Thursday, January 02, 2014

Fat's Best HEAVY TUNES of 2013

0. TL;DR List + Links Only

the low flags - Alpha Cop, split 7" with Carton
arming Eritrea - Future of the Left, Travels with Myself and Another
future child embarrassment matrix / the male gaze - Future of the Left, How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident
stand and encounter - Gowns
gopher guts - Aesop Rock, Skelethon
pendulum swing - Blank Realm, Go Easy
my time - Golden Dawn, Power Plant
the waist and the knees - Game Theory, Lolita Nation
Ragnaraak - Verma, EXU
the Catholic Channel - Carton, Sunburst EP
Today Might Be Our Day - Wormburner
Mt. Abraxas + Follow the Leader - Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats
Winter Prevails / Moose on Rice / Winter Prevails II - Snailface
Workshop of the Telescopes - Blue Öyster Cult
St. Cecilia - Stalk-Forrest Group
Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind - Yo La Tengo, I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass
7" - The Whip (alternate link)
greed is your horse - Lord Dying, Summon the Faithless
Manifest Decimation - Power Trip, Manifest Decimation
Banana Clipper - Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels
Motherfuckers Never Learn - Shooting Guns, Brotherhood of the Ram

I. Meandering Introductionalizing

Good year this year! For music, anyway; the rest of consensus reality continued its momentum-gaining slide into nightmares of inhumanity and inevitable environmental collapse into catastrophe. This year, I did a better year than in a couple other recent years of hearing and enjoying new music, rather than just exploring the depths of my archives. Much of this newness came from the endlessly shit-spewing sewer hose that is Twitter, and a lot of it is available on Bandcamp, which bids fair to absolutely revolutionize my relationship with music—or at least with new bands.

If nothing else, Bandcamp is making it much harder for me to want to go the record store. This is a bad thing, in my estimation, and I am currently trying to figure out how balance my desperation for convenience (read: laziness) with the necessity that I contribute to the small business economy of the place I live. The answer might be as simple as something Pink Eyes said from the stage of a Fucked Up show a couple months ago:

Buy one record a month at your local record store.
It's a thought: we'll see if I can make it happen.

Anyway. The year in music was more than just angst and the internet, though. Most of the best new stuff I heard was this year came from the old ways—my friends told me about them. Also a cool thing about this year in music is that I got to write about music for some other venues. Two of the things I wrote could be considered companion pieces to this list:

II. The Long Version

the low flags - Alpha Cop, split 7" with Carton
I also got to write some catalog copy for Negative Fun Records—but it wasn't payola that made a Negative Fun release my favorite song of the year. It was just that the song scratched itches I didn't know I had. As I said on the podcast, the song is a wide-screen epic, one that moves from part to part to part, loudly, like a storm surging over a montage of, well...all of human history. Or anyway, everything that feels like it can go into a life feels like it has a home somewhere in this song.

arming Eritrea - Future of the Left, Travels with Myself and Another
suddenly it's a folk song / land of my formers - Future of the Left, Curses
future child embarrassment matrix / the male gaze - Future of the Left, How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident
As promised in last year's list, Future of Left spent a lot of time in my ears this year. These were my favorite of their songs, spread out over a pair of albums and another pair of EPs that I bought, and the copy of Travels with Myself and Another that my buddy gave me. "arming Eritrea" is maybe their best song overall, with harsh barks lasting a long time and eventually not yielding to, but being subsumed by, overwhelming melodies. The hooks in this one are irresistible, and the elliptical lyrics are just elliptical enough to keep the whole thing mysterious and captivating. "suddenly it's a folk song" and "land of my formers" are two more scrape-pop numbers that kept my blood frothy and my neighbors awake. Off the excellent debut record Curses. "future child embarrassment matrix" and "the male gaze" were the best-sounding things I've heard from the band, so perfect in sequence that it makes the songs that follow them on the album sound like deliberate experiments—as though having added jaw-smashing brickbat stomps to the usual repertoire of brilliantly abrasive anthems, they felt the need to focus entirely on other new tricks. Less perfect, but still great, with different context on the EPs. (Worth noting that XtraMile completely fucked up the metadata on the .mp3 files for the Man vs. Melody EP, making it kind of a less worthwhile purchase.)

stand and encounter - Gowns
Speaking of brilliantly abrasive, I've had this lying around for a few years, and I pull it out regularly, usually when I need a good aural scouring to flense away the cruft, self-pity and fatigue that...life gives me. This one's free to download, and will wring you out, leave you stripped of a lot of the daily toxins. It's the Neurosis effect, in other words. I haven't heard anything from EMA—half of Gowns, gone solo, evidently—that I have liked nearly as well, alas.

gopher guts - Aesop Rock, Skelethon
Not the first song that grabbed me off the album—Skelethon, which may have spent more time in rotation than any other in 2013—but the one that might mean the most to me, after my two hundredth listen. "gopher guts" has the best-executed devastating closing verse on an album that's full of them*, and boasts a perfect downer of a chorus-closing hook:
...and then I let him go
...oh.
*To wit, the following, which is almost chanted:
I have been completely unable to maintain any semblance of relationship on any level
I have been a bastard to the people who have actively attempted to deliver me from peril
I have been acutely undeserving of the ear that listened or the lips that kissed me on the temple
I have been accustomed to a stubborn disposition that admits it wishes its history disassembled
I have been a hypocrite in semonizing tolerance while skimming for a ministry to pretzel
I have been unfairly resentful of those I wish had acted different when the bidding was essential
I have been a terrible communicator, prone to isolation over sympathy for devils
I have been my own worst enemy since the very genesis of rebels

The other world-class closing verse came from "cycles to Gehenna". I talked about this on the podcast a little bit, but not particularly well, and I honestly have yet to articulate successfully to myself just why the phrase pins me so, but I flinch, and think about my life a little bit, every time I hear:

this is the product of a D.I.Y. inadequate home

From @holy_mountain came the following rad HEAVY TUNES:

pendulum swing - Blank Realm, Go Easy
miles from nowhere - The Only Ones, Even Serpents Shine
my time - Golden Dawn, Power Plant
Blank Realm's best song is near-perfect drone-groove action with a long lope and enough room to roam to get spacy, but enough tightness to avoid getting old in a hurry. The Only Ones are like the Kinks, but worth listening to. And Golden Dawn sounds almost offensively like Roky Erickson, but apparently came by it honestly, as actual, factual contemporaries of the 13th Floor Elevators who got not just overshadowed, but seemingly actually suppressed, if the Wikipedia is to be believed. And anyway, sounding incredibly like the 13th Floor Elevators is a good thing to do, if you can pull it off. Psychedelia from the garage: nothing wrong with that. Thanks, @Holy_Mountain! I owe you some much better tweets that I have so far sent your way.

the waist and the knees - Game Theory, Lolita Nation
More white pop came to the fore when Scott Miller died and I reacquainted myself with an ancient favorite, the insane double album Lolita Nation. This album was probably the richest influence on my taste for highly arranged studio melodies. I have no idea how I came to buy this tape, somewhen in high school, but it always stood another play, and my only regret with respect to it is that Scott Miller had to die to get me to revisit it. "the waist and the knees" stands in for pretty much the whole album, even the weirdo noise-collage of side 3, which only makes the sweet pop go down even more satisfyingly and interestingly. And it's a nearly perfect song and it mentions the only Beach Boys song I will ever love.

Ragnaraak - Verma, EXU
Can't remember where I found this good krauty drone-metal. Probably somebody on Twitter. Probably somebody on Twitter who's into HEAVY TUNES and lives in Chicago. In the back half of 2013, whenever I couldn't decide what to listen to, I defaulted to this. Equally suited for soothing at sleep time, propelling-but-not-distracting at writing time, and inspiring pushups at pushup time. I don't know one song from another on this album: but as an album it's dense, solid, and rewarding all the way through. One of these days I've got to check out what else they've put out.

the Catholic Channel - Carton, Sunburst EP
(runner-ups: on that hill, fingertips)
The entire EP shreds and skips in a scything way that I originally thought was kind of post-grunge, but on the 30th of December, listening to it on my bike, I realized that "the Catholic channel" has a very best-song-by-Squirrel-Bait sound and feel. So maybe it's less post-grunge and more...good-band. Whatever label it earns, it's some of the best back-to-basics guitar rock I've heard in forever—sort of what I wish Milk Music had been able to provide. Honorable mentions go to another great tune on that great EP and to the other side of the Alpha Cop's "the low flags".

Today Might Be Our Day - Wormburner
Even more back-to-basics, this is just a great song. As somebody who uses music like a drug, it's intensely welcome to find something that has as a side effect the creation of...hope.

Mt. Abraxas + Follow the Leader - Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats
A band that had been recommended to me a lot, Uncle Acid took me a while to warm up to. I think it's mainly because this is not a headphones record—this a loud-ass-speakers record. And a damn good one. In 2013, no songs better blended familiar approaches and influences without resorting to outright appropriations and imitations.

Winter Prevails / Moose on Rice / Winter Prevails II - Snailface
Similarly old-and-new, the lifer-rock side project Snailface brought the year's best—and best-natured—record-collector-band music, with Snailface IV, a concept album about...camping. Treading roughly, and treading roughly over the same ground as Into Thin Air and Grizzly Man, I think, the album blends an awful lot of classic-rock-radio moves into a very satisfying and infinitely listenable landslide. Humor never gets its due artistically, and certainly doesn't in the realm of heavy music, but this record managed to be funny and tongue-in-cheek without ever being half-assed. And in "Winter Prevails", things even got emotional, with big stomping beats under sad strings and a story about fleeing civilization (and dying alone).

Workshop of the Telescopes - Blue Öyster Cult
I'm writing a book about Blue Öyster Cult, and part of my preparation (research?) for the book is listening to BÖC records in order. I'm still digging into the early stuff, and finding hooks everywhere, revelatory little moments that light up the overall project. And then there's this, off the first record, which is thus far entirely impenetrable: over unsettled chiming chords, Eric Bloom chirps:
My silverfish imperatrix, and incorrupted eye
and shit just actually starts making less sense from there. Maybe I should just start off with a live version.

St. Cecilia - Stalk-Forrest Group
Another part of the work I'm doing for the book is listening to the band BÖC were before they were BÖC. The Stalk-Forrest Group is as explicitly an attempt to be New York City's Grateful Dead as BÖC was to be the American Black Sabbath; oddly, I adore it. Moodly jangle-rock with quiet harmonies all over the place and long, long, noodly guitar solos, this was my go-to chill-out record for much of the year.

Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind - Yo La Tengo, I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass
Because I love guitar squalls over rock-solid drone-grooves, as provided by Blank Realm, above, I love this song and have been listening to it several times a day for the past month or so. A great combination of energy-inducing and mood-settling. The rest of the record doesn't do much for me until the chill closer, "the Story of Yo La Tengo"* brings its nearly 12 minutes of heartening swells and quiet crashes.

*Or, if you believe the shitty metadata that Matador provides, "the Story of Yo La Tango".

7" - The Whip
Can't say enough about this record. I avoided it for years—in a story I told briefly on the podcast—because it reeked of death to me, as the definitive record that came out in a grief-clotted summer a decade ago. But an object is not exhaustively defined by its context, only informed by it, and this is a boiling, thrashing record absolutely screaming with life. Buy the fucking thing; I don't want to hear any bullshit about this.

greed is your horse - Lord Dying, Summon the Faithless
From @nocoastoffense, my pal in HEAVY TUNES, came this, possibly the year's best song of riff. I'm not fully sold on the band, nor fully checked out on the rest of the record, but this will bear looking into in the coming year.

Manifest Decimation - Power Trip, Manifest Decimation
Similarly, Power Trip blew me away whenever I listened to them this year, even if I didn't listen to them nearly, nearly enough. This incredible assemblage of riffs and energy will probably fuel the bulk of my pushups and sour, impacted bike rides to work in the coming year. Speaking of work, I wasn't able to see Power Trip open up for Fucked Up in October because of work. Fucked up, right?

Banana Clipper - Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels
Took me forever to get around to loving this, but my dudes Abe (of the podcast) and @teen_archer finally wore me down enough to give it a shot, and the excellence of the record did the rest. Huge fun, and a never-ending source of amazing one-liners. This song stands in for the record mainly for the following line, but "I fuck in my church shoes" is maybe even better:
I sent they mom a little cash and a sympathy letter
Told her she raised a bunch of fuckboys—next time do better
...BITCH.
Best record to wash dishes to of the year.

Motherfuckers Never Learn - Shooting Guns, Brotherhood of the Ram
A very late arrival, this space-metal outfit from Canada (!) absolutely owned my late December. Brotherhood of the Ram is flaw-free entirely, and "Motherfuckers Never Learn" is there (only [not only]) because (a) I structure these lists mainly song by song, and (b) it's an unquestionably perfect song title. Their demo—which is free, by the way—might even be a couple percentage points better than Brotherhood of the Ram. It's called Born to Deal in Magic, and it is exceptionally good. Who are these guys? I don't know. But they make excellent HEAVY TUNES. And they are so good that they can do what apparently is impossible, according to the now-unfollowed whining imbeciles on my Twitter: release an album in December that ends up on a best-of-the-year list.

UPDATE:
So, it seems I got most of the facts wrong about Shooting Guns. They're from Saskatchewan, not Calgary. Their album came out in October, not December. And their demo is no longer available for free. I regret the errors! However, I got the important part(s) right: they are a superb band with two magnificent releases, and you should buy them and listen to them without delay.

—Fat, rocking out & keeping his ears open

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