Saturday, December 17, 2011

Fat's best HEAVY TUNES of 2011

Malverde, Red Fang, Murder the Mountains
Short Version, Wild Flag, Wild Flag
running on nothing, Fucked Up, David Comes to Life
TNK, 801, 801 Live
Woke up Near Chelsea, Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, the Brutalist Bricks
Black Captain, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Wolfroy Goes to Town
The Czar: Usurper/Escape/Martyr/Spiral, Mastodon, Crack the Skye
(), the Men, Leave Home
Boring Girls (live), Pissed Jeans, WFMU Comp
We Left the Apes to Rot, but Find the Fang Grows Within, Red Sparowes, Aphorisms
jigsaw puzzle, Rolling Stones, Beggars Banquet
always never know when to quit, Big Business, Quadruple Single
Miss Two Knives, Single Bullet Theory, Single Bullet Theory
Estate Sale Sign, the Mountain Goats, All Eternals Deck
Jacket (orchestral), Shallow Gravy, Jacket EP
keep pushin', Pierced Arrows, 45

All Eternals Deck

Tied with David Comes to Life as the record that meant the most to me in 2011. Only misses were "the Autopsy Garland" (a fine song, but the Steely Dan references were a turnoff), "Age of Kings" (too much whispering, too much quavery violin), "Sourdoire Valley Song" (too slow, too much falsetto, but the lyrics might be the album's best), & "for Charles Bronson" (just too on the nose).

Though there's not one song that does it for me every-note/every-word, "Beautiful Gas Mask", "Birth of Serpents", "Prowl Great Cain", are damn close, and "Damn These Vampires" is as close to absolutely perfect as any song I've ever heard; I only left it off the best-song list to try to avoid being completely trite. "Birth of Serpents" and, oddly, "Liza Forever Minelli" have two or three lines that make me misty every single time. "High Hawk Season" makes me sing along with my nothing voice every single time. "Never Quite Free" might have the album's best arrangements, and even though I have no idea what it's 'about', the way the song is put together makes me happy every time I hear it.

David Comes to Life

Almost certainly too long, and with some weak spots like dry rot, but a hell-week when I couldn't go/be home, my lady was four time zones away, all I had was this record through the sub-thumbnail-sized speakers in my netbook, and even though I was kind of crying a lot, everything seemed okay whenever I heard something like "hello my name is David" or "where the fuck is the other shoe", or the spit-shout hoarse desperation of "it's all been worth it it's all been worth it it's all been worth it it's all been worth it".

The drums are obliteratingly good, the guitars sound as good as any record you've ever owned, the bass is mixed just a hair too low for me, and the entire album sounds/feels like a heart-full teary-eyed smile-cry confession about how much you like really like somebody and just have to tell them about it all about it right now now now it hurts and goddamnit I had to do it and live/die/lose/win/walk/run/cry/laugh I'll never regret a second of this moment.

My sophomore year, I bought Quadrophenia on tape, used at the Buckingham Mall, a many-mile walk from my house, and I spent untold hours walking around Aurora listening to it again and again--David Comes to Life is less ambitious, less over-done, and slightly less successful, but it rocks a lot harder, and I'm not in my sophomore year anymore.

The stupidest thing I did at a show this year was leave during the encore.

Picked "running on nothing" more or less at random. It's great. "life in paper" would have worked about as well and I'm going to stop adding to this list, b/c if I don't, I'm going to list all but like three tunes.

Pissed Jeans

Old song, probably, but I never heard it, and this specific version is the greatest thing ever. Extra-special bonus points go to the drummer for being incredibly game.

Everything about this track is perfect.

Short Version

This record is only middling, but it makes a lot more sense after seeing them live. On the album, you just get a lot of fairly restrained pop-prog, but live you get a couple of Sleater-Kinney alums with as much raw charisma as anybody playing music, Mary Timony's virtuosity and sly hamminess and a more-than-the-sum-of-the-considerable-parts let's-fucking-go-for-it ethos that made the long, long, version of "racehorse" one of the four or five best live moments I had this year. Real players in the service of an improvisational, incantory, Patti-Smith-like tune: my brain & body were both annihilated.

But on record, "short version" was the best executed pop song with riffs and explosions and "Oh-KAY! Awl-RITE!" and bliss.


I don't remember why I went to this show alone; I do remember that I went to see Milk Music, who I love, and who played a very, very good set, and who were absolutely occluded in my memory by the savage brilliance of The Men. I had to leave (home) early, to catch BART, b/c living in the East Bay is a nightmare, and the last thing I heard was a phenomenal rendition of (). As untouchably brilliant as it is on record, hearing it live added a layer of repetition-build, 10 layers of dynamics, and 23 layers of intensity. The definitional HEAVY TUNE of 2011.

I just found out there's another record coming in early 2012, and that's the best culture news I've had since Chinese Democracy came out.


Took me a long, long time to warm to this record. Two main obstacles: the first single, "Wires", sounds like (the) tepid gruel (typically) expectorated by Queens of the Stone Age; the first time I saw Red Fang was one of the greatest live moments of my life, with a couple drone-riff & groove-stomp burners they seem to have retired. Compared to "humans remain human remains" and "suicide", a lot of their material has lacked a certain luster--but this song is flawless like a mammoth-sized emerald avalanching down a steep hill, here and there bounding up and catching air, but it doesn't spare anybody, it only builds more tension before flattening whatever's in its way.

Red Sparowes

This band is a long-time favorite--I was loving their shit when I was still getting tattoos--and this EP adds substantial and nasty edge to the band's drone-flow style. Minute per minute, by far the best thing I bought this year. Takes me places every time.


Fuck it, I can't help it: this melody really works for me. Venture Brothers is the best show on TV, partly because its creators are legit polymaths.

Woke up Near Chelsea

A toss-up: I only discovered Ted Leo this year, and I've already had a deeply weird relationship with his records. At least three times in 2011, I've been on camping trips with no music and Shake the Sheets stuck irremovably in my head--I shit you not! So for now, I'm not letting myself listen to that record, and I'm holding myself to the Brutalist Bricks.

I had a conversation with David Roth once, and he argued that the production on these records is unovercomably offputting. And there are moments of Bricks where that's almost true*: the drums all sound enh and the bass production is frankly repellent (nowhere more so than on "mourning in America" and the way-too-compressed "the mighty sparrow"), but on this number, Leo's songwriting/arranging genius takes over and rumble-tumbles big riffs over and around seizing melodies. In a way, choosing this song is a cop-out, but these two records spent a huge amount of time in my rotation this year, and will next year too, and this tune might be the easiest one to access if you're not me. (I came fucking close to picking "Tuberculoids Arrive in Hop", because I fucking love that song, but I thought it better to stick with a straight number.)

Only songs I can't seem to enjoy are "gimmie the wire", which is musically great but I can't get past the "Tipper" line, and "one Polaroid a day", with a creepily in-your-ear soul whisper-growl that I don't like from anybody. The way Leo & his band put a song together--which is songwriting far more than lyric-writing is--is one of the best things I've discovered in the past couple years. Lots of parts! And malproduced or not, the drummer is tight as fuck.

Black Captain

As good a song as Will Oldham has ever written--which inarguably means that it's as good a song as anybody has ever written.


Heard this on KALX, ran it down mere days later at a time when I was too broke to be buying records. It's by a wide margin the best tune on the record, unfortunately, but I like Eno well enough, and, per my gushing over live Wild Flag, have a lot of fondness for soloy pop-prog, which this is. (There was a BBC recording of Eno's band that turns all the still, measured perfection of Taking Tiger Mountain into slipshod boogie--no shit: avoid that one. Avoid it hard.)

jigsaw puzzle

Beggars Banquet is now my go-to Stones record. Not as scathing as Exile nor as studio-overreaching as Let it Bleed, it's just a perfectly executed collection of surprisingly varied songs--with essentially no idiot missteps (think "Brown Sugar"). I picked "jigsaw puzzle" because I think it probably has more verses than all other Stones songs I love combined.

Open question: did anyone ever take "salt of the earth" at face value?

The Czar: Usurper/Escape/Martyr/Spiral

Not a huge fan of Mastodon. They're radically overproduced, and the vocals are probably the worst of any major band in any genre. But sometimes the guy stops his atonal keening and the band goes off. They're a lot like Jane's Addiction, in other words, in that their one-trick fake virtuosity is only compelling because they spend so much time fucking around trying to pull off things they're not good at. But at 3:45 or so of this one, when the acoustics & vocals fade away and we get a couple seconds of stolen-from-High-on-Fire Sabbath-saw riffage, nothing could make more sense or be more satisfying: at least until 5:25, when it gets even better for a minute.

Bonus points for the worst lyric any heavy band ever wrote: "wasting valuable time". Hey, dude: your moron B-school ambitions are showing. If you actually want people to think you're a metal band, you follow "wasting" with "my foes" or something. You don't write paeans to efficiency (FFS).

Miss Two Knives

Far the best song on the record, but there's only so many Cheap Trick records in this worthless, degraded world, so sometimes a man just has to shove two knives into the power-pop hole in his soul.

always never know when to quit

I put this on Noodles' .mp3 player and she called me one day to say "this is funny--it makes me laugh". That's half the reason I love Big Business. The other half is that the power of their fuzz & Jared's Axl-like ability to harmonize with himself is heart-squeezingly powerful.

keep pushin'

Saw Pierced Arrows a lot this year, for some reason. Kelly's drumming has gotten better and better, and the pre-Halloween show Noodles & I caught at Thee Parkside was as good as any Dead Moon show ever was. They also opened up for Dinosaur Jr. at the Fillmore, and garnered more than a few fans from the shockingly young crowd. That's where I first heard this peppy little number, which makes me smile.

*I should note explicitly that I think the Pharmacists are sounding on record exactly like they want to: the production Roth finds so problematic is deliberate, not incompetent.