-quick flash of pure, straight-from-the-garage attitude, it’s an EP so deserving of the spotlight that I’m choosing to honour it – rather than the group’s very good debut full-length Fever to Tell – with a place on this list. With its can’t-miss combination of jagged guitar lines and dynamic vocals, not to mention the added benefit of featuring arguably the most charismatic frontwoman in rock music today, Yeah Yeah Yeahs is a rough, sexy, rock-the-hell-out piece of work. The group have maintained a solid output in the meantime, yet in less than fifteen minutes this EP manages to eclipse all of it.

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#22

November 3, 2010

Boris – Heavy Rocks
hard-rock, stoner-rock, metal
2002

Perhaps the most appropriate album title ever? Heavy Rocks is heavy, and good lord does it ever rock. I’ve always found that Boris are at their best when they keep it relatively simple, putting aside the longform drone and experimental detours so they can focus purely on red-raw guitar-driven power and layers of speaker-destroying bass, delivering explosive, psychedelia-tinged rock music better than pretty much anyone else on the planet. That’s exactly what you get from this album – chunky guitar riffs so crushingly massive they sound like they could level whole buildings, maniacal, rip-roaring percussion and layer upon layer of distortion, all topped off with some truly epic, visceral singing that kicks the adrenaline up to a previously unfelt height. Opening track “Heavy Friends” is an absolute beast of stoner-rock perfection, alternating between Boris - Heavy Rocksgraveyard-bass and gleeful meedly-mees for a murky showcase of sheer attitude, and it’s followed by the one-two punch of “Korosu” and “Dyna-Soar”, easily two of the best rapid-fire rockers the 2000s have to offer. The sonic barrage never really lets up after that – barring the gorgeously soulful instrumental interlude “Soft Edge”, an unexpected highlight – making Heavy Rocks an incredibly consistent joyride from beginning to end. Boris are the kings of larger-than-life rock bliss, and this might well be their finest hour (well, finest 45 minutes, at any rate). I only wish this album wasn’t so damn hard to find!

 

#23

November 2, 2010

Eddy Current Suppression Ring – Primary Colours
garage-rock, garage-punk, post-punk
2008

Australia’s garage-rock/punk scene of the 1970s, which delivered a slew of brilliant albums, gets a far-better-than-you’d-ever-expect revival in the form of Eddy Current Suppression Ring’s sophomore effort Primary Colours. The Melbourne foursome deliver a blast of straight-from-the-gut, minimum-frills rock that channels Aussie-Eddy Current Suppression Ring - Primary Coloursgarage kings The Saints with surprising ease, making for an old-school record that feels like a long-lost hit of a bygone era. While the group keep it predominantly simple and familiar, they do throw in some individualistic touches to establish a distinct identity (even if these touches are also mostly pilfered from other groups) – there’s some long, loose guitar lines, reminiscent of the hypnotic loops of Television and Can, that give the album a bit of a post-punk flavour at times, particularly on “That’s Inside of Me” and “Colour Television”, while “We’ll Be Turned On” employs ultra-cheap keyboard lines and goofball lyrics to deliver the album’s least serious and most amusing cut. Lead singer Brendan Suppression is classic frontman material, a big personality who oozes rock ‘n’ roll charisma every time he opens his mouth (which is useful since, in a technical sense, he can’t really sing out of it). He stumbles his way through Primary Colours with the on-the-edge spontaneity of Iggy Pop, to the point that you can almost hear him dancing spasmodically as he belts out his punchy vocals. The album opens stunningly, as the short, sharp and straightforward double-hit of the strutting “Memory Lane” and the bombastic “Sunday’s Coming” ensure that you’re instantly transfixed, while lead single “Which Way to Go”, deceptively over-simplistic at first, over time gets stuck deep into your head and simply won’t let go, making it one of the decade’s most durably exciting rock songs. Essentially, this album is a perfect example of what rock music should be when you boil it down to its essential elements – tightly played, consistently exciting and economical in a way that leaves you satisfied but hungry for more.

 

#24

November 1, 2010

Big Blood – Space Gallery Jan. 27, 2007 / Sahara Club Jan. 28, 2007
free-folk, avant-garde folk, psychedelic-folk
2007

When long-running post-rock/prog-folk group Cerberus Shoal went on temporary hiatus in 2006, vocalists and multi-instrumentalists Caleb Mulkerin and Colleen Kinsella went on to form avant-garde folk quartet Big Blood. From the first moment I heard these guys, I knew they were onto something very special indeed. Space Gallery Jan. 27, 2007 / Sahara Club Jan. 28, 2007Their particular style of folk music, heavy on the baroque and European influences and characterised by warm strokes of accordion and banjo and some truly idiosyncratic vocals, seemed to tap directly into the source of everything that I love about this kind of music, with Kinsella’s unusual vocals being particularly intriguing. The songs are a bit clunky, the playing is loose and the whole thing is recorded with a minimal degree of professionalism, yet this album is filled with such romance, passion and unconventional beauty that I find myself moved with every listen. Space Gallery (which isn’t, as its title would suggest, a live concert recording – rather, it refers to the date and location of the studio recording sessions) is their finest work, anchored around three of the decade’s greatest individual tracks – the lively, totally off-kilter “Glory Daze”, the gorgeous longform folk opus “She Said Nothing” and “The Rise of Quinnisa Rose”, whose simple, repeating four chord melody and uplifting vocals immediately remind me of Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea”. Perhaps the most exciting thing about these guys is that they’re highly prolific (this is one of ten albums they released in the second half of the decade), consistently excellent and have provided digital versions of the majority of their albums for free on the net (just search for them on Free Music Archive). That’s a wealth of amazing material to be had for absolutely nothing, so go check it out!

#25

October 29, 2010

The Hunches – Yes. No. Shut It.
punk, garage-rock, noise-rock
2002

If Yes. No. Shut It were a mission statement, it’d be a beer-soaked, ash-stained napkin with “kick titanic amounts of ass” scrawled onto it in blood. Blending a grab-bag of punk, garage and hard-rock influences, primarily The Stooges, Motörhead, Rocket from the Tombs and a touch of The Velvet Underground, The Hunches deliver a non-stop hurricane of maniacal, swaggering awesomeness that rocks harder than just about anything. This is the kind of amphetamine-fueled thrash that makes songs like “Murdering Train Track Blues” (what a title!), which opens the album with a hoarse shout and a veritable avalanche of speed-riffage, sound like the band are being dragged along a gravel road behind their instruments, which are too busy playing themselves about two or three clicks faster than necessary to notice the carnage being left in their wake. The guitar on “10,000 Miles” cuts like a rusty buzzsaw and “Static Disaster” is the sort of wild, unhinged punk song that would make Iggy proud. And that’s just The Hunches - Yes. No. Shut It.in the first three tracks! The sludgy “Explosion” and “Got Some Hate” rate very highly as well, and I dig the slowed-down, Loud Reed style vocals on “Same New Thing” and “Lisa Told Me”. Honestly, though, I don’t think the band take their foot off the pedal long enough to allow anything close to a lull to emerge. At its core, Yes. No. Shut It is bar-fight music – the audio equivalent to having a chair broken over your head. Embrace the chair.

 

#26

October 29, 2010

Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)
soul, hip-hop, r&b
2008

Musically complex and ignited with fiery social and political commentary, New Amerykah Part One (Fourth World War) merges elements from neo-soul (via the vocals) and hop-hop (via the beats and production) and rounds them out with splashes of funk & contemporary r&b. Sounding confident and righteously motivated, Badu doesn’t hold back for a moment, delving fearlessly into heated topics such as politics, war, immigration, drugs, violence, patriotism, race-relations, religion, health, education, law and death, and her lyricism is razor-sharp throughout. So much of Badu’s vocal performance and the album’s subject matter will leave a mark on the listener: first track Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)“Amerykahn Promise” grabs your attention with the love-meets-violence catch-cry of “Promise to you baby, I’ll love you tooth for tooth and eye for eye”, while “The Healer” sees Badu claiming that hip-hop is “bigger than religion … bigger than the government”, set atop funky beats and dreamy chime samples. “The Cell” reflects on the tragedy of addiction within the family (“Momma hopped up on cocaine / Daddy on space ships with no brain / Sister gone numb the pain the same / Why same DNA cell?”) and tribute is paid to J Dilla in the serene “Telephone”, a seven-minute slow-burner which features a soaring coda that makes for one of the albums greatest highlights. The album is saturated with this sort of powerful sentiment and unwavering conviction, making New Amerykah Part One get under your skin as much for its moving content as its irresistible grooves.

 

#27

October 28, 2010

Matt Elliott – Howling Songs
folk, singer-songwriter
2008

I love it when an album paints an engaging mental picture. It might not be intentional on the part of the artist, but when I throw on a CD and it starts feeling like the soundtrack to some imagined situation, it can be an incredibly rewarding and transportative experience. Howling Songs is one such album. With its dank, gloomy aesthetic, accentuated by morose strings and reverberating, overdubbed guitars which drip with sinister gravitas, I can’t help but imagine it as the backing for a scene in some Matt Elliott - Howling Songsdimly lit, seaside tavern, populated by morose drunks and cutthroat scum. Several are adorned with scars and eye-patches, they all have (mostly) concealed weapons, and at least two-thirds of them are banking on a fight breaking out before closing time. For the time being, however, the atmosphere is still, tense and moody. That’s the picture that Howling Songs, with all of its Balkan-folk-blended-with-post-rock stylings and Elliott’s brooding vocal presence, paints in my mind. The opener, “The Kübler-Ross Model”, is stunning and epic, with an astonishing crescendo launching its second half, and Elliott made a brave move opening the album with its longest (and arguably finest) track, but the payoff is immense – a prolonged musical euphoria that’s improbably kept afloat by further branches of brilliant, dramatic songwriting. The pensive subtlety of “Something About Ghosts”, the grand-scale narrative of “I Name This Ship The Tragedy, Bless Her & All Who Sail With Her”, the pure vocal viscera of “The Howling Song” and the surprisingly malevolent closure of “Bomb the Stock Exchange” – they all add their own invaluable brush-strokes to that wonderfully evocative image.

#28

October 27, 2010

Donnie – The Colored Section
soul
2002

Donnie - The Colored SectionThe Colored Section carries its themes of racial inequality with such compelling assurance that it gives the album a tremendous sense of weight and sociopolitical importance, placing it firmly alongside the more well-known, like-minded recordings of the 1960s and 70s. Like many of those earlier works, the vast majority of The Colored Section carries a sense of determination, heart, pride and passion that’s inspirational and deeply moving. The early blissful trifecta of “Beautiful Me”, “Could 9” and “People Person” combine to set the bar impossibly high, with the groovy “People Person” in particular sounding like a long-lost Stevie Wonder classic. It’s evident throughout The Colored Section that Wonder has had a huge influence on Donnie – although his vocals never dip into mere imitation – with several cuts sounding so authentically Motown that they could have come straight from one of the 60s/70s originals. The remainder of the album showcases Donnie’s versatility, from the consumer-criticism atop Dixie stylings of “Big Black Buck” to the squelch-&-flicker electronic backdrop of “Masterplan” and the Brazilian tones of “Do You Know?” A brilliant, bold and audacious debut, The Colored Section stamped Donnie’s mark on the music scene as an artist of truly immense ability.

 

#29

October 26, 2010

The Thermals – The Body, The Blood, The Machine
punk, grunge, alternative-rock
2006

These guys would have to be one of the most righteously pissed off groups making music today. The Body, The Blood, The Machine is a bombastic, visceral attack on anything and everything that apparently rubs The Thermals the wrong way, delivered via a fantastic blend of poppy punk-rock and old-school grunge tweaks. There’s creationism and Christianity in “Here’s Your Future”, bloodshed in the name of any “greater good” in “I Might Need You to Kill” and a fantastic take on war-for-oil with “Power Doesn’t Run on Nothing”, which stands out as a furiously brilliant protest song, featuring incisive lines like “God is with us and our God’s the richest” and a gargantuan 4-chord close-out. Crucially, though, this isn’t a joyless album – the songs are upbeat and catchy as hell (just try to keep still while “A Pillar of Salt” is doing its The Thermals - The Body, the Blood, the Machinepunk-pop thing), the guitar-lines are big and bright and Hutch Harris’ lyrics are imbued with wonderful, sardonic wit (favourite snippet: God telling Noah “Know I’m your father, remember that no one can breathe underwater” before finally dropping the bombshell “…here’s your future: it’s gonna rain“). Throughout the album, the blistering pace and indignant fury rarely let up – the only breather comes with the mellow centrepiece “Test Pattern” – as The Thermals lay ruin to every single target that falls into their crosshairs.

 

#30

October 25, 2010

椎名 林檎 (Ringo Shiina) – 三文ゴシップ (Sanmon Gossip)
j-pop, soul, jazz, big-band, experimental-pop
2009

With Sanmon Gossip, her fifth solo album 椎名 林檎 (Ringo Shiina) - 三文ゴシップ (Sanmon Gossip)and first in six years, Ringo Shiina once again took the approach that’s made her previous works such a joy to hear – a willingness to embrace and experiment with a wide range of musical genres and techniques, combined with a firm grasp on pop-songwriting and a determination to make her songs as engaging, memorable and accessible as possible. In my opinion, it’s her finest album yet, an exuberant firecracker that crams so much content into its fourteen tracks that it constantly feels like it’s about to burst. Throughout the album, Shiina engages colourful splashes of just about every genre she could possibly shoehorn into her style of music, including big-band/swing (“Mittei Monogatari”, “Karisome Otome”, “Irokoizata”), American soul music (“Rōdōsha”), hip-hop (“Ryūkō”), laid-back soft-pop (“Shun”), alt-rock (“Yokyō”), electro (“Maru Chiten Kara”, “Togatta Teguchi”) and show-tunes-inspired vocal jazz (“Tsugō no Ii Karada”, “Futaribocchi Jikan”, the latter of which goes so far as to include a tap-solo!). She even finds time for a surprising, left-field display of minimalism on the accordion and vocals track “Bonsaihada”, one of the album’s finest cuts. The whole thing is an absolute feast, generously applying new musical angles, instruments, vocal touches and stylistic approaches at every turn, to the extent that, were it not for Shiina’s inescapable personality, Sanmon Gossip would verge on resembling a multi-artist compilation. That fantastic personality is the glue that makes Sanmon Gossip a genuinely thrilling success, though, as Shiina’s irresistible vocal twists and turns through the record, softly charming you on one track before knocking the roof off the building and reaching for the stars on the next. This album is simply huge, both in sound and scope, and is one of the most lively, expansive and ambitious pop releases I’ve ever heard.

#31

October 23, 2010

King Khan and His Shrines What Is?!
garage-rock, soul, psych-rock

2007

The garage-rock revival scene, with all of its assorted offshoots, subgenres and crossovers, has plenty of players, movers and shakers. In terms of quality of output, some have been more successful that others, but the fact is that King Khan and his sensational Shrines succeed more than pretty much any of them. What Is?!, the nine-piece outfit’s third album, sees the group elevating their killer blend of boozy garage-rock, psychedelic leanings and sensual, love-machine soul to the highest possible level, making for their finest personal effort and a guaranteed lock for the canon of garage-rock classics. Immediate impact is always a blessing on these kinds of albums, and this one opens incredibly strongly, with the blazing, bare-chested machismo of “Outta Harm’s Way”, the hilarious and hard-rocking full-disclosure of “I Wanna Be a Girl” and the groovy, garage-soul cut “Welfare Bread”, the track most seem King Khan and His Shrines - What Is?!to pick as the album’s key highlight. The sheer number of hits littered throughout the remainder is equally impressive, though, with speed-garage cuts like “Land of the Freak” and “No Regrets” (a personal favourite) interlaced between psychedelic sex-cult serenades like “69 Faces of Love”, “Cosmic Serenade” and “The Ballad of Lady Godiva”. King Khan himself is one of those larger than life rock stars, whose showmanship, attitude and massive personality make him a crucial component in the quest to keep rock music’s old-school theatricality alive and kicking. He fits the role beautifully, although in a somewhat unlikely manner – shirtless, cape-clad, beer-swilling and pot-bellied, he bellows his sexed-up lyrics (which would sound sleazy if he didn’t come across as such a fun-loving charmer) with furious abandon and limitless energy, making him feel like a cross between James Brown, Iggy Pop and the local drunkard. Hail to the King, baby!

 

#32

October 22, 2010

The Mountain Goats We Shall All Be Healed
singer-songwriter, folk

2004

With such an expansive body of output, it’s not surprising that The Mountain Goats are one of those groups (or people, more accurately) whose catalogue doesn’t feature a universally agreed upon peak. Some listeners love the bare-bones, confessional songwriting and polished arrangements of The Sunset Tree, while for every person who most enjoys the bleak humour and storytelling of Tallahassee there’s an old-school purist who digs the lo-fi days of Sweden and The Coroner’s Gambit. I find it pretty tough to pick a favourite, but while Talahassee and The Coroner’s Gambit are close contenders, I keep coming back to We Shall All Be Healed, an album I consider to be vastly underrated. The record is frequently overlooked, neighboured by the popular Tallahassee and the critically lauded The Sunset Tree, which I think is a tremendous shame, as it displays impressive development in Darnielle’s songwriting, a combination of ultra-sharp guitar-work and thoughtful lyricism, a “much more subtly conveyed than his The Mountain Goats - We Shall All Be Healedother releases” theme of the perils of drug addiction and what I consider to be his most consistently high-quality output on any release. Darnielle’s songs rarely sink to the level of filler, but his albums often come across a little cluttered, with obvious highpoints plainly standing out. We Shall All Be Healed is different, though, and when I go to pick a favourite track I have to weigh up fantastic cuts like “Slow West Vultures”, “Palmcorder Yajna”, “Letter From Belgium”, “The Young Thousands”, “Your Belgian Things”, “Home Again Garden Grove”, “Cotton” and “Quito”, all of which could stake a reasonable claim to “best on album” status. Tough decisions are rarely that enjoyable.

 

#33

October 21, 2010

Dinosaur Jr. Farm
alternative-rock, grunge
2009

Beyond was impressive enough. When Dinosaur Jr returned after a ten-year absence, with almost twenty years having passed since the original lineup was together, and dropped that excellent release on an unsuspecting listener-base of fresh-faced newbies and extremely cautious older fans, it was one of the biggest surprises of the decade. Comebacks like that one never seem to work, but the experienced trio defied expectations and created not only one of the best albums of their career, but also a record that sounded totally familiar and very much in continuity with their earlier work, making twenty years feel less like a vast chasm and more like a brief vacation. Farm, which was released two years later in 2009, upped the ante by not only surpassing Beyond, but taking a deserved place alongside early classics like You’re Living All Over Me and Bug as an album that simply has no weak-points. Mascis continues to excel as a sentimental vocalist, tugging at heartstrings with effortless ease, while the music sounds bright and sweet throughout, referencing the alternative-rock of the early-90s as much as the underground 80s movement of which they were such a central component. Dinosaur Jr. - FarmIn terms of highlights, I’m particularly fond of the album’s livelier cuts like “I Want You to Know” and the single “Over It”, which bounce along with infectious grunge-pop flair, plus “I Don’t Wanna Go There”, which crams an awful lot of great stuff into its massive nine minute runtime, including some killer solos. For many, those solos are the biggest drawcard of any Dinosaur Jr release, and Farm doesn’t disappoint in the slightest, as exceptional displays of guitar mastery stretch forever higher, seeming to suggest that J. Mascis simply knows no upper-limits.

 

#34

October 20, 2010

Lightning Bolt Wonderful Rainbow
noise-rock, experimental-rock
2003

It’s hard to believe that two people Lightning Bolt - Wonderful Rainbowcan possibly make this much noise. On their second (and most highly praised) album Brian Gibson and Brian Chippendale create such an unholy, caterwauling racket that they make one bass guitar and one drumkit sound more like a sea of basses and a dozen drumkits falling down a flight of stairs. Wonderful Rainbow is pure, manic energy, distilled to its simplest and most stripped-back musical form, as the duo latch onto your brain with infectious guitar lines, firestorm percussion and vocals so twisted and incomprehensible that they sound downright devilish, and then don’t let go until they decide you’ve had enough. The opening moments are just glorious, as “Hello Morning” provides a brief, comparatively low-key introduction of squally, distorted improvisation before the incredible “Assassins” leaps out of nowhere, pins you to the wall – and subsequently blasts you through it – with sheets of pure, unadulterated rawk. “Dracula Mountain” follows in kind, and is arguably the album’s finest track, with plenty of nimble guitar showmanship to keep things ultra-lively, and the remaining tracks cram in enough quality (“2 Towers”, “On Fire”, “Longstockings” and “30,000 Monkies” are all stellar cuts) to keep the album from ever sounding too front-loaded. Wonderful Rainbow is everything a noise-rock fan could possibly ask for – appealing melody, adrenaline-pumping percussion, boundless energy, a gleefully sinister outlook and a loose, rough playstyle, all delivered with the sheer force of a bulldozer.

 

#35

October 19, 2010

Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra Talkatif
afrobeat
2002

Liberation Afro Beat Vol. 1 was an incredible debut for Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, as the Brooklyn collective introduced themselves to the world with a firestorm of political indignation, hi-octane percussion, blaring horns and irresistible basslines. When their sophomore effort Talkatif rolled around in 2002, they managed to nudge every aspect to a higher level, a hugely impressive feat given that Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra - TalkatifLiberation Afro Beat not only came out less than one year earlier, but was also one of 2001’s very best albums. Antibalas seemed to bring renewed focus and professionalism to this release, and the result was an album significantly leaner, more easily digestible and certainly more addictive than its predecessor, with a marginally decreased vocal component (perhaps the only thing one could miss in the transition between albums, although they’re far from absent) and a heavy focus on urgent melodies and unshakeable long-form grooves. It’s definitely better suited to heavy-rotation listening than the debut, as everything feels that little bit tighter, more musically accomplished and more mature. The bustling “Gabe’s New Joint” and the righteous “Talkatif” open the album, and are in my opinion its two best tracks, but this is definitely one of those releases where weak points are simply nowhere to be found. Talkatif ramps up the funk and shakes you right down to your bones – keeping still while it’s playing, even for a few moments, is quite simply out of the question.

 

#36

October 16, 2010

Coachwhips Bangers vs. Fuckers
punk, noise-rock, garage-rock
2003

Meet the loudest band in existence. Before he fronted Thee Oh Sees and started trading in psychedelic rock, John Dwyer led three piece garage-punk outfit Coachwhips through three albums of blistering, noisy, tear-the-walls-down rock ‘n’ roll. Bangers vs Fuckers, Coachwhips - Bangers vs. Fuckerstheir final release, is so loud and rocks so impossibly hard that you actually need to exercise a little caution when putting it on – the album was mastered at such a ridiculously high volume, that if you play it through headphones on your “default” volume setting you run the risk of pulverising your skull. While Thee Oh Sees are a lot more floaty in their retro-recreation, Coachwhips immediately get to the point, and then proceed to jackhammer it directly into your pleasure centres with nasty glee. By all accounts, Dwyer seems like a bit of an a-hole on this album, slurring his way through his near-incomprehensible filtered vocals while virtually swallowing the microphone, and playing his guitar with the furious pace and sloppy distortion you’d expect from someone on the tail end of a 48-hour cocaine binge, but there’s a roguish charisma to his madness that easily stops you from ever really being bothered. “You Gonna Get It” and “I Knew Her, She Knew Me” rate as my personal favourites, but the album races by so quickly (the whole thing is over in just over twenty minutes!) that it honestly feels like a bit of a blur. The first time I listened to this, I penned a very brief review which simply read “Holy shit. I think my head just exploded.” That should tell you everything you need to know.

#37

October 15, 2010

Rokia Traoré Bowmboï
African folk music, singer-songwriter
2003

Malian Rokia Traoré’s self-produced third album, the lovely Bowmboï, is a collection of African folk songs delivered via classical acoustic guitar, traditional African instrumentation and Traoré’s remarkable voice. Singing in her native Bamana language, she delivers a ten track set that is calm, relaxing and beautiful in its simplicity. The Rokia Traoré - Bowmboïmusic is fleshed out through some earthy percussion and fine string augmentation (courtesy on two tracks of The Kronos Quartet) which gives the album a bustling, spritely sound, which feels quite active and vibrant, but never steps over the line into any degree of tense urgency. The percussion in particular is highly impressive – dynamic, multi-layered and very nimbly performed, it is nonetheless carefully tempered such that it never overshadows any other element of the music. Most importantly, it doesn’t overshadow Traoré’s incredibly beguiling vocal, one of the most gorgeous and transfixing I’ve heard all decade. There’s something undeniably transportative about the music, such that I find myself swept up and totally immersed in Traoré’s world every time I press play. As far as highlights go, the album is bookended remarkably well. The opening four tracks provide a feast of brilliant material, with “M’Bifo”, “Sara” and “Köte Don” making for a lively trio and the exquisite “Mariama” featuring a lovely guest vocal from Malian legend Ousmane Sacko as a counterpart to Traoré, while the title-track closes the album with exceptional grace.

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#38

October 15, 2010

Cannibal Ox The Cold Vein
hip-hop
2001

Cannibal Ox - The Cold VeinThe lyrical prowess displayed by Can Ox’s two emcees Vast Aire and Vordul Mega is outstanding, painting a dark picture of modern NYC life with imagery that’s highly creative and very confrontational. Their flow is equally incredible, a spoken-word style that plays out like a slow-down of Ghostface Killah’s confident vocal blasts, with Vast Aire’s deep, quiver ‘n’ lurch delivery in particular being uniquely compelling (the first time I heard it, his entry midway through “Iron Galaxy”, the album’s opening track, felt like a revelation). Whether it’s social commentary or battle-raps, Aire and Mega are never less than great, and hearing Vast spit creative and witty lines like “You got beef but there’s worms in your Wellington / I’ll put a hole in your skull and extract your gelatin” is something of which I just never tire. El-P’s production provides yet another reason to praise this release, with his slow, staggered beats and futuristic sampling surpassing all previous efforts for a career highpoint that very nearly steals the show. Mirroring the album’s subject matter, his contributions mostly have a dark and grimy mood to them, but there’s brilliant surprises at every turn, be it the blazing electric guitar overlay of “Ox Out the Cage”, the synth-orchestra-in-outer-space of “Real Earth” or the loungey, Amon Tobin-esque vibes of “Painkillers”. It’s a long, arduous listen, and undoubtably a slow grower, but The Cold Vein is remarkably rewarding listening – one of the decade’s finest, most lyrically dense releases.

 

#39

October 14, 2010

The Ex Turn
post-punk
2004

Turn was my second experience with long-running Dutch anarchopunk group The Ex, after hearing their awesome work with Gétatchèw Mèkurya on Moa Anbessa, and I was delighted to find that I liked it even more than that excellent record. I was initially a little worried about the longer track lengths (average track time is about six The Ex - Turnminutes, with nothing under four) and the fact that it’s a double album, as too often that sort of thing just leads to an overstuffed package of songs that repeatedly outstay their welcomes. In this case, however, it’s just a case of getting that much extra Ex goodness for your buck, as Turn is so pleasingly consistent that the listener need never labour through a relative lull. The band approach their distinctly global brand of punk music with a loose playstyle, all murky guitars and thumpy percussion, that enables the music to really tumble along with a great deal of scrappy energy, and it’s all very well complemented by lead singer G.W Sok’s aggressively sardonic, near-belligerent vocals (Mark E. Smith fans, take note). Big personal favourites include “Dog Tree”, “The Pie” and “Theme From Konono”, the latter of which perfectly captures the excitement of Konono No. 1 (whose Congotronics we’ve already seen on this list) in an entirely new way, borrowing that group’s most recognisable thumb piano melodies and then redirecting them through a furious, post-punk prism.

 

#40

October 14, 2010

Boards of Canada Geogaddi
IDM, electronic, downtempo, ambient
2002

Geogaddi remains the pinnacle of Boards of Canada’s work, taking the skittish beats and dreamy atmosphere of Music Has the Right to Children and fleshing it out to its most organic, seamless state. Paradoxically, the music here feels both timeless and anchored, in that it powerfully evokes thoughts that seem tied Boards of Canada - Geogaddito a certain place and time, such as childhood adventure and uncertainty (an evocation rendered even more prominent by the assorted samples of children’s speech and laughter scattered across many of the album’s tracks), but it never becomes distinct enough to determine just whose childhood we’re revisiting, leading to a sense of constant displacement that’s central to the album’s impact. The mixture of short and long tracks draws an interesting line between “songs” and “snippets”, infusing Geogaddi with an almost chaptered feel, with the snippets acting as palate cleansers and enabling each of the “proper” songs to have an even greater individual impact on the listener. Each of my personal favourite tracks – “Music is Math”, “Julie and Candy”, “1969”, “Sunshine Recorder”, “The Beach at Redpoint”, “Dawn Chorus” and “You Could Feel the Sky” – are made so much more powerful by the way that they arise seemingly out of nowhere, rather than trailing immediately after other full-length tracks. Music Has the Right to Children positioned Boards of Canada as one of the late-90s most exciting electronic acts. Geogaddi not only surpasses it, but also holds a place as one of the very best electronic albums of the 2000s.