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oh boy what a year

25 Dec

Best of 2009? Well if you’re anything like me, you’re so far out of the proverbial loop that you can barely name a dozen albums that came out this past year, let alone come up with a top 10 of 2009. Heck, NME’s list of the best 50 and Popmatter’s list of the best 60 albums of 2009 contain a combined total of three records I willingly cracked an ear to this year, and even those (if you’re wondering it was MASTODON, BATS FOR LASHES, and FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE) barely got a full listen.

So what did? Well, I-Tunes stats tell me it was HONK’s 1973 softrock cut “Don’t Let Your Love Stand” that got the most spins in this household over the past year; I have only ex-MECHANIC Dennis Catron to thank/blame for that. But there was a bunch of stuff that actually saw release in 2009 that I also listened to alot, stuff I haven’t yet paid tribute to here at PS RECON. And this post aims to round up that lot, stuff that made this tough year a bit easier to swallow. The envelopes please . . .

1. Most Godlike UK Single of 2009: WOLF PEOPLE Tiny Circles/Mercy II 45 (Battered Ornaments Records) Jawdroppingly great, darkly glistening psych by a young band that keeps getting more challenging and nimble with their every jazzbluesprog twist n turn. This recording marks the end of flautist Ross Harris’ tenure with the band; for most of this year, they’ve been trimmed down to a 4 piece. But fear not: live, they’ve been absolutely shredding stages around town with TELEVISIONesque twin gtr prowess ever since. Their newest songs emphasize all manner of melodic, rhythmic, and compositional intricacies that promise WOLF PEOPLE will be the UK rock force of the coming decade. Get a seat on board their train while tickets are plentiful.

2. Best SST-Related Release of 2009: THE NICHE MAKERS Soul Sealed The Deal LP (Ten Rounds Publishing) Trippy new musical projects by Raymond Pettibon are a cause for great excitement around here. His cryptic lyrics are a kind of sound poetry: cliches and truisms are deformed, devolved and reconnected in oddly intuitive ways, leaving literal meaning to wallow in the dust of free association and lolling wordplay. The squeezebox-led folkies behind him play it sympathetic and warm, but are ultimately secondary to Ray’s very personal verbage. Anyone following this man’s musical development will note this is as fucked up and peculiar as his work with SUPER SESSION, SUR DRONE, and more recently with THE UNKNOWN INSTRUCTORS. Oh and the color LP cover is a beautiful mystery to behold.

3. Best Maryland Doom Release of 2009: IRON MAN I Have Returned CD (Shadow Kingdom) – Yes, WINO’s solo CD was biker strong, AGAINST NATURE’s most recent conjured up beautiful Italian soundtrack goblins, and REVELATION just put out a real powerful album last month. But recently Al Norris III (aka “The Black Tony Iommi”) pulled together a superior IRON MAN line up and bested them all with this great hard rock platter. The new singer has a croon that kinda/sorta reminds me of Merrill Ward during his SWA days, the songs are focused in a way the recent SHRINE BUILDERS CD wasn’t, and Al’s crunchy, string-bending rhythm gtr spew is totally captivating from alpha to omega and back again. Man, I hope these balding guys tour.

4. Biggest Scandinavian Mindblower of 2009: MOTORPSYCHO Child Of The Future LP (Rune Grammofon) Continues the overdriven psych rock of their last CD, but somehow the lead gtr is even more explosive and searching this time around (no mean feat, that). Nigel Cross rightly identifies an exploratory, late 60’s West Coast influence at work, but the raging hypomania that fuels this ain’t retro at all – the sound here has everything to do with The Here And Now. Like THE NICHEMAKERS you’re gonna haveta dig out your turntable to hear it. But once you do, you’ll barely be able to catch your breath, let alone look back.

5. Biggest Scandinavian Bummer of 2009: SOUNDTRACK OF OUR LIVES Communion CD (Yep Roc Records) These guys used to be a major label fave of mine, and I admit I’d been looking forward to this for a long time. But oh man, what a particularly stinky, steaming pile of shit this one is. Anybody fancy some annoying, wanna-be OASIS schlock rock? Not me. Recycled ideas, worn out riffs, tired emotions . . . even the Arthur Lee “tribute” included herein is limp and hackneyed. I’m still trying to fathom where they found the energy to record a double record of such redundancy. This Communion is as stale as last year’s wafers buried deep in the cupboard.

6. Best Ex-Boy Band Member Release of 2009: DRACO ROSA Amor Vincit Omnia CD (Phantom Vox) I’ve given up arguing this guy’s virtues to my wife . . . suffice it to say you’re missing out on a gorgeous voice and some passionate performances if you’re scared off by his MENUDO affiliations. No brooding rock this time round ala his great Vagabundo rec; Draco’s squarely in his adult contempo latin-lover crooner mode, which will turn off a good 90% of you out of the box. But this guy and his session musicians got talent coming out their oídos. If I was a straight chick, no doubt my bedroom walls would be plastered with posters of this heartthrob. I hereby give you permission to swoon deeply.

7. Best UK Indie Rock Release of 2009: THE LIFTMEN The Liftmen CD (Twisted Nerve) Gal-led indie rock ain’t the first thing I reach for most days, but dammit if this CD ain’t getting me reconsider a whole pantload of unexamined musical prejudices. This Bristol band filters the joyous outsiderdom of early 80’s post punk (think FAMILY FODDER) through post-TORTOISE grooves to nice effect. The particulars they sing of (sickly newts, mushy peas, St. George tattoos) speak of that alienation which modern, low rent English life dredges up in all of us. But it’s main gtrist/songwriter, Neil Smith, who captures my attention the most. His inventive playing is oddly reminiscent of SLOVENLY’s Tom Watson, had Tom hailed from The West Country rather than The West Coast. The Twisted Nerve/Battered Ornaments label stable has given us real good ones – the CANisms of THE LAUGHING WINDOWS, the archaic lushness of BENEATH FIRE & SMOKE, and of course my faves WOLF PEOPLE – but THE LIFTMEN can hold their own admirably in this company.

8. Best Archival Release of 2009: LOVE Love Lost CD (Sundazed) If only miserable folkies like Richie Unterberger hadn’t highjacked Arthur Lee’s legacy, more people would be checking out the very substantial, soulful work he produced throughout the decade after Forever Changes. These unreleased Columbia tapes from ’71 be ample proof of that. This wasn’t intended to be a full album, but full it indeed feels – brimming with post Hendrix jams and succinct acoustic songs that are mind expanding but far more coherent than anyone ever wanted to believe this guy was capable of. If only all cracked geniuses had these kinda skeletons lurking unheard in their closets . . .

9/10. CD Reissue That Made Me Smile Widest of 2009: A tie, between the self-titled debuts from STRAY DOG (1973, Manticore; reissued by Esoteric/Cherry Red) and MORNING (1970, Vault; now on Wounded Bird). Both these recs have been constantly loved companions of mine since I was a young adult. Whether your bag is STRAY DOG’s crazed, over the top Texas bluesrock, or MORNING’s delicate, rural West Coast poprock, these albums are truly inspired, golden rays of musical sunshine. My bag has ample room for both. Here’s hoping new audiences will rediscover them once more.

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Land of the Lost

26 May

It’s 2008, right? Fucking hell. And here I was kinda hoping that, by now, I’d have found one of those ever-elusive Sleestak pylons to catapult me right back to ’62, ’77, ’83 or even ’91 for christ’s sake. Ah well. While I continue my search, let’s talk about recent releases that have been taking up my headspace lately:

1. BOILED IN LEADSilver (Omnium Records, 2008) – Big comeback record by the best Celtocentric rockers ever to call America their home. Original singer Todd Menton has returned to the helm, bringing renewed focus and lotsa great Irish tunage with him – and effectively shaking off the kinda bogue world-explorer sound that gummed up their 90’s records. These guys play tight and inspired – not unlike how Richard Thompson might, if he decided to ditch the professionalism, crank up the decibels/distortion a good 3 or 4 notches, and hit hard at trad material again. Pick of the bushel is the opener “Apple Tree Wassail” – in these environmentally uncertain times, it’s nice to know someone’s taking time to rock in a bountiful harvest. As good as their late 80’s From the Ladle to the Grave highwater mark? Maybe.

2. THE HELLACOPTERSHead Off (Wild Kingdom/Psychout Records, 2008) – I’m pretty easy when it comes to radio-friendly rock: if you’ve got energy, some catchy tunage, a wild singer and decent drummer – I’m probably game. So you won’t hear no bitching from me about your FOO FIGHTERS, or your MUSEs, or even your OK GOs. Nor about THE HELLACOPTERS, whose SONIC’S RENDEZVOUS BAND bywayof THE KNACK thing sounds totally comfortable coming outta my radio this morn.

Yeah there was a time when they seemed to fetishize post-STOOGES Detroit R&R just a little too much for my taste. It was downright morbid – like they had little shrines built to Rob Tyner and Scott Ashton in their bathrooms! But this new rec, made up entirely of songs penned by their actual peers (THE NEW BOMB TURKS, THE BELLRAYS, THE POWDER MONKEYS, DEAD MOON, etc.) feels way more honest a statement than covering, say, RADIO BIRDMAN. Coulda used a ballad or two for a change of pace, but hey what’s here is hot and dandy. Not something I wanna think too much about, but listen to? Yep, and frequently.

3. YOKE SHIREWitching Hour (Zygo Records, 2007) – Ray’s Realm got me curious about this, and dammit if it ain’t still holding my attention – albeit for alotta the wrong reasons. This PINK FLOYD/JETHRO TULL inspired epic sprawl from Boston is so frickin’ cut off from anything I grew up with (i.e. punk, hc, top 40 powerpop, newwave), I’d almost believe it was conceived in a prog test-tube lab deep beneath Steve Howe’s tennis court! That two brothers could be responsible for damn near every sound on this 2-CD set is pretty impressive. But that it’s all so consistently compelling and imaginatively rockin’ is positively jawdropping. Horrendous graphic art BUT HEY this could be the very best tunage you ever hear pumped outta the stereo whilst browsing your local magickal/pagan bookshop – a true accomplishment, methinks.

4. WISHBONE ASHFirst Light (Talking Elephant Records, 2007) – I was in Glastonbury recently and noticed flyers all over town advertising current shows by these English warhorses. No, no – I didn’t go see em play, but I did search the web for soundclips of their recent material, which sounds exactly what I figured a bunch of rock dinosaurs might get up to 35 years on (this is not a compliment). But then I discovered this amazing disc: their first known recording from 1969 recorded as a demo to garner label interest. And it was apparently played on homemade/rebuilt instruments! This illuminates all that was once great about this band: their dancing/piercing dual gtr leads, their rich melodic material, and their nimbly rockin’ bass/drum combo of Martin Turner and Steve Upton. Easily blows away their first proper self-titled disc, IMO.

5. THE DOORSLive in Pittsburgh 1970 (Rhino Records, 2008) The horrors that THE DOORS’ original output has been dragged through – via endless flogging on “classic” rock corporate radio, on car commercials, and in lame boomer-directed flicks – is ultimately a fate worse than, say, CLAPTON’s reinvention into an incidental soundtrackist for elite fashion runway shows. These days, it’s really, really tough to listen to a DOORS tune and not be at least a little bit disgusted.

But really, that shouldn’t detract from what they were groovin’ on all them years ago. And this cavernous live recording is where you’ll find a way back in. The blues here is one loooong black train that keeps up a relentless modal howl all night long. Jim’s sober, and hence not hogging all the limelight; Robby K.’s playing gtr with a depth Cippolina always wished he had; and dammit if Manzurek ain’t burping and belching with the best rock keysmen (and NEVER have I paid that man a compliment). You wanna know where Jeffrey Lee Pierce got the idea for his voodoo blues from? Right here bub.

6. MOTORPSYCHOLittle Lucid Moments (Stickman Records, 2008) Thanks to Wordy Diva for the heads-up on this one. Positively staggering progtastic jams from this Norwegian modern rock institution. People have compared these lengthy (12 – 21 minute) cuts to YES and Meddle-era PINK FLOYD, which are valid touchstones I suppose . . . but what I’m hearing clearest sounds like Daydream Nation-era SONIC YOUTH ripping out an hour long tribute to the best Welsh rockers ever, MAN. Just try and tell me the high-pitched vocals and chiming gtr harmonies (not to mention the insistent drumming) don’t get you thinking this, too, was recorded Live at the Padget Rooms, Penarth!

Now, I’m not sure if everyone’s gonna understand a record like this: it isn’t explicitly bell-bottom retro like WITCHCRAFT, nor is it overtly post-modern in heaviness ala BORIS. So it’s gonna confound those looking to “place” it easily. But that’s all to their credit; MOTORPSYCHO is doing their own thing so fucking well, it refuses simple catagorization. For anyone still interested in how powerful modern Scandinavian gtr rock can be, look no further.

7. KURT VILEConstant Hitmaker (Glutcher Records, 2008) A full year into this blog thing, and I finally get some promos sent to me, unsolicited, for “review consideration”. They asked for it, so here goes:

The first track here gets me thinking how TOM PETTY’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More” might’ve sounded recorded on a C-60. Elsewhere, I’m hearing any number of quietpop/slop superstars . . . BECK, AMERICA, New Zealand’s ALISTAIR GALBRIATH, KENNY frickin’ RANKIN for christ’s sake – all filtered through an ancient, wind-swept Teac 3340S recorder for that “feel” we’ve come to associate with indie dweebs in the 90’s. The relative merits of this, I’m gonna leave up to you, mate. You’d be is good company calling this “homespun, futurist folkpop”; you’d have the support of many others by referring to it as “retardass neo-emo crapola”. Yes I can readily admit THIS AIN’T MY BAG, but does that mean it sucks? Nah, not really. But there is a clueless head-in-the-sand thing happening here that kinda worries me. Like, I don’t wanna be anywhere near this VILE guy when the shit really starts coming down. And we all agree it’s comin’ down fast, right?

Thanks to The Right Reverend Enik for the neato Land of the Lost gif