Sunday, January 17, 2010

Best of 2009: Music

This year was a good year for metal, and this list reflect that (and my age-defying preoccupation with it.) Thanks to all the people who turned me on to something new, even if I didn't like it: Radio K, NYT, Giant Robot, InRO, Revolver, Outburn, and any individual who came up with an artist I had never listened to (especially joetron2030 who joined me at shows as diverse as Camera Obscura, Mastodon, and Wolves in the Throne Room, as well as a midnight screening of a black metal documentary!) All artist links go to MySpace.

Four for the Cream of the Crop
Drawn to music that has the ability to form something close to perfect aural harmonic resonance (usually at high decibels), I offer up four releases that I kept coming back to over and over again. All have the propensity for occasional loudness.

Mount Eerie - Wind's Poem
Although Wind's Poem is most commonly described as folk wunderkind Phil Elverum's black metal album, that's only 30% of the story. Despite some burning guitar riffs, the overall feeling of Wind's Poem is of starry eyed wonderment and fascinating mystery. The overt use of "Laura's Theme" from Twin Peaks in "Between Two Mysteries" produces a huge pang of nostalgia in me every time I hear it, but it is also an acknowledgment of its thematic kinship with the show of natural forces working beyond our control.

Sunn O))) - Monoliths & Dimensions
Taking sound where few bands have ever dared to go, Sunn O))) has refined their sonic boom to a fine art. With otherworldly soundscapes, Sunn adds a subtle layer of delicacy with stings, horns and full choir. The result is amazing.

This connection may be a leap, but when I listen to Black Cascade I can't help thinking about Leif Inge's "9 Beet Stretch" where he took Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and stretched it out over 24 hours. What the piece does at a very slow pace, Wolves in the Throne Room does with raw energy, sustaining every emotion with a vibration. Black metal has never been categorized as symphonic, but Black Cascade broaches the subject almost unwittingly. Blistering, focused, cathartic and beautiful. (Read my capsule where I try not to gush on In Review Online's rundown of the Top 15 Albums of 2009.)

Zu - Carboniferous
Super sludgy rock jazz! I love how Zu defies all classification going from free-form to pulse-driving to slow-core space-chasing ear-splitting splendor. This album takes me by surprise every time I listen to it.

Six Metal Contenders
Like every genre, metal is diversifying at a rapid pace. Here's six releases that swing from progged out bliss to black metal lushness and spazzed out glory.

Baroness - The Blue Record
Baroness follows up their lauded Red Album with an even more lauded release. The Blue Record expands on what Baroness has already set in motion. There's a little bit of everything in this album from sludge to blues to beautiful southern rock that reminds me of the Allman Brothers.

iwrestledabearonce - It's All Happening
Yes, there are five words mashed together in that name. Too damn crazy to ignore, this band has been hilariously dubbed ADD metal and generally scorned by the purists. I love them for their hyperkenetic madness and bombastic tom-foolery. Really really hoping they make a Twin Cities appearance soon!

ISIS - Wavering Radiant
Isis has one foot firmly planted in metal and the other in radio rock and roll - a combination that may not go over so well for some, but sits just right with me. Wavering Radiant is the most accessible album you are going to find with a death metal growling vocals.

Krallice - Dimensional Bleedthrough
Black metal to die for. Insanely layered and thunderously loud, Dimensional Bleedthrough is challenging and complex and physically draining (a trademark of Mick Barr.) Between Wolves in the Throne Room and Krallice, the Americans are stealing the black metal championship title from the Norwegians.

Mastodon - Crack the Skye
Child of the 70s that I am, Mastodon harks back to the rock I was obsessed with in high school. An album loaded with epic, guitar-heavy ballads, Crack the Skye is a guilty pleasure that doesn't make me feel guilty.

YOB - The Great Cessation
Although YOB's new release is dark and psychedelic, it also doesn't waver too far from what you might expect from doom metal. The Great Cessation may not be anything new, but it is incredibly solid doomy fare.

Six Radio Ready Releases
Although most radio stations are not playing these albums (Radio K being the exception,) in my perfect world this is the pop music that what would be jamming the airwaves.

Fever Ray - Fever Ray
For those desperately waiting for the next Knife release, in 2009 we got something nearly as good in Fever Ray: a release from Karin Dreijer Andersson, half of the duo. The macabre wanderings of The Knife continue with manipulated vocals and eerie electronics. More somber than scary, Fever Ray is infectiously listenable and addictive.

Health - Get Color
Health's Get Color is more pop, more dance, and more rock. Read my review of their show at the 7th St Entry here.

Nisennenmondai - Destination Tokyo
Chaotic electronic pop from Japan that is dance ready. Airy and quirky, Destination Tokyo is joyfully mesmerizing.

Somewhere there is a riddle in that title (and all the song titles) but I'm too distracted by the music to care about that name or title. OOIOO comes in heavy on their third release with drum and guitar driven rock to a satisfying effect. Experimental rock at its best.

Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs
Still around and better than ever.

The xx - xx
Take me back to late-80s alternative pop of my young adulthood. Smooth and swoony, xx is this year's pop shiznit and I'm joining the bandwagon. Yet another show I reviewed: read here.

Livin' Live
It is no coincidence that some of my favorite shows reflects some of my favorite releases of the year. Below is what seeing shows live is all about.

12/1/09 Melt Banana at the 7th St Entry
Waiting two years for Melt Banana to return to the Twin Cities was about 18 months too long, and I wasn't the only person who felt that way. The Entry was packed way before the show started, and once Melt Banana went on stage the crowd flew into a frenzy. More than half of the shows I go to are filled with apathetic on-lookers (myself included) and this bat-shit crazy show renewed my faith in audiences and the power of live music.

7/5/09 Sunn O))) at the Varsity Theater
Like no other live music experience I've ever had. So much fog; so much sound. Read a full review here.

11/10/09 Mount Eerie at the Bedlam Theater
I might rate this as the best show of the four simply because it was such an amazing arrangement of Wind's Poem. Elverum and his crew played the album from beginning to end and it was perfect.

5/15/09 Wolves in the Throne Room at the Triple Rock
See above. All business, these guys deliver the goods. I was blown away. Krallice opened.


joetron2030 said...

Thanks for the mention, Kathie. It was fun to see you as often as I did this year.

Here's to hoping for more shows and/or movies in 2010 that we can catch together.

Jason said...

nice blog