Category Archives: Releases 2009

Best of 2009

In no particular order, here’s my obligatory ten favourite records of 2009.

Sunn O))): Monoliths and Dimensions

Fever Ray: Fever Ray

Health: Get Colour

Black Boned Angel: Verdun

Polvo: In Prism

Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavillion

Prurient: Rose Pillar

Shit and Shine: 229-2299 Girls Against Shit

Fabio Orsi/Valerio Cosi: Thoughts Melt in the Air

Sonic Youth: The Eternal

New Release: Slayer

Slayer: World Painted Blood
American Recordings (2009)

‘Heavy Metal’ was my introduction to the world of music. I must have listened to Slayer’s genre defining trilogy of albums – Reign in Blood, South of Heaven and Seasons in the Abyss – thousands of times. In fact I still listen to Reign in Blood pretty regularly; that record has more in common with modern Noise and experimental rock than you might be willing to admit. But, I digress.

I haven’t bought, or heard a new Slayer album in years, certainly not since Seasons in the Abyss. But the amount of talk about World Painted Blood, and the return of Rick Rubin on production duties, had me intrigued.

Songs about serial killers: check. Tracks that devalue religion: check. Manic guitar solos: check. Dave Lombardo’s fucking awesome drum skills: check. Everything that you want and have come to expect from a Slayer album is here, and it’s enjoyable in a lot of ways, but the overall effect falls just shy of what they’ve achieved in the past. They guys are in the grips of middle age now, juggling families with demonic possession and head banging. It’s not fair to begrudge the fact that they might not be as driven by fury as they once were. Still, World Painted Blood lacks the oomph of its predecessors. Tom Araya’s vocals sound forced instead of menacing and lyrically Slayer aren’t as in-your-face as they used to be either.

Beyond that, Rubin’s production has rinsed out the grittiness of their early records. The guitars don’t buzz the way they should. The drums aren’t strong enough. On a few occasions Araya turns to spoken word, in a voice that calls to mind Nu-Metal. Likewise the Drop-D tuning on Not of this God could almost be a Slipknot riff. The beauty of Slayer has always been their punkish, anarchic roots but the polished sound of World Painted Blood defies this.

Even so, is the album any fun to listen to? Hell yes. It makes me want to don black denim, Reebok pumps, flannel, grow my hair, crush beer cans with my teeth and play air guitar. Sure, it lacks the character and vitality displayed by the band during the peak of their career, but nor can you expect a band that’s been around for 25 years to keep pumping out classic records. And I tell you, there’s far worse Metal out there than what’s on World Painted Blood. Just ask I Killed the Prom Queen and their brethren.

New Release: Animal Collective

Animal Collective: Fall be Kind
Domino / Paw tracks (2009)

When established bands put out EPs, warning bells are triggered off in my zany little brain. I often end up feeling ripped off by the half-baked tunes within the abbreviated format. They’re promoted as ‘stuff that didn’t fit on the album’ when really they’re just B-side filler.

Prior to its release, Animal Collective spoke about the Fall be Kind EP as a collection of songs written during the sessions for Merriweather Post Pavilion, which didn’t fit into the sunnier, water oriented vibes of that album. And guess what? They weren’t cranking our chains. These guys are the real, honest to goodness deal.

The five tracks here are certainly shadier and, yes, more autumn sounding than the full-length release that it accompanies. They veer wildly between the shimmering sound scapes of Feels era Animal Collective and the danceable pulse of Merriweather. As EPs go, Fall be Kind also sounds more like an album, the way songs bleed into each other to take the listener on a whimsical 27 minute journey.

Graze opens proceedings with one of those dreamy interplays of watery sound and far-away vocals a la the moodiness of their Feels record from 2005. Unexpectedly the song morphs into a fucked up jig of tin whistles, stomping toms and Grimey bass lines. It’s a concoction that could only ever work in the hands of Animal Collective – do not try this at home.

Similarly, What Would I Want? Sky (the one with the Grateful Dead sample) leads you astray with psychedelia before opening up into a trip-hop ride through pianos, chimes and vocal harmonies directly related to Panda Bear’s solo stuff.

After an ambient middle track, the last half of Fall be Kind is what sinks its teeth into me the most. Certainly darker than the opening tunes, both On a Highway and I Think I Can revolve around vaguely tribal beats sitting on odd time signatures. Weirdo samples snap and crackle in the periphery, while Avey and Panda’s vocals take on a ritualistic and chant-like feel. It’s magical in a very unsettling way.

Fall be Kind is a real gem. It’s a short burst of sunshine through cloudy days.  I love these guys for the evolution they’ve undertaken during their career, and for constantly surprising with unusual approaches to traditional sounds and genres. And if you’ve never heard Animal Collective before, this could be a fantastic, and easy place to start.

New Release: Black Boned Angel

Black Boned Angel: Verdun
Riot Season (2009)

Black Boned Angel

If you’re a music nerd, like myself, there are times when a record can be too intense. In a good way. Something capable of profound effects on the psyche. I’ve had a copy of Black Boned Angel’s Verdun floating around for a while now but I’ve only managed to listen to it a handful of times because despite its beauty and awe-inspiring power, I find it totally draining. And that’s exactly why I’m going to recommend this – how many musicians are truly capable of affecting you like that?

As one extended track with three distinct movements, Verdun kicks off with plodding, cavernous drums and uber slowed down guitars. The pace is blackened and funeral like. The composition mutates into a storm of chiming guitars playing arpeggios at a snail’s pace before returning to doom laden power chords, underscored by a ghostly choir singing hymns from beyond the grave. Everything is murky and oppressive, tragic like an event you don’t really want to remember. Not exactly depressing, but definitely mournful.

In fact, mournful is a very apt description given the themes of war that run through the album (the battle of Verdun being a World War One event), though I doubt that today’s soldiers in Iraq will be replacing their Slayer records with this any time soon. Black Boned Angel, featuring Campbell Kneale of Birchville Cat Motel fame, aren’t highlighting the aggression inherent to war. This is about futility, loss and pointless destruction. Verdun closes with the sounds of a battle field; bullets whizzing by, bombs exploding, choppers thundering around over head and men screaming in the distance. Proof that the most horrific sound on earth is man itself.

New Release: Fabio Orsi / Valerio Cosi

Fabio Orsi / Valerio Cosi: Thoughts Melt in the Air
Preservation (2009)

Thoughts Melt in the Air
I like buying albums based purely on a whim, recommendation or review. I like the thrill of surprise; sometimes they suck, and other times they blow my mind, just like Thoughts Melt in the Air did.

This collaboration between two Italian drone artists is the exact opposite of Sunn O))) and those early Earth records. There are no bowel-loosening, distorted guitars and smoke machines. Instead, everything shimmers around the treble clef, humming lazily in your ears. It’s a subtle concoction of Sitar-like instruments, keys, clean guitars and effects pedals. It’s fucking beautiful, and it reminds me of Yellow Swans’ At All Ends.

The album opens with a singular hum, sounding like a light aircraft caressing the horizon. An augmented drone of string instruments fades in, like an orchestra tuning up and begins to pulse slightly in volume. There’s a faint noise in the background, an occasional hiss that slips into a rhythm and eventually materialises as an unsteady beat that never gets loud enough to become the focus of the composition. Strange yelps and moans lurch out of the clouds, and then disappear. Reverb rings out from everywhere. Piece by piece the elements fade out again until there’s nothing left but silence.

The following track, Thoughts begins similarly but this time with a haunting whir that sounds like an electronic reproduction of someone playing glass rims in a cave. It’s like light calling out from another dimension. This time the beat is more conventional, all tom toms and high-hats, but still buried way down in the mix as an anchor keeping the whole piece together.

Orsi and Cosi play with these delicate drones over four extended tracks, never once building to any forceful conclusion. Thoughts Melt in the Air is about restraint, and micro shifts in sound that create significant changes in atmosphere. Apparently both these guys have prolific back catalogues as solo artists – Orsi experiments with Guitar, and Cosi fucks with the saxophone – which is news to these ears but you can bet I’ll be hunting down more of their stuff.

Every time I listen to this album I get lost. And when the record finishes, and my brain registers that the dreamy soundscapes are over, I come back again not really knowing where I’ve gone.

New Release: Fuck Buttons

Fuck Buttons: Tarot Sport
ATP Recordings (2009)

Tarot Sport

From out of nowhere, early in 2008, Fuck Bottoms dropped Street Horrsing and managed to make buzz, hiss and drone palatable for an audience outside of the noise scene. When I saw them play at the ATP festival on Mt Buller in January 2009, people were dancing. Dancing! And I’m not talking about fucked up hippies waving their arms around like Hare Krishna, I’m talking about kids with Sunn O))) tattoos and Metal t-shirts bopping their heads along with the freaks on stage making a bone splintering racket with Fisher Price toys. Amazing.

I wasn’t sure what to make of Tarot Sport when I first heard it. Fuck Buttons have taken their sound into a glitzier and more dance-friendly arena, with the IMG_0049help of rock/dance crossover guru Andrew Weatherall. I wanted less rhythm and psychedelic keyboards, and more dense layers of swirling drone.

The thing is, I eventually realised I was approaching Tarot Sport from the wrong perspective. It’s no longer about adorning noise with subtle melodies to expand its horizons; Fuck Buttons have been there and done that. Now they’re taking the decay and erosion of drone and its noise brethren, and attacking popular forms of music from within. Tarot Sport mixes Post Punk extremes with the manic euphoria of Acid House. The four-to-the-floor rhythms that drive most of these tracks might be straight out of the nightclub scene, but the blown-out, in-the-red tones and the mantra like repetition won’t appeal to mindless bunnies.

IMG_0064It’s a much more cinematic record than its predecessor, especially on tracks like Olympia and Space Mountain with their soaring crescendos and bombastic beats. It’s not hard to see these tunes framing the finale to a sci-fi flick or British heist movie, albeit of the independent kind. At the other end of the spectrum, Fuck Buttons channel the playfulness of Black Dice on Phantom Limb and Rough Steez by hurling around sketchy rhythms and colourful squawks.

Rhythm is the key differentiator between Street Horrrsing and Tarot Sport; it’s a much more propulsive record. And maybe it says something that my favourite parts of Tarot Sport are the moments between each track, where the sound is ephemeral, weightless and blurry. It’s easy to lose yourself in these dreamy moments, before the boys get back to baking a spongy, layered cake smothered in colourful icing. And it isn’t the sugar high that keeps me coming back for more. It’s Tarot Sports’ sly ability to make every climax a penultimate one, so that euphoria is always enticingly out of reach.

New release: Shit and Shine

Shit And Shine: 229-2299 Girls Against Shit
Riot Season (2009)

Shit and Shine

This record makes me feel dirty, sleazy, slimy and hyper-masculine. There’s something about its rumbling low-end pulse that makes me want to strip off my clothes and molest inanimate objects. It has no fear or morals, and no objection to degrading itself. And it’s fucking awesome.

Shine and Shine come from London and Texas, two diametrically opposed cultures that crash together in an explosion of blown-out drums, weirdo electronics and heavy metal histrionics. Their live show features multiple drummers, and rhythm is just as important for them on record, where every single fucking noise they make is incorporated as some sort of percussive element. It’s all propulsive drums and repetitive heavy-as-fuck riffage cloloured with dabs of miscellaneous scree. Its hooks rarely lead anywhere, instead they ramble on and on, dragging the listener into some sort of ecstatic state.

The density of Shit and Shine’s sound is occasionally filtered through random samples of geezer-like conversation – it’s never clear if these come from the band themselves – which give the whole thing the feel of a drug fueled ritual. If there are actual vocals somewhere on this album, then they’re so distorted that identification is impossible.

With song titles like 13 Hotel Denmark (You 3 Ass, Pussy, Blow) and Pissing on a Shed, these guys approach their schtick with a definite sense of humour. But don’t let that fool you into thinking Shit and Shine are just another bunch of kids taking the piss out of their bedroom instruments. While it might sound like a jam, 229-2299 Girls Against Shit is meticulously constructed to grab the listener by the balls (or tits) and drag them over ear-splitting highs and menacing lows. These boys are pursuing the very outer realms of rock n’ roll and like I said, it’s fucking awesome.