Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Difficult 2011, 20 to 16

I've already posted full reviews of each of these albums, so the blurbs are relatively short for this installment.

20. Abriosis—Tattered and Bound

Abriosis are the only other Canadian band to make this list. I had to give them a placing based on their ripping live set and this world-class album. Tattered and Bound is a masterclass in discordant, technical death metal. Old-school, raw metal of death got most of the press in 2011, but I’m always in the market for a few key tech-death albums every year. Abriosis cut through with clarity and precision. Attention, Willowtip!

19. Earth—Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I (Southern Lord)

For all their sprawl, the last few Earth albums were tightly wound. There was great discipline in their repetition and tempos. It was like watching a tightrope walker; balance and symmetry in action. On Angels of Darkness... they let go of all that and did not fall. The music often just hovers there as Dylan Carlson directs the band with a light touch on the guitar. Get ready for Angels of Darkness II very soon.

18. Led Bib—Bring Your Own (Cuneiform)

I love Led Bib’s brand of raucous, hard-hitting action jazz. It’s exciting to hear saxophones duking it out for supremacy as the rhythm section races away like Prost and Senna side by side, heading into turn one. The dynamics and live power of five crack musicians playing together delivers the kind of jolt that I don’t often get from rock records. I haven’t sampled much of Cuneiform’s jazz roster, but I’m glad I took a chance on Led Bib, first with 2009’s Sensible Shoes and now with this fantastic follow-up.

17. Nicklas Barker—El Ultimo Fin De Semana

The soundtrack album lives on. Nicklas Barker’s main band is Anekdoten, and he brings that band’s melancholy (and Mellotron) to this collection of instrumentals written for a Spanish thriller. Some rock soundtrack albums work well as rock albums, full stop, such as Pink Floyd’s More Soundtrack (appreciated here) or Air’s The Virgin Suicides. Those albums incorporated songs amidst the musical interludes, whereas this one doesn’t. Still, its eerie snippets of music form a nicely sustained mood piece. The opening theme of “Celestial Ghost” will get under your skin immediately.

16. Six Organs of Admittance—Asleep on the Floodplain (Drag City)

Ben Chasny turned in quite an intimate record this time around. Asleep on the Floodplain offers a number of solo guitar performances as well as forlorn ballads and a big, buzzing hypnotic thing (“S/Word and Leviathan”) that's either the product of inspired improvisation or a happy accident in the studio...maybe a bit of both. Chasny's understated virtuosity has never been more evident. I'll always be impressed by his ability to create such vivid pictures with simple elements.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Difficult 2011, 25 to 21

2011 was an annoying year. Ignorance and pettiness thrived. Stephen Harper and his creepy, Crispin Gloverish grin wouldn't go away—came back stronger and more insipid than ever, in fact. Good people died, friends moved away, living got more expensive. Belligerence abounded: attack the CBC, attack the poor, attack anyone who dares fight to maintain a living wage. As long as we have the oil sands and a resilient real estate bubble, we're all right, Jack. Who needs a plan beyond that?

Musically, I didn’t try very hard to keep up in 2011. I sought out music that would provide more comfort than challenge. I’ve gotten more depressed and baffled by the idea of music as a free commodity. Being a metal fan insulates me from that reality somewhat. Metalheads still talk in terms of albums. Record labels and album art/packaging are still regarded as important. We’re all getting older, though, and these attitudes will get drowned out eventually. I'm bracing myself for the end by getting used to downloading more music. Bandcamp is a great resource for this, making it simple to sample, download, and pay for new music. I'm also trying to downsize the collection by ripping CDs to the computer and storing them away. Going alphabetically, I'm up to "F" and I've still got 800 GB of space left on this baby. I hope to have a few GB left to play with when I'm done. Or maybe my iMac's CD drive will have crapped out before then...

Anyway, here we go. I'll do a top 25 this time (in five installments), which represents the bulk of what I bought this year. There are a few stragglers and neglected items that I may mention once I'm done, if I have any brain left.

25. Gigan—Quasi Hallucinogenic Sonic Landscapes (Willowtip)

We’re in the deep end immediately with this vortex of cosmic tech death. Gigan attack their chosen genre with the barbarity of early Kataklysm and the dissonance of Voivod. Really, these Chicagoans should be honorary Canadians, such is their commitment to weird metal. Revisiting this after a few months, I’m struck by how catchy all the squeaks, screeches, and squalls are. Guitarist/composer Eric Hersemann’s pedal board is like another member of the band, such is its presence in the music—no signal goes unprocessed, it seems. When they played at the Biltmore this summer as part of the Grave tour, I got to stand unimpeded at the front of the stage while they did their thing. A good portion of the crowd, who’d been happily slamming to Pathology earlier, retreated to the bar. Their loss.

24. Barn Owl—Lost in the Glare (Thrill Jockey)

Barn Owl’s emanations are solemn and expansive, often catching that moment when the brightest sunlight casts the darkest shadows. Mysterious devices drone; guitars ring out, feed back, fall apart, and fade away. Although their music has a lot in common with Six Organs of Admittance and Earth, Barn Owl’s take on psychedelic Americana is more loosely structured and flits from mood to mood between tracks more readily. “The Darkest Night Since 1683” is a deep sea of power chords. “Midnight Tide” conjures visions of a distant desert caravan shimmering in the heat haze. Barn Owl sound like they want to be anywhere but here. Don’t we all from time to time?

23. 40 Watt Sun—The Inside Room (Metal Blade)

I had no problem connecting with The Inside Room on an emotional level. Patrick Walker’s voice and lyrics carry a longing that'll resonate with anyone who has squandered love or loved to no avail. The music’s plodding rhythms and sheets of distortion pound the sorrow right through your skin. This didn’t rate higher because I’m just now starting to shake off the impression that this short album is still overlong, and that none of the songs surpass the opening track, “Restless.” I can now hear that the album’s five tracks have some real depth—each has a lyric or chord progression that hits me hard—but I can sympathize with those who didn’t “get” this album. Many labeled it doom, probably because of Walker’s previous band Warning. In 40 Watt Sun’s case, the label is a bit misleading. Doom requires riffs, I think, and there aren’t any here. Instead, 40 Watt Sun fit alongside Jesu with their overamped, crawling melancholy, or (if you can imagine the distortion rolled off almost entirely) even bands like Codeine and Seam. However you want to categorize it, this was a brave debut.

22. Mitochondrion—Parasignosis (Profound Lore)

To outsiders, the Pacific Northwest must look like nothing but sea for sailing, mountains for skiing, and teeming with hip, multicultural urbanites, lululemoned and goretexed from Ugg boots to ponytail (both girls and guys). In reality, this region pulsates with murder, drugs, and a history of religious cults and intolerance. Not everyone came here for the sushi. Many came here with the desire to be left the hell alone to do what they wilt behind a curtain of rain and forest. I know nothing about Mitochondrion as people, but their twisted, murky death metal embodies the hermetic aspect of the Pacific Northwest. It does not budge from the mossy cave it occupies. It doesn’t react well to light, so it’s best just to stand back and experience its awesome rumblings from a safe distance.

21. Zombi—Escape Velocity (Relapse)

Zombi’s work had been getting increasingly symphonic up till Escape Velocity, which saw them retreating a bit, stripping the music down, focusing on rhythm and repetition. I thought it was an interesting diversion into Logan’s Run “Space Disco” territory, where future generations had feathered hair and wore polyester tunics. I was bummed to hear they stopped doing Laser Zeppelin at the Planetarium last weekend; Laser Zombi will never come to pass, I’m afraid.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


I caught local duo Hierarchies at the Biltmore recently, performing a set (to far too few people) coaxed from various guitars, synths, and pedals. If it hadn’t been my first time seeing them, and if I hadn’t needed to get up close to see how they were creating this sound, I’d have laid back on one of the club’s plush benches and shut my eyes to soak it in. To label their music drone/ambient is too easy, and also unfair. Sure, the dynamic in these four tracks isn’t very jagged. I guess it’s droney. There’s no beats, no overt melody. Structure is defined by a track’s running length, or maybe a gradual shift in volume, as on the title track, where an overdriven hum rises over the course of four minutes, like a cluster of howling ghosts, before fading as previously buried spectral sounds swirl into the foreground. I don’t like the “ambient” part of the label, either, because it implies that the music isn’t designed to be listened to closely. Why would anyone spend time recording music that was meant to be ignored? Not these guys, obviously. There’s a lot of nuance and activity below the surface. Each track ripples like a pool of liquid electricity in an abandoned factory. What's most remarkable is how these sounds evoke the natural world while sounding like nothing out of nature. The effect is insistent and disquieting in its own subtle way.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

This is called 2012...

As a facebook friend said, "In a hundred years it will be 2112!" I'll have popped my clogs long before everyone's holding the red star proudly high in hand, but I'll be there in spirit.

For 2012 I'm pledging to post more. I was really disappointed with my output here, especially when it came to show reviews. 2011 was a great year for gigs, but you wouldn't know it from the piss-poor 27 posts I wrote. I did manage to contribute a few things to, although not enough to enter their coveted (by me) tag cloud. It's been a while since I listed my "playing away" work, so here are my Hellbound reviews for 2011:

  • I got to the Hammers of Misfortune show in December before Kyle Harcott did, so I contributed a blurb on opening band Mendozza to round out his excellent review.
  • A review of COMM, by The Tangent. I hate the Internet as much as anyone, but this album's theme tested even my tolerance at first. I came to really enjoy the album, though.
  • I'd never checked out Polish proggers Riverside before, but after Sean Palmerston gave me the promo of Memories in My Head this summer, I gained a real appreciation for this classy EP.
  • I was blown away by the onslaught of local talent at July's Riffs Not Riots show, so much so that I named it as my Metal Event of the Year for Hellbound. Kyle and I teamed up for a review. I think I met Ted Reckoning for the first time at this show. His awesome photographs grace our review.
  • Blizaro was one of my favourite discoveries of 2011. Their loopy mix of proto-metal and Goblin inspired this review.
  • I'm always eager to add to Hellbound's Vinyl Reviews, and I got an opportunity with Baptists' debut 7-inch. Nice to see the mighty Southern Lord Records snap up a local band.
  • Zombi's Escape Velocity was minimal and trance-y, an interesting variation on their sound.
  • France's CloverSeeds put out a catchy album that'd appeal to Pineapple Thief or Porcupine Tree fans, but they'd benefit from some lyrical translation help.

I'll start posting A Difficult 2011 very soon. In the meantime, please check out Hellbound's Top 20 Albums of 2011 here, here, here, and (finally) here.

Happy New Year!

He's dead, Jim.