Archive for the ‘Lists’ Category

Best Albums of 2010

Monday, January 3rd, 2011


Black Bug
Black Bug LP (FDH Records)
My favorite release of 2010. It’s a fiery burst of electro-buzz synth punk that absolutely kills. Blown out production and crackling femme vocals give this slab a brutally dark, fierce sound that pretty much mows down anything else heard in the last year. And it’s not one of those records that loses it’s charm after a few listens. Its pounding industrial-strength synthpunk anthems stick in your noggin and your gut with the force of electrocution.

DisappearsLux LP (kranky)
Their 2008 singles were solid (two of the tracks appear on this album) and created a sense of anticipation for an LP, since their songs have a laid back Velvet Underground vibe that seems natural for a long format release. Lux smartly mixes up their core sound with a couple speedier tracks and some unexpected grit and effects that subtly textures their otherworldly, chiming tone.

Double NegativeDaydreamnation LP (Sorry State)
Years in the making and overcoming a series of setbacks including the theft of some recording gear, Double Negative’s second LP finally became a reality and it was worth the wait. The snazzy embossed and foil-stamped cover and retina-searing navy on hot pink lyric sheet make it a bold visual statement, but the sounds are decidedly emboldened as well, adding a twisted complexity to their speedy hardcore attack.

Guinea WormsSorcererers of Madness (4rd Year in a Row!) 2xLP (Columbus Discount)
It’s impressive that the Worms were able to save up two records worth of scrappy material and make a double LP that keeps interesting over 4 sides of vinyl. I loved their Box of Records 7″ but the flipside sorta goes on too long, so I was a little skeptical that this release might get a bit gratuitous. But thankfully, they’ve got plenty of unexpected and weirdly incongruent songs that’ll keep your foot tapping and head scratching. Was that a sax bleat? Is this a reggae song? Does that guitar twang make this a country song? Everything is skewed in a Country Teasers or Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 way, where things are almost recognizable but far from normal. The album title alone describes what kinda of insanity you can expect from this double slab of crazy.

Naked on the VagueHeaps of Nothing LP (Siltbreeze)
I casually followed this Aussie group but never really felt they were worth my time until this heap of downer wave slipped into my consciousness early last summer. Their previous releases were intriguing, but they seemed like cerebral exercises in tuneless, droning postpunk endurance. Heaps of Nothing does drone, and the vocals do get deliberately off-key, but this time it really works to create an atmosphere that slowly pulls you in. It’s my new go-to record for when I need a hit of dark, dreamy drone.

Nothing PeopleSoft Crash LP (S.S.)
After becoming a bigger fan of this Sacto band in 2009, and after their excellent 7″ on Permanent Records early this year, this LP was one of the most anticipated releases for me in 2010. And wow, did it ever deliver. While 2009′s Late Night was a slo-mo lithium version of their glam punk churn, Soft Crash goes straight into space with wild Chrome-like tangents and an assortment of synthetically-altered art rock that continues to satisfy after countless spins. Absolutely essential listening for the 2010s.

Pollution®SMUT (C6 Recordings)
Along with Double Negative, this NYC band has raised the bar for hardcore in 2010 with an intensely volatile mix of thrash, math and noise. The rhythm section alone slays 99% of the band’s peers, starting and stopping on a dime, jolting tempos from oppressive dirges to ripping blast beats. Add to that massively chunky guitar and vicious vocals buried in the din and you’ve got a record that will be talked about and referenced for years to come.

SlicesCruising (Iron Lung)
Pittsburgh has been producing some raging mid-paced hardcore with bands like Kim Phuc and this quartet of pressurized aggression, fitting somewhere alongside hardcore bands like Condominium and Cult Ritual, with creepy experimental tracks sandwiched between tense bursts of powerful hardcore. It’s noisy, jabbing, anxiety-ridden pummeling of the highest order.

Subtle TurnhipsTerd LP (Hozac)
Every year there’s a French band on this list and this year it’s a band who’s been around for a while but under the radar. Their loose and wild take on Swell Maps-style noisepunk always sounds good and remains fresh after many spins.

TyvekNothing Fits LP (In The Red)
Like Siltbreeze label mates Naked on the Vague, Tyvek’s singles and 2009 LP were interesting, but a little too unfocused to demand much time on the turntable. This record, however, plays to all their strengths: spartan songs played with punked-out abandon, sorta like early SoCal punks (TSOL, Black Flag, Bad Religion, etc) covering Wire as amped-up teenagers.

Major Surprises

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

After Nirvana exploded from the underground into popularity in 1992, ushering a wave of so-called “alternative” bands, major labels began haphazardly plucking up every indie band in sight in hopes of finding the next band to blow up into the mainstream. Most of these signings resulted in instant turds from underdeveloped and uninteresting bands, or they marked the decline of once-relevant indie groups that were suddenly being marketed with the cheesy sheen of the Backstreet Boys and Celine Dion to the fickle masses. However, there were a few notable exceptions. The following records were financed and/or unleashed by major labels and were actually as good, if not better, than their releases on indie labels. With the recent and welcome rash of indies reissuing back catalog releases once put out by dying or dead major labels, it’s interesting to recall a handful of the great albums buried among the major label heap of the 1990s.

Boss Hog – Boss Hog (Geffen, 1995)
As great as their AmRep releases are, Boss Hog really hit their stride with this major label debut. While Cold Hands sounded like Big Black on a bender and the Action Box double 7″ and other early releases were basically Pussy Galore 2.0, this eponymous ripper had all the snarl of their indie output with the solid production and refined songwriting of a major label release. Their next album, Whiteout, charitably released on the top-notch indie In The Red label, ironically served as their major label-sounding turd — it’s soulless butt boogie and the weakest release in their catalog.

Drive Like Jehu – Yank Crime (Interscope, 1994; Swami, 2002)
It’s funny to think that there once was a time when this band’s name wasn’t constantly being dropped as a major reference point, and when a band as challenging and ahead of its time as Drive Like Jehu would have a major label release that equaled or perhaps surpassed the quality of their indie label output. After a solid LP on Headhunter and a single on Merge, this swan song LP was released with small fanfare and no one seemed aware that it would soon be a highly sought-after classic of post hardcore that’d go out of print and quickly fade away from the used stacks. Band member John Reis (Pitchfork, Rocket from the Crypt, Hot Snakes, Night Marchers) finally got a proper version of this masterwork back in print on his Swami label in 2002 and the band’s legend continues to grow.

JawboxFor Your Own Special Sweetheart (Atlantic, 1994; Dischord, 2009)
Jawbox shocked the indie world when they jumped from the stalwart DC label Dischord to a mega major. Zinesters foamed at the mouth bemoaning this unholy transition from the pinnacle of earnest punk independence straight into the belly of the corporate beast, and it was puzzling to any Jawbox fan why a major label would have any interest them and moreso, why Jawbox would have any interest (or delusions) in becoming rock stars. It was a surreal time to be sure, but forgetting about all the debate and vitriol of the day, the fact of the matter was that this album didn’t find Jawbox softening their sound or catering to any marketing ploys, and this album remains one of the best in their catalog, with a lush, deep production framing their solid postpunk songwriting and bombast. Evidently the universe has corrected itself: since Dischord put out a lovingly-packaged rerelease of this classic last year.

Jawbreaker – Dear You (Geffen, 1995; Blackball, 2004)
I never was much of a Jawbreaker fan during their heyday. Unfun and 24-Hour Revenge Therapy were adored and played by my friends constantly, but I never really got as excited about them as everyone else seemed to be. Strangely, that all changed with their major label debut. It’s hard to pin down why the songs on Dear You did it for me while their previous records just didn’t. With this record I finally heard what everyone was so amped about: Blake Schwartzenbach’s raspy vocals, pure pop punk hooks, poignant lyrics, tight musicianship etc. It wasn’t the slick production that did it for me. In fact, I usually go the opposite way when it comes to fidelity — just look at some of the bands I champion on this blog! No, there’s just a quality to this record that has always wins me over. As much as I wish it were the other way around, my favorite Jawbreaker record was their major label release, Thankfully I can now get the indie reissue on Blackball Records and clear my conscience.

The Jesus Lizard – Shot (Capitol, 1996)
Like Jawbox, Chicago’s Jesus Lizard were subjected to a lot of shit for bailing on their longtime indie label Touch & Go. And while I would consider this record to be one of their least essential (all the T&G releases are fuckin-A required listening and essential if ya didn’t know) it’s still leagues above the majority of “alternative” shit major labels and indie labels were putting out by the ton at the time. While the legend of The Jesus Lizard would be tarnished with their next and final release, Blue, Shot serves as the last great album by one of the decade’s best underground rock bands.

Steel Pole Bath Tub - Unlistenable (Zero to One, 2001; Permanent Records, 2010)
Okay, so this is sort of a cheat, since this album was never actually released by Slash Records on account of being deemed “unlistenable” by some A&R geniuses after it was recorded in 1996. What did they fuckin’ expect from one of the noisiest of the ’90s noise rock bands? Although Slash never put this mangled beast out, the band finally regained ownership of the maligned album and released it themselves on CD in 2001, and just this year, Chicago’s sage label Permanent Records saw fit to press this monster up on vinyl. Of the band’s discography, this LP is the most abrasive and extreme, a warbling Butthole Surfers-like codeine haze with vocals so buried or processed that only the slightest sliver of a tune can be unearthed upon repeat listenings. A decade ahead of its time, it hints towards the mutation of noise rock that would result in bands like Black Mayonnaise, Rusted Shut, Slices.

Jay Reatard

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

1980–2010

It’s been a month since the Memphis garage maestro died and I’m still recalling all the raging records he left behind. I remember the first time I heard The Reatards, blown away by the intensity and freshness he brought to the safe, conventional confines of the garage punk scene. Jay really took it to the next level and influenced a whole generation of in-the-red ragers as a mere teenager. He continued to evolve and was never afraid to push into new territory, as demonstrated with the darkwave synthpunk of the Lost Sounds, or the jerky, angular postpunk of Nervous Patterns and Angry Angles. Even his last solo release, Watch Me Fail, the most polished and commercial album of his career, his masterful combination of KBD-style primitive punk and classic pop tweaked convention enough to make his music his own distinct beast. It’s ridiculous how many quality releases the guy had under his belt. It may have seemed like overkill at the time, but ya gotta be thankful for the massive back catalog he left behind without even reaching 30. Here are a few of my favorites…

DOWNLOAD:

The Reatards – “Blew My Mind”
The Reatards – “Sick When I See”
The Reatards – “Teenage Hate”

Final Solutions – “Eye Don’t Like You”

Nervous Patterns – “Beautiful Brutal”

Angry Angles – “Apparent-Transparent”

Lost Sounds – “Dark Shadows”
Lost Sounds – “You Don’t Know Remote Control”
Lost Sounds – “Black Flowers”

Best Singles & EPs of 2009

Monday, February 8th, 2010

Finally — the second installment of the NFZ Best of 2009. January was a blur and there were a lot more singles and EP releases to sort through, so it took a bit longer to narrow ‘em down to these ten…


1. Mayyors – Deads 12″ EP

After two hyper-hyped 7″ releases, it’s almost embarrassing to have this at the top of this list because it will no doubt go down as one of 2009′s most-hyped releases. But fuck, at first listen it’s clear what all the hype is about with this Sacramento noise punk crew. Taking a page from the intense short sharp shock style of no wave bands like Lake of Dracula and Curse of the Birthmark and channeling that noise into barely controlled bursts of melodic chaos, Deads is the best four songs this band has released so far. It’s scary to think about where they can go from here.

2. Gary War - Galactic Citizens 12″ EP (Captured Tracks)
I finally caught up with this bedroom psych master this year, absorbing last year’s excellent New Raytheonport LP, so 2009′s Horribles Parade on the Sacred Bones label and this killer 12″ EP were at the top of my must-have list. While oddball bedroom psych pop is all the rage these days, with “groups” like Pink Noise, Ariel Pink, Blank Dogs, Dead Luke, Pink Reason, and tons of others pumping out cassettes and limited vinyl releases of lo-fi weirdness, Gary War’s output piles on way more weirdness than the others, who often offer little more than slightly tweaked pop songs. With layers and layers of effects and warbling out-of-left-field sounds piled on solid pop song structures, Gary War’s records reveal surprises with every listen.

3. The Fresh & Onlys – Horrible Door / Laughter is Contagious 7″ (Trouble In Mind)
This fairly new Oakland group launched into indie stardom with a slew of releases and numerous interviews in 2009 and it was this 45 from Chicago’s awesome Trouble in Mind label that made me a believer. Sort of in the realm of the Thee Oh Sees‘ modern blow-fi take on ’60s punk psych, the Fresh & Onlys concoct an addictive sonic stew that gets better with every listen.

4. Statues – We’re Disparate 7″ (P. Trash/House Party Records)
This Ottowa Sudbury, Ontario trio specializes in tight, full-caliber pop punk, which only a handful of bands can do well. And they do it especially well, as evidenced on this tight 45. Angular enough to have a sneer, but tuneful and poppy enough to pair nicely with bands like The Futureheads, Jawbreaker, and the ultimate pop punk band, The Buzzcocks.

5. Crash Normal – Flying to NY 7″ (Plastic Idol)
This smoker earns a spot for the A-side alone, since the B-side is a spot-on cover of The Country Teasers‘ “Hairy Wine 2″ that sounds more like the Teasers than the Teasers. “Flying to NY” shows this Parisian duo at their best, with a raw, scrappy garage punk tune that’s on par with the genius of The Intelligence.

6. Condominium – Barricade/Big Plans 7″ (Fashionable Idiots)
It’s taken 26 years, but finally the B-side to Black Flag‘s My War album has been adopted by hardcore kids. Not to sound like a bitter old fart, but I’ve been championing that record for fuckin’ decades to deaf ears who chose to focus only on early BF without realizing how groundbreaking and heavy that plodding monster from BF’s late period is. Thankfully, the kids these days with their internets or whatnot are taking in all this history and creating some pathologically intense, lumbering hardcore that has roots in the My War sound, as showcased in this perfectly brutal 45 and releases from their peers, Cult Ritual and Kim Phuc.

7. Sex Church – Dead End 7″ (Sweet Rot)
Even if I weren’t a sucker for repetitive trance garage psyche, this Vancouver band would be aces on account of the noisy and raw edge they bring to their dark-tinged music. There’s a crackling coldness to “Dead End” that’s instantly absorbing and perfect, like a Velvet Underground for the new millennium. Sounds cheesy, I know, but of the hundreds of bands going for this type of sound, Sex Church has absolutely wired their interesting take on that sound and it’s leagues better than the rest. The flipside “Let Down” is an epic downer that’s something akin to a raw version of The Dead Boys playing a funeral dirge in an echo chamber.

8. The Sess – Authentic Black Coke / Brain Ruster 7″ (Slovenly)
Righteously named, The Sess (pronounced “Sesh” as in “session”) pop off a fun pair of partypunk tunez that sound like they could’ve been one of the highlights from the 1983 Hell Comes to Your House Part II compilation that featured rollicking country punk ragers from classic bands like The Minutemen and Mau Maus, or maybe one of the more aggro songs from The Plugz discography. Both tracks clip along with support from a garagey bit of organ and enough loose ends to keep it raw, warm and fuzzy.

9. Kim Phuc – Weird Skies 7″ (Deer Skull)
The 3rd single by these Pittsburgh mutants further cements them as one of the most intense heavycore bands of the day. And by heavycore, I don’t mean that mallrat by-the-numbers chugga-chug pap that your retard cousin’s into. This is the real deal, tempered (or distempered) with late Black Flag blowout guitar bent into swirling riffs that hook you into their terrifying world.


10. Dark Ages – Vicious Lies 7″ EP (Cowabunga)
I’ll admit that I’m guiltily gobbling up all these classic thrash retread bands the kids are into these days. Deep down I want them to push their music out of the confines of established genre standards, but spinning this 33rpm rager from one of KC’s fiercest bands makes me forget all about higher aspirations and retro guilt. These kids are for real. With a sound that harkens back to the late ’80s glory days when thrashy hardcore 7″ EPs pushed the genre into vicious territory with heavy breakdowns and high-velocity, raw throated intensity, Dark Ages keeps the HC spirit alive with a strong dose of politically-charged hardcore.

Best of 2009

Friday, January 1st, 2010

BEST ALBUMS


1. The Intelligence – Fake Surfers (In The Red)
The number of bands that get better with each release are few. This Seattle mainstay is one of those few, making each album a notch or two better than the previous release. From scrappy-but-awesome beginnings to this well-crafted, thrilling LP of weirdo/garage/punk/whatever, The Intelligence continues to make some of the most interesting and inventive records with their endlessly cool, multi-layered sonic cut-and-paste aesthetic.


2. Hex Dispensers – Winchester Mystery House (Douchemaster)
This breathlessly addictive album showcases some of the tightest and solid punk rock out there. Sort of poppy with hooks and choruses galore, Winchester Mystery House avoids the usual pitfalls of the played-out pop punk genre with unforgettable crooning vocals (Danzig minus the cheese) and a horror aesthetic that plays out like a midnight matinee.


3. The Spits – s/t (IV) (Recess)
It’s hard to pin down the dumb genius (whuh?) of The Spits. Lots of bands’ records sound great the first few times you hear them, but gradually sound less and less interesting. The Spits’ records have the opposite effect. Even as a diehard fan, my first listen to their fourth self-titled album evoked the same response as my previous experiences with their records, which is me thinking, “that’s it?” There’s something about their puzzling, silly lyrics and rudimentary pogo punk that doesn’t set in until the 3rd or 4th listen, and by that time, they’re your favorite band again. Dumb genius!


4. Dan Melchior und das Menace – Thankyou Very Much (S-S)
It’s easy to overlook and dismiss the work of such a prodigious talent when there’s more releases put out in one year than most put out in five, but you gotta give Dan Melchior props because nearly all of his records are top notch Billy Childish-style garage punk blues. And when you have one of the best labels around putting out a double-album by the guy, you know that that’s gonna be essential listening.


5. A Place to Bury Strangers – Exploding Head (Mute)
Just before the release of this record I’d become a fan of their self-titled 2007 release and wasn’t expecting this record to bowl me over as much as it did. Usually, when the indie hype machine starts chortling out the heavy praise this record’s been getting, it means that the band has softened up and polished their sound enough to become marketable to the fickle indie/college rock crowd. But fuck, this is a monster full of shrieking, feedback shrapnel shot from a roaring wall of sound that’s as massive and raw as anything you’ll find in the noise cult underground.

6. TV Ghost – Cold Fish (In The Red)
It’s been a while since such a destroying record has hit my turntable.
The Cramps comparisons this Indiana group have had thrown at them only slightly reflect the dangerous guitar twang that emanates from this heavy slab of noise pound. The Birthday Party hits a bit closer, but still doesn’t give enough credit for the sinister and twisted world these sounds come from. Echoey, evil, and way off kilter, this monster slays pretty much everything that attempts to cover this dark territory.


7. Ty Segall – Lemons (Goner)
Like Dan Melchior, Ty Segall seemed to have a new release coming out every other week throughout 2009 — not counting releases or reissues from his other bands The Traditional Fools or The Perverts —so you’d assume that there might be a few weak spots in his discography, but alas they all smoke and this LP is the perfect showcase of this garage punk wünderkind’s talents. Catchy hooks and an surly surf guitar sound frame his rollicking, reverb-drenched vocals and stomping beats, with the brilliantly tweaked pop sensibility that Kurt Cobain used to make grunge palletable for the masses.


8. Converge – Axe to Fall (Epitaph)
Metallic hardcore in this day and age is a played-out scene. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of horrid little groups that clumsily throw together a few of the extreme elements that Converge perfected many years ago, rendering this genre lifeless, boring, and worst of all, unimportant. If only they spent as much time on their songcraft as they do on their 3rd-rate ripoffs of Jacob Bannon’s iconic artwork and plastering their band logo on overstocked merch tables, they might just breathe some life back into an otherwise dull scene. In the meantime Converge has continued to hone and perfect their state-of-the-art metallic hardcore, pushing it in new directions, while maintaining the intensity and precision of their earlier releases. All their releases on Epitaph have been high water marks for that scene and this one’s no exception.


9. Mika MikoWe Are Xuxa (PPM)
This LA group that emerged from the energetic all-ages Smell scene has aged nicely into a seasoned band that can at once sound current and fresh while also capturing the rawness and daring of the early LA Dangerhouse scene. Songs like “Sex Jazz” and “Keep On Calling” which add some blaring sax blasts could be mistaken for X-Ray Specs or The Subtonix, while others connect Siouxsie & The Banshees to Bikini Kill with a streaks of carefree fun. An excellent cover of The Urinal‘s “Sex” also secures this LP a top spot among 2009′s releases.


10. AFCGT – AFCGT (Uzu Audio)
This and Factums’ Flowers LP were the two best headscratchers from 2009. Both skirt any sort of convention or predictability and both continue to sound great after repeated spins on the turntable. This cryptic LP from the hybird band made up of The A-Frames and Climax Golden Twins is nudging out the Factums record simply on account of it being released first and the fact that I’ve already said my piece about that great record here. Many have said that AFCGT sound like the amalgamation of those 2 groups, but I don’t see that at all. This is an entirely different animal, perhaps leaning more towards the sprawling compositions of CGT, but there’s really not much to connect either band to the sonic terrain covered on this record. It’s more aggressive and less jazzy than their 10″ release, all while keeping a certain modicum of sophistication, which make this record even more exciting and unique. I’m looking forward to their Sub Pop LP, coming out later this month.

BEST REISSUES

1. Loop – A Gilded Eternity 2xCD (Reactor)

2. The Units – History of The Units, The Early Years: 1977-1983 CD (Community Library)

3. Cheveu – Cheveau LP (Permanent Records)

4. 13th Chime - Discography CD (Sacred Bones)

5. Dog Faced Hermans - Hum of Life LP (Mississippi)

6. Deerhunter – Rainwater Cassette Exchange LP (Kranky)

7. The In’bred – Legacy of Fertility CD (Alternative Tentacles)

8. Jesus Lizard – Goat LP (Touch & Go)

9. Jesus Lizard – Liar LP (Touch & Go)

10. Jawbox – For Your Own Special Sweetheart LP (Dischord/DeSoto)


Horror Punk 101

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

It’s corny, but about this time every year I feel the need to bust out The Misfits’ coffin box set and have a marathon Misfits session, which then leads into some Samhain and whatever else fits the mood. Thinking about it, I realized that there are tons of great bands and songs that nicely fit the horror punk theme. Something unspeakably great happens when you pair punk rock with a horror film aesthetic. It’s a match made in heaven… or hell, more likely. Leather jackets, skulls, and minor key punk pounders: what could be better on Halloween night?

In fact, there are so many great horror punk tunes that it’s challenging to narrow it down to a reasonably-sized 21-track list. Anything that lacked punk bite and snarl or leaned into goth territory was cut, as was anything that fit better amongst the horror-core of thrash or death metal. So even though Christian Death or The Accüsed would make nice additions to any Halloween podcast, these tracks don’t wallow in the gloom or blast into double bass drum rippers. We’ll save that list for next time, or maybe take a truly frightening foray into dark ambient monsters like Schloss Tegal and Lustmord. Until then, enjoy these creepy crawlers…

DOWNLOAD:

Horror Punk 101 (74.4mb Zip file)

TRACK LISTING:

1. The Misfits – “Horror Business” (1979)
Vintage Danzig-era Misfits. You can’t talk horror punk without an homage to the classic crooning wail of the original horror punks. Despite the clown Danzig has become and the huckster merch sideshow the remaining Misfits continue to flog, it’s amazing to consider how radical these duders from Jersey were back in 1977, and how well their mutant rock has held up over all these years.

2. The Blowtops – “Menacing Sinstress” (2000)
Pushing The Birthday Party‘s punk dirge into blow-fi, in-the-red overamped and unhinged levels, this long-running Buffalo, NY group has an extensive catalog that defies catagorization. This creeping track on the Estrus Records label is no exception.

3. The Cramps – “Human Fly” (1979)
R.I.P Lux Interior, 1946-2009. The original punk rock horror show. Gnarled, sick, and totally badass, this song just snakes into your psyche and never goes away.

4. The Hex Dispensers – “Brain in a Jar” (2009)
Since their second LP release, Winchester Mystery House, came out in July of this year, I’ve had a hard time getting it off my turntable. And iPod. Instantly catchy, tightly-played pop punk with slightly Misfits-esque vocals and horror-themed songs, this Austin band is part of the reason I’m doing this list, as they’ve continued the legacy of awesome horror punk to the modern day.

5. The Adverts – “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” (1977)
The Adverts could hardly be considered a horror punk band, but there’s something fantastically unnerving about this song with lyrics about receiving eyes transplanted from a serial killer. This 1978 classic cut perfectly captures the unease of the era, when medical science made the Frankenstein-like possibility of such an operation a grim and lurid reality.

6. The Damned – “Nasty” (1987)
Here’s a favorite track from the late period Damned that’s got some of the spark of their essential early records. While most of their later work veered a little too far into theatrics for my taste, this B-side to their “Thanks for the Night” 45 is a kickass homage to “video nasties” — a British term for splatter flicks. Featured on an episode of The Young Ones, this song has always hit the spot when I’m in the mood for some punk rock and horror flicks.

7. Cold Crank – “Living Dead” (1995)
A relatively unknown, but awesome band that only put out a 7″ and CD EP (as far as I know), these Denver garage punks pumped a bit of overblown AmRep aggression into this primo bit of horror punk.

8. Hammerhead - “Ethereal Killer” (1993)
This AmRep powerhouse’s debut LP had a “killer” vibe, as evidenced from this riff-tastic title track. Their brand of horror is less B-movie and more Psycho: totally unsettled and 0% campy.

9. Ritual Device – “Grandma” (1991)
The archetypical midwestern noise rock group, this deranged band from Omaha, NE had an impressive live show gimmick that involved throwing rendering plant refuse into the audience. I’ll never forget the excited expression of a girl dropping after she realized that the thing she eagerly picked up from the floor was a sow’s ear.

10. Tractor Sex Fatality – “The Woodsman” (2005)
Unabashedly influenced by psychotic Texas legends Scratch Acid and the noisier elements of the AmRep catalog, this Seattle troupe cranked out a slew of rumbling 7″ releases and a couple LPs, all with a disturbing Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibe, like this track from their Peel and Eat LP.

11. 45 Grave - “Black Cross” (1981)
If you were a wired adolescent in the mid-80s, you might have caught some New Wave Theater on the USA Network’s Night Flight late Friday and Saturday. That’s where I was exposed to Dinah Cancer’s screeching, forceful, glaring vocals for this song over ripping, dizzying LA punk. Evil, frightening, and powerful, it’s the epitome of horror punk.

12. Subtonix – “Black Nails in My Coffin” (2002)
The early 2000s found a wave of dark synth punk coming from the Bay Area, including The Vanishing, The Phantom Limbs, and Subtonix. While most veered into synthetic goth territory, Subtonix held tightly to the aggressiveness of early synth punk pioneers The Screamers, whose “Vertigo” they cover on their sole album, Tarantism.

13. Phantom Limbs – “Hot Knifes and Hornets” (2001)
The finest of the wave of Bay Area dark synth punk, the Limbs had a fresh, carnival freakshow sound that was as entertaining as it was twisted, as evidenced by this track from their Applied Ignorance LP.

14. T.S.O.L – “Dance With Me” (1982)
Essential SoCal punk from the early lineup, before the band’s name got hijacked and drug through the hair metal muck. While a lot of their material was political and aimed to create controversy, the True Sounds of Liberty were one of many ’80s punkers with a dark streak that made their swirling minor key songs timeless classics.

15. The Birthday Party – “Release the Bats” (1981)
There’s campy trash horror, ala the Misfits. There’s unnerving, realistic serial killer horror ala Tractor Sex Fatality. And then there’s just dark, fucked up evil genius, like the incomparible punk dirges Nick Cave and The Birthday Party unleashed into the world thoughout the ’80s.

16. The Faction - “Tenebrae” (1985)
A classic skate punk band with horror-themed cover art and songs — and professional skateboarder Steve Caballero — The Faction’s songwriting skills grew from rag-tag amateurism to this interestingly conceived song that goes from a slowly building instrumental track that launches into lyrics that reflect the Dario Argento horror classic Tenebrae.

17. Tales of Terror – “Chambers of Horror” (1984)
While this Bay Area skate punk band was largely known for their chemically-influenced antics, they had an awesomely intense and dark streak that could be delivered in the form of a heavy, dual guitar aggro attack, or a slow, churning burner like this track from their sole eponymous LP.

18. The Necessary Evils – “Alone and Dead” (1996)
With members of garage punk greats The Beguiled and Fireworks, The Evils took the sinister, rough edges of their previous groups and turned up the evil. This track, from their first LP, Spider Fingers, is a great example of their ’60s-style garage punk gone way wrong, with warbling organ and an oppressive riff strummed into oblivian.

19. The Spook Lights – “Teenage Maniac” (2006)
The highlight of the Farm Fresh Sounds compilation put out by the University of Kansas’ KJHK radio station, this Lawrence, KS band is the ultimate horror punk band. With a clear lineage tracing back to the Cramps, their spot-on, demented trash culture tunes desperately need to be documented outside of this track and their MySpace page!

20. The Beguiled – “Nycoidia” (1994)
A perfect, snaking instrumental track from the reverb-soaked garage geniuses’ Crypt Records LP Blue Dirge.

21. Samhain – “Novembers Fire” (1986)
There’s something great about this band, which moved the Misfit’s ’50s rock core into something more unique and original. It’s not quite punk, but much more than straightforward rock, like Danzig’s overly basic and boring solo records. The murky guitar sound on November Coming Fire, Samhain’s last official album, creates an atmosphere unlike anything else on this list, or even Samhain’s earlier releases.

Best of 2008

Thursday, January 1st, 2009

BEST ALBUMS

 

Cheveu – Cheveu LP (S-S Records/Born Bad Records)

I knew Cheveu would be a band to watch in 2008, after their catchy Dog 7″ and split 7″ with Tyvek went into heavy rotation in 2007. But damn, this record really blew me away. It comes at you from so many unexpected and weird angles; simultaneously aggro and laid back, lo-fi and textured, tense and loose. Tweaking and warping punk rock like The Intelligence, and in league with the French weirdo artpunk explosion that includes Volt, Frustration, Crash Normal, and  A.H. Kraken, Cheveu now sits atop the heap. 

Indian Jewelry – Free Gold! LP (We Are Free/Deleted Art)

Here’s another winner that I fell in love with instantly, and it’s still sounding great after many spins. There’s been a void in my music diet since the demise of the Pain Teens in the late 1990s for dark, beat-heavy sinister noise, but Indian Jewelry really hits the spot. Check out this earlier post to see what I mean…

Deerhunter – Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. 2xLP (kranky)

You may be wary of this record, since there’s no doubt that it was one of the most anticipated records of 2008. But you can’t really say it’s overhyped if it delivers the goods. Like many, 2007′s Cryptograms became a favorite of mine, so when the October release date was announced I was as guilty and giddy as anyone to see what Deerhunter was capable of in 2008, and it really exceeded my overanxious expectations. My biggest fear, especially when it was announced that Microcastle would be paired with a whole new Weird Era Cont. album, was that most of the tracks would be throwaway ambient doodling, like a few of the lesser tracks on Cryptograms. Instead, they delivered two solid records.

Black Angels – Directions to See A Ghost LP (Light in the Attic)

I’m a huge sucker for tranced out psych and the Black Angels’ sophomore album builds a thick, hazy atmosphere on top of the sound they established on their debut album, Passover. So in addition to steady, seductive Velvet Underground drone and churn, there are layers and layers of texture from their 3-guitar/organ/sitar/drone machine lineup. In lesser hands this would amount to nothing more than overkill, but the Angels know how to harness all that sound to pull in and bury the listener in a reverbed hive of buzz.

Portishead – Third LP (Mercury)

Here’s another highly anticipated record that lived up to the hype in 2008. Portishead’s fanbase had slowly grown over their 10-year hiatus as a result of their unique position as a band that had crossover appeal from a variety of genres ranging from trip-hop to alt rock to electronica to goth. Amazingly, instead of picking up where they left off, Portishead managed to completely reinvent themselves while also keeping their distinctly recognizable sound. There’s a contemporary simplicity, sparseness and sophistication to this record that makes it feel modern, while also pulling elements from vintage krautrock and the rough edges of early experimental electronic music. The song “The Rip” has the Moog-ed charm of Stereolab while “We Carry On” sounds like a Silver Apples loop with ’90s dissonance guitar samples grafted to Beth Gibbons’ ethereal vocals. And “Plastic” utilizes the stereo effect as heavy-handedly as a hi-fi demo disc from the 1960s as it gurgles backmasked studio blips and bleeps that could only come from a post-electronica age. 

Nachtmystium – Assassins: Black Meddle Pt. 1 (Century Media)

It’s always interesting to genre-hop and delve into a scene to see what, if anything, stands out. Black metal has been a scene to watch for a while now, what with all the Norwegian drama and the recent crop of one man isolationist black metal bands like Leviathan, Striborg and Xasthur taking brilliant steps to out weird and out cult each other. Nachtmystium is a Chicago-based group that’s taken the risk of isolating itself from the rigid, cult-like (okay, make that totally cult) expectations of its fans by meddling with the genre and bringing in some early Pink Floyd-inspired psychedelic twists. (The album title is a reference to Pink Floyd’s 1971 Meddle album.) So not only will you get your snarling death metal howls, blast beats, and guitar buzzwork, you’ll also get a little Santana-esque fusion guitar noodling and — get this — saxophone, in your black metal miasma. It’s one of the most majestic and well-crafted black metal records since Emperor‘s Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk. 

Night Marchers – See You In Magic LP (Vagrant)

The debut long player from John Reis’ newest band? Hell yeah, I’ll be in line for that, no doubt about it. Being a fan of Pitchfork, then Drive Like Jehu, then Rocket from the Crypt, the The Sultans, then Hot Snakes, how could I not automatically love this record? I suppose it’s always possible for a John Reis project to suck — I never was wild about Back Off Cupids (was anyone?) — but it’s safe to say the odds are that it’s going to rule in a razor-sharp punk-n-roll way. This record bursts with classic, walloping Reis riffs and some late ’70s-style punk harmonies and melodies, while also dipping into Reis’ professed influence of the Wipers. While at times it’s almost conventional, See You in Magic hits hard and leaves a mark that stick with you and have you humming its tunes for years to come.

Factums – The Sistrum LP+7″ (Sacred Bones)

A project containing members of the The Fruit Bats and The Intelligence that gets compared to Chrome will most definitely pique my interest, and of the Factums releases I’ve heard so far, which include Spells & Charms and A Primitive Future, this is the most exciting. While not as DNA-scrambling and brilliant as some of Chrome’s finer (ie; records with Damon Edge and Helios Creed) work, the comparison is accurate in the sense that Factums have mutated rock music to a degree that makes it almost unrecognizable. Guitar lines are blown out with heavy effects at in-the-red levels, while the vocals and thin drums come from a room two doors down the hall as a pulsating bass line threatens to rumble everything into the ground. It’s an engrossing and bizarre document revealing how far rock music can be bent.

Eddy Current Suppression Ring – Primary Colours LP (Goner)

Using only primitive garage punk sound essentials, this Australian band constructs songs with the relaxed delivery and I-could-give-fuck swagger of The Fall covering the Stooges. Nothing’s flashy, unusual,  or out of place. And while that convention would normally turn me off, this album has rooted itself deep into my skull through the sheer understated simplicity and ambiguous heart of a rock solid rock album. 

Beck – Modern Guilt LP (Interscope)

Pairing the hip-pop mutations of Beck with the mix mastery of Danger Mouse was bound to yield good results. Danger Mouse’s propensity for ’60s pop and soul, as evidenced in his work with C-Lo Green in Gnarls Barkley creates the perfect setting for Beck’s folk pop superstar songsmithing. It felt like a classic the first time I heard it and I suspect it will retain its charm, as other Beck albums with A-team collaborators, like the Dust Brothers-produced Odelay and Guero.

 

BEST SINGLES/EPs

 

Ad Astra Per Aspera – Danger Bird Blues / RRRIP-IT-UP 7″ (Love Garden)

Since its first 2003 release, this Lawrence, Kansas group has always brewed a heady mix of experimental noise with indie rock hooks that never fails to sound fresh. This latest installment, the first of two 7-inches to be released by the primo Love Garden store label, showcases how perfectly wired this group has become over the years. Catchy, creative, and expertly drenched in feedback and squall, both songs on this well-crafted 45 are flawless.

AFCGT – AFCGT 10″ EP (Dirty Knobby)

Some have said that this group sounds like a mix of its  components, which if you haven’t figured out from the acronym, is a supergroup of sorts combining two of Seattle’s more interesting bands, the A Frames and Climax Golden Twins. I’m more prone to say that this mixture is an entirely new concoction that exists somewhere in the realm of art-spastic improv groups like Factums or the Sun City Girls. Nowhere is the A Frames rigid and mechanical aesthetic or Climax Golden Twins drifting and composed songs found on this wired and kinetic EP. Hopefully we’ll hear more from all parties in 2009—and if we’re lucky, perhaps there’ll be a re-release of their very-limited debut CD-R.

Scorn – Super Mantis Pt. 1 12″ (Combat Recordings)

I’m not sure Mick Harris will ever get full credit or recognition for drafting the blueprint of the dubstep sound with 1995′s release of the Gyral LP. Now that dubstep DJs are all the rage in the club music world, he might just get his due, especially since he’s still pumping out sinister heavy dub with the darkest ambient aura you’ll find on wax. If you’re a fan of current dubstep superstars like Burial, Distance, Pinch, or the excellent Soul Jazz Box of Dub compilations, you owe it to yourself to dig deep into this ex-Napalm Death drummer’s decade-plus Scorn catalog.

Fag Cop – Fag Cop 7″ (Milk n Herpes)

Another Lawrence band foisted a great 7″ in 2008 in the form of a blown out, raw-ass garage trash rocker. Taking the way-in-the-red aggropunk of The Reatards to new, sick extremes, while also retaining a faint trace of ’60s garage punk form in the manner of the most obscure Crypt Records gem, the antagonistic Fag Cop plop down four songs of midwest fury. 

ADULT. – Let’s Feel Bad Together EP (Ersatz Audio)

This Detroit duo gets more unhinged with each release, and this digital-only EP only affirms that fact with 4 songs that take their typically nervy synthpunk to volatile levels with overamped beats, randomly tuneless blurts, and Nicola Kuperus’ Siouxsie Sioux vocals spun into dizzying, channel-bouncing extremes. Besides songs that were included with a $350 art photography project by Kuperus, these tracks are what was available in 2008 from one of the most interesting bands in America. 

Kim Phuc – Freak Out The Squares / Wormwood Star 7″ (Criminal IQ)

Kim Phuc (the name of the napalm-scarred Vietnamese girl in that famously unsettling photo) draws together the roughneck thuggery of a no-frills town like Pittsburgh while also flourishing their hardcore attack with the wit of that city’s brainiac powerbase in Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh. It’s tough guy music made by hardcore geeks.

Box Elders – Box Elders 7″ EP (Grotto)

The vinyl debut of Omaha’s kings of “cave pop” puts this trio at the top of the garage punk pile; a pile that’s more than a little oversaturated with mediocre bands poorly aping the classic ’60s punk sound. Whereas the typical modern day garage punk group is happy to blithely lift a few riffs from their Back to the Grave forefathers and string them into a few lazy songs, the Box Elders take inspiration from the past and distill it into perfectly scrappy little protopunk pop nuggets that rival and outshine the much ballyhooed Black Lips. This 4-song EP, with the soon-to-be-classic song “One Foot in Front of the Other,” will no doubt become one of the high-water marks of this enduring genre.

Disappears – Old Friend / Magics 7″ (Self Released)

Here’s two tracks of great, atmospheric psych from Chicago, that falls somewhere within the worlds inhabited by Suicide, Roky Erikson, and Spacemen 3, or the more contemporary wave of psychedelia found in The Black Angels or Wooden Shjips. But Disappears plays with the cool precision of Joy Division and sound more like grad students than stoner burnouts, with a finely tuned and crafted heady sound.  

Double Negative – Raw Energy 7″ (Sorry State)

Aptly titled, Raw Energy delivers three songs of ripping thrash that harkens back to late ’80s greats like Attitude Adjustment, early Corrosion of Conformity, Accüsed, Poison Idea, and Christ on Parade with speedy 1-2-1-2 drumming and guitars that only slow down enough to wind themselves up, poised to strike again with another round of blisteringly aggressive distortion hits. The sleeve is extra cool, printed in a metallic silver ink with the Double Negative logo perforated, so you could truly subtract it from the sleeve and use it as a stencil.

 

Dead Luke – Jumping Jack Flash Drive / Not Tonight 7″ (Sacred Bones)

The second of three Dead Luke records released in 2008, this release perfectly highlights the psych-synth genius of this Milwaukee bedroom recorder with a massively damaged and reinvented cover of The Rolling Stones’ classic, “Jumping Jack Flash.” Taking the cold elements of early 2000s neogoth/darkwave/synthpunk/whatever groups like The Vanishing, Sixteens, Black Ice, then pairing with the song-savvy electropop of Gary Numan and warming it up with some lo-fi Sebadoh guitar accents and deadpan vocals drenched in reverb, Dead Luke manages to pull you into a world that’s both cooly distant and warmly sincere. 

 

BEST REISSUES

 

Loop – Fade Out 2xLP  (Reactor)

I had to prowl eBay for a copy a few years ago when it seemed certain that nobody but me remembered this absolutely essential spaced out trance rock beast. It was puzzling that you’d still hear Spacemen 3 peppered all over college radio and as a reference point in 3.6 gazillion record reviews, and yet nearly no one knew about Loop, a contemporary of Spacemen 3 who in my opinion, offer a little more depth and focus.  

Skullflower – IIIrd Gatekeeper (Crucial Blast)

My favorite of Skullflower’s prolific discography, remixed by metal maestro Scott Hull of Agoraphobic Nosebleed and Pig Destroyer. Essential for any fan of supreme heaviness.

Gore – Mean Man’s Dream / Hard Gore 2xLP (Southern Lord)

Gore was an odd, Dutch instrumental group that sounded like Celtic Frost‘s sickly de-tuned guitar metal infused with Don Caballero‘s chunky math rock. This reissue compiles their first two albums into a typically beautiful Southern Lord gatefold package.

Wooden Shjips – Vol. 1 CD (Holy Mountain)

This disc compiles all the notoriously scarce Shjips material from their limited edition 7″ and 10″ releases. If you’re a fan of the repetitive psych drone the likes of Neu!, Loop, or Spacemen 3, you’ll want to pick this up as well as their excellent self-titled debut LP and Sub-Pop Loose Lips 7.”

Adrenaline O.D. – Wacky Hijinx of… CD (Chunksaah)

A.O.D. (as we called ‘em back in the day) was a staple of the speed-crazed hardcore legions in the mid-1980s, and no thrasher’s mix tape would be complete without a few raging, good humored tracks from this New Jersey band. Technically, they were masters of the slow/fast, start/stop on a dime hardcore groups and were a huge influence on the crossover metal scene that hardcore would merge with in the late ’80s. Essential!

The Better Beatles – Mercy Beat LP (Hook or Crook)

I grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, about 45 minutes from Omaha, where four very brave art damaged souls decided to make music by deconstructing and re-animating songs by one of the most popular rock groups of all time, The Beatles. The fact that I’d never heard of them wasn’t surprising, but the fact that one of the better garage punk labels around was able to sniff this anomaly out and find enough unreleased material to properly document this band 28 years after the fact is simply amazing. Beatles fans needn’t be offended, since the Better Beatles have stripped all but a ghostly trace of the original songs, forming a minimalist shell of synthesized rock music. It’s puzzling, haunting, and strangely alluring. 

Brainbombs – Obey CD (Armageddon)

This is one of the most notorious and sick noise/rock punishments ever pressed. Ruthless, tasteless, and barely musical, these sick Swedes bludgeon you with drugged out half-riffs that repeat in an endless lock groove while a rambling sociopath slurs about murder and mayhem and topics that’d make Ed Gein blush. It’s hard to justify such ugliness, but even harder to resist it.

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – Jukebox Explosion (In The Red)

The JSBX schtick may feel a little played out these days, but In The Red wants to remind you of how smokin’ they were when they pumped out their plain-label jukebox series singles in the early ’90s. Some of their best songs, including my favorite, “Latch On” — a sputtering skronk stomp that focuses the clamor of  Pussy Galore into a cranked spasms — are collected here as a parody of a Crypt Records Back from the Grave compilation.

Sic AlpsA Long Way Around to A Shortcut CD (Animal Disguise)

Like the Wooden Shjips compilation mentioned above, this CD collects some hard to find 7″, 12″, cassette, and CD-R releases from 2006-2007. Their noisy freak pop has a sloppy and intoxicating Guided By Voices/Pavement/Dead C charm that’s easy to find in songs like “Message from the Law” and the hypnotic “Bells.”

Mudhoney - Superfuzz Bigmuff Deluxe Edition 2xCD (Sub-Pop)

You know you’re getting old when the music of your teen years hits the 20-year mark and gets the fancy reissue treatment. Yeesh. Anyway, this packs in the classic headburning Superfuzz Bigmuff EP, plus their classic early Sub-Pop 45s and a second disc with tons of smokin’ live tracks.