Albums of 2013

Day Seventeen: The endeavour of the writing of the list has come to haunt my dreams. When will it end?

Day Seventeen: The endeavour of the writing of this list has come to haunt not just my waking hours, but my very dreams. When will it end?

Yeah, sorry everyone, I’ve joined the list of people making lists. I wrote this more to try to quantify my listening habits over the course of this year than to try to provide any kind of ranking or advice. I go through phases of listening to a certain album on repeat, which over time slowly fades into a mix of albums, then another album will be ‘rediscovered’ or bought or stolen and placed on constant rotation, which again slowly fades into a mix, and so the circle of righteous rocking goes on. This list is off the top of my head, with all of the entrants taken from my album collection. As I still buy nearly all of the music I listen to in CD format (vinyl if you’re special), and live in a town without a music shop (seriously), this means that at best I am around half a year behind the rest of the music world. Consequently there’s no point in me trying to include only albums that came out this year, because there would only be two records on the list. So, here’s a list of what I’ve listened to a lot of this year, irrespective of when it came out. What purpose this serves you, I’m not sure; maybe you’ll find something you looked over or rediscover an album you forgot about.

New Orleans: Blues, Soul, Jazz & Gumbo (out on Metro Select). I bought this because of the TV series Treme. It’s a best of the music from New Orleans from the ‘50s and ‘60s, with plenty of demonstrations of inimitable feel in simple formats.

Deafheaven, Sunbather (out on Deathwish Inc). I don’t like black metal, with a few exceptions, which are always a pleasant surprise. This is one of them.

Down, Down II: A Bustle In Your Hedgerow (out on Elektra). Why isn’t this album talked about more? Just like NOLA, every song is a classic.

Samothrace, Reverence To Stone (out on 20 Buck Spin). I’ve exhausted myself of all I want to say on this, so please see review.

Cryogenic Husk, Entombedcore Mixtape. I used to work a job I really didn’t enjoy, with a couple of night shifts a week, so on the drive there I would crank this, to get me in the mood for customer service. I would (maybe somewhat unsurprisingly) often finish a shift in a really bad frame of mind. I would the vent the anger that I had kept a lid on for several hours, like some kind of malcontent kettle on minimum wage, by cranking it even louder on the drive home, and scream along to Entombed, All Pigs Must Die, Harm’s Way, Black Breath, Nails, Hordes and Trap Them. Check out http://cryogenichusk.com/ for all kinds of mixtapes.

Hang The Bastard, Hellfire Reign self–titled E.P (out on Holy Roar). I would sometimes alternate this with the above entry, humming “Half the world is against you/Don’t show an ounce of fear in your eyes” (Interplanetary Portals) for a little while afterwards.

Black Tusk, Taste The Sin (out on Relapse). See review. Good, high energy, rocking metal.

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Darkness On The Edge Of Town (out on Colombia). Brooding, midnight material. I had been listening to Born To Run for a couple of years before I bought follow–up Darkness On The Edge Of Town. It’s much more subdued and self–doubting.

Fucked Up, The Chemistry Of Common Life (out on Matador). The rarity of a punk album I can tell each song apart on.

Royal Thunder, CVI (out on Relapse). The belly of the blues. See review.

The Smiths, The Queen Is Dead (out on Rough Trade). I’ve started to like some indie, and more worryingly (what could be more worrying than that, you ask?) started to relate to Morrissey and and his backhanded lyrics. Johnny Marr is one of those guitarists whose feel you can never get enough of.

Summer Playlist. The year was one–three, the summer was dope, the tunes were fly. It was a real mix, and I can’t summarise it without missing out on something, so just make your own!

Sleep, Dopesmoker (out on Southern Lord, well, that’s the version I have). As vast as the desert, as rough as a mouth full of sand.

James Brown, Live At The Apollo (out on ..?). I didn’t really get JB until that long ago. Maybe it’s because my parents like him. Then I borrowed this. Besides the hits, the improvisation is tight as glue.

Jaco Pastorius, Introducing Jaco (out on Warner Jazz). As a bass guitarist, I bought Jaco’s self–titled debut album many years ago, expecting great things after reading and hearing superfluous reviews from other bass guitarists. By and large I was disappointed and bored by it, and have only listened and grown towards it marginally since then. Earlier this year, in a lapse of reasoning, I decided buying a best of would somehow make me understand his music. And in another lapse of reasoning, this actually worked. I still don’t dig that first album, but this compilation is great, featuring a few tracks from his Word Of Mouth big band project and his Invitation album, feeling like much less like technical exercises and more like exciting, daring pieces with improvisation written all over them.

Joni Mitchell, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter (out on Elektra/Asylum Records). For a long while Joni Mitchell was  one of those artists I was sure I liked but had never heard, due to their rock heritage, like Janis Joplin, Death, and Spock’s Beard At The Gates. It’s a disconcerting experience when this preconceived notion of what an artist must sound like turns out to be wrong, after so many years of confident anticipation, but this wrong–footing of expectations can lead to greater things. Case in point, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter is not rock, being much more folk–tinged, acoustic jazz. I can’t think of any other music that I would put in the same genre, with its sprightly tone, crystal–clear vocals and poetic lyrics that mix madcap humour with heady declarations of love. Coincidently, it features none other than your man Jaco from the above entry on some most excellent bass lines.

So, there it is. Hopefully 2014 will see a new spate of great albums, discoveries of old classics, and rediscoveries of a record not spun in a while. In the meanwhile, throw the Christmas music into your local swamp and give these a spin.

The Winter Of Our Content V: Earth, Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light II

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When I bought this album, I thought I was buying an old-school doom record, in keeping with the heaviness of the Southern Lord roster. I had read, or, rather, misread, reviews of it, seeing the words dark, experimental and heavy. When I got home, and put it on during a January evening, after two or three minutes I slowly began to realise that this wasn’t the album I thought it was going to be, in a bad way. Is that a cello? Where’s the distortion? Is it all going to be like this? Are we there yet? Halfway through, I was ready to write it off as a disappointing buy, and consign it to the ‘albums bought in error’ section of the collection (Aerosmith’s Nine Lives, Pearl Jam’s Backspacer, and some other stuff I don’t want to talk about). By the time it ended, 46 minutes later, I thought it was great.

It’s not a metal album, but it’s something that a fan of metal may well enjoy. It possesses heaviness, despite its instrumentation, and an intangible, yearning quality. Sigil Of Brass enters with a chiming, three note guitar intro, soft rolls of cymbals and swells of cellos, maintaining the same drifting speed throughout.  There is a subtle and gradual build in intensity as it flows into His Teeth Did Shine Brightly, with two wavering guitar lines weaving across each other, backed by deep chords on the cello, which has a scraping, tactile quality. A Multiplicity Of Doors departs from the benignly wondering tone of the prior tracks in favour of an ominous gloom, with a minor guitar riff, rasping cello, downbeat bass and rattling percussion. The cello comes to the fore of this track, rough and twisting. The Corascene Dog enters with long, downbeat swells on the cello, and I am lost, wandering an uncertain path in the darkness, unclear how I got here or how to get out. In this space I find time to ask, why does this music work? It is mournful, but not depressing; other-worldly, but not bizarre; heavy, but light. I found it hard taking detailed notes on this album, and then to write about it at length, because it remains very similar throughout.  However, despite this, it doesn’t feel static, and remains a captivating listen. It’s this sense of immersion that makes it a winter album; despite the warm production, it invokes walking through a field of snow in the dark, with the dark red sky overhead the only light on the narrow path. The artwork by Stacey Rozich is fittingly minimal but lush, depicting a demonic procession advancing through a deep, empty solitude, keeping in touch with the Biblical and alchemic references of the song titles (which reminds me, if anyone can tell me what a Corascene Dog is, it would be much appreciated).

During a phrase of listening to this album heavily, I spent a couple of cold night time walks down wooded paths listening to this, trying to absorb its enigmatic and transcendental qualities whilst not freaking out at the consequent sensory experiences. I should have just recalled the liner notes.

‘“Sila Ersinarsiniodluge” (Be Not Afraid of the Universe).

Najagneq, Inuit Shaman quoting a supreme spirit, Sila.’