Winter Roundup 2016

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Well, after being sick for most of the last two months I find myself behind on a lot of listening.  So here we’ll wrap up all of the albums I’ve listened to in the last two weeks and hopefully we can move on from there.  There may be a second part, there’s still a long list to go after this.

Shearwater – Jet Plane And Oxbow

(01/22/2016 on Sub Pop Records)

Krautrock rhythms and big guitars let the band’s ninth album transcend where they’ve been and point to big promises as to where they’re going.

Rihanna – Anti

(01/28/2016 on Roc Nation)

It’s always fun to watch an established pop artist push herself forwards, even if it’s just in increments.  Plus, making Drake put in work is always a good idea.

Black Tusk – Pillars Of Ash

(01/29/2016 on Relapse Records)

THERE’S NOTHING HERE THAT HASN’T BEEN DONE!  IT’S JUST HARDCORE WITH SOME SLUDGE AND DEATH FLOURISHES!  PLUS THE VOCALIST KEEPS SHOUTING! SHOUTING! SHOUTING! I SWEAR BIOHAZARD WAS MORE ENTERTAINING! SHOUTING!

Kevin Gates – Islah

(01/29/2016 on Atlantic Records)

Bizarrely good, like a steak sandwich prepared in the back of a grimy diner whose walls are dripping with sludge.  Kevin Gates is a weird guy, a fan-kicker, has lame gun tats on his hands, and doesn’t believe in vaccinations.  Still, Islah overflows with hypnotic flow and oddly great hooks – “Hard For” being the most out-there of them all.

Milk Teeth – Vile Child

(01/29/2016 on Hopeless Records)

Derivative as hell, it still works when the female vocalist comes on and the band approximates the sort of 90s hard rock that Speedy Ortiz has been repackaging.  Then when the guy comes on and tries his hand at Husker Du it all falls apart.

Dream Theater –  The Astonishing

(01/29/2016 on Roadrunner Records)

There are days that I swear the word “pretentious” was invented to describe Dream Theater.

Cross Record – Wabi Sabi

(01/29/2016 on Ba Da Bing Records)

Art rock that walks a fine line between gorgeously dreamy and blackly despairing, Wabi Sabi is a record that soaks up dream pop and New Wave influences in equal measure.

Bloc Party – Hymns

(01/29/2016 on BMG Records)

So many of the most hyped-up bands from the early 00s became the poster children for the concept of diminishing returns.  Interpol, The Killers, The Strokes, and of course Bloc Party.  Hymns is the nadir of Bloc Party’s career, an utterly boring collection of electro-washed power balladry that requires serious endurance to make it through.

Josephine Foster – No More Lamps In The Morning

(02/05/2016 on Fire Records)

A live re-recording of older songs, No More Lamps In The Morning brings out the sheer power in Foster’s songs.  The first comparison will always be Joni Mitchell, but like Joanna Newsom there’s something deeper and older at work here, something that crackles with early radio signals and speaks of cleaner air and bygone days.

Junior Boys – Big Black Coat

(02/05/2016 on City Slang Records)

Sleek electronic songs that are more subdued than some of their contemporaries but are also more subtle, and more affecting.

Nonkeen – The Gamble

(02/05/2016 on R & S Records)

Complicated and wild, bouncing from solemn, rainy-day contemplation to the sort of drum-led freakouts that made Starless And Bible Black such a treat.  Call it electro-prog if you have to call it something.

Pinegrove – Cardinal

(02/12/2016 on Run For Cover Records)

New Jersey has grown its own peculiar brand of punk rock over the past decade, one where howling black-hearted hardcore stands shoulder to shoulder with reedy folk-country Americana.  Pinegrove is a key example of this sound, combining youthful energy and a folk-punk yelp with a more studied and mature rootsy depth.

Radiation City – Synesthetica

(02/12/2016 on Polyvinyl Records)

Reverb-laden dream pop with Eighties influences that doesn’t manage to do, well, much of anything.

Ra Ra Riot – Need Your Light

(02/19/2016 on Barsuk Records)

After a regrettable detour into electronic music, Ra Ra Riot has returned with the sort of brightly coloured, anthemic pop rock they were best known for.  It all goes downhill from the first song but “Water” is such a great song that you’d hardly notice.

Brood Ma – Daze

(02/19/2016 on Tri Angle Records)

An electronic record that is rooted more in disquieting industrial-tinged dread-making than it is in creating dancefloor bliss.  An amalgamation of dark vision and darker sounds.

Wolfmother – Victorious

(02/19/2016 on Universal Records)

When they stick to the rote Sabbath worship my fist can at least pump into the air.  When they delve into messy balladry that smells of cheese and bad Uriah Heep, however, I’m left feeling limp.

Matmos – Ultimate Care II

(02/19/2016 on Thrill Jockey Records)

If you’ve ever wanted to hear a Whirlpool Ultimate Care II washing machine used as the main instrument on an album, look no further.

Metz – II

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Metz – II

One of the problems with hardcore is that you can only do so much with it.  The Replacements discovered that limitation after Sorry Ma Forgot To Take Out The Trash.  They switched over the course of two albums to a much rootsier version of themselves, taking their hardcore roots along into a more generalistic approach.  Same with Husker Du, whose monolith of American hardcore – Zen Arcade – showed cracks of folk and straight up rock (New Day Rising would go on to widen those cracks considerably).  Ian MacKaye could only sustain the white-hot minute-long intensity of Minor Threat for so long before cutting out to broaden his horizons with Fugazi.

Metz has not learned this lesson.  Coming off of a very well regarded self-titled debut, the Toronto band has chosen to double down on their sound and reproduce another album of crushing modern hardcore.  While this is nice – METZ was a great album after all – it does nothing to advance them at all.  II is the sound of a band perfectly content to tread water, which is an inadvisable career move in 2015.  Where the first album felt fresh, II just comes off as a stale retread, which is a real shame considering the possibilities.

R.I.P. – Five Classics Songs Written By Jeff Hanneman

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Woah, I was about to close up shop for the night and then found out that integral Slayer co-founder Jeff Hanneman died today of liver failure.  He’d been battling necrotizing fasciitis for some time and it is unknown at this time as to whether the two were related.

Slayer is one of those bands that transcend the genre they are a part of and become part of the cultural lexicon.  After all, it is common wisdom that if there is a gathering of hippies growing dangerously out of control, you need to use Slayer to disperse them.  Commonly found to be paired with the hook ’em horns gesture that signifies the love of metal, the name conjures up images of fast, brutal thrash metal.  They (OK, along with maybe a scant few others) were the key guiding force behind the formation of death and black metal; it is hard – maybe impossible – to imagine the current, sprawling metal underground without them. Hanneman was arguably the man that brought the real intensity of hardcore punk rock to the world of metal; he favoured technical brutality and had the logo for the legendary Dead Kennedys emblazoned on his guitar.  The line between the two milieus blurred considerably during his career, to the benefit of everyone involved.  His work became a touchstone on both sides, and his influence is felt in all sorts of random places throughout the musical universe. So, in that spirit, here are five songs he wrote that changed the world of heavy music forever.

BANG YOUR HEAD.

“RAINING BLOOD” – From Reign In Blood, 1986.

The final track of the blistering, epoch-defining hardcore workout that stands as perhaps the finest metal album ever created.

“CHEMICAL WARFARE” – From Haunting The Chapel, 1984.

Speed-of-light thrash that borrows a name from the brilliant DK song of the same name.  The sheer relentlessness of this song ensures its immortality.

“SOUTH OF HEAVEN” – From South Of Heaven, 1988.

A key indicator of growth in the Slayer canon – an eerie mid-tempo riff that slowly builds into a crushing finale.

“SEASONS IN THE ABYSS” – From Seasons In The Abyss, 1990.

That lengthy intro.  That creepy clean riff behind all the crunching chords.  That break that kicks the tempo in the ass and keeps it running.  Close your eyes and forget your name.

“ANGEL OF DEATH” – From Reign In Blood, 1986.

This song is the aural equivalent of being pummeled by a flurry of body blows from a trained boxer – it’s probably the best metal song ever recorded, and it might just be the best kick-off to any heavy album ever recorded.  It’s a fitting song to crank to 11 as you celebrate the life and times of a heavy music legend.

Goddammit, I’m growing old.