Sunday, October 31, 2010

Listening Habits 09-10.10

In the last couple of months we had the opportunity to listen to several exceptionally strong releases and I feel it’s time for a couple of nice lists that sum up our favorite albums and tracks for the fall season.

At the top of the pile of discs that weigh down the desk of Cool Music Central (yes, I still buy cds) we find "Everything In Between", the third and easily the best album by LA noise duo No Age. Over the past decade we had several examples that the two-member, guitarist-drummer, band line-up could work wonders. No Age is certainly a fine example of that, producing a wholesome, thoroughly satisfying racket using just the bare essentials.

With its latest work, No Age goes beyond its previous achievements by finally managing to master the fine art of balancing melody and noise. The drum beat that threatens to explode in the opening "Life Prowler" is kept under control, giving propulsion to the melancholic vocals and the restrained guitar melody instead of crushing them underfoot. The fury is gradually unleashed in the tracks that follow: "Glitter" is a perfect slab of noisy power-pop in the spirit of early ‘90s Sebadoh, while in "Fever Dreaming" and "Depletion" the amps are turned up to 11 and the punk-rock fireworks light the sky Husker Du-style.  "Common Heat" resets the album to melodic mode and the cycle that eventually leads to even more controlled noise explosions and spectacular sonic demolitions - reconstructions starts all over again. In short, No Age comes of age and delivers the noise-rock masterpiece it had promised all along.

Grinderman’s 2007 debut marked Nick Cave’s surprising return to the primitive blues-punk sound of his wild Birthday Party days. The mean, lean sound of Grinderman carried over to the next Bad Seeds record, making "Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!" one of the best in the group’s remarkable history. With "Grinderman 2" it seems that the two separate projects have sonically merged, making this album sound more like the follow up to "Lazarus", in places violently noisy and chaotic ("Mickey Mouse And The Goodbye Man", "Evil"), in others more subtle and broodingly melodic ("When My Baby Comes"). In other words, another exemplary work for Nick Cave and his crew, which may be a few men down in the Grinderman vessel but it’s no less willing and able to deliver the goods.

As I was saying in our Primavera Sound festival coverage here, a place in punk-rock Valhalla is already reserved for Les Savy Fav thanks to all their incredible shows and amazingly powerful records, with 2007’s "Let's Stay Friends" being their crowning achievement. "Root for Ruin" is its highly anticipated sequel and it’s finally here to provide further proof, if anyone still needed it, of the unique ability of this band to create killer punk-rock tunes. Of course a near perfect record like "Let's Stay Friends" is hard to be surpassed, but the new effort carries enough punch to come close to it and possesses plenty of new material ("Appetites", "Dirty Knails", "Let's Get Out Of Here") to add fuel to the band’s live extravaganza. Book your tickets now!

Speaking of killer punk-rock tunes, here comes Superchunk with its first record in 9 years. "Majesty Shredding", as the title suggests, provides shredding guitars and majestic shout-along noise anthems in the vein of the band’s early '90s best work. The long absence seems to have renewed the enthusiasm and reenergized the band who once again is able to admirably combine speedy, urgent punk with memorable melodies like no one else has done since the heyday of Buzzcocks.

Black Mountain goes for a different blend in "Wilderness Heart". The Canadian rockers mix heavy '70s psychedelic rock with serene folk and the end result is a wonderfully delightful concoction that should earn them a wider audience. "Let Spirits Ride" combines Black Sabbath with Hawkwind and is easily the best hard rock track of the year, while "Radiant Hearts" is a fine example of the tender folk that also occupies a special place in the band’s heart. The majestic title track and the powerful "Old Fangs" where Stephen McBean and Amber Webber trade vocals in perfect harmony are two further examples of the album’s many irresistible charms.

A different strain of folk resides in the electronic rhythms of Glasser’s excellent debut "Ring". Cameron Mesirow’s solo project turned band creates futuristic folk melodies based on tribal percussion and spooky synthesizers reminiscent of Fever Ray (with whom she shares the production team of Van Rivers and the Subliminal Kid) and Bat For Lashes. The end result sounds like the soundtrack to a magical trip through an enchanted forest where Cameron’s ethereal voice acts as your guide to safety.

Our Top 8 for September-October also includes the self-titled Interpol LP (more about it here) and Blonde Redhead’s eighth full-length, "Penny Sparkle", where the former no-wavers abandon the intricate guitar work of their past in favor of icy electronica. In this transformation we once again find the fingerprints of Swedish production duo Van Rivers and the Subliminal Kid who have co-produced the album with the band. The synth-wizards have helped Blonde Redhead to brilliantly execute the magic trick of making the guitar, the foundation of their sound so far, disappear from sight while managing to retain intact the elaborate and fragile sound sculptures that they construct around it. The end result is as breathtaking and achingly beautiful as ever.

Top 15 Albums

1.  Everything In Between - NO AGE
2.  Ring - GLASSER
3.  Grinderman 2 - GRINDERMAN
4.  Wilderness Heart - BLACK MOUNTAIN
5.  Root For Ruin - LES SAVY FAV
6.  Majesty Shredding - SUPERCHUNK
7.  Penny Sparkle - BLONDE REDHEAD
8.  Interpol - INTERPOL
9.  Phosphene Dream - THE BLACK ANGELS
10. The Hundred In The Hands - THE HUNDRED IN THE HANDS
11. Transit Transit - AUTOLUX
12. Absolute Dissent - KILLING JOKE
13. How I Got Over - THE ROOTS
14. Rough Trade Shops Psych Folk 10 - VARIOUS ARTISTS
15. Surfing The Void - KLAXONS

Top 20 Tracks

1. Mirrorage - GLASSER
2. Barricade - INTERPOL
3. Everybody's under your spell - THE DUKE SPIRIT
4. Glitter - NO AGE
5. Worm tamer - GRINDERMAN
6. Let spirits ride - BLACK MOUNTAIN
7. Let’s get out of here - LES SAVY FAV
8. My gap feels weird - SUPERCHUNK
9. Not getting there - BLONDE REDHEAD
10. Ashes to ashes - WARPAINT
12. How I got over - THE ROOTS
13. Bad vibrations - THE BLACK ANGELS
14. Census - AUTOLUX
15. Sleep forever - CROCODILES
16. Stiff little fingers - DUM DUM GIRLS
17. The great cull - KILLING JOKE
18. Seed, crop, harvest - PRINZHORN DANCE SCHOOL
19. Slow - TWIN SHADOW
20. Veronica Sawyer - SUMMER CAMP

Glasser - Mirrorage

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