Friday, December 31, 2021

The Apples in Stereo - Velocity of Sound (2002)


Related:

It's been long enough since my last post that it feels like I should acknowledge it. But chances are, you didn't really notice, and if you did, you probably assumed that I was doing Christmas stuff, which I was. East coast family Christmas stuff. And now I'm back, and I want to give you something sweet before this cursed year of 2021 comes to a close.

So here's Velocity of Sound, the closest that The Apples in Stereo ever came to making a punk record. The instantly memorable hooks remain, but instead of ornate arrangements, fuzz guitar reigns, with the distortion often bleeding over into the vocals, underlining a surprising link between The Apples in Stereo -- whose most obvious influence has always been The Beatles -- and the joyfully simplistic songs of The Ramones. It's also kind of a breakup record, and the breakup in question is between frontman Robert Schneider and drummer Hilarie Sidney, who also sings lead on album highlights "Rainfall" and "I Want". The album's not billed as such, but most of its songs seem to address a strained romantic relationship, and the two divorced shortly hereafter. Bitter lyrics and sugary tunes: the classic power pop combo.

Happy New Year to you all. Please, please, please let this year be better than the last.

Track listing:
1. Please
2. Rainfall
3. That's Something I Do
4. Do You Understand?
5. Where We Meet
6. Yore Days
7. Better Days
8. I Want
9. Mystery
10. Baroque
11. She's Telling Lies (Bryce's Mix)


Also listen to:

Monday, December 13, 2021

Judgement - No Reason Why (1996), Haunt in the Dark (1997), Process (1997), Night Brings (1998) + Just Be... (2000)


Related:

Five EPs of god-tier Japanese hardcore. As raw and raging as Judgement could get -- check the phenomenal ending of "Kick Them Over" -- they always had a kinda melodic, (to my ears) crusty/metallic edge. (Couldn't figure out a way to make 5 covers look nice so Just Be... is not pictured above, but it's in the download.)

No Reason Why
1. No Reason Why
2. Kick Them Over
Haunt in the Dark
1. The Mad Dog
2. Haunt in the Dark
Process
1. Process
2. The Situation
Night Brings
1. Night Brings
2. Heart of Darkness
Just Be...
1. Saylove
2. シンプル
3. Just Be...
4. ドライヴ


Also listen to:

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Shock - Shock (1981)


Classic electro-funk from Portland, OR, baby! Synths on synths on synths, distorted synth-bass aimed directly at your ass, horn stabs, a million different backing vocalists, wailing sax solos, an irresistibly fun vibe. Bangers from top to bottom. Features Marlon McClain (of the great Pleasure) on guitar.

Track listing:
1. Let Your Body Do the Talkin'
2. I Think I Love You
3. Stand Up
4. Shock
5. Let's Get Crackin'
6. Got to Have Your Love
7. Each and Every Day
8. Shock Talk


If you like this, take these for a spin:

Saturday, December 4, 2021

My 40 Favorite Records of 2021



Jesus Christ, this is a long one. I started working on blurbs for the shoe-ins a few months back, and it just ballooned from there. This is probably why professional writers have editors -- also, because I haven't even proof-read it -- but that ain't me. Are you a bad enough dude to actually read the whole fucking thing?

Given the already considerable length of this list, I'm gonna cut this intro off here. Please leave your top 10s/20s/100s in the comments, I'm sure I missed a lot of good shit.





#40
Misotheist
For the Glory of Your Redeemer

The second and undeniably superior album from these anonymous Norwegians. At 3 songs and just over half an hour of dense, anti-theistic black metal, not a second goes to waste. Churning guitars, punishing drumming, and a disgusted, gravely vocal performance that's one of the most effective I've heard on a black metal record in recent memory. Then there's the production style, which balances void-like reverb with suffocating distortion, and reminds me of the Icelandic BM that we all love so much.




#39
Andy Shauf
Wilds

As one fan on Bandcamp put it: "The Judyverse continues." Wilds picks up some of the threads of The Neon Skyline, Shauf's excellent previous album (my second favorite of 2020!) without taking on a larger storyline. This time around, arrangements are looser and recording quality is slightly rougher, but the melodies are no less immaculate; Shauf remains master of the instrumental hook. Freedom from an overarching narrative allows Shauf to lean into the more dreamlike qualities of his songwriting. Our narrator generally just appears in media res -- on a beach, at a wedding, in a hospital or motel room -- arguing with a lover, grappling with guilt or a hangover, or getting high and dancing clumsily.





#38
S.H.I.
4 死 Death

A violent collision of 90s Ministry-esque industrial thrash and G.I.S.M.-esque hardcore, with a dash of power electronics for bad measure. Nothing but driving, noise-addled, fist-pumping anthems encased in chaotic, echoing atmospheres, with virtually no respite.





#37
Steel Bearing Hand
Slay in Hell

When I wrote about this record back in May, I called it "an absolute ripper of a death/thrash record." I also said, "Throw in a bit of lysergic death-sludge and a lightly blackened finish, and we're looking at one of the best, most fun metal records I've heard in a while." Then I said, "Additionally, it has accompanied some pretty intense iron-pumping sessions around OPIUM HUM headquarters, so that means it's fun AND it's good for you!" And then I talked about my nards, briefly. Then it was over!




#36
GosT
Rites of Love and Reverence

Despite being a figurehead of synthwave, GosT (aka Texas artist James Lollar) never really played into that scene's blatant nostalgia, using the dark, pulsing synths of 80s horror scores as a jumping off point rather than a destination. Rites of Love and Reverence pumps the breaks on the metal-infused fader abuse of GosT's past, leaving behind a transfixing, highly danceable concoction of witchy EBM and darkwave that's still haunting, and fully capable of destroying your speakers.




#35
Danny Elfman
Big Mess

A lot of people can't stand this record. And I don't blame them. It's right there in the name: this record really is a big fucking mess. It's gross and scattered, both musically and lyrically: an avant-industrial-rock monolith suggesting a densely cluttered, lightless inner landscape. Vocally, Elfman channels his inner Mike Patton, and through all the groaning, shouting, quasi-rapping, and crooning (his preferred mode), Elfman really enunciates, so his unadorned, misanthropic musings ("Sorry you exist because you suck the fucking air out of my lungs"), menacing mantras ("I want to see you without your clothes, without your skin"), and late-night panic ("Old white men, they want to suck my blood") all come through crystal-clear. Distorted drums, cinematic strings, scraping guitars, and tarry synths abound. And it just gets more chaotic and unhinged as it goes on. I'm not here to offer any counterpoints. I just think that all of that stuff's awesome.




#34
Marianne Faithfull with Warren Ellis
She Walks in Beauty

Every year, in making these lists, I attempt to represent not the albums that are 'the best,' or the most culturally significant, or the coolest, but the ones that I consider most likely to stay in my regular rotation for years to come. By listing She Walks in Beauty, I'm breaking my own rules. It's a full-length record of Marianne Faithfull reciting Romantic poetry -- by John Keats, Lord Byron, and a bunch of other fancy-pants writers whose names sound familiar -- over chief Bad Seed Warren Ellis' lush ambient compositions. I have listened to it twice, and I don't expect to listen to it with much more regularity in the coming years. But it makes me cry like a baby. Somewhere between the sound of Faithfull's weathered voice, her effortlessly expressive delivery, the timeless, impossible beauty of the poems themselves, and Ellis' shimmering accompaniments, there's a magical, forlorn alchemy, and it absolutely kills me.




#33
Bríi
Sem Propósito

From my previous writeup: "Trance-inducing Brazilian black metal. Two sprawling, psychedelic compositions merging the seemingly disparate worlds of krautrock/Berlin school synth and atmospheric black metal. It should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that this is one of my favorite records of the year so far, but honestly, I went into it expecting atmospheric black metal broken up by synth-y interludes, and was elated to hear an actually complete and seamless fusion."




#32
Paranorm
Empyrean

The extraordinary debut from this still-young Swedish band, Empyrean marks the first time I've gotten truly stoked on a straight-up thrash record in years, I think. Ripping, multi-part epics with razor-sharp riffs, harmonized guitar heroics for days, and a raspy, black metal-y vocalist to go along with their occasional blackened diversions. Harkens back to the glory days of bands like Dark Angel, Heathen, and yes, Metallica.




#31
Alice Phoebe Lou
Glow

A laid-back, sweet-sounding album about love -- and sex, infatuation, heartbreak, etc. Most of the songs on Glow sound influenced by 50s vocal pop, lounge, and exotica; there are also allusions to lite-grunge and Beach House-y dream pop. Like the figure on the album cover, the whole record sounds submerged in warm water. Maybe that's why I listen to it in the shower so often.




#30
Casper Clausen
Better Way

Conceptually abstract, electronics-heavy art rock. Better Way blasts off with "Used to Think", an almost 9-minute-long, kraturock-indebted endorphin rush. It proves to be a red herring, though, as the album tends to stick to slower, murkier waters. This is cool, weird, experimental pop with some not particularly cool reference points -- I hear Cluster and Radiohead, sure, but I also hear a bit of Face Value-era Phil Collins, and Passengers, the one-off collaborative project between U2 and Brian Eno that I will defend to my dying day. And from its soothing, shimmering sound to its oceanic lyrical themes, album-closer "Ocean Wave" always reminds me of another album-closer: "Blue Ocean Floor" by Justin Timberlake. (That's more of a personal association than a perceived influence.) But I like tons of hella 'uncool' music, and you probably do too, you big liar.




#29
God's Hate
God's Hate

You know how the two-party system in the United States is a fucking joke? And how the mainstream Republican party has aligned itself with radical right-wing fringe groups like the Proud Boys and Q, thereby shifting the entirety of our political discourse to the right, and painting moderate, centrist, and even right-leaning Democrats as communists? And how, as of 2021, the only real difference between the Republican and Democratic parties is "fuck the poor" vs. "fuck the poor #BLM"?

Of course you do. Well, that's kinda like what happened with hardcore and metalcore. In the 90s, bands like Earth Crisis and Hatebreed, who were extremely heavy and tough, were considered metalcore. Then in the early 2000s, along came a million bands that sounded like At the Gates with chuggy breakdowns, and that sound became what everyone called metalcore, while bands who followed in the footsteps of 90s metalcore (like God's Hate) were now just hardcore, full-stop. Essentially, the whole conversation got shifted. The only reason this analogy doesn't hold water is because hardcore is stronger for it, whereas the US political system feels like it's constantly on the verge of collapse.

Anyway, God's Hate kicks fucking ass. The minute I heard the hook on "Be Harder" ("Life! Is! Hard! BE! HARDER!") I knew this was a certified classic. I can't imagine how much iron has been pumped to this record already.




#28
Gnod
La Mort Du Sens

Sludge-y noise rock with dissonant, choppy guitars, an anxious, sarcastic vocalist, and a big, fat, distorted low end. There's a bit of post-punk in the album's stripped-down, jittery sound, but the repetitive, nihilistic, self-flagellating songs and precise, almost riff-like drumming are 100% noise rock. Every time I put this record on, I end up cranking it up so loud that then when it's over, my ears are ringing. This band's new to me, but from what I can tell, they used to be a psych rock band? I guess I could see that -- there's something psychedelic about the layered, slow-burning apocalypse that is album-closer "Giro Day" -- but they've definitely crash-landed in our shitty reality for now, and they're pissed about it.




#27
Laura Mvula
Pink Noise

I dug Mvula's first two records, but for me, they never quite rose above pretty-great status, and as the years went by without a new record, I kinda figured she might have moved on. Then Pink Noise came busting down the door, sporting big, punchy, positively immaculate 80s production that's worthy of taking on So-era Peter Gabriel-esque art pop, electrofunk, and hooky R&B, all of which Mvula handles with supreme, awe-inspiring confidence and sophistication. The album's fat-free structure -- 10 tracks, 37 minutes, an obvious Side A and Side B -- merely emphasizes the strength of every single song, and the subtle versatility she pulls from an extremely cohesive sound. It's a triumph of an album that somehow still hasn't garnered her the recognition -- at least stateside -- that she deserves.




#26
Miasmata
Unlight: Songs of Earth and Atrophy

Debut full-length from Miasmata, the new solo project from ex-Soujourner-er Mike Wilson. Epic melodic black metal played with the ferocity of speed metal and the triumphant leads of heavy/power metal. Wilson puts the pedal to the metal from jump, and there it stays, speeding at a breakneck pace from killer riff to killer riff. Who knew you could have so much fun in such close proximity to icy black metal?




#25
Azure Ray
Swallowing Swords

An unexpected reunion album from one of the definitive Saddle Creek bands. Thankfully, the duo avoid any attempts at reinvention, staying right in their wheelhouse of whispery, harmonized vocals and melancholic but comforting songs that are just a bit too lyrically ambiguous to be considered "confessional." The dreamy, atmospheric synth-gauze that colors most of the record continues a love affair with synthesizers and drum machines that began with Hold On Love in 2003; here, though, they sound more natural and refined than ever. In a year marked by near-constant anxiety, Remedy truly lived up to its name, helping me to breathe and refocus at some particularly low points. And if that's not a good barometer by which to evaluate a record's worthiness, I don't know what is.




#24
Isaiah Rashad
The House Is Burning

One of a few rap records that really got me this year. Rashad pays tribute to Southern gangsta rap royalty with samples and lyrical references, and there are some moody, trap-inspired beats and flows towards the beginning, but as the album goes on, a more laid-back, R&B-infused sound begins to take hold. It's a chill, smoked-out vibe, and Rashad spends a lot of time flexing, but lines like "My brother was my partner, died last week" and "You ain't got nothing to live for" point to a world of hurt lurking in the fringes of every bar.




#23
Order
The Gospel

The latest from these flag-bearers of True Norwegian Black Metal™. Order's members are old-school Norwegian metal royalty, including two original members of Mayhem (vocalist Messiah and drummer Manheim) as well as guitarist Anders Odden (aka Neddo) of Cadaver. Fittingly, their approach to black metal is skillfully primitive, evoking Celtic Frost, Bathory, and, yes, Deathcrush, while displaying an awareness of second-wave melody and 'modern' atmosphere. Simplistic yet inventive riffs, mid-tempo bangers, and an unflinching sense of Satanic devotion. Another record that earned my undying support via pumping me up while I'm pumping iron.




#22
Alessandro Cortini
Scuro Chiaro

Cortini has played keyboards in Nine Inch Nails since the mid-aughts, and on Scuro Chiaro, you can really tell. And it's not just that he's utilizing a more organic-sounding palette than he did with his earlier solo works. It's in the minimal, skewed melodies; the warped synths; and most of all, the static-y, shoegaze-y waves of distortion that ebb and flow throughout so many of these compositions, at times threatening to swallow them whole. Much like NIN's Ghosts albums, Scuro Chiaro can be classified as ambient music, but it's too dark, too emotionally evocative, and -- perhaps most importantly -- simply too loud to fade into the background.




#21
Low
HEY WHAT

Low's last album, Double Negative was my favorite album of 2018. As innovative and fresh-sounding an album as we're likely to hear in the 21st century, it found the band gutting their sound, replacing glacial guitars and heavenly harmonies with a great deal of what Tim Hecker might call "digital garbage" -- harsh noise, glitch, generally heavily processed sounds.

HEY WHAT is a refinement and a brightening of that sound. The vocals sit comfortably atop the mix, in far less processed form, and the sonics -- a near-constant wall of distortion that leans heavily on pulsing tremolo as a stand-in for proper percussion -- are more uniform. Appropriately, HEY WHAT also suggests that Low are slowly finding their way back from the void of hope that was Double Negative (and, not coincidentally, the end-times of the Trump administration), and while hope hasn't necessarily returned, it's been replaced by a sense of resilience and hard-earned wisdom. That corrosive, city-leveling noise is now pointed outwards, acting as both a shield and a weapon.





#20
Genghis Tron
Dream Weapon

For me, Genghis Tron were always a band that other people liked. A friend would put them on, I'd say, "Damn, this is crazy!" then never listen to them again until someone else played it for me. All that changed with Dream Weapon, because they pretty much completely changed their sound. Gone are the spazzed-out song structures and chiptune vocals that practically begged the listener to get annoyed and shut down, replaced by churning, rhythmic, retro-futuristic post-metal that sounds like Mastodon and Black Moth Super Rainbow somehow ended up quarantined together and decided to make an album out of it.




#19
Shifted
Constant Blue Light

Extremely abstract, borderline non-musical sounds that are, somewhere deep down, rooted in minimal techno. Whereas some of Shifted's music has been fully dancefloor-friendly, Constant Blue Light is all color and texture: smooth chrome, jagged rust, and dim fluorescence. Subwoofer-rattling drones simulate melodic elements, the sounds of digital scraping whir and sputter, and a trembling pulse or a recurring blip of static anxiously keeps time. Nothing here will compel you to dance, or even move for that matter. On the contrary, this is music that inspires temporary paralysis.




#18
Funeralium
Decrepit

Easily one of my favorite doom metal bands on the planet currently. It's funeral doom, so sprawling, depressive songwriting is a given, but whereas most of Funeralium's peers employ a hypnotic, guttural-heavy approach, Funeralium play with the intensity of classic 90s sludge, with an expressive, versatile vocalist to match -- he's not just miserable, he's in utter agony. Plus, there's the lingering presence of atmospheric black/death that intermittently boils over into blasting, tremolo-picked catharsis, keeping songs compelling even as they stretch past the 20- and 30-minute marks.





#17
VOLA
Witness

Super clean, melodic prog metal with chugging, djent-y verses and big, pop-leaning hooks that are genetically engineered to stick after one listen. Meanwhile, there are all these electronic elements -- synths, vocoders, programmed beats -- integrated so seamlessly that they might not immediately register. It's all executed with such awe-inspiring precision, it's easy to forget how quickly it could have gone so wrong. The first big shock comes a few tracks in, when after a few runs through the darkest, heaviest riff yet, along comes a beat that wouldn't sound out of place on a Korn record, followed by a full-on rap verse from Bless (of LA duo Shahmen). The second shock comes a few moments later when you realize that it fucking works, and you now believe in miracles. I'm often somewhat leery of this kind of sugary prog, but Witness is simply undeniable.




#16
Valac
Burning Dawn of Vengeance

One of the less notable side effects of the social and political upheavals of 2020-21, for me, was a decreased interest in music that actively aims to be unpleasant. When the world's throwing new awful things to think about in your direction seemingly on a daily basis, you don't really need a band to do it too. This was a very real shift for me, and I actually quit a long-term band over it. (Of course, as much of this list shows, it's not a hard and fast rule.)

Thus, at some point along the line, I completely lost interest in the present-day raw black metal scene. It just started feeling like a race to the bottom to prove who could make the shittiest-sounding recording, do a quick basement photoshoot, convert the spookiest image to high contrast black and white, slap a cool-looking frame around it, and trick young black metal fans into buying your limited run LP for $150. In their haste to sound like utter ass, many of these bands and projects forgot to write songs.

Enter Valac. At first glance, this spectral Santa Fe solo project might appear to fit that stereotype, but it differs from the formula in two crucial ways. For one, the recording is raw but comprehensible. There's a degree of separation between drum, bass, guitar, and vocals, that grants the record a sense of space and atmosphere. So when a tremolo-picked lead hits, or the reverb-drenched ghoul vocals come back in after a break, there's room for them to hover above the mix like aggrieved apparitions. Secondly, and most importantly: dude is writing bonafide riffs, and putting them together in effective, melodic, mournful rippers for drifting off of this mortal coil.




#15
The Reds, Pinks & Purples
Uncommon Weather

80s jangle rock drawn into 2021 via a lo-fi, Beach Fossils-esque haze. Uncommon Weather, the second full-length from this solo project of SF indie rocker Glenn Donaldson (according to Discogs, he's been in a million other bands, none of which I'm familiar with) embodies the sweet, jangling innocence of early west coast indie so perfectly, it's easy to miss that every song is an absolute gem of clever, barbed, plainspoken indie pop.




#14
Mastodon
Hushed and Grim

Look, no one's more surprised to see this on here than I am. Sure, I fucking loved Remission, but I wasn't ready for the clean vocals and more melodic sound they took on with Leviathan -- the insane amount of hype surrounding it probably didn't help -- and I never really caught up. But I stay checking in with them, and this time around, they nailed it. As one might expect of a double album, the prog ambitions are back in full force, but they're tempered by the taught, muscular alt rock they've been leaning into since Once More 'Round the Sun (maybe even The Hunter, I completely forget what that record sounds like), finding a majestic, emotive middle ground that makes both sides of the coin shine brighter. The last songs on each disc are my two favorites -- "Pushing the Tides" is one of their best gnarled ragers yet, and "Gigantium" reimagines Torche as a cosmic force -- but the whole album is as emotionally resonant as you're likely to hear from a band that I've referred to more than once as "BBQ metal."




#13
Amyl and the Sniffers
Comfort to Me

All of my friends were losing their shit over this band a couple of years back, but I stayed sleeping on them until Comfort to Me and its accompanying music videos. Whoops. This band is incredible, and Comfort to Me is the best pure punk record I've heard since Royal Headache dropped High then promptly broke up. The production's beefy, the guitars rip, and Amy exudes the kind of snotty charisma that only the best punk rock vocalists can muster. So many instantly quotable lyrics: "Good energy and bad energy / I've got plenty of energy / It's my currency"; "Security, will you let me in your pub? / I'm not looking for trouble, I'm looking for love." Just typing those out makes me wanna get drunk and steal a cop car.




#12
Loscil
Clara

As dark and immersive as Loscil has ever sounded. Despite its 70-minute runtime, Clara is largely sourced from a single, 3-minute orchestral composition. That original recording was then clipped, manipulated, and stretched into an enveloping, late-night haze of lush, Lynch-ian strings, grainy static, unnamed echoes, glimmering drones, and weightless synths. From my vantage point, ambient music currently is as popular as it's ever been -- probably because everyone in the world is suffering from some form of chronic anxiety -- thus, the market's been saturated with half-baked albums designed to get recommended to you by an algorithm, thereby making a subtle, thoughtful, and quietly stunning album like Clara feel all the more miraculous.





#11
JPEGMAFIA
LP!

Further dispatches from one of the most consistently challenging, dynamic rapper-producers on the planet. JPEGMAFIA albums are always chaotic affairs, and LP! really leans into that idea-packed sensibility on all fronts. Its instrumentals careen from bubbling synths to pitch-shifted gospel to Animals As Leaders (yes, the instrumental prog-metal band) samples to lo-fi R&B to blown-out nihilism. Lyrically, as always, everyone's suspect, from the police to pop stars to peers to his own friends and edgelord fans, and his vocals range from a gravelly, rapid-fire near-whisper to hyped-up shouts, often within the same song. None of this is particularly new to the world of JPEGMAFIA, but LP! is, to me, the tightest, most fully-realized album yet from this uncompromisingly singular artist.




#10
William Doyle
Great Spans of Muddy Time

Inventive, scatterbrained, electronics-heavy art pop. Doyle sings in a bright croon that easily glides across lush, churning seas of synths and glitch, equally adept at conveying starry-eyed wonder ("There is another reality / Beyond the one we've chosen to read as gospel / And never is that truer than in your light") and crippling depression ("We're buried beneath great lengths of nothing at all.") These searching, poetic lyrics are complimented by a series of rickety, lo-fi instrumentals, found throughout the album, that at times almost appear to still be under construction, helping to flesh out a narrative of self-exploration and emotional rawness.




#9
Wednesday
Twin Plagues

"Grunge lives!" So said an old, departed friend of mine when I first played him "Little Judas Chongo" by Melvins, a moment in time that has over the years become a reaction gif that plays in my head every time I hear a perfect piece of grunge revival, like Twin Plagues' album-opening title track. Every piece of writing about Wednesday refers to them as a shoegaze band, and that's certainly a part of their sound, but I also hear a lot of Magic Dirt's gnarly distortion and Helium's narcotized guitar heroics. Wednesday hits hard and heavy, then out of nowhere they hit you with a heartbroken, alt-country reverie like "How Can You Live If You Can't Love How Can You If You Do" (which my friend mistook for Mazzy Star) and you realize that, as great as this band already is, as young as they are, their potential is positively massive.




#8
Cory Hanson
Pale Horse Rider

A midnight trip down a lost highway of psychedelic Americana from this Wand bandleader. Surrealist country and folk-rock songs with a hazy, mystical quality and ghostly, understated arrangements -- finger-picked guitars, pedal steel, piano, understated drumming -- that occasionally take on amorphous clouds of atmospheric psychedelia. I hear echoes of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, particularly in the sprawling, ramshackle "Another Song from the Center of the Earth", and I refuse to believe that "Angeles" isn't, in part, an homage to the Elliott Smith song of the same name. However, taken as a whole, Pale Horse Rider -- and the world of dimly-lit desert roads and late-night longing that it conjures -- is entirely Hanson's own creation.




#7
Andrew W.K.
God Is Partying

There's a song on The Sophtware Slump, Grandaddy's low-budget masterpiece of turn-of-the-millennium angst, that's written from the point of view of a suicidal robot who's been neglected by his inventors. It's one of my favorite songs, and one lyric in particular has always stood out to me: "I try to sing it funny like Beck / But it's bringing me down." That lyric always struck me as clever, but it took on new meaning when, a couple of years later, Sea Change came out, and, it seemed, even Beck couldn't sing it funny anymore.

I got a similar feeling upon hearing God Is Partying, in which the Party God, advice columnist, workout enthusiast, and overall hype man for all that is good, true, and positive in this world, has seemingly succumbed to the ever-encroaching darkness. This darkness permeates the lyrics ("Take the world as a loss", "Annihilate, turn me to dust", "I'm in hell") and the music, which is the heaviest he has ever produced; in addition to the expected Def Leppard-via-Meat Loaf bombast, I hear a bit of synth-y, No More Tears-era Ozzy and modern prog metal. If I were to speculate, I might suggest that his recent divorce influenced this artistic direction. Regardless, God Is Partying is definitely the best thing he's put out since the incredible, overlooked The Wolf.





#6
Lice
WASTELAND: What Ails Our People Is Clear

A friend of mine, bless his heart, is constantly sending me links to new post-punk records that, to my ears, are all completely interchangeable. I forget how I came across Lice -- it wasn't through him -- but their chaotic songwriting, ranting vocals, thunderous drumming, and discordant, city-leveling sound absolutely blow all that shit out of the water. You can tell that Lice are fans of The Birthday Party and The Fall, but they use those sounds as inspirations, not end goals. Because they're from Bristol, comparisons to Idles are inevitable, but Lice are way weirder, more ambitious, and all-around far more interesting -- to me, anyway. (No hate, I do like that band.) A dystopian, sci-fi concept album, WASTELAND rides the precarious line between pretension and taking the piss so skillfully, it's absolutely impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins.




#5
Ferriterium
Calvaire

Towering monoliths of orthodox (are people still calling it that?) black metal with massive, wall-of-sound production. Each of these four songs is constructed as a multi-part epic -- with all the ring-outs and tempo changes that go along with that -- but it's all so well-written and flows so naturally, it's utterly compelling and filler-free. The guitar work, almost all melodic, tremolo-picked perfection, comes courtesy of the band's only official member, Raido, who also handles bass and vocals. The riffs and melodies are so fucking great, it might take you a few listens to notice session drummer Thyr absolutely playing his ass off, effortlessly intermingling frenzied blasts, thrashing one-twos, and hyper-speed double-kicks with slower, heavy-hitting drama. Who knew that the black metal AOTY would be out before the end of January?




#4
Injury Reserve
By the Time I Get to Phoenix

Hip-hop deconstructed to the point that it's nearly unrecognizable. By the Time I Get to Phoenix actually took me a few listens to really wrap my head around, because I kept going into it expecting, on some level, a hip-hop record, and it sounds absolutely nothing like any hip-hop I've ever heard. It's a raw, writhing, mind-melting mass of stuttering beats, wandering synth lines, chopped-up samples, grunge-y guitars, surreal raps, and warped vocal hooks, and it's all as fascinating as it is utterly disorienting.

Completed in the wake of the death of bandmate Stepa J. Groggs, By the Time I Get to Phoenix is the best kind of tribute album. There are songs that directly address the group's grief. In the particularly devastating "Top Picks for You", they describe algorithms as extensions of their departed friend's life after signing into his Netflix account and scanning the recommended viewing, accompanied by Netflix's encouragement to "jump back in." But the tribute isn't just in the album's subject matter. Injury Reserve suffered a devastating loss, but instead of breaking up or retreating, they steered headlong into the eye of the storm, and emerged with an incredible, challenging piece of art that would unquestionably have made their friend proud.




#3
Converge & Chelsea Wolfe
Bloodmoon: I

Converge changed my life. I've been to a bunch of their shows and they've always killed it, but nothing will ever top the first one. I was 17 and on a road trip up and down the west coast with my mom, dad, and sister. While we were staying with my aunt and cousins in San Diego, the older cousin suggested that we go to a show, and I was into it based solely on the fact that it would be an opportunity to smoke cigarettes and possibly get drunk. It wasn't until we were in the car that I found out that we were going to see motherfucking Converge with American Nightmare opening at some VFW hall-type venue. It was phenomenal. I bought a T-shirt from Jacob Bannon himself (at least, I thought so at the time), moshed, took a spin-kick to the face, moshed with a bloody nose to "My Great Devastator", and went home reeking of cigarettes, positively vibrating with excitement. When the vacation was over, I immediately joined a band with the primary goal of sounding as much like Converge (and Catharsis) as possible. While I don't have the same kind of history with Chelsea Wolfe, I am definitely a fan, and have loved the turn towards witchy sludge metal that she's taken with her past couple of records.

I'm really not sure what 17-year-old me would make of Bloodmoon. It sounds closer to Chelsea Wolfe than to Converge, and definitely sounds nothing like those early records, or anything they've released since then, for that matter. No one's gonna do amateur karate moves if they play it out. And as opposed to discordant and fast, it's melodic and slow, with more sung vocals than screamed, and it's fleshed out with pianos, bells, acoustic guitars, and synths. There are overtones of space rock and noir Americana all over the place. One song sounds exactly like Jupiter-era Cave-In (whose Stephen Brodsky also appears on a couple of tracks.) But as far as 39-year-old me is concerned, it's a sumptuous feast for the ears -- Ballou's production never fails -- and a welcome change for a band that, for me, has been impressive but not particularly compelling for the past decade or so. Honestly, this is the record that I've wanted them to make ever since I first heard the slow-burning anguish of Jane Doe's epic title track fade into eternity. Here's hoping there's a Bloodmoon: II.




#2
Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
Theory of Ice

Of all of the albums that I loved from this year, Theory of Ice is the one that I feel least qualified to discuss. In addition to her work as a musician, Simpson is an acclaimed poet, and Theory of Ice is rooted in a series of pieces that she wrote about water. And despite the depressive screeds that filled my notebooks when I was 16-18, I actually know jack shit about poetry. Additionally -- and more significantly -- she is a scholar of the Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg, an indigenous people who originally occupied what is now called southern Ontario, and this record is heavily informed by that cultural experience and knowledge. So that's two worlds of practices, reference points and standards about which I know virtually nothing.

What I do know, though, is that Theory of Ice is as moving a record as I heard this year. Musically, it's a tasteful mix of acoustic and electric guitars, piano/keys, gentle percussion, and Simpson's hushed, whispery voice -- an endlessly pleasant sound that lands it somewhere in the realm of indie-folk-rock. Lyrically, though, it's absolutely fascinating, and often wrenching. It's rich with images of wintery beauty, familial love, and tribal traditions, but shot through with the uncertainty of melting sheets of ice, leaky boats, and failing crops.

Every song is breathtaking. "The Wake" has a bright, simple acoustic strum that suggests innocence, making lines like "Injured certified / I wish I'd held you when you died" cut like knives; by the time its ending refrain of "Ashes in my eyes crushed fires" rolls around, the world is falling down around you. "Viscosity" is a cleansing ritual for the toxicity of online culture and neoliberalism. Then there's the centerpiece, a cover of Canadian/indigenous folk singer Willie Dunn's "I Pity the Country", which Simpson transforms from a straightforward folk protest song into a glimmering, slow-building anthem that highlights both the sadly timeless nature of the song's lyrics and the sense of catharsis that can come from simply saying things like "I pity the country, I pity the state / And the mind of a man who thrives on hate" aloud, for whoever will listen.




#1
Marissa Nadler
The Path of the Clouds

Midway through The Path of the Clouds' stunning title track, a gorgeously hazy twin guitar solo comes bursting through the clouds like light from the heavens. It's the kind of magical, transportive sound that made me fall in love with music as a kid, and upon first hearing it, I immediately realized that Nadler had stepped it WAY up for this one. The Path of the Clouds is still rooted in the spectral, reverb-soaked folk that she'd already mastered in the mid-aughts, but the sound here is by far the most lush and psychedelic in her discography: a full-band sound painted in bright swirls of harp, synth, organ, piano, chimes, woodwinds, and more. Every time I hear it, I feel like I'm levitating.

It's not just the sound that gets me, though. These are some of the most evocative songs and melodies that Nadler's ever written. She digs deep into mysterious disappearances -- apparently due to a quarantine-based fascination with old episodes of Unsolved Mysteries -- to breathtaking, chilling effect. At times, she gives voice to the disappeared and their suspected tragic ends; elsewhere, she's simply telling their stories, leaving them suspended in mid-air like ghostly question marks. They feel both deeply rooted in the traditions of Laurel Canyon folk rock and beamed directly into our world via some portal from Hades.

I took my time with this one. I really did. I listened to it a bunch of times before I even wanted to talk to anyone about it, because apparently, few artists inspire in me hyperbole like Marissa Nadler. When the self-titled came out, I said it was her best. Same for July, then Strangers. I may have even briefly said it about For My Crimes. Between albums, though, I always seem to revert back to Songs III: Bird on the Water. So when midway through my first listen to The Path of the Clouds, I found myself thinking, "Holy shit, this is totally her best album!" I had to take a beat, lest I play myself yet again. But here I am, a month later, still thinking it, so I'm gonna call it what it is: her masterpiece, and my favorite album of 2021.

Friday, December 3, 2021

TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES



Blogger isn't working right, so I can't finish my damn list. Like, the list and writeups are done but I can't make the actual post. In the meantime, enjoy this video that I probably watched about 25 times this year.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Blackdeath - Fucking Fullmoon Foundation (2002)


Previously on OPIUM HUM:
Blackdeath - Saturn Sector (1998)

Been putting the finishing touches on year-end stuff, hence the lack of posting. Should be up tomorrow, hopefully. In the meantime, here's some sick black metal. Nasty riffs, ghoulish vocals, and relentless, dynamics-averse songs. Hypnotic, lightless aural perversions.

Track listing:
1. Das Kriechende Chaos
2. Unholy Church
3. Dei Carnifex (Funeral March I)
4. The Hunger of Possession
5. In Erwartung des Blutes
6. Blind Messiah
7. Northward of the North
8. Unter den Toten (Trauermarsch II)
9. Dance Macabre


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Saturday, November 27, 2021

Solex - Solex vs. The Hitmeister (1998)


Should-be classic debut from Solex, a.k.a. Amsterdam-based artist Elisabeth Esselink. Built on off-kilter drum loops; Esselink's cooing, at times kinda punk vocals; and heaps of dusty, fragmented samples, Solex vs. The Hitmeister is trip-hop by default, but is without a doubt its own strange, whimsical, woozy scene. One of those records that never failed to make me feel extremely hip when I'd put it on while getting stoned with friends in high school, even though none of my friends in high school really liked shit like this. And if you're one of the friends in question (I know at least one of you comes 'round here from time to time): don't lie, you know you only listened to anarcho-punk, NIN, and Weezer.

Track listing:
1. One Louder Solex
2. Solex Feels Lucky
3. Solex in a Slipshod Style
4. Waking Up with Solex
5. Solex's Snag
6. Rolex by Solex
7. There's a Rolex on the Run
8. Solex All Licketysplit
9. Solex for a While
10. Some Solex
11. When Solex Just Stood There
12. Peppy Solex
13. Solex Is Barely Dressed [bonus]


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Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Funeral Moth - Dense Fog (2014)


Japanese funeral doom. Minimal, miserable, and extremely down-tuned, with stark, completely unadorned production. Three songs topping 20 minutes -- one of which is pushing half an hour -- plus an interlude.

Track listing:
1. 盲目 - Blindness
2. Behind the Closed Door
3. 濃霧 - Dense Fog
4. 自害 - Kill Yourself


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Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Bill Frisell - In Line (1983)


Previously on OPIUM HUM:

By request, here's Bill Frisell's first solo album. Lovely ambient jazz consisting entirely of Frisell's ethereal, gracefully layered guitars and, intermittently, standup bass from ECM mainstay Arild Andersen. Soothing, wistful pieces that suggest both solace and loneliness.

Track listing:
1. Start
2. Throughout
3. Two Arms
4. Shorts
5. Smile on You
6. The Beach
7. In Line
8. Three
9. Godson Song


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Saturday, November 20, 2021

Necrofilia - Sein Zum Tode (1995)


Related:

One-off collaboration between Italian noise artists Marco Corbelli and Devis Granzeria. Rumbling, often rhythmic noise, piercing electronics, and distorted, rasping vocals. More of a slow-burn than an all-out onslaught.

Track listing:
1. Essere per la morte
2. Reprise
3. Inside Ath
4. Tumescenza
5. Il Corpo
6. Distruzione e catarsi
7. Esame interno del tronco
8. Efil


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Friday, November 19, 2021

Jon Brion - Meaningless (2000)


First solo album by composer/musician/producer Jon Brion, who's composed scores for a whole bunch of movies, including Magnolia, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (my introduction to Brion), and Punch-Drunk Love. Tuneful, sweet-sounding, yet deeply bitter songs that will land like a long lost friend to any fan of Elliott Smith in Beatles mode. He's obviously stayed plenty busy over the years, but I really wish he'd put out another record like this one.

Track listing:
1. Gotta Start Somewhere
2. I Believe She's Lying
3. Meaningless
4. Ruin My Day
5. Walking Through Walls
6. Trouble
7. Hook, Line, and Sinker
8. Dead to the World
9. Her Ghost
10. Same Mistakes
11. Voices


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