#2

November 26, 2010

Sleater-Kinney – The Woods
hard-rock, noise-rock, riot grrl
2005

At one point during “Let’s Call it Love,” The Woods’ 11 minute psych-rock behemoth and one of the most imposing odes to sex I’ve ever encountered, Corin Tucker’s wailing vocals spiral out of control, and the guitar starts to bend and contort into some sort of agonising guitar-Sleater-Kinney - The Woodsslow-death, and it just sounds awesome. Awesomeness has always come naturally to Sleater-Kinney, and they’ve been shredding speakers with their brand of visceral, urgent rock music since the mid-90s, but none of that could ever prepare me for their final release. The Woods sees them pulling out every last stop and upping the swagger factor to create the most colossal, thunderous, everything-turned-up-to-eleven sounding guitar-rock album to emerge in years. It’s laden with massive hooks, self-indulgent guitar solos, Janet Weiss’ percussive thunderstorm and a killer vocal combination that alternates between Carrie Brownstein’s punchy, confrontational delivery and Corin Tucker’s joyously noisy, trademark holler (or as the band like to refer to it, the “secret weapon”). At times it feels a lot like a combination of 70s arena-rock and early 90s noise-rock, paying equal homage to Jimi Hendrix and Sonic Youth, while coming dangerously close to – and I’m tempted to say succeeding in – surpassing both with self-assured ease. “Let’s Call it Love” is the obvious highpoint, but it certainly gets plenty of support: “Entertain” and “Rollercoaster” are both huge, punked up arena-rockers; “What’s Mine is Yours” features a cool, jagged-edged, dual riff and amazing mid-song guitar freakout, which branches back into the following verse via one of the heaviest basslines I’ve ever heard; “Jumpers” has one of the album’s most exciting choruses, with a guitar riff that’s simply explosive; “Wilderness” packs that same furious grunt while blending in some fantastic psychedelic touches; while opening track and total distortion-fest “The Fox” bursts out of nowhere with such massive firepower that it’ll singe your eyebrows. Heck, even the album’s less immediately obvious picks like the bluesy “Steep Air” and streamlined album-closer “Night Light” would probably be the coolest and most rocking thing on any other album. Despite the beefing up of their sound, the album still comes across like vintage Sleater-Kinney, just perhaps a 50 ft tall, building stomping, take-absolutely-no-prisoners version thereof, and the way they lay waste to everything around them before switching out the lights makes for one of the greatest career-finales any band has ever delivered. I’m running out of ways to describe just how much this album will kick your ass, and just how much you’ll treasure the experience – to put it simply, after listening to The Woods, everything else sounds tiny by comparison.

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#4

November 24, 2010

The Microphones – It Was Hot We Stayed in the Water
lo-fi, folk, psychedelic-pop, singer/songwriter, noise-rock, experimental-rock
2000

The Microphones - It Was Hot We Stayed in the WaterWarm, lo-fi instrumentation, intimate vocals, creative songwriting, some delightful guest-appearances by Mirah and exceptional analogue production wizardry by head-Microphone Phil Elverum all come together flawlessly to make this aquatic-themed effort the best Microphones/Mt Eerie album (yes, better than The Glow, Pt 2), and one of the finest albums of the decade. It stands as an eclectic tapestry of sonic concepts that constantly evades easy categorisation no matter how much you try to pigeonhole it, and is emotionally gripping to boot. Elverum is one of modern music’s true visionaries, and this album is littered with such a degree of fine detail and enigmatic character that you can spend weeks in its company and still feel like you’re only scratching the surface. Meanwhile, when it comes to the album’s production, his bag of tricks is quite awe-inspiring, my favourite example being a point at which he utilises microphone-smothering techniques to make it sound convincingly like his band is gradually sinking underwater while playing. The album has a conceptual sweep that makes it best listened to as a whole, but there’s some amazing individual highlights as well – the strummy, acoustic opening to “The Pull” makes great use of panning to create a lulled atmosphere before unexpectedly launching into a distorted guitar and drums finale, with the two halves of the song being a better fit for one another than you’d expect; the easily overlooked “Ice” is a great little noise-rocker that gives way to an unexpected ambient coda; the reimagining of Eric’s Trip’s “Sand” is a display of gorgeous minimalism; “Karl Blau” is a nod to the titular musician, a label-mate on K-Records, set to the melody of a slow-dancing serenade, which sounds simply beautiful; and “Between Your Ear and the Other Ear” is a cheerfully charming singalong I’d be happy to have circling around my campfire anytime. Then, of course, there’s “The Glow”, the album’s gloriously moving and relentlessly experimental ten-minute centrepiece. Covering an assortment of terrain including singer/songwriter, 60s vocal-pop, lo-fi, post-rock, field-recordings, 90s indie-rock and psychedelia, I’ve simply never heard another song even remotely like it, by The Microphones or anyone else, and it holds a special place amongst my most highly treasured music. It Was Hot We Stayed in the Water is a marvel, an album that appeals not only as an inviting work of deeply human art, but also an awe-inspiring network of musical ideas. On either of those levels, very few albums can match it.

 

#15

November 10, 2010

Comets on Fire – Comets on Fire
psychedelic-rock, noise-rock, hard-rock
2001

Comets on Fire’s debut is admittedly a collection of somewhat “simple” pleasures, but it’s executed oh so very well. Right from the start, the band lays down a riotous storm of psychedelic garage-rock, blanketed with huge, fuzzed-out riffs that are played hard and heavy, effects pedals left, right and centre, and vocals so raw and rocking they’ll shred your speakers apart and melt your brain. When it comes to pure, floor shakin’, foot stompin’, air guitarin’, jumping-around-like-a-madman hard-rock perfection, there’s few albums that deliver on this level, and the blissed-out psych leanings mean that every single track reaches for the sky only to overshoot Comets on Fire - Comets on Fireand end up in the depths of space. Highlights include the uptempo “Graverobbers” and “One Foot”, the sprawling title-track plus the bluesy “Let’s Take it All”, but “Ghosts of the Cosmos” in particular has revealed itself as a major personal favourite, and I’ve listened to it so many times since I discovered the album that its every moment has become permanently seared into my brain. The band went on to create some more tidy, mature and ambitious releases after this, all of which are excellent albums well worth your time, but their rough and simple debut, with all of its noisy, heavy-psych glory, is the one I keep coming back to. It’s the sort of music that inspires you to want to play it in your car with your windows down and the volume up, despite the knowledge that people who do this look a bit silly. To sum up, Comets on Fire isn’t exactly a complicated album, but believe me when I say it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

 

#17

November 8, 2010

Deerhoof – The Runners Four
noise-rock, experimental-rock
2005

All three members Deerhoof - The Runners Fourof Deerhoof play a truly vital role in this album’s success – Satomi Matsuzaki’s feather-light vocals are always full of glorious attitude and humour, while her bass gives many of the group’s songs their strong, underlying foundation; John Dieterich’s complex, rapid-fire guitar always make for tunes that are full of fascinatingly idiosyncratic melodies and interludes; and Greg Saunier’s totally unconventional, stripped-back drumming (the man has a kit containing nothing but a kick, a snare and a crash) sees him not merely setting a standard beat, but somehow drumming around that beat to create an exciting style that’s seemingly improvisational and yet so sturdy and reliable (there’s a reason why he’s my favourite drummer in rock music today). This album is, to me, their lofty artistic peak, a noise-rock masterpiece played by a group collectively sporting a mischievous, “we know we’re really a pop band” grin, and it’s crammed with a hugely generous twenty songs. Many of these – I’ll single out “Twin Killers”, “Vivid Cheek Love Song”, “Wrong Time Capsule”, “Spirit Ditties of No Tone”, “Scream Team”, “Siriustar” and “Rrrrrrright” – rank on the highest echelon of their body of work. It’s truly awe-inspiring to listen to a group with this powerful a grasp on pop songwriting combined with such an overwhelming desire to be willfully unusual and keep on pushing the envelope over and over, and that’s exactly what’s presented on The Runners Four. Within the standard confines of guitar/bass/drums/vocals, it stands as the ultimate showcase of creativity.

 

#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.

 

#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.

 

#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.

#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.

#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.

#93

July 7, 2010

Sonic Youth – Murray Street
indie-rock, noise-rock
2003

With Murray Street, Sonic Youth released one of the most restrained, low-key and blatantly non-experimental albums of their career, one that’s accessible in a way that seems almost Sonic Youth - Murray Streetout of character for the band. Sure, there’s a handful of experimental bits and pieces – the most obvious being the lengthy squall of guitar noise tacked onto the end of “Karen Revisited” – but for the most part the album is driven by highly melodic guitar lines and consistent percussion that allows pretty much every song to settle into a nice groove that’s catchy and effortlessly listenable. It’s particularly apparent on the opening trifecta of “Disconnection Notice”, “The Empty Page” and “Rain on Tin”, as Thurston Moore’s vocal stays constantly in second-gear, and the guitar melodies are foot-tappy and mellow in a way that signifies an unmistakable maturity that really suits the group. Thankfully, none of this makes Murray Street any less engaging than Sonic Youth’s other albums, as the combination of intensity, tight playing and fine songwriting that has always been their trademark remains well-and-truly intact. There’s no denying, though, that Sonic Youth sound comfortable and confident here in a way that’s not quite like anything they’ve done before, and the result is one of their best releases in over a decade.