Do you like Huey Lewis and the News? I find talking about music is such a subjective experience, throwing about vague assertions while trying to claim it’s just an opinion, but kind of fact. Then there are those that use it as an excuse to stretch thin their English lit degree. I did it because I’m a narcissist. Over a year ago I wrote up my Top Albums of 2005 with brief descriptions of each album, and then a few months ago, supplemented that with my 2005 catch-up list. This time, it’s more extensive.

Covenant - Skyshaper

I feel like this Swedish band’s creative well has really run dry. Sequencer and Europa are both essential releases in the EBM scene for its mix of synthpop and industrial. Skyshaper simply repeats past trends, such as the lead single “Ritual Noise” sounding the same as Sequencer‘s “Stalker” and “Sweet & Salty’s” hard beat coming straight out of United States of Mind’s “Dead Stars”. The piano-led second single, “Brave New World”, along with the general eradication of the trance-synth from their last two albums propel Skyshaper from being a disappointment to at least an entry in this list.

Front Line Assembly - Artificial Soldier

49

Front Line Assembly

Artificial Soldier

Metropolis

2004’s Civilization was a reunion of Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber and now they’re back along with previous FLA member Chris Peterson and new blood Jeremy Inkel. Given the number of personalities involved, you would think diversity would come into play. Not so much. Much of the album sounds retrofied, with previous ideas used with new equipment and LOUD production. Last summer I used this album often when running and found many times I couldn’t discern what song was playing by the thirty second intro found on each track due to the bloody sameness. This is a common complaint about El Leebo’s side-projects, tending to follow the same formulas. Break beat drum programming, layered synths, unnerving background ambience, epic string pads, and the shouted rhyming verses, usually ending in “shun” (dissension! condemnation! redemption! liposuction! baby abduction!).

For the first time (ignoring Everything Must Perish‘s B-side, “Providence”), FLA brings in guest singers; specifically Front 242’s Jean-Luc DeMeyer on “Future Fail” and “The Storm”, featuring Covenant’s Eskil Simonsson. Surprise, these two tracks end up sounding just like their respective bands. The last track, “World War III”, has a synth-line that’s directly from “This Faith” on 1994’s Millennium. On the plus side, the shuffle beat and circling bass line on Dopamine are pretty sweet. After the Delerium-tinted Civilization, I could see Front Line Assembly showing hints of heading in a more interesting direction, but this one just turns back the clock. It’s FLA-by-the-numbers, which I’ll listen to when in need of some driving synth tunes, but it was a bit of a let-down overall.

Incubus - Light Grenades

48

Incubus

Light Grenades

Epic

I’m still waiting for S.C.I.E.N.C.E. Pt. 2 or at least a step away from the adult contemporary rock radio, but it just ain’t happenin’. During their ballads, Brandon Boyd’s emoting is much like a lady menstruating. See: “Love Hurts” or “Earth to Bella” in both parts. No, I’m not politically correct or inclusive. The title track is about the closest you’ll find to their prior funk metal-infused songs, where the whole band plays at a breakneck speed and scream at the top of their lungs. The rest teeters between the balladry and Foo Fighters’ alt-rock, with quality production to make it a decent headphone album. That guitar in “Dig” is catchy as fuck! “Anna Molly” uses the line, “I could care less”, which I hope is intentionally ironic in a non-Alanis way. I can accept Incubus are a pop band and are very unlikely to expand my mind at this point. But I can still cradle my copy of S.C.I.E.N.C.E. Also, honourable 2006 mention to bassist Ben Kenney’s sophomore album, Maduro.

...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead - So Divided

Where have they gone? Source Tags and Codes was a tight collection of noisy indie rock, finding that perfect balance between immediacy and thoughtful introspection. The Secret of Elena’s Tomb EP and World’s Apart moved in less desirable directions, making their sound more studio and less indie. Hint: If you’re singing about selling out, don’t do so yourself. So Divided is still similar to World’s Apart, with more of a focus on atmosphere and large production than attempting to channel direct punk energy. “Naked Sun” has a blues guitar lick culminating in a fury of organ and brass instruments merging together. “Eight Day Hell” sounds like a Beach Boys jingle. The closing song, “Sunken Dreams”, is a quiet meandering piano/guitar/bass/drum with a spoken word passage about remembering times past, shifting into a choir with loud guitar in reverb. If there’s one word to describe Trail of the Dead’s sound, it’s epic. They’re helluva lot better than your standard indie rock, but put within the context of their own catalogue, this release is still inferior to earlier material.

Seabound - Double-Crosser

46

Seabound

Double-Crosser

Metropolis

Another electro-synthpop album with heav(ier) beats from that so-called future pop movement. If you liked this German duo’s Beyond Flatline, this is much of the same, but with consistently themed lyrics surrounding soured relationships. You get those known elements: references to bondage, brooding spoken/whispered vocals in reverb, digitally distorted sound effects, and pads fading in/out. The catchy choruses found in the intro track “Scorch the Ground” (produced by Covenant’s Eskil Simonsson) and “Castaway” are a caliber most acts in the scene can’t attain. They’re improving with every album, although it would be cool to see them get a producer in the “Real” pop world to help diversify their songwriting.

Brian Byrne - Tuesdays Thursdays and If It Rains

45

Brian Byrne

Tuesdays Thursdays and If It Rains

Kindling Music

I Mother Earth singer, Brian Bryne, decided to go in another direction from his band’s prog-influenced studio sound, more into low-key indie country. It’s a stark contrast, but I really believed the Newfoundland boy could pull it off. The demos he put online in 2005, recorded with some members of Canadian rock band Moist, focused completely on his voice and acoustic guitar, with electric/slide guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums pushed to the background of the mix. Of course, the label had him go back to re-record, resulting in this album. Now it’s leaning toward adult contemporary radio, with up-front production and a loss of intimacy. It also excludes the acoustic song, “Arizona”, which I think is the best he has written from a melody and vocal-standpoint. He still has a strong voice, but why must all beautiful things be turned into the lowest-common denominator by marketing? Nerd rage, I must have.

OSI - Free

44

OSI

Free

Inside Out

I consider this baby 2006’s substitute for Porcupine Tree, which is fitting since Steven Wilson was a guest on their 2003 debut. You love Opeth’s Damnation? You’ll likely dig this developed fetus. It’s a super group of sorts, with members of Fates Warning, Chroma Key, and Dream Theater, with a nü-prog-rock sound of atmospheric synths for moody listening. There are hints of aggression thrown in and Dream Theater’s Mike Portnoy finally stops wanking away behind the kit. It isn’t pop enough to be a transcendental hit and not prog enough to get the time-signature geeks all hot and bothered, but the mix finds a healthy balance. The lyrics are a bit dull, though.

Tool - 10,000 Days

43

Tool

10,000 Days

Volcano Entertainment

After their usual five year delay between albums, Tool has come out with more progressive rock-infused metal that is technically far beyond every other mainstream band. It’s sweet that the general public is smart enough to attend their concerts, allowing Tool the freedom to tell their record label to suck a fuck, not release a single, and take their time to record whatever they please. Sub-themes covered on 10,000 Days include reality television scheudenfreude (“Vicarious”), regret in relationships (“Jambi”), transitioning into the afterlife (“Wings For Marie (Part 1)”/”10,000 Days (Wings Pt. 2)”, hypocrisy (“The Pot”), drug-induced delusions (“Rosetta Stoned”), self-preservation (“Intension”), and blind dichotomization of beliefs (“Right in Two”). Overall, it is a concept album covering the death of singer Maynard James Keenan’s mother who passed away after spending 27 years in paralysis, a length of time referenced in the album title. Following that, he’s at his most confessional about how he sees the world around him as it related to his life around her passing.

Now isn’t that the bridge of Lateralus’ “Schism” introducing the album? Tool has the best drummer in rock music and one of the most one-dimensional guitarists, in one man’s opinion. You’ll find plenty of tapped/hammered-on/pulled-off technical pieces with the rhythm section pounding away sudden time signature shifts and rushes. It’s what you expect from the group. “Wings For Marie (Part 1)” is a more ambient piece, a built-up Parabol/Parabola-esque transition into “10,000 Days (Wings Pt. 2)”. “The Pot” is the Angry Song ala Ænima’s “Hooker With a Penis” or Lateralus’ “Ticks and Leeches”. “Lipan Conjuring”/”Lost Keys (Blame Hofmann)” are interludes similar to those found on Ænima, with the former containing Native American chanting and the latter, a conversation between a doctor and nurse about a patient not communicating. The closing track “Viginti Tres” ends the collection with industrial noise.

Overall, I think Maynard’s lyrics found a way to completely ruin the album, lacking the depth he’s shown before. The humour from “Rosetta Stoned” completely misses the mark, with gems like, “Did a slow-mo Matrix descent/Outta the butt end of the banana vessel” and the Trainspotting tribute: “goddamn shit the bed/typical”. Musically, I don’t think they’re as far-reaching as the band could be. Many passages are derivations of past work, with the only real experiments being quiet transitions between the so-called real songs that are long… and stuff.

TO ANYONE WHO THINKS TOOL SUCKS: READ THIS POST ON A WEBSITE I FOUND, AND FIND OUT WHY THEY ARE INCREDIBLE. No.

The Blood Brothers - Young Machetes

42

The Blood Brothers

Young Machetes

V2 Records

Some may say it’s selling out for a scream-o band to suddenly make its singing comprehensible, but I welcome that change. With dueling vocalists having the adolescent swagger to squeal your ears to deafness, The Blood Brothers have embraced the clear whisper to go along with their post-hardcore/”art punk” (!?) power-chord fueled songs. Some nerds like to think this album is a series of statements regarding death through the eyes of the war on terror. Personally, I’m still not paying attention to the lyrics. I take this collection as means to channel my still-born aggression through infectious hooks!

Pure Reason Revolution - The Dark Third

41

Pure Reason Revolution

The Dark Third

Holograph

Some kids go out and decide to go all out. This music is prog in the sense of being hella pretentious. When your band’s namesake references the Enlightenment, your album cover is a gray-scale image of a renaissance sculpture super-imposed on a Stanley Kubrick’s 2001-esque techni-colour background, and your tracklisting contains a song title in Latin, you know it’s time to step back and realize people aren’t going to take you too seriously. I imagine they know this. It’s nü-prog-rock!

I’ve read many comparisons to Oceansize, however I don’t see the similarities, especially since Oceansize does not employ strings, aside from Effloresce‘s finale, “Long Forgotten”. PRR’s main point of reference is Pink Floyd, for the spacey ambience found as a backing to most songs, with a rock edge. Another talking point is that the vocal harmonies calling for a name-check of the Beach Boys. …the hell? Whenever a band uses more than one singer to provide a simultaneous vocalization of a lyric, you don’t have to automatically say it’s the Beach Boys. Their vocals sound nothing like the Beach Boys. They’re male and female, which is different for prog leads, but in truth, I found the singing somewhat amateur, especially during “The Twycyn/Trembling Willows” (found only on the UK release) where each vocalist attempts to keep up to the tempo of a trash metal segment, but it ends up being a garbled mess that sounds like a failed American Idol audition.

Note that there are three different releases of this album, with the American/Europe pressings holding the track sequence that the band originally intended. They do manage to present an interesting sound involving the usual rock setup, but with the guitars pushed to the back while adding samples, pianos, and strings to make the mix more dense. There are sections that I found incredibly catchy, but improved vocals could make this group go a long way.

The Album Leaf - Into the Blue Again

40

The Album Leaf

Into the Blue Again

Sub Pop

In a time when post-everything music pushes each climax from the lowest valley to the heavens, TAL’s James LaValle tries something different – being boring. He is much like David Brent- basically being a chilled-out entertainer. Slow, melody-driven instrumentals flow from track to track, supplemented by programmed not-so-obtrusive glitch beats and acoustic instruments. After more than two years without a Telefon Tel Aviv album, it’s welcome to see TTA’s Josh Eutis help in the proceedings. Many portions are reminiscent of Telefon Tel Aviv, such as the beats found in “Red-Eye” and the failing tones during the intro of “Wherever I Go” that are almost lifted straight off Map of What is Effortless. The mood goes from mournful to pleasantly-content-and-looking-out-the-window-on-a-gray-day. Overall, the songs really don’t “go anywhere” in the sense that you look for in post-rock bands, but this is a cool album when you want to keep on the down-lo.

Pearl Jam - Pearl Jam

39

Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam

J Records

Personally, I wasn’t too happy with Pearl Jam’s output post-No Code, but I don’t think I can specify exactly why other to say it was dull and going through the motions. For the eighth studio album, they returned back to where 1994’s Vitalogy left off. “Comatose” is just over two minute slice of music taking a page from “Spin the Black Circle”. Eddie Vedder’s voice has a lot more conviction and other than guitar/bass/drums, the only other instruments you’ll find are the piano on closer “Inside Job” and classic 70s rock organ on “Wasted Reprise” and “Come Back”. These guys are one of those refreshing bands that doesn’t use studio trickery to get a point across and still manages to stay diverse enough to keep my attention. The band sounds much tighter than on Riot Act, making this a return to form, except not. I’m surely not going to rank this above their first three CDs, but it’s an interesting listen that allows me to look past the fact they’re indirectly responsible for Default Theory of a Nicklecreed. For an anti-Bush album, it also gets bonus points for avoiding awkward lyrics.

The Rapture - Pieces of the People We Love

38

The Rapture

Pieces of the People We Love

DFA

2003’s Echoes put The Rapture on the board, but did anyone actually like the songs that weren’t 4/4 for the dancefloor? They were part of those disco-punk bands that combined noisy guitars with a simple dance beat to make those indie kids move their hips left to right, and sometimes even to the left again. For Pieces of the People We Love, they bring in outside producers, specifically DJs Paul Epworth, Ewan Pearson, and Danger Mouse. This allows for a sound much more consistent than the patchy selections on previous albums. Many of the songs are catchy, cocky, and tongue-in-cheek, such as the “Whoo! Alright Yeah… Uh Huh” refrain, “People don’t dance no more/They just stand there like this/They cross their arms and stare you down/And drink and moan and piss”. Other songs contain various name-checking and simple lyrical rhyming techniques. The high registers hit by vocalist Luke Jenner will make you think of 80s pop and the music is 90s indie rock mixed with 70s disco. Somehow it works, especially on stand-out song, “The Devil”.

Mono - You Are There

37

Mono

You Are There

Temporary Residence

Mono really loves Godspeed You! Black Emperor. That was already established with their last two albums. Voxless post rock: guitar feedback ascending with violins and crashing cymbals to a wall-of-noise shattered by a bullet of sound into a piano interlude. Is that imagery working for you? It’s the formula we’re all aware of and they do it well. This album is more of the same. I really don’t have to type anything else in this paragraph to change anyone’s opinion on that.

Beck - The Information

36

Beck

The Information

Interscope

By bringing in Radiohead’s producer Nigel Godrich (who also worked on 1998’s country-folk album Mutations), Beck focuses more on a studio-heavy montage sound when compared to its predecessor, Guero. Like Odelay, it’s all about the groove. You really won’t find his alt-pop radio songs from 1996 on this release, but I think this album is much better simply for their depth in production and songwriting. After more than a decade, he’s still finding a way to not repeat himself. Ok, so he really is. I wrote a longer review but WordPress and an errant keyboard made it disappear, kind of like how Dave Coulier cuts it out.

Mastodon - Blood Mountain

35

Mastodon

Blood Mountain

Reprise

Jumping from indie label Relapse to Warner Music subsidiary, Reprise, you would think Mastodon would somehow dilute their sound. That’s the cycle of every band, no? Well Blood Mountain is the exception. Their mix of thrash, hardcore, prog, and death metal have no peer in the modern music scene. The themes take on a Conan the Barbarian bent, exploring a journey with huge obstacles, but you can forget the corny lyrics and go straight for the metal. Complex dueling guitars with a jazz-influenced rhythm section override the vocals. Simply listening to the transition in “Capillarian Crest” as the shredding guitars warp their tempo with the drums soon following will sell you on everything Mastadon. You’ll also find guest appearances from members of Neurosis, Queens of the Stone Age, and The Mars Volta. They just rock the fuck out.

Secret Machines - Ten Silver Drops

34

Secret Machines

Ten Silver Drops

Reprise

This album opens with “Alone, Jealous, & Stoned”, a song with laid-back, scratching vocals containing the lyric, “idle kids with idle hearts”. Not off to a good start. It does pick up nearing the end of the track, leading into the guitar feedback of “All at Once”, which is almost the same tone as Nine Inch Nails’ With Teeth B-side, “Home”. I do enjoy how singer Brandon Curtis pronounces the word “impordent”. The album is full of pop hooks in the form of rhyming lyrics, that are a bit too simple in some places. The driving rhythm section and melodies are offset by the psychedelic/spacey Kraut-rock atmospheric keyboards and noisy electric guitar strumming in the background. Lyrics range from relationship bitterness to drugged-out paranoia. As a whole, this album seems best suited for traveling on a clear sky Sunday afternoon, mellowed out on mild-narcotics, although with only 46 minutes of music in eight tracks, you may also want to throw some Spiritualized into that mix.

Junior Boys - So This is Goodbye

33

Junior Boys

So This is Goodbye

Domino

Hamilton, Ontario is kind of known as the asshole of Canada. Never go there. Luckily some talent was able to rise out of the stank in the form of Junior Boys. Their debut album Last Exit was 80s synthpop mixed with intelligent dance music where beats stutter, hiccup, glitch-out, and cut-up over the distant hypnotic vocal mantras. So This is Goodbye shortens songs and goes for more straight-forward beat programming. Their compositions are minimal yet complex at the same time, with basic beats synchronized with digitally clipped samples and slow, washing synths. Most of the songs are laid back, highlighted by “First Time”, “FM”, and the title track. My personal favourite tracks are the faster, more dance-oriented “Double Shadow” and “In the Morning” (with has a liquidy video clip). This album is simply a perfect late night album.

Deftones - Saturday Night Wrist

32

Deftones

Saturday Night Wrist

Maverick

Guitarist Stephen Carpenter admits he wants a harder sound, but Deftones are now more about atmosphere and groove than thrashing. He does have his way on tracks like “Rats! Rats! Rats!”, but overall this album leans more toward Chino Moreno’s other band, Team Sleep. This is a definite improvement on their 2003 self-titled album, which meandered around dullery. There’s more of an indie rock vibe in much of the guitars, best exemplified on Konami-ish song title “U,U,D,D,L,R,L,R,A,B,Select,Start” which is an instrumental with plucked electric guitar and echoing drums. The “Pink Cellphone” ad-lib spoken word is ill-advised, ending in a foul-mouthed barrage that’s embarrassing to listen to. Poopdick, indeed. System of a Down’s Serj Tankian makes an appearance on “Mein” to provide backup vocals. Overall, thumbs up.

BT - This Binary Universe

31

BT

This Binary Universe

Binary Acoustics

Since the early 90s, Brian Transeau’s music went from the dance-floor to a more pop-oriented sound, culminating in 2003’s Emotional Technology where a member of N*Sync guested. With his latest affair, he takes his sound into left-field. There is not a vocal to be found aside from his daughter’s baby cooing found on the the second track, “Dynamic Symmetry”. At many points the hypnotic melodies are lullaby in quality. You will still find his signature electronic stutter-beats, but much of the album is composed of cut-up acoustic sounds leaning toward ambient, jazz-fusion, and movement-oriented classical. The sound is artificial enough to avoid comparisons to the more organic approach taken by The Books. With not a single song coming under eight minutes in length, this is definitely a headphone album is stick on in the background while you work on a task.

Sparta - Threes

30

Sparta

Threes

ANTI-

The cover art contains a configuration of knives on a barren floor. Obviously someone didn’t get the memo that this symbolization is a tired emo cliché. After the At the Drive-In split, it is obvious how The Mars Volta and Sparta went it separate directions. On this release, they managed to enlarge the pop angle, with the anthemed guitars and soaring choruses channeling U2’s vulnerable power, except they don’t have a shitty rhythm section. Yes, I had to throw in a dig of those no-talent assclowns. Sparta also manage to get all Pink Floyd on us with the Dark Side female operatic soul backup singers on “Atlas” and “Translations”. The simplicity of some of the songwriting may also get some Coldplay comparisons, but tread lightly, for there are a few solid moments found on this album. I still choose the path of the Volta though…

Snog vs. The Faecal Juggernaut of Mass Culture: Synthetic Melodies of Resistance

29

Snog

Snog vs. The Faecal Juggernaut of Mass Culture: Synthetic Melodies of Resistance

Metropolis

For more than a decade, David Thrussell has used music, spoken word, and interweb rantings to attack consumerism, anti-intellectualism, hypocrisy, and about every other topic supported by the Western establishment. Snog has been his most successful act, pushing the envelope by using electronics to explore a plethora of other genres, creating tunes to dance and rebel to. However, 2003’s Beyond the Valley of the Proles, while still challenging, started to show the project’s stagnated status, demonstrated by acoustic spaghetti western with weird samples pushed to the background, a sound that was already found on 1997’s, Buy Me… I’ll Change Your Life. Knowing the act’s capability of changing styles on the dime, Synthetic Melodies of Resistance does just that, focusing on a purely electronic sound.

Amongst the areas covered are the digital crunch of “Crash, Crash” (Lyrics: “Sucking black blood/Under the hood), a night car-chase bassline of “Planet of Shit” (“See the slaves/See the proles/See the TV slaves/Down on their knees/Waiting to be saved…”), and “The De-evolutionaries'” Las Vegas lounge music. Thrussell’s signature deep voice, comparable to fellow Aussie Nick Cave, gives the vocals a tone of seriousness, but given the almost parody-level of the lyrics (“I’m the king of hate/At that I’m great/I’m the king of hate/And I hate, hate hate”), it places a level of sarcasm and irony on the whole CD.

Unfortunately, Chris Woods’ mock corporate advisement paintings are not to be found in this packaging. Instead, computer generated cover art is used, with faceless soldiers and war machines lit up by the starlight of a Snog logo bright enough that you can tell it’s working toward not meeting Kyoto Protocol promises. While at times the hamfistedness seems condescending to the listening, the album as a whole provides all the elements of a quality Snog release: musical experimentation, Leftist-leanings, and a sense of humour.

Mogwai - Mr. BeastMogwai - Zidane: A 21st Century Portait

28

Mogwai

Mr. Beast / Zidane: A 21st Century Portait

Matador / Wall of Sound

With Mr. Beast, Mogwai turned a bit away from the digital sounds of Rock Action and Happy Songs For Happy People, turning to the electric guitar rock started with their hit album, Young Team. You may have heard “Auto-Rock” or “We’re No Here” on the film soundtrack of Michael Mann’s 2006 Miami Vice remake. Nah, you probably just remember Colin Farrell’s terrible fucking accent. Envy’s singer Tetsuya Fukagawa guests on “I Chose Horses” with a spoken word backed by piano and slow tones washing across each other. Many songs have the piano at centre-stage, but the wall-of-noise guitars are found in “Glasgow Mega-Snake”, “Travel is Dangerous”, “Folk Death 95”, and “We’re No Here”. Some new sounds are also adding to the mix, such as the country-tinged steel guitar closing “Acid Food”. The band simply finds a way to find a healthy balance between the slower, introspective songs and loud/immediate, introspective songs.

For Zidane, they slow the tempo down, playing around with clean tones and guitar feedback to land at no destination in particular. The music is more akin to ambient music of Brian Eno combined with Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, where the passage of time is represented but finality is never really found. It’s a decent background listen, but nothing to really impress your friends with. Isn’t that what music is about?

TV on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain

27

TV on the Radio

Return to Cookie Mountain

Interscope

I don’t even know how to explain this one. It’s catchy without being hooky. Paradoxical! Layers of sound with a heavy low-end and lush front mixed with some out-of-tune vocals and anthemic choruses. It’s kind of indie pop music with a Brian Eno and David Bowie aesthetic. The Thin White Duke himself guests as a backup vocalist on the third track, “Province”. The dense variety of looped samples and live instruments create a sound unlike any band out there, to the point where it’s a bit alienating at times.

Peeping Tom - Peeping Tom

26

Peeping Tom

Peeping Tom

Ipecac

Six years in the making, this is Mike Patton’s so-called pop album. I suppose I can approve of any artist that involves Amon Tobin, Massive Attack, and Kid Koala, yet calls the work their mainstream effort. Some of the tracks are reminiscent of Lovage, apt since Dan the Automator is involved in production of two tracks (“Mojo” and the Norah Jones duet, “Sucker”). The lyrics are really tongue-in-cheek, such as “Don’t Even Trip’s”, “I know that assholes grow on trees/But I’m here to trim the leaves”. Sound sways between hip-hop to rock, then jazz and downtempo, making it Patton’s most accessible material, aside from Faith No More’s singles, however I don’t see it getting any radio airplay.

Lvmen - An Anthology of Previously Released SongsLvmen - Mondo

25

Lvmen

An Anthology of Previously Released Songs / Mondo

Day After

My Slovak friend Michal Mesko (from the Internet) turned me onto this hardcore band from the Czech Republic. Did you know there’s a genre of music called, “czechcore”? Well these guys teeter between emocore and post-rock with a sound similar to Japanese band Envy. They don’t name their songs, simply assigning successive numbers for each album. I’m cheating here since An Anthology of Previously Released Songs is composed of their 1998 debut LP and 2000 album, Raison d’être, so they’re really not 2006 albums. Since I haven’t heard them until now, they’re getting thrown in the mix because it’s my bloody list!

Their songs are epic in scope, with plucked guitar and jazzy drumming found in post-rock bands, such as Do Make Say Think, morphing into ascending, aggressively strummed electric guitars, discordant synth atmosphere, and tom-driven drums culminating to massive crescendos. They also throw in other elements, such as the female operatic vocals in “#3” and “#7” and the spoken word sample in “#2”. Below is a rough transcript of said sample, translated to English by Michal. Its source is from 1967 Czechoslovakian film, Marketa Lazarová, in a story called Straba:

Amongst wolves grew up a man,
And among men he became a wolf.
Their contempt feeds his pride,
Non-love will inspire him with hate.
Despised by all Straba began to despise everyone;
Greets the elders with mockery,
Desecrated the sacred places of forefathers.
Doesn’t want to be submitted to people nor gods.
He is free like a wolf; like a forest animal.
But he still has a human heart.
And the human heart aches.
Aches and cries…
No! Crying is a gift of alleviation.
Men know nothing about it.
And their pride is pursued by eternal punishment.

Other than the samples, vocals are in English, from what I can tell when they’re not screaming… the majority of songs are instrumental in nature, so it’s not a huge deal. Mondo takes a slightly difference approach, abandoning the grungy riffs of Raison d’être for more post-hardcore-layered guitar, less hooky but more powerful.

Hybrid - I Choose Noise

24

Hybrid

I Choose Noise

Distinct’ive Breaks

1999’s Wide Angle introduced this team as an unprecedented force in electronic music, combining complex breaks and orchestras to compose epic numbers for the dance floor. Four years later, Morning Sci-Fi had a lukewarm response, with the sound more brooding and low-key, drawing more comparisons to rock bands than dance music. With I Choose Noise, Hybrid returned to the cinematic, grandiose sound of their debut. Also involving were guest vocalists including Jane’s Addiction’s Perry Farrell (on “Dogstar”) and film composer Harry Gregson-Williams, whose credits are scores to many Tony Scott productions along with the Metal Gear Solid video game series. Similar to that soundtrack work, these songs are full of breakbeats and synths that fill the stereo space, with violins to accentuate emotions. The sound design is ace, so look to this act for some of the best produced dark dance music available.

The Mars Volta - Amputechture

23

The Mars Volta

Amputechture

Gold Standard Laboratories

Always with a flair for the experimental, this album opens with “Vicarious Atonement”, an over seven minute song of psychedelic blues and jazz with nary a percussive instrument to be found. Guitars duke it out in the left and right channels, effected sci-fi sounds warp around the 3D space, and a wallowing vocal builds anticipation, only to transition into a lounge piano and wailing saxophone with a repeated mantra, “don’t let these hands sharpen your eyes”. Yeah, it’s what I come to expect from The Mars Volta. Expect the unexpected? Nah, expect the obtuse. The next track? Over 16 minutes long, called “Tetragrammaton”. Much like Frances the Mute, which was found on my 2005 list, no matter how many times you attempt to decipher the lyrics, you’ll interpret them a different way. But they speak of Hey-seiss, yes, they do.

For this album, guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez took over full production duties, allowing Red Hot Chili Peppers’ John Frusciante to take over guitar-playing duties in the studio. Again he employs dub techniques, such as backward-playing samples, echoing guitar, and fading-out distortions. Jon Theodore’s Jon Bonham-inspired drumming is more concentrated to certain passages rather spread across such as the heavy approach on Deloused. If you’ve ever seen the band live, or even a bootleg, you’ll know they take their damn time to crescendo, and on Amputechture they allow themselves to use the same dynamic. See “Viscera Eyes”, where the first half has a hypnotic bassline and contradicting chorus where horns rise and drum fall. A little over five minutes in, sounds are stripped away to only bass, then it’s built up again through a groovy Latin jam with a soloing guitar and organ, ending with a scream and Wah-effected guitars falling into muted feedback.

My main problem on this album are Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s vocals, as they are whiny enough to be just fucking grating. Doesn’t he realize that Rush’s main setback was Geddy Lee’s feminine weeping? It’s like he’s trying to imitate the high notes of a guitar solo and the after-effect is alienation and annoyance. Is he trying to sound like a chipmunk at the ten minute mark of “Day of the Baphomets”? Another issue is that drummer Jon Theodore left the band after this album’s recording, which is hugely upsetting since he’s the main reason I love this band. Their fifth release will at least be interesting from the standpoint that it’s likely they’re be a big shift in sound since I don’t know of any modern rock drummers that play with a similar style to Theodore.

Killing Joke - Hosanas From the Basement of Hell

22

Killing Joke

Hosannas from the Basements of Hell

Cooking Vinyl

After seven years of inactivity, Killing Joke’s 2003 self-titled album was a welcome return and ended up being one of my favourites of the year. Foo Fighters’ David Grohl was behind the skins and he was properly front-and-centre in every song which were growing pulses of explosive anger; piss, vinegar, and all. Their newest albums keeps the crunchy guitar riffs and jackhammer drums, but adding even more layers to an already heavy sound. The strings in “Invocation” and “Walking With Gods” exemplify how this album finds Killing Joke at their most cinematic. The guitars are mixed a bit higher, similar to their 90s albums, with vocals having a loud reverb where it sounds like the album was recorded in a large cave. But no, the title actually refers to the deep Prague cellar this record was laid down in. Everything is more grandoise, with the opener being the only track under five minutes. I don’t know how someone couldn’t get the urge to fuck shit up while listening to the almost ten minute “Lightbringer”, with its 4/4 drumming, simple chugga-chugga guitars, sci-fi sound effects, dominating bassline, and shouted tribal vocals. Although the drumming isn’t as strong, the overall musical scope is more epic and immediate than anything Killing Joke has done before.

Envy - Insomniac Doze

21

Envy

Insomniac Doze

Temporary Residence

Starting from their hardcore roots, Envy has morphed slowly in the post-rock sound, embracing major chords and the low-high-low dynamic that are oh-so-popular in the genre. Keeping in mind, this album is still the 60 minutes of anguish and catharsis you’d expect, but it’s a little more palpable for the uncleansed masses. Singer Tetsuya Fukagawa provided spoken word for Mogwai’s “I Chose Horses” on Mr. Beast and they also appear here, in quiet excerpts with synth pads and plucked guitar. Of course, at any moment they will suddenly shift into throat-shredding intensity. They’ve turned really into a cross of City of Caterpillar and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. With Japanese not being my native language, I found the verses repetitive, with bursts of three syllables screamed over rising guitars, segueing into extended instrumental sections before again going quiet. However, the finale “A Warm Room” is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve heard in years, with tremolo guitars building upon one another with crashing drums creating an energy that I didn’t think it would be able to stop before the album’s end… so I put the track on repeat.

Hot Chip - The Warning

20

Hot Chip

The Warning

Astralwerks

Some pasty English guys employ synthesizers to make some fun electro-pop. The album is full of playful samples, for example, getting their Sesame Street on by spelling out each letter of “Kissing, Sexing, Casio, Poke You, Me, I” nearing the end of “Over and Over”. That song’s fuzzy bass and disco beat have been filling dance clubs around the world for months now. Diverse sounds are used throughout, up-and-downing the BPM to create a great experience from start-to-end, unlike some other 2006 releases with a hit single (‘sup, Gnarls Barkley?).

Cursive - Happy Hollow

19

Cursive

Happy Hollow

Saddle Creek

Another concept album, this time exploring the drudgery of the American Dream (with allusions to The Wizard of Oz) and Christianity’s influence on America leading us into another Dark Age. But I’m Canadian! The first track has a section called “Babies”, with the lyrics, “Maybe you’ve been given to this world to make a difference/Such illusions we all struggle with but the beautiful truth of it is/This is all we are, we simply exist/You’re not the chosen one/I’m not the chosen one/But we don’t need anyone/Let’s not choose anyone”. That sums up the album’s point-of-view, with each song outlining the self-deception and intolerance caused by religious fervor.

Musically, Cursive has dropped the cello found on previous albums, with “Into the Fold” being the only song that’s a close comparison to Ugly Organ. Instead, brass instrumentation is added to the post-hardcore/emo sound to make it a bit lighter. I found some of the songwriting dragged during the last half of the album with the start/stop dynamics, although the lyrics are really what hold the album together. Overall, it’s nice to see a band trying new compositional ideas even if they don’t reach desired heights.

Built to Spill - You in Reverse

18

Built to Spill

You in Reverse

Warner Bros.

After a five year hiatus, Built to Spill returns with an album that’s more similar to their live shows. I think Perfect From Now On, Keep It Like a Secret, and Ancient Melodies of the Future are some of the best albums of the past decade, in all their studio-trickery glory. A shift in approach for this release led the band to use less guitar overdubs, now capturing the live moments of a band jamming. The first song, “Goin’ Against Your Mind”, kicks things right into gear and I’m declaring it the best song in their whole catalog, period. It’s unfortunate that the rest of the tracks don’t reach its height, although they are very quality. Songs such as “Conventional Wisdom” and “Mess With Time” display all those Built to Spill trademarks, a simple catchy riff with spoken vocals during the verses, transitioning into a plucked/tapped guitar bridge, then into an extended dualing guitar solo with call/answer and synchronized playing, fading into the next track. “Traces”, “Saturday”, “Wherever You Go”, and “Just a Habit” are slower ballad material, without the sappiness, that mix it up for more moody introspection. Personally, I’m a huge fan for their past large production that was impossible to duplicate live, but this album is fun nonetheless.

The Decemberists - The Crane Wife

17

The Decemberists

The Crane Wife

Capitol

From initial listens, years ago, I was turned off by The Decemberists due to their Neutral Milk Hotel-ish folk wankerings too precious and over-blown for my liking. Picaresque’s epic sea shanty “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” changed that opinion and now I have joined the drama-kid massive. For The Crane Wife, they have embraced 70s prog rock in the form of 10+ minute songs with dominating synthesizers and organs with plucked folk acoustic guitar. You’ll still find those short, upbeat pop songs in such tracks as “Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)”, “O Valencia!” and “Sons and Daughters”. Lyrically, they continue a storytelling format dominated by heroic, dramatic, and paradoxical characters. If you have a distaste for folk, I think this album is a decent gateway.

Barry Adamson - Stranger on the Sofa

16

Barry Adamson

Stranger on the Sofa

Central Control

Starting with “Here in the Hole”, British actress Anna Chancellor’s spoken word sets the tone for another brilliantly cinemetic release from Barry Adamson. The opening song reminds me of ex-Depeche Mode member Alan Wilder’s project Recoil; specifically Liquid‘s “Want”. See also: Coil’s The Angelic Conversation, with Judy Dench reciting Shakespeare sonnets over dark ambient atmospheres. Stranger on the Sofa manages to jump across different genres ranging from film soundtrack to jazz to electronica, back to dub and dark pop music. Mr. Adamson acts as jack-of-all-trades, designing the album’s packaging along with playing the majority of diverse instruments on the album, of which you’ll find harmonica, organ, vibraphone, piano, slide guitar, and sax to along with the strings and voice samples. It’s much like you expect from him: film noir soundscapes that don’t take themselves too seriously. Do you know of anyone else that writes a song infused with programmed beats, brass instruments, and soft jazzy drums with lyrics centred on injuring oneself when trying to murder an arch-nemesis insect? Well “My Friend the Fly” does just that and makes it quite enjoyable.

Alexisonfire - Crisis

15

Alexisonfire

Crisis

Distort

With each album, this St. Catherine’s, Ontario band moves further away from their hardcore roots, with Crisis being no exception from this path. On Watch Out!, they explored the dynamics of George Pettit (The Screamer) and Dallas Green (The Singer), blending the core with the emo. It sounds all very clichéd, but they were able to pull it off seamlessly. The new songs are still in the same vein, but exploring it in a more accessible context. That doesn’t mean they’re selling out or watering the music down. Everything is full of raw emotion; it is not contrived, and your post-hardcore world isn’t falling around you. They also bring in a new drummer and lead guitarist Wade MacNeil provides lead vocals on “Keep It On the Wax”, cutting into former drummer for his selfishness. At the midpoint point of the album, “You Burn First” moves the vibe into a slower, dark direction with brooding vocals from Gared O’Donnell of Planes Mistaken for Stars. The closer, “Rough Hands”, goes the way of The Cure, with reverbed guitar and piano over melodic vocals that speak of failing relationships. The songs provide the right changes in tempo and vocal-styles to create their best album yet, from both a technical and songwriting hooks standpoint. Your world is not falling around you.

Clint Mansell, Kronos Quartet, and Mogwai - The Fountain

In 2000, former Pop Will Eat Itself front-man Clint Mansell teamed up with the Kronos Quartet to composed music for Darren Aronofsky’s film, Requiem For a Dream. It was one of the most beautiful soundtracks ever created, with pull-your-heartstrings violins and cello combined with simple piano melodies, hip-hop beats, and dark ambience. Juxtaposed with saddening images of grown-adults battling addiction is enough to make any member of the audience retract into the fetal position. Of course, Hollywood has managed to lessen the impact of the pieces by reusing the song “Lux Aeterna”, starting with the full orchestra rendition in one of the Lord of the Rings trailers and followed by a handful more, including preview clips following episodes of Lost. Thanks a lot, assholes. Clint did an interview with Ain’t It Cool News that touches upon the “Lux Aeterna” issue. If you can tolerate the web site’s complete disregard for design standards, it’s a very good read.

With Mansell also having organized the soundtrack to his first film, Pi, Aronofsky brought him back for their third collaboration, to create new music for his new romantic science-fiction epic. Again with the Kronos Quartet, Scottish post-rock band Mogwai was brought into the fold to create a dramatic score for three eras of time represented in the film. Much like Aronofsky’s visual style, the songs are variations on a theme, with multiple movements reappearing, but with different instruments to reflect progression. Strings along with quiet electric guitar, choirs, subtle synths, vibraphone, and percussion are amongst the sounds use to create the tension, all leading up to the massive climax of “Death is the Road to Awe”, where these musicians manage to outdo themselves. Really, the whole soundtrack is worth that eight minute, twenty five second spectacle.

Melvins - (A) Senile Animal

13

Melvins

(A) Senile Animal

Ipecac

Sludge. Grunge. Stoner metal. Let’s get those catchphrases out of the way. (The) Melvins return with a fucking juggernaut of sound. Being left without a bassist after their previous tour, the band decided to record an album with the bassist and drummer from Big Business. That’s right, a full album with two drummers. If you’re a fan, you’ll remember their collaboration with Tool from The Crybaby, called “Divorced”. In that song, each drummer was separated in the left and right stereo channel, including an extended drum solo with each musician taking their turn. Dual drumming was also found on “The Horn Bearer” off The Maggot. With this release, The Melvins matches and exceeds the Ipecac trilogy from 1999 (The Maggot, The Bootlicker, The Crybaby), making it their best output yet. The heavy percussive sound is completely seamless with the rest of the band, making their sound even larger than life than before. Fans of Tool, Kyuss, and early Queens of the Stone Age should definitely check it out.

The Knife - Silent Shout

12

The Knife

Silent Shout

Rabid

I can positively say I don’t know of another single act that has a sound similar to The Knife’s latest album. They provide an atmosphere akin to Boards of Canada, but much more deranged and jarring. Whereas the Hilary Duff’s of the world use pitchshifting to perfect their tuneless vocals, The Knife instead take the effect in the opposite direction. Male and/or female overdubbed voices are warped beyond recognition, their uneasiness complimented by synth arpeggios, cold ambience, and crackling beats. While the brother-sister duo are Swedish, at some points their vocals and high-pitched samples sound Asian, highlighted by tracks such as “We Share Our Mother’s Health” and “One Hit”. I fucking love the musique concrète-ish clicking beats opening “Like a Pen” with a catchy synth jumping in and around. They kind of mix the pop of Kraftwerk with the darker European electro-industrial vibe of the late 80s and early 90s, finding a way to it all accessible. The surreal lyrics beneath those voices add another flavour to the group’s unorthodox aesthetic. Why can’t North American pop radio throw this down?

mewithoutYou - Brother, Sister

11

mewithoutYou

Brother, Sister

Tooth & Nail Records

If a year ago someone told me one of my favourite albums in the coming months would be by a Christian rock band, I likely would have crucified them. Fortunately I’m not Jewish and nobody told me this, so it’s all good. I mean, the lyrics in these songs aren’t even covertly religious – there are mentions of Peter, cups of wine, Daniel, groups of animals (hello Noah!), and the inevitable mention of a monothiest’s diety. J.C. even gets a shout-out.

As with A->B: Life and Catch For Us the Foxes, the lyrics take on a strictly poetic bent, with some noteworthy excerpts: “No boat out in the blue, no place to rest your head/The trap I set for you seems to have caught my leg instead”, “Oh, you pious and profane, put away your praise and blame/A glass can only spill what it contains”, and “I’m still technically a virgin after 27 years/Which never bothered me before/What’s maybe fifty more?”. Other moments feel as an English-lit exercise with utterances of syncopation, sharicidal, chamomile, and pumpernickel bread, amongst other terms.

The production is a marked improvement from previous releases in every aspect, allowing you to play this to your friends and not have them call it out as being another shite amateur indie band. The singing goes from spoken word to screaming, as is popular in emocore, or scream-o; whatever those kids are calling it these days. The tracklist is broken up by three intimate “Spider” (Yellow, Orange, and Brownish) segues (not segways), stripping down to guitar and voice to offset the large, lush compositions preceding and following. “O, Porcupine” starts like The Knack’s My Sharona with bombast snare/bass drums, later finishing with Sunny Day Real Estate’s Jeremy Enigk wailing adolescent scream. The finale track, “In a Sweater Poorly Knit”, has a descending harp and choir that made me think for a moment it was a sample from Danny Elfman’s Edward Scissorhands theme.

So just treat the singing as just another instrument in the mix and you can ignore the moral quandaries that led you to Satan worship. Get a haircut!

Isis - In the Absence of TruthIsis + Aereogramme - In the Fishtank 14

10

Isis

In the Absence of Truth / In the Fishtank 14 (w/ Aereogramme)

Ipecac / Konkurrent

I found this album the most difficult to review, in the sense that after listening from start to end multiple times, I do not have the vocabulary to describe my experience. The best way I can express it is that Isis have mastered “clean” post-rock with a sound that’s very Tool-like, which is not too surprising knowing they opened for Tool in mid-2006, before the album was released. Tool’s bassist, Justin Chancellor, also appeared as a guest on Isis’ 2004 album, Panopticon. The moments with more distorted, drowning guitar and bass synchronized and the album’s focus on complex drumming with heavy use of tom toms are what remind me of Tool. The vocals are low in the mix, between mumbled spoken text and rumbling growls, whose lyrics I really can’t discern. Even under the post-rock tag, this album doesn’t follow too many of the crescendo clichés found in the genre. I think all these factors make In the Absence of Truth the band’s best release yet.

Their other release in the same year, Isis’ collaboration with British indie band Aereogramme is the fourteenth release from the In the Fishtank EP series, which pits groups of artists to work together in a very short span of time to quickly write and record. What follows is a softer side of Isis that still has a dark edge, with an aural space that’s full of melodic textures. It only has three short songs, well, in Isis-terms since they’re usually such fans of the epic seven-plus minute instrumental breakdown. It’s an interesting work in their catalogue and a nice change of tone from their usual dirge.

Portion Control - Filthy White Guy

9

Portion Control

Filthy White Guy

self-released

After an almost twenty year hiatus, Porcon’s 2004 double CD Wellcome reintroduced one of electronic music’s forefathers. With over 100 minutes of music, the duration of the release was somewhat spotty, with too much of a focus on not-so-soothing soft-synth ambient pieces. With Filthy White Guy, the songwriting is more focused, though still containing experimental instrumental-only tracks. They find a mix of house, ambient, dub, and industrial while transcending each genre. Parts seem to mimic who they’ve influenced, with the fifth track, “Slur”, reminding me of Orbital’s “Sad But True” and “Swerve” recalling the groovy retro-house of Fluke’s Puppy album. The vocals are very British, a mix between spoken word and aggressive yelling. Unfortunately some tracks lose marks for using a repeated lyric throughout their duration, such as “Slur’s” “Out of mind and in due cause/I suggested you digest it, but the message was false/Now the slur lives on” or “Blame them, it had to happen/Is nothing sacred anymore?” from “Seven Shades of Shit”. Overall, Porcon’s dense synth-driven sound makes this the best electronic-only album of the year.

IAMX - The Alternative

8

IAMX

The Alternative

Metropolis Records

You remember Sneaker Pimps, the post-trip-hop band that copped Portishead and Massive Attack to their heart’s content? Off Becoming X, “Six Underground” was their only semi-hit and the follow-up electro-pop albums allowed the group to fall into obscurity. IAMX is the solo project of its main songwriter, Chris Corner. The opener “President” is a sort of synthpop cabaret bordering on circus music, with martial drum samples and a saloon-piano lead. “Nightlife” introduces guitar as the driving force for a funky disco song. “Lulled By Numbers” contains vulnerable vocals that reach notes Martin Gore only wishes he could. “Song of Imaginery Beings” contains an echoing beat that I could swear is from Iggy Pop’s “Nightclubbing”, which Nine Inch Nails had sampled for that distinctive beat in “Closer”. Sneaker Pimps’ used that drum sample on “Small Town Witch” off 2002’s Bloodsport. It’s likely just the same sample kit, but it does make the song a bit indistinguishable.

Sonically, there isn’t much of a jump between IAMX and the latter work of the Pimps, with the dark groove of 90s Depeche Mode mixed with pop sensibilities from New Order. To me, the simple piano melody and soaring sing-along on “Spit It Out” simply scream “Halo” and “Enjoy the Silence”. Also, as opposed to the more innocent lyrics of the Sneaker Pimps’ pop-kind, this electronic act is a more sex-charged alter-ego. The closing ballad “This Will Make You Love Again”, a re-recorded version originally from the 2004 debut Kiss + Swallow, has the lyric “early thursday mornings/wipe away the flies/the crossfire fight for action/in between your thighs”. There are moments of subtlety, but this is not one of them. Overall, The Alternative was by far the best pop album that came out in 2006, but it still managed to stay completely under the RADAR. It is our duty to remedy that.

boysetsfire - The Misery Index: Notes from the Plague Years

7

boysetsfire

The Misery Index: Notes from the Plague Years

Equal Vision

Three years after their semi-mainstream record, Tomorrow Comes Today, Boysetsfire have gone in a more experimental direction for their new album. Taking a similiar approach as hardcore genre-bendists Refused did on The Shape of Punk to Come: A Chimerical Bombination in 12 Bursts, the band uses creative transitions and instrumentation to diversify their melodic post-hardcore.

The album opener, “Walk Astray”, begins with a distant acoustic guitar, rhythmic vinyl hiss, and voice singing, “Well I don’t wanna sing about freedom anymore/I wanna see it, I wanna feel it/I wanna know that it still sits beyond the lies that we’ve been told/Beyond the wars that keep our families from home/I know that there’s a way/Dear God, let there be a way/To change the path we’re on (path we’re on)/And believe in a better day”. Bass and rolling tom-toms start, warping into guitar riffs and a shouted hardcore piece, reminding you that boysetsfire are back with as much political vigor as ever.

I found Tomorrow Comes Today contained too many moments that seemed canned; the band was repeating the same climatic formulas found in the post-hardcore genre. Their lyrics have always been their strongest suit, but on Misery Index, they’ve again found their musical note. “So Long… And Thanks For the Crutches” starts with a jazz-fusion section shifting into a punk song with a horn-led shouted chorus, later ending with a thirty second electronic hip-hop interlude. “Deja Coup” too contains horns, giving it a bouncy swagger pointing out the hypocrisy of religion and apathetic consumerist culture with an anthemic chorus, “It’s the way it’s always been and the way it will remain/It doesn’t matter when you’ve got nothing to believe/And why be born again if it’s so hard to get in/It doesn’t matter when you’ve got nothing to believe”. “Nostalgic For Guillotines” is a slower pre-closer song, with a bridge containing piano, strings, and a Jacob’s Ladder sample about devils and angels, pinpointing this album’s themes of faith tied to the political process and juxtaposition of frustration and hope as a result. The album’s outro, “A Far Cry”, ends with a mellow(er) reprise of After the Eulogy’s “Still Waiting For the Punchline”, with the final appropriate lyrics, “And if another angel says just grin and bear it/I might be forced to smash his head against the wall/And never sin again against myself or trust in anyone/Write me off for suffering, it’s a joke/I give up”.

The sad news is that the band also broke up last year. After investigating the usual rounds on the interweb for indie music reviews (Pitchfork, Stylus, Pop Matters, etc.), I found nary a mention of the band’s latest albums, despite their large fan base that aren’t exactly accessing the music through mainstream channels. My only guesses are that maybe they’re too melodic for indie sensibilites and the members of the band are from Deleware. Hi, we’re in Deleware.

Jesu - Silver EP

6

Jesu

Silver EP

Hydra Head

Stewie Griffin’s canine pun humour would likely declare this extended player as one for melon collies or che-wah-wahs. A solo act started by Englishman Justin Broadrick, whose debut Heartbreak EP was an inspired piece of post-metal with glimpses of melody shining through. Unfortunately, the follow-up self-titled album focused too much on minor chord dissonance, feedback, and sparse echoing off-tune vocals, making it a dull, slowed-down version of his industrial metal act Godflesh. With Silver, Jesu gets back on track, focusing more on harmony and melody for pleasant listening through loud noises. Overdubbed effects pedal-laden guitars are used liberally, with the number of layers not being related to a plan to reproduce the music live. In many respects, this release is heavily influenced by the shoegaze scene led by My Blood Valentine in the early 90s.

The opening track “Silver” begins with a clean guitar playing two notes with a wall of noise fading in while another note supplements the progression, leading into an immediate post-metal riff with dense distortion over a slowly prodding beat where you can’t even count the layers of noise. The song is quite reminiscent of the latter half of “Ruined” off Heartbreak with the music speaking mostly for itself, only minimal lyrics including the repeated mantra, “silver’s just another gold”. The second song “Star” increases the BPM with a drum machine with almost happy singing, far removed from Broadrick’s Napalm Death/Godflesh past. “Wolves” slows things back down with a two note processed guitar playing over the metal riffs, programmed beat, and background ambience. The last song “Dead Eyes” uses washes of distortion played backward with an overdriven low-end. Clocking in just under 30 minutes, the 4 tracks cover the overwhelming monolith of sound in shoegaze and the prettiness in ugly of post-metal, with a dash of hope thrown in. Here’s a webcast-quality video interview with Justin Broadrick where he admits his musical disabilities and desire not to focus on nihilistic tendencies. The glumness is still here though, to a certain degree…

Cult of Luna - Somewhere Along the Highway

5

Cult of Luna

Somewhere Along the Highway

Earache

Post-metal is one of those genres that can get tiresome after multiple listens to dozens of bands whose songwriting just mix and match a small collection of ideas. Cult of Luna’s past albums have been at fault for this, with their harsh soundscapes being almost indistinguishable from Isis and Neurosis. On Somewhere Along the Highway, they’ve changed that label. The singing is still for the most part the growling, throat-shredding coarseness those death metal and hardcore kids love to hear. The lyrical content covers the loneliness and despair caused by a break-up. This isn’t emo, but I guess the cookie monster doesn’t keep the ladies swooning.

The group’s themes have the most part covered pagan traditions, as demonstrated in the “Back to Chapel Town” video clip. This concept album uses metaphors involving nature to express the (dis)connectedness between two people, such as, “Along and forgotten/I bow my head in shame/Before you all answers reveal/So I sink my sorrows in the sea”. The drink! As is the expected path of a metal band maturing, they’ve added a fair amount of melody and more varied instruments such as banjos and clearly plucked guitar, best demonstrated on the fourth song, a quiet interlude titled, “And With Her Came the Birds”. The songs have more of a slow heartfelt build rather than a constant unemotional sludge. Musicianship is markedly more impressive, especially on the percussion work. Aside from the interlude, there is a constant feeling of an epic happening, with layers-upon-layers building and flowing through to blow your face off. It’s a very masculine album with the amount of aggression and the singular point-of-view of the main character, so I really don’t see many women digging on these tunes. Of course, any female that listens to metal is inherently fucked up.

Muse - Black Holes and Revelations

4

Muse

Black Holes and Revelations

Warner Bros.

The worldwide popularity of Muse’s over-the-top antics have unfortunately spawned a marketplace for disposable pseudo-indies My Chemical Romance and Panic! At the Disco. Can they be forgiven? When I read pre-album interviews where Muse claimed they were influenced by the dance sound of new indie rock bands such as Scotland’s Franz Ferninand, all I could only comment, “oh, fuck no”. So I had two issues to keep in mind because you can’t listen to the music for its own sake. That’s fucking silly. Luckily much of the dance sound is curtailed to the Supermassive Black Hole single, specifically in the B-side “Crying Shame”, with its excessively 4/4 drum beat. When I think of it, the band has before demonstrated a dance vibe, for example in Absolution’s “Hysteria” or “Fillip” off their debut Showbiz.

They’ve always had a love for theatrics in space rock, straight-forward drum fills, orchestral arrangements, and distorted guitar solos while keeping the timeframe of each song within a tight pop nugget. Much of the familiar themes are still found such as the arpeggio piano sequences and enough guitar effects pedals used that each song has a different tone. Pretty much everyone makes the same claim and I can still hear it – they love Queen. The band’s photo in the CD insert art is straight out of Bohemian Rhapsody. Matthew Bellamy loves to hit those high notes and like Queen, there is a constant usage of vocal overdubs to make every song sound even more rich. The two minute “Soldier’s Poem” sounds like a Bellamy-clone barbershop quartet to the point I was waiting for Harry Shearer to drop in. The last quarter of the disc even deviates into fusing genres (not that their other songs aren’t part of genres…) with Latin and spaghetti western acoustic guitars and horns. Of course, “Knights of Cydonia” has the best video clip ever.

Bitcrush - In Distance

3

Bitcrush

In Distance

n5MD

Mike Cadoo was one-half of the Bay Area duo Gridlock which started out as an electro-industrial act reminiscent of Skinny Puppy, but over each album shaped into instrumental early Autechre-glitch that was pleasant to both ear and brain. When they split, he refocused his solo act Dryft into Bitcrush, taking on a more ambient slant rather than drum’n’bass found in Dryft releases. The debut Enarc was an obvious continuation of Gridlock, with lush pads and cut-up edits filling every song. However, the album had an untitled bonus rack that incorporated acoustic bass and samples, albeit at a fairly basic level, hinting at a new direction. The follow-up, Shimmer and Fade, used live guitar and bass as the focal point with slowed distance voices, synth strings, drum programming, and top-notch production that reminded me of a blend of Boards of Canada, New Order, and The Cure’s Disintegration-era (minus whiny vocals). While it was a interesting path to take, the songwriting really wasn’t up to par with tracks sounding like two songs clashing, a symptom of learning to blend synth samples and acoustic tracks.

Fortunately on In Distance, Cadoo gets it completely right. The melancholic vibe is much of the same, but the instruments blend seamlessly. There are additions of anguished shoegaze guitars and minimal vocals pushed further to the front, but for the most part, the songs are instrumental. Think Angelo Badalamenti’s love themes, My Bloody Valentine indirect guitar/vocal harmonies, and the warm guitar tones of post-rock. Slow-tempo acoustic drum samples aren’t as cut up as before, with stutter edits appearing only optimally during bridges. The BPM are increased in the start of the second song, “Falling Inward” before falling into the beatless Eno-esque piano and pad segue. The tempo doesn’t increase to that level until the seventh track in the finale of eleven-plus minute “And Triage” as it heads into the quiet guitar strum of “Every Ghost Has Its Spectre”. Both cuts are excellent examples how Bitcrush has learned the power of dynamics. Gridlock displayed a similar flair and after some growing pains, this project also exemplifies beauty through the balance of diversity and consistency. It’s fairly criminal that this album went so far under the RADAR. I’m not screaming RADAR. It is an acronym.

2

There is no spoon.

 

 

Agalloch - Ashes Against the Grain

1

Agalloch

Ashes Against the Grain

The End

When I purchased this CD from HMV on Spring Garden Rd. in Halifax, the nuclear force of awesomeness contained within the jewel case caused the clerk’s hand to shake as he placed it in the plastic receptacle (see: bag) or he had cerebral palsy. Oregan-based Agalloch makes music similar to Scandinavian black metal, but with a post-rock edge. Their first two albums, Pale Folklore and The Mantle, were explorations in combining metal and folk with Pagan themes. For their latest release, the tunes are more rockin’ and less sitting in a doomed field with an acoustic guitar. The death growl does appear in spots, but used appropriately. There are obvious Opeth comparisons due to the mix of clear and rasping vocals juxtaposing acoustic and electric sections, but Agalloch’s music is further reaching when it comes to traversing genres.

The opener “Limbs” begins with prolonged guitar feedback that turns into dueling harmonies with recognizable tones, building tension until drums set off post-metal guitar riffs with feedback still in focus until finally fading away two minutes in. Riffs build until falling away into an acoustic guitar segue with a distant electric guitar creating anticipiation for the inevitable return to \m/ (those are devil horns, y’know). Vocals don’t even begin until five minutes into the track, with rasping male voice uttering, “The texture of the soul is a liquid that casts a vermilion flood”. Unless you’re a black metal veteran, you’ll have to look up the lyrics to discern what is going on. I think of these vocals as a compliment to minor chord waves of noise rather than an alienating unhuman element that someone new to the genre may intuitively decide. Let the cookie monster ride its course. The song ends with another section falling into a progressively more cave-echoed guitar, immediately switching into a snare and solo guitar assault introducing “Falling Snow”.

The second song sets in stone the idea of using a soloing guitar as a substitute of the vocal lead in extended instrumental sections. Now that doesn’t mean it’s shred-wanks ala Dream Theater or the axe-becoming-one-with-hands cool jazz where the guitarist holds notes for too long and makes an unlimited amount of awkward grinning faces. Many songs have multiple sections with a lead guitar over the wall-of-nosie where you don’t even notice the singing is absent. The third track “This White Mountain on Which You Will Die” is a short, cold ambient track that sounds like a slowly-chugging engine leading into “Fire Above, Ice Below”. This song is more pagan-folk influenced due to the acoustic guitar and clear vocals singing, “The woeful silence/and wind’s reflection/of your body’s pale ode/an icy fortress/of blood and ages”. Like Cult of Luna, Agalloch uses nature to draw out the feelings of each song. Minutes in, the song starts building into a more post-rock song, reminiscent of Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

A real world recording of rolling waves moves the album into the next song, cleverly titled, “Not Unlike the Waves”. A simple riff with synchronized guitar, bass, and drums drive forth complimented by a distant clear electric guitar. The fade into the plucked acoustic guitars and rise of crashing drums and electric guitars that lead into the double-bass black metal section perfectly demonstrate Agalloch’s ability to exercise (like Bitcrush!) dynamics. They manage to expertly interweave instruments, but there’s an element of chaos throughout where I never quite know the destination. You can watch the Not Unlike the Waves video, which unfortunately is an edit that excludes the instrumental transitions and outro that make the song interesting. Way to not know what the fuck, record company jackasses.

The last third of the album is composed of the “Our Fortress is Burning…” trilogy. Part I is instrumental with a dark rolling and echoing piano notes taken over by an Isis-ish post-rock segment that becomes more heavy with distortion and martial snare drums as the song progresses. Part II: “Bloodbirds” contains lyrics which are really the central theme of the album: “The god of man is a failure/Our fortress is burning against the grain of the shattered sky/Charred birds escape from the ruins and return as cascading blood/Dying bloodbirds pooling, feeding the flood/The god of man is a failure/And all of our shadows are ashes against the grain”, which all ends in screams of anguish. After this section of Earth gone wrong, the album ends with Part III: “The Grain”, seven minutes of ominous industrial noise and drones. After the power of this album, I don’t see how the post-metal movement can continue as this release cannot be topped. Just give up. Fancypants.

Favourite songs of the year, in no particular order:

  • Hot Chip – Over and Over
  • Junior Boys – In the Morning
  • Agalloch – Falling Snow
  • Front Line Assembly – Dopamine
  • Mewithoutyou – A Glass Can Only Spill What It Contains
  • TV on the Radio – Wolf Like Me
  • Mastodon – Capillarian Crest
  • Isis – Garden of Light
  • Boysetsfire – The Misery Index
  • Envy – A Warm Room
  • The Knife – Like a Pen
  • Built to Spill – Goin’ Against Your Mind
  • The Decemberists – The Crane Wife Pts. 1 and 2
  • Clint Mansell, Kronos Quartet, and Mogwai – Death is the Road to Awe
  • Bitcrush – Falling Inward
  • Mogwai – Travel is Dangerous