#41

October 13, 2010

Greg Ashley Medicine Fuck Dream
folk, singer-songwriter, psychedelic-rock
2003

Greg Ashley, the talented young Oakland-based singer/songwriter and leader of critically acclaimed side project The Gris Gris, was just twenty-one years old when Medicine Fuck Dream, his debut album of sleepy psychedelic folk, was first released. I usually try to exercise a bit of caution when it comes to praising debuts by young artists, as there’s a culture of “next big thingism” in online music criticism that, as far as I’m concerned, tends to do more harm than good, burning out promising groups with unneccessary hyperbole and unreasonable expectations for followups that’ll never measure up. Having given Medicine Fuck Dream plenty of time and attention, however, I can honestly say this is one of the best debuts of the decade, and Ashley really deserves to be getting a lot more attention than he currently receives. Combining stripped-back, acoustic instrumentation with authentic vintage recording equipment, Ashley has achieved a very well-realised tone on this album, creating a warm, gauzy sound that’s immediately reminiscent of first-wave psychedelic acts of the mid-1960s, such as Skip Spence and The Thirteenth Floor Elevators. What’s important to note, though, is that this approach doesn’t completely tie the record down to a particular time-period. There’s a lot of personality and creativity in this music, and the result is an album that actually sounds quite displaced and timeless. Medicine Fuck Dream commences with the quartet of “Karen Loves Candy”, “Medicine Fuck Dream”, “Mona Rider” Greg Ashley - Medicine Fuck Dreamand “Deep Deep Down”, all drowsy numbers that sound very contemplative in their lysergic slumber and combine beautifully to establish a desolate, late-night atmosphere. The remainder is divided between comfortable psych-folk cuts (the breezy “She” and “Legs Coca Cola” both sound like long-lost classics), a detour into dusty country balladeering with a lovely cover of Hank Williams’ “Lost Highway” and the contrasting levity of “I Said, ‘These Are Lonely Days'” and “Apple Pie and Genocide”. Worthy of special mention is the title-track, which includes a memorable arpeggiated guitar riff and some nice ghostly harmonica touches floating in the background. It’s definitely my favourite track on the album and one of the decade’s finest psych-folk songs.

 

#42

October 12, 2010

Konono N°1 Congotronics
African music, electronic
2005

Konono N°1 are a Congolese percussion group, active since sometime during the 1970s, who until quite recently were totally unknown outside of their home country. After decades of obscurity, the group were catapulted to international success following the release of their second internationally distributed album Congotronics. They are noteworthy for a number of reasons outside of their impressive career lifespan – to bring their music to life, they create their own instruments and amplification gear Konono N°1 - Congotronicsentirely from trash and old automobile parts, including homemade thumb-pianos, a scrap-metal amplifier shaped like a giant horn and microphones made from blocks of wood and car batteries. The result is a rough-yet-bubbly explosion of lively thumb-piano, trashcan percussion – most noticeably a dense layer of very reedy sounding snares – and exciting call-and-response vocals, formed around looping melodies and longform compositions that make the album seem a lot like one enormous song. Despite initially sounding a bit thin (due mostly to the stripped back nature of the instrumentation and the lack of fully fleshed-out production), it quickly becomes apparent that this music is played surprisingly hard and heavy, making for some of the most unrelentingly energetic music I’ve ever heard. The album might take some getting used to for unaccustomed listeners – they may find it to be unfamiliar and scattershot, not to mention repetitive – but after a handful of listens don’t be surprised to find yourself really warming up to it. Those repeating themes aid familiarity to keep you afloat, while it’s all underpinned by a very rigid backbone of unwavering percussion. Once it gets under your skin – and assuming you have a pulse, it will – the addictive rhythms and communal vibes are going to compel you to move. Don’t put it on if you’re about to perform brain surgery because, honestly, it’s too damn hard trying to keep still while Congotronics is playing.

#43

October 11, 2010

Madvillain Madvillainy
hip-hop
2004

The timing was simply perfect – it was early 2004 and both M.F. Doom and Madlib were in the midst of their musical prime. Less than a year earlier, both artists had put out exceptional projects, Madlib’s Shades of Blue, a retooling of the Blue Note catalogue, and Doom’s brilliant Vaudeville Villain, a blazing hip-hop spectacle released under his Victor Vaughan alias. The result of their collaboration was Madvillainy, an album already widely canonised as one of, if not the greatest hip-hop album of the noughties. The duo simultaneously counter the hip-hop pitfall of excess while falling straight into it, delivering a convoluted mess of 22 micro-songs that clock in at a mere 45 minutes, an album where songs stand in for skits and skits themselves are (thankfully) absent. Madlib’s sampling and production is some of the most inspired of the decade, pulling bits and pieces liberally from jazz, Saturday morning cartoons, informational film footage, classic movie scores and spliced up dialogue and mushing them together to create a noirish, comic book atmosphere that’s totally absurd and wildly entertaining, and goes the extra step of maintaining it seamlessly throughout the album’s duration. This makes Madvillainy one of the most thematically consistent hip-hop albums I’ve ever heard, and when you combine this backdrop with the villainous personas adopted (and Madvillain - Madvillainyregularly referenced) by Madlib and Doom, it means that the album feels like it has an ongoing narrative, even though that’s honestly never really the case. I love the fact that my personal highlights are scattered across the album very evenly, plus the songs are over so quickly that the so-called “second tier” tracks never really have enough time to cause anything close to a lull, thus making this a really great “single sitting” listening experience. “Accordion” is an impressive lyrical showcase atop a killer sample of the titular instrument, and features one of my favourite hip-hop similes in “slip like freudian”. the ode-to-weed “America’s Most Blunted” and the brain-melting “Shadows of Tomorrow” allow Madlib to unleash his Lord Quasimoto persona for some surreal, stoned-out fun. Meanwhile, “Figaro”, “Strange Ways” and “All Caps” are punchy, direct numbers that trim away any excess fat to showcase the strengths of both emcee and producer with no extraneous distractions whatsoever. It might not quite be my number one hip-hop album of the decade, but I can certainly see why it is for so many others.

 

#44

October 10, 2010

Beck Modern Guilt
psychedelic-pop, alternative-rock
2008

Upon its release in 2008, it was so nice to have another album by my favourite artist that I could unreservedly say was just all-around great. I definitely enjoyed Sea Change, Guero Beck - Modern Guiltand The Information, but there were always little nitpicky things I wanted to change about them – overlong runtimes, occasional filler tracks, poor sequencing and the like. Not so on Modern Guilt. This is Beck’s most consistent, well-structured, infectious and replayable album since his 1990s prime, and boy have I gotten a lot of mileage out of it. “Replayable” is the keyword, there – Beck, along with producer Danger Mouse, whose contributions are invaluable, is so to-the-point and economical in the way he delivers Modern Guilt’s gauzy retro-pop that it’s often hard to resist restarting it right after it concludes. Through sticking to conventional song structures, focusing on melody and concise lyricism and keeping his artistic indulgences firmly in check, he manages to completely avoid any misguided errors of excess for the duration of the album. The songs rate amongst his career’s best, too – whether it’s the blissful psychedelia of “Orphans” and “Chemtrails”, the chugging guitar lines of “Gamma Ray”, the blasting energy of “Profanity Prayers”, the jaunty strut of “Modern Guilt” or the mellow, contemplative drift of “Volcano”, Modern Guilt delivers again and again. After a few minor stumbles (but, I must say, no falls), it was the shot in the arm Beck’s career had been waiting for.

 

#45

October 8, 2010

Ned Collette Future Suture
folk, singer-songwriter
2007

Ned Collette - Future SutureFuture Suture feels like a logical progression from Collette’s debut, Jokes and Trials. Retaining that first album’s sense of intimacy and warmth, Collette expands his sonic palate, fleshing out his guitar-based sound with extra instrumentation – not merely touches of strings, woodwind, brass, etc, though these are present, but also with full-band arrangements that give these songs a really broad, vivid sound, pushing the album in a more outward-reaching direction that makes for an interesting variation from the more insular approach of his debut. The recording is also significantly more crisp and professional, and this complements the fuller sound well. As with Jokes and Trials, Collette’s Cohenesque lyricism is a major selling point, and lines like the slightly sinister “Until you show your cards we’ll sing your praises” (“Show Your Hand”) and the weary resignation in “I’ll swap with you right now a good plan for a fling” (“Sell Your Life”, also my favourite track) are really sharply affecting. With just nine tracks – perfectly sequenced and without the slightest dip in quality – Future Suture is very pleasingly economical, and with its poetic lyrics and the fine musical details littered generously throughout, it’s one of the most highly replayable albums of the decade. I’ve had a lot of time for Collette’s work over the last five years, and Future Suture is further evidence that he stands out as one of Australia’s finest musicians, and a leading light in the singer-songwriter genre.

 

#46

October 8, 2010

Róisín Murphy Ruby Blue
electropop
2005

Ruby Blue is the solo-debut of Irish singer Róisín Murphy, best-known to many listeners as the former vocalist of popular 90s electronic-pop group Moloko. On this album, she delivers a terrific set of highly addictive tunes, combining her accessible, mainstream appeal with a flair for unpredictable twists and turns and experimental flourishes which set the Róisín Murphy - Ruby Bluealbum apart from those made by her electro-pop peers. Producer Matthew Herbert wraps Murphy’s sublime vocals in a blanket of sensual, retro-futuristic production, full of glitchy effects and curious voice manipulation, augmenting the songs’ subtle-yet-infectious melodies in some very pleasing ways. Electro-pop became a pretty huge deal throughout the last decade, through groups like Hot Chip and LCD Soundsystem, but I find that many of the albums by these sorts of artists were lacking in consistency and suffered from poor track sequencing. Ruby Blue is a perfect example of how to get these things right, and the sequencing in particular is very well handled, spacing out the assorted levels of tempo and intensity in a way that gives the album a very smooth and natural progression. The sultry “Leaving the City” opens the album in a tentative, patient fashion, and is followed in suit by a small handful of quiet, mid-tempo numbers. The album then crosses to the more lively single “Sow Into You”, which kicks things up a notch along with the radio-friendly cuts “Dear Diary” and “If We’re in Love”, before peaking spectacularly with the thumpy and eccentric “Ramalama” and the slick and sassy “Ruby Blue” – the latter of which is one of my favourite pop songs of the decade. “Off on It” provides a timely detour into the more overtly bizarre, with its breathy vocals, gurgling electronics and robotic effects creating an atmosphere that’s very sexy yet also oddly disconcerting, perhaps best summed up by the lyric “You know how one thing tends to lead to another, and before you know it, you’re there: tied to the chair”. The whole thing finally builds into Murphy’s mantra-like chant of “Don’t you get off on it? / off on it? / off on it?”, which would sound incredibly seductive if it wasn’t so unsettling. Ruby Blue is basically a modern pop album that does everything right, anchoring its memorable and catchy melodies around Murphy’s alluring, magnetic personality. If only everything on the radio sounded like this.

 

#47

October 7, 2010

David Thomas Broughton The Complete Guide to Insufficiency
singer-songwriter, folk
2005

There aren’t many albums which sound like The Complete Guide to Insufficiency, for a few reasons. To start with, the entire forty minute set – consisting of 5 lengthy tracks – was recorded in a continuous single take, which allows for a very smooth and consistent flow that makes single-sitting listenings very rewarding. Secondly, the recording was done inside an empty church, meaning that there’s a very spacious quality about the sound, allowing Broughton’s vocal to really echo through the recording space in a way that’s quite haunting, David Thomas Broughton - The Complete Guide to Insufficiencylending the album something of a gothic, chamber-folk angle. It beautifully augments his soft, acoustic guitar playing, the vast expansiveness perfectly enveloping the very sparse play-style, spotlighting Broughton’s aptitude for crafting highly delicate, memorable guitar lines – structured around the use of loops and slight variations on repeating themes – that really manipulate the listener into a particular emotional state. Really, though, the main reason that there aren’t many album’s like David Thomas Broughton’s debut, is because absolutely nobody sounds like David Thomas Broughton. The man’s singing is simply a marvel to behold – soulful and deep, yet blessed with impressive range, he delivers his songs in a near-operatic style which is melancholy and beautiful and utterly absorbing, making use of cryptic, repeated phrasings that fascinate you and get stuck in your head, tempting you to dissect and interpret them at every turn. From the first moments of “Ambiguity” – which opens the album and stands as its finest track and one of the best songs of the decade – I find myself absolutely hypnotised by this wonderful, idiosyncratic artist.

 

#48

October 5, 2010

Charming Hostess Sarajevo Blues
avant-folk, experimental-rock, Jewish music, a cappella, beatboxing
2004

Charming Hostess are a Californian group, consisting of Jewlia Eisenberg, Marika Hughes and Cynthia Taylor, who describe themselves as “nerdy hippy commie folk.” Active since the mid-90s, they used to be part of a strong avant-folk, genderfuck, performing arts movement located out of Oakland. 2004’s Sarajevo Blues is their second studio album, and is an adaptation of a book of poetry (of the same name) by Semezdin Mehmedinović, which was first released in 1992 and detailed Mehmedinović’s day-to-day life, hardships and extraordinary experiences during the Bosnian siege. The music here is a fascinating, idiosyncratic brew of traditional Jewish songcraft, contemporary rock music, a cappella and eastern-European folk, and draws strong influences from Balkan, African and Sufi musical styles. Comparison points are really hard to come by, although the group cite Meredith Monk as an influence, which is evident from the experimental, diverse and extremely dynamic vocals employed by the trio, all three of whom sing. Throughout Sarajevo Blues, they touch on classical, syncopated funk, frantic breath-heavy delivery and even attention-grabbing beatboxing, something that initially seems sharply out of place, but starts to really enhance the album the more you hear it. The vocals are gorgeously executed throughout, and I especially love the moments in songs like “Viva Orduenya”, “War” and “Death is a Job” where they adjust key to take a more bluesy turn. The nature of the album gives way to some very candid and forthright lyrics, with powerful verses on everything from the nightmare Charming Hostess - Sarajevo Bluesof entering Sarajevo by an underground tunnel (“There’s not enough air. I lay in a wide spot made to put aside dead, so the live can pass through”) to a striking commentary on wartime photographers (“If a bullet hit me they’d get a shot worth so much more than my life that I’m not even sure who to hate: the sniper or the monkey with a Nikon”). It’s a constantly fascinating album – and a surprisingly catchy one – that sounds quite unlike anything else I’ve heard before.

#49

October 4, 2010

Venetian Snares Rossz csillag alatt született
electronic, IDM, drill & bass, breakcore
2005

Canadian electro-wiz Aaron Funk delivers breakneck speed drum & bass with silky, melancholy orchestral arrangements layered over the top. There’s such a tense, sinister vibe about this album that’s quite gripping, as though Funk knows precisely how to power his compositions by feeding off the listener’s growing sense of unease, and then delivers it back to them Venetian Snares - Rossz csillag alatt születettten-fold. He’s displays a fine grasp on how to utilise the emptiness between sounds, allowing the recordings to breathe and spaciously expand to cavernous extents. Funk pulls his influences from a range of times and places, with the classical influences covering a wide range of composers (an area which isn’t my strong point, so apologies for leaving it as vague as that) and the beats recalling mid-to-late nineties Warp artists like µ-Ziq, Squarepusher and Aphex Twin (in particular, this album feels like the natural extension of the classical-meets-jungle promise shown with “Girl/Boy Song”). “Szerencsétlen” opens the album (after a brief introductory track) and feels like its most instantly accessible piece (and is therefore a good one to sample if you want a taste), but I really love “Második galamb” for the creepy spoken-word intro and absolutely bugf*ck-insane second-half.

#50

October 4, 2010

Oneida Each One Teach One
noise-rock, experimental-rock, psych-rock
2002

“You’ve got to look into the light light light light light light light light light light light LIGHT LIGHT LIGHT…” With those words begins (and continues, and continues some more) “Sheets of Easter”, the noise-rock behemoth that opens disc one of Oneida’s mind-bending double album Each One Teach One. Oneida - Each One Teach OneThroughout the first disc, Oneida simply pummel you into submission, gleefully destroying your reality and replacing it with a wallpaper of looping soundbites that eventually becomes all you know. After prolonged exposure to “Sheets of Easter” and the equally devastating “Antibiotics” – which between them comprise the entirety of the first disc – your brain is melted down and rebuilt in preparation for the onslaught of disc two, synapses prepped to fire when and how Oneida want them to, limbs reprogrammed to flail on cue. When you’re finally reduced to a drooling vegetable, you shamble your way to the stereo and throw in disc two, and along comes “Each One Teach One”, countering the extended cerebral-assault of the first disc with a short and sharp sonic barrage that tosses you about like a freaking rag doll. And so it goes, until half an hour later “No Label” brings the whole thing to a close and your body is finally released from Oneida’s vice-like grip, assuming it hasn’t turned to dust in the interim.

#51

October 1, 2010

The Fiery FurnacesWidow City
experimental-rock, indie-pop
2007

The Fiery Furnaces - Widow CityCall it Blueberry Boat’s slightly less accomplished little sibling, if you want. While the classic-rock influences and somewhat retro-focused approach certainly infuse Widow City with an identity all of its own amongst the Fiery’s body of work, it definitely stands as the release most similar in style to the duo’s breakout second album. The sprawling, genre-hopping, relentless creativity of Blueberry Boat is in full-force here, meaning that the album covers an awful lot of ground during its lengthy runtime – Eleanor makes her first attempt at old-school hip-hop, juxtaposed against blazing noise-rock and flourishes of harp, on “Automatic Husband”; the group’s trademark narrative-based story-songs are delivered on “The Philadelphia Grand Jury”, “My Egyptian Grammar”, “Cabaret of the Seven Devils” and a few more tracks besides, and they’re just as engrossing, unique and highly unusual as ever before; “Clear Signal From Cairo” is a hard-rock track that’s heavier than anything the Friedberger’s have created before or since; “Wicker Whatnots” features some subterranean basslines and drums so skittish they border on Squarepusher; and the title-track is perhaps the strangest of all, being made up of fractured bursts of upright piano and fluttering effects-filtered percussion. Importantly, there are a number of more accessible, relatively straightforward cuts to offset all this mayhem, with tunes like “Duplexes of the Dead” (which features some great wah-wah), “Ex-Guru”, “Right By Conquest” and “Pricked in the Heart” keeping proceedings from getting too out of hand. All this makes Widow City an incredibly charming effort, with enough great songs and clever ideas packed into its sixteen tracks to thoroughly satisfy any fan of exciting, forward-thinking rock music.

#52

September 30, 2010

FugaziThe Argument
post-hardcore, indie-rock
2001

You’d be hard pressed to think of many instances where a long-running group’s last album was regarded by many as their best, but that’s the case with The Argument, the seventh and final post-hardcore statement in an eleven year career for Ian MacKaye and Co before their indefinite hiatus. While I’ve never been much of a post-hardcore guru, I can’t imagine the genre getting much more polished, nuanced and sophisticated than this, to the point that, in this case, the label may be on the verge of being a misnomer. The album’s more “rough-and-ready” tracks like “Cashout”, “Full Disclosure” and “Ex-Spectator” serve their purposes as throwbacks to the genre’s blueprint, but if anything sound more like new-millennium updates, while the more experimental works like “The Kill”, “Strangelight”, “Nightshop” and “Oh” (my personal favourite) defy easy categorisation. There are string sections on many of Fugazi - The Argumentthe tracks, a range of multi-part song-structures and even regular appearances by a second drummer, all of which, when combined with the powerful vocals, adrenaline-pumping play style and ever-sharp songwriting and lyricism, make for a truly thrilling album that’s also rich with fine detail. The other thing about The Argument is its subtlety – it’s a slow grower that reveals new gems with every listen.

#53

September 24, 2010

Thee Oh SeesThe Master’s Bedroom is Worth Spending a Night In
psych-rock, garage-rock, noise-rock
2008

The Oh Sees deliver fifteen slices of fuzzed-out, druggy garage-rock on The Master’s Bedroom is Worth Spending a Night In, without a piece of filler in sight. Choruses of ghostly vocals Thee Oh Sees - The Master's Bedroom Is Worth Spending a Night Inecho their way around the snappy percussion, sharp basslines and dense layers of dirty, jagged guitar riffs which slice through sheets of distortion like razors, while the heavily filtered vocals and gauzy production lend the album a nostalgic, retro vibe that’s authentic and awfully appealing. The songs here are about 3/4 riotous rockers and 1/4 hazy, trippy detours, and the album is sequenced quite perfectly to space the latter out amongst the former in a very pleasing manner. It’s also the sort of album so consistently great that picking highlights can be very tricky indeed, although personally I think the blistering opener “Block of Ice”, the super-surreal and very appropriately named “Graveyard Drug Party” (which features some great echoes of muffled, choppy guitar), the slightly poppy title-track and, in particular, the acid-soaked stomper “Visit Colonel” stand out from the pack. The Master’s Bedroom is Worth Spending a Night In is a shining example of top-shelf garage-rock, and it’s got one hell of a funny title to boot. You could certainly do a lot worse than spending a night in its company.

#54

September 23, 2010

MuAfro Finger and Gel
house, electronic
2003

I’m reasonably certain that Mutsumi Kanamori eats babies and can kill you with her brain. The lead singer for punk-house freakshow Mu delivers her punchy, broken-English caterwauling with such fearlessness and defiant attitude, that when she belts out lines like “Show me what you want mutherfucker! Who do you think you are? You don’t know how strong I am!”, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched that she might physically burst forth from your speakers, primed to kick your ass halfway into next week. If it sounds like Afro Finger and Gel is a touch on the difficult side of the listening spectrum, that’s because it well and truly is. Kanamori’s vocals are completely awesome – although that only really becomes Mu - Afro Finger and Gelapparent after a few listens; to start with she’s just really scary – and Maurice Fulton wraps her up in a prickly DJ set of abrasive, thumpy and distinctively retro-flavoured house music. This album really won me over for a handful of primary reasons. First of all, nothing I’ve ever heard sounds even remotely like Afro Finger and Gel, so it certainly scores big points for originality. Secondly, all the scary unfamiliarity of the album gives way to some really addictive grooves and surprisingly enticing singalong vocals, so it demands repeat listens based on far more than novelty alone. Finally, the album is hilarious. Whether it’s the ridiculous talk show parody of “My Name is Tommi” (best track, fyi), the “where the hell did that come from?” R&B breakdown partway into “Let’s Get Sick” or the mind-bending juxtaposition of Kanamori’s indignant vocals against the jaunty piano backing on “Hello Bored Biz Man”, the album delivers plenty of smile-worthy moments and even a few laugh-out-loud ones. But mostly, it’s all about Kanamori being awesome – did I mention she kicks ass, eats babies and can kill you with her brain?

#55

September 23, 2010

Akóya Afrobeat EnsemblePresident Dey Pass
afrobeat
2008

When people think about afro-beat a handful of things spring to mind – speedy percussion, horns, “tribal” motifs, bursts of energy, political indignation, spoken word sections stretched over longform grooves, race relations, Fela and so on. There’s one keyword that I think is the most important of all – excitement. In amongst all of the topical aspects and funky Akóya Afrobeat Ensemble - President Dey Passmusicianship of afro-beat, the one most crucial thing it needs to do above all else is get you excited. It needs to motivate you to care, to dance, to really feel it, because when you’re sporting 13 minute tracks, having your listeners feel it is absolutely essential. Featuring musicians from countries all around the world, and centred around experienced band-leader Kaleta, Akoya Afrobeat Ensemble are relatively new to the modern afro-beat scene, but their second album, 2008’s President Dey Pass, has already left an immense impact on me. All those elements I mentioned are here in abundance, and the excitement level? Hell, these guys are absolutely riveting. With those long track-runtimes regularly stretching past the ten-minute mark, this is music that you can get lost in, forcing you to forget where you are and what you’re doing as those irrepressible grooves and passionate, killer vocals grab hold of your focus (and your feet) and simply refuse to let go. “Wahala” makes for an awesome closer, while the forty minute run consisting of “Fela Dey”, “Je Je L’Aiye” and “B.F.B.F. Panama” is so good that it rivals the best work of Antibalas.

(not from this album)

#56

September 22, 2010

The Hold SteadyBoys and Girls in America
indie-rock, pub-rock
2006

Their inescapable hooks, bar-band swagger and E-Street Band piano fireworks might initially hook you in, but it’s Craig Finn’s literary-minded storytelling that’ll keep you coming back for more. Boys and Girls in America sounds deceptively shallow when you first spin through it, with its big, dumb pub-rock sound being extremely satisfying but never overly challenging. It’s only once you start to really tap into Finn’s lyrics that the conceptual, dense, multi-layered nature of the album becomes apparent, with its small cast of detailed characters who spend their nights drifting between house parties, cars, concerts, makeout sessions, alleyways, drinking binges, drug experimentation and seriously flawed The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in Americarelationships. These stories are portrayed in a manner and tone that sways between contemplation (often regret) and celebration, and it always rings with truth and poignancy. The album opens with a Kerouac-referencing ode to poet John Berryman, entitled “Stuck Between Stations”, which is arguably the album’s highlight, outdoing anything on the band’s two prior records and thus setting the bar extremely high for the remainder of Boys and Girls in America. Thankfully they continue to deliver, and this is definitely one of those well-sequenced albums which boast a very even level of quality and consistency across their runtime – all of my personal favourite tracks (“Stuck Between Stations”, “Hot Soft Light”, “Same Kooks”, “First Night”, “Massive Nights” and “Chillout Tent”) are very evenly spaced, keeping my excitement and enjoyment peaked throughout. For anyone who spent a decent portion of their late teens and early twenties lost, confused and partying (or anyone who finds character studies of these people fascinating), you’ll definitely find plenty here that not only makes you shake it, but also keeps you thoroughly engrossed.

#57

September 21, 2010

Electric WizardDopethrone
stoner metal
2000

An exceptionally cool album of hard Electric Wizard - Dopethronerocking, Sabbath-worshipping doom metal that’s so stoned out the band members could probably hardly stand up while they were recording it. If you find something appealing in the idea of music where the guitars are so ridiculously downtuned that they’ll drill you into the ground through the power of bass alone, then Dopethrone is the album for you. It’s just deliciously evil music – like wading through a vast expanse of muck, only to be bludgeoned to death with a gigantic guitar (only, you know, in a good way). There’s plenty of great individual tracks here, and I’m particularly fond of the opening duo “Vinum Sabbathi” and “Funeralopolis”, but there’s no doubting that the title-track is the album’s speaker-trembling highpoint – opening with a sinister laugh and one of those slow, rumbling, guitar lines, “Dopethrone” immediately establishes itself as a menacing delight. As the thunderous percussion emerges, it grows further into a lumbering juggernaut of riff-tastic power, concluding the album with an immense stretch of hazy, unrelenting intensity.

#58

September 18, 2010

Various Artists塊フォルテッシモ魂 [Katamari Fortissimo Damacy]
video game soundtrack, jazz, j-pop, lounge, electronic
2004

Various Artists - 塊フォルテッシモ魂Vocoders, electronic, samba, jazz, goofy hip-hop, Latin dance passages, titanic horn sections, j-pop, a capella, piano overtures, carnival sounds, mambo, lounge music and a whole bunch more, all wrapped up in infinite feel-good vibes and a sense of sheer unrelenting mayhem. The soundtrack to Katamari Fortissimo Damacy is a hyperactive delight, fearlessly sampling genres with total abandon throughout its generous 21 track runtime. If you ever wanted to know what it feels like to exist inside a video game, then this is about the closest you’ll ever come to finding out. Even if you’ve never played a Katamari game (tip: you should), the music still carries a giddy, animated vibrancy all on its own, one which delights without the merest hint of context. There’s also some highly irreverent humour to enjoy throughout the album, from the ultra-sincere piano version of the game’s cheesy theme tune (“Overture”) to the robotically monotone, looping singalong of “You Are Smart”, which functions as a wonderfully patronising reward for performing well during the game itself. The bottom line is this – this album is just so lovable, in all of its glitchy, can’t-sit-still glory, that I can’t imagine any lover of good pop music not getting down to it. By the time the ridiculous sweeping horn section of “Katamari on the Rocks” hits, anyone who isn’t pogoing around their loungeroom has to admit that they’re secretly an android.

#59

September 17, 2010

Sir Richard BishopWhile My Guitar Violently Bleeds
American primitivism, instrumental, solo guitar, drone
2007

While My Guitar Violently Bleeds, by prolific ex-Sun City Girls guitarist Sir Richard Bishop, is a curiously disjointed album. It showcases two pieces of highly accomplished American Primitivism – one lengthy (“Zurvan”) and one extremely lengthy (“Mahavidya”) – separated by a ten minute palate-cleanser of dense electric guitar noise (“Smashana”). Bishop proves himself to be a learned and versatile student of the six-string, as he incorporates a large variety of different styles of folk music, drawn from all over the world, into his guitar playing. “Zurvan”, which clocks in at just shy of seven minutes, is a quick-paced piece, functioning primarily within a neo-flamenco style, and it showcases some really great rapid fire passages that integrate very loose strumming with rising and falling arpeggios and exciting fingerwork. “Mahavidya”, on the other hand, is a gradual, contemplative, twenty-fire minute long slow-boiler, shifting through sparse, repeating guitar lines before finally reaching its exciting and dynamic finale. It fills its massive runtime surprisingly effortlessly, definitely feeling like a much shorter track than it actually is, plus it stands as one of the most distinctly emotive instrumental tracks I’ve ever heard. American Primitivism is a genre renowned for its Sir Richard Bishop - While My Guitar Violently Bleedsexpert fingerwork, and this album is definitely no exception – Bishop is stunningly nimble in his guitarwork, displaying a level of dexterity so proficient that it strains one’s belief. This plays beautifully off the album’s “up close” style of recording, which not only creates an intimate atmosphere but also allows the listener to better appreciate the complex movements involved as every strum, slip, slide, drop and hammer is captured in crisp detail.

(not from this album)

#60

September 16, 2010

Sunburned Hand of the ManJaybird
psychedelic-rock, free-folk, jam band
2001

Jaybird, the debut by prolific free-folk collective Sunburned Hand of the Man, is an exceptional work. The group have found some very rich middle-ground between psychedelic-rock, folk, improv, drone and funk, which sees them float their way through half a dozen lengthy tracks of drowsy astro-folk. Each of the album’s pieces sounds fundamentally similar, yet Sunburned Hand of the Man - Jaybirdthey all establish their own distinct balance between the building blocks of ethereal vocal hollers, jangling tambourines, multi-layered guitar (acoustic and electric, including some lovely touches of slide), flanged sound effects, whistling pipes, “faux-loose” percussion and solid basslines, with tiny, subtle differences from track to track (or sometimes within sections of a single track). While the druggy opener “Featherweight” is one of the album’s slower, sleepier affairs, followup “The Jaybird” tightens the basslines way up and adds a very slight funky edge to push the song into groovier territory, and so it continues throughout the album, alternating between consistently shallow peaks and troughs. I’d rate this one very highly within the psych/free-folk canon.