Music exists in many things; mostly it exists in a vacuum. Without proper press, hype and critical lauding an album has a fart’s chance in a snowstorm of being recognized. Sometimes you have two of those elements, sometimes just one, sometimes all three but nobody can look beyond their nose to understand what a band is doing. I’m no better, but I try every year to be a little more forward thinking in what I’m listening to. In 2011 there were some great records that nobody cared about.
It’s not just the kooky underground kids and their wacky rock n roll that got overlooked; some bigger names got sloshed in the muck of critical ambivalence and consumer ignorance. It took a long time for me to separate those that were overlooked from my best of list. In reality I would have added some of these records except I hate when a best of list is 25 or 30 records long. It seems lazy to me, like saying fuck it to a quiche and just making scrambled eggs. Other albums here weren’t the best of the year, but they also deserved a hell of a lot more spotlight time then they received. With that in mind I give you my ten albums in 2011 that I feel deserve a second look.
Album: Live For Nothing
Label: Southern Lord
If you don’t know Noothgrush then you need to start learning. I saw this band in the late nineties and they burned my skull into ashes. This isn’t an easy act to follow. In their scant years together Noothgrush released a few split 7”s, one album and a collection CD, which are all hard to come by. Now the great and powerful Southern Lord have released Live For Nothing, a collection of two radio broadcasts that Noothgrush performed in 1996 and 1999. Slow, sludge mired and doom inspired slabs of sonic destruction that belong in the same annals of greatness as Neurosis, Grief, Eyehategod and so on. Noothgrush are just as good as any of them, possibly better, and have a catalog of some of the most raw, honest and painful music ever. If you consider yourself a heavy music fan and you missed this record, slap yourself and then go buy it.
09. Karma To Burn
Label: Napalm Records
Vis classic Karma To Burn, thick grooves, dirty fuzzed out tones and all of it layered over intricate song structures. At some point during V, you will be forced to groove; there is no way to escape. V will have you making with the pumping fist or the head bop and uttering the eternal music phrase “Fuck yeah”. Karma To Burn never limit themselves to just the grooves. The band weaves some great guitar and bass parts just beneath the main riff. The drums also play an important part here. Instead of mimicking the bass or keeping time with the groove, drummer Rob Oswald is constantly changing it up, conforming his drums to the shape of the riff being played instead of just the groove. With their vicious rock pedigree I was surprised more folks didn’t load up on the fine rock goodness of V. Well idiots, now is your second chance!
08. Thurston Moore
Album: Demolished Thoughts
Label: Matador Records
I know, right, like Thurston Moore needs any more attention. Well, wait, maybe he does. This isn’t the year punk broke; in fact this is twenty years after punk broke (for the third time). Sonic Youth are still elder statesmen but they aren’t the force they once were. With that came some indifference towards Thurston Moore’s third solo album Demolished Thoughts. Produced by Beck and featuring songs that range from the melancholy to the unsettling, Moore’s latest solo work should have been a lot more lauded than it was. Beck rocks some instruments here and Moore brings in buddies Mary Lattimore on harp and Samar Lubielski on violin. What makes Demolished Thoughts worth checking out is how deftly Moore moves from easy acoustic ballad work to stuff that’s slightly more disturbing without losing the flow of the record. I also like how hardcore Sonic Youth fans will probably hate this album because they’ll see it as completely out from what the band does but in reality, it works right in line with their musical mission. I say rediscover Demolished Thoughts and it’ll leave you thurstin’ for moore (I had to)
Album: Attention Please
Label: Sargent House
Some people didn’t like this Boris album, some people dismissed it because it was different than the usual sonic throwdown of heavy rock Boris kicks out. For me, those people missed out on a nicely bizarre and fun record. One allowing Boris to lighten up a bit. Guitarist Wata (who is hotter than the sun) steps up for vocal duties here and I love her voice almost as much as her guitar playing and choice of rubber outfits. Attention Please has some sixties pop jams, some near disco numbers and even a bit of psychedelic noise all blended up and ready for a refreshing serve. I really don’t know why people fronted on this album. Some bitched about the mixes, some said it had no dimension to it. I don’t see any of that. What I see is another funky ass direction from a band that can’t sit still. Hit or miss, pass or fail, at least Boris is out there doing whatever they want to do. If you can open your mind just the tiniest bit, Attention Please might worm its way in there for good.
06. Nader Sadek
Album: In The Flesh
Label: Season Of Mist
This could be seen as an all-star record as it involves a veritable who’s who of extreme music artists. Most of the work here is the collaboration between Nader Sadek and ex-Morbid Angel songwriter/vocalist Steve Tucker. Playing alongside Sadek and Tucker are Crypstopsy drummer Flo Mounier and composer/guitarist Rune Eriksen (ex-Mayhem). Other guests include Attila Csihar (Mayhem), Travis Ryan (Cattle Decapitation), Tony Norman (Monstrosity), Descructhor (Morbid Angel), and Nick McMaster (Krallice). While the roster is impressive, the music behind In The Flesh is equally so. It’s clear that Nader Sadek approaches music from a visual art perspective. The songs here are swathed in textures and broad strokes of both noise and guitars. Some will say this Black Metal, other Death Metal, but to me In The Flesh is more Nader Sadek’s twisted art vision born into a new medium. The music is brutal and clearly has its roots in more tepid extreme music, but something deeper is going on. There is a screaming desperation, a guttural ugliness that transcends genre. In The Flesh is performance art with guitars, a noise album of feedback that picks up a groove pushed along by methodical drumming.
Album: Green Naugahyde
Label: ATO Records/Red
I haven’t really cared about Primus since Tales From The Punchbowl. I dug some of Les Claypool’s solo work and side projects, but really I just listened to the classic Primus albums. With that in mind I can understand how folks let Green Naugahyde pass by. I was just as guilty, and if it hadn’t been for a dire need for review material, I might have never heard it. What I discovered was an album that bridges the chasm between Les Claypool’s solo material and the Primus work we all love so much. Groovy, bass slapping oddball jams are the point of order on Green Naugahyde, with as much focus on songwriting as showing off. Les doesn’t overpower the music with bass insanity, he allows the group to jump off his bass strings rather than get choked by them. As an added bonus we get “Last Salmon Man”, the continued adventures of John The Fisherman. Take a breath, release your misgivings about Les Claypool’s jazzier work and check out Green Naugahyde again.
Album: Party Store
Label: In The Red Records
The idea of techno classics is an odd one to me, but if a fucking blowtorch of a band like the Dirtbombs see fit to call them that and release and album of guitar driven covers then so be it. There are few things as pleasing as The Dirtbombs and listening to them run their guitar monster truck over the Prius of techno music is nothing but complete delight. Handclaps, thumping bass lines, dance drums and fuzzed out guitar make Party Store the invaluable party record of 2011. If you want something to bring your New Years Eve jamboree to full boil then add this album to multiple cocktails and watch the sex bomb fiesta explode. Why this album dropped with little to no fanfare outside of those in the know is a mystery to me. I blast Party Store every day and it always puts me in a good mood. The only reason it’s not on my list of best albums is that it’s covers and I felt I should reserve that list for original music. Regardless, you must run out right now and buy Party Store. If you do and don’t like it then demons have stolen your soul and you probably suck in bed.
03. Beastie Boys
Album: Hot Sauce Committee Part 2
Label: Capitol Records
Many have theorized why the eighth album from Hip Hop masters the Beastie Boys fell flat. Some say it’s because the tragic cancer that struck MCA kept the band from touring, others claim it was the stupid video they released to introduce the album and the real haters started saying the band was just done. I don’t think any of that is true. For me this album was overlooked because the Beastie Boys stepped completely outside their comfort zone and gave us an original look at Hip Hop steeped in the lessons of the old school. There was no clever “Sabotage” songs, no hits or easily digestible tunes on Hot Sauce Committee Part 2. Instead the Beasties took the robot rock digital sounds from songs like “Planet Rock” and “The Message” and updated the science. It’s not old or new school; it’s a different school that features strange classes on the future of Hip Hop. To be completely frank, people were just scared of this record. They couldn’t put it into a typical Beastie Boys mold or even classify it within Hip Hop and so folks turned away. Too bad because they missed an album that I truly believe will be seen as important to the future of Hip Hop within the next decade. It was just edged out for my top ten list of the year but I still think it’s an album everyone should review once more.
02. The Civil Wars
Album: Barton Hollow
Label: Sensibility Music
I have an important safety tip for you on Barton Hollow. If the woman you absolutely adored and loved came out of nowhere and ended your relationship, utterly destroying you, don’t listen to the album. That’s how I first heard this minimalist acoustic tour de force and it made me cry. I couldn’t get through half of Barton Barton Hollow without falling apart completely. It took me six months to be able to listen to it all the way through and really discover the genius here. The Civil Wars is made up of Joy Williams and John Paul White, two people blessed with angelical and other worldly voices. Gorgeous vocals that blend together into an emotional core so powerful it will break your heart when you hear it. Everything on Barton Hollow is perfect, from the arrangements to the acoustic guitar playing to the mixes to the harmonies and so on. Some classified this as alt-folk or alt-country and they are alt-stupid. What White and Williams do has no place within any genre specification. It’s too honest and too beautiful. As lame as it sounds I think I kept Barton Hollow off my best of the year list because it still hurts to listen to.
01. The Caretaker
Album: An Empty Bliss Beyond This World
Label: History Always Favours The Winners Records
This is an exceptional album that seems made just for me. I have a soft spot for old 78rpm records as well as creepy old-time jazz and the movie The Shining. The Caretaker is actually James Kirby an art noise and sampling autor who has been dazzling folks with his weird combinations for years. An Empty Bliss Beyond This World is his love letter to old 78s as well as The Shining. Haunting, creepy and wonderful to listen to, the album is as fascinating in creation as it is in execution. Kirby took a 2010 study of Alzheimer’s patients, which suggested that they had an easier time remembering things when placed in the context of music, and applied it to Bliss. The music is layered and emotional but also familiar. Some loops just repeat, some connect in strange ways and others end in the middle of an idea. An Empty Bliss Beyond This World is transcendent, intoxicating and sometimes confusing. This is a record you can totally relax to or sit there and analyze to death. Either way it’s a strong accomplishment from an artist who isn’t short on those. I’m guessing this kind of music skates right past the average listener and while a critical darling, it’s hard to hawk something so lacking in convention to the public. Being a sonofabitch stickler I kept it off my best list because it isn’t original music but really, it completely should have been on there. I urge you to check it out again.
2011 closes out and does with so much music none of us have even heard yet. I hope these ten records will get the wheels spinning to not just check them out but also seek anything and everything you missed this year. We have a finite time on this planet, so find every artistic statement you can and play it at full volume.