Sunday, December 20, 2015

2015 in review - top 100 albums of the year (part 3 - #74 to #60)

Third volume. Three's the charm, or something. Well, there are some charming records here at least. And some, well, not so much.

74. GALLEY BEGGAR Silence & Tears
I first heard of Galley Beggar from a good friend who's way into British folk, the whole Canterbury scene and whatnot. Already then, they seemed a little bit different, and apparently Lee Dorrian felt the same when he signed them for Rise Above. A truly amazing update of sorts of the classic Fairport Convention/Steeleye Span folk rock sound, Galley Beggar state their mission is to imagine "the next phase of English folk rock", and, well, mission accomplished I'd say. Can't wait to see them at Roadburn!

73. INSECT ARK Portal/Well
If you need pedigree, Dana Schlechter's got it: from founding Gift Horse with Leviathan's Jef "Wrest" Whitehead to playing in The Angels Of Light to playing bass live for American Music Club, signs of her amazing talent are everywhere. With her new solo project (which has since expanded to include drummer Ashley Spungin, at least in a live situation), she uses synths and programmed drums, a lap steel guitar processed through the mouth of Satan itself (or so it seems) and bass to flesh out your worst nightmares in all their serene beauty. If it sounds contradictory, so does the record., in the best way possible.

72. GUY GARVEY Courting The Squall
Listening to Elbow already feels like we're reading the man's diary or some other equal invasion of privacy, so it was rather surprising to see Guy Garvey go solo. But after a spin of 'Courting The Squall', it is very understandable, mostly on a musical level - while his lyrics maintain the same emotionally raw yet evocatively, intimately poetic nature, and his voice is equally hauntingly fragile, the music here is much less polished than Elbow's, much less sorrowfully grandiose, so to speak. In many ways, they sound like what you'd imagine Elbow's demos would, apart from a jazzier, looser vibe to them, and in its totality they make up for a surprisingly tight album and an excellent exercise from the singer.

71. MAGIC CIRCLE Journey Blind
A very recent discovery - not only did the album come out in late November, but I hadn't given much attention to the promo beforehand, always a mistake with the constantly excellent 20 Buck Spin stuff. On my Terrorizer review, I mention that "Everything about them reeks of the golden age of late 70s/early 80s heavy metal," I call vocalist Brendan Radigan's amazing voice "somewhere between Eric Wagner and Terry Jones," and I like them to "'Mob Rules' and Omen and Manilla Road and even the first doom metal heroes like Saint Vitus or Trouble all put together by expert hands that know what they're doing with such influences," so you get the picture why you need to listen to them, right?

70. WITH THE DEAD With The Dead
Tim Bagshaw and Mark Greening's new nasty doom band, for which they convinced some guy named Lee Dorrian to sing on. This was a match won even before the first ball was kicked, and this fantastic new trio widely confirmed the expectations with their debut. Raw and miserable, closer in spirit to the most horror movie bits of Ramesses than any other band in the guys' pasts, it's then given that special twist by Lee's unique vocals, a ghostly wail that sounds like the darker Cathedral moments like 'Endtyme' or even 'The Last Spire'. Hopefully they'll stay together and do more records, the potential is huge.

69. POISON IDEA Confuse & Conquer
If you need any kind of recommendation to get new Poison Idea records, you need to go recalibrate your taste first. Anyway, even if this was the first full-length without sadly departed guirarist Pig Champion, it's every bit as great as Poison Idea always were. On my Rock-a-Rolla review, I said this: "Violent and remorseless to the point of unpleasantness, yes, but not without its depth and nuances, and even a surprising singalong or two along the way, it packs a mighty punch only heightened by Joel Grind's spot-on production job."


68. PINKISH BLACK Bottom Of The Morning
      THE GREAT TYRANT The Trouble With Being Born
Daron Beck and Jon Teague, the super talented duo that make up the amazing Pinkish Black, only use voice, keyboards, synth and drums on their records, but even with the equally sparse composition style, they sound fuller and tug at your heartstrings harder than most other bands attempting any kind of morose, mournful, quietly sad music. The despondency and discouragement the band exudes is even sharper on this album, so approach with caution if you're having a bad day. Also this year, we got a crucial glimpse into their musical past, with Relapse also putting out the The Great Tyrant album, the band Beck and Teague used to be in with bassist Tommy Atkins, until Tommy sadly took his own life. 'The Trouble With Being Born' shares a similar vibe with Pinkish Black stuff, except a little vaguer and perhaps even more bizarre in the approach, so be sure to get it as well.

67. CERTO PORCOS (Ódio)666
If you figure out the result of that power in the title, it'll be equal to what is distilled by the hateful 33 minutes of this kickass debut album. One more great metallic crust punk band to come out of the Brazilian underground, Certo Porcos faetures Rodrigo Führer from the legendary Holocausto, and just like the press release that came with my promo said, this record features sixteen blistering tracks of "angst-ridden socio-political venom". A more bile-ridden, direct slap to the face you're unlikely to get anytime soon.

66. BARONESS Purple
While overall it might not quite reach the anthemic nature of 'Yellow & Green's finest, most ear-candy catchy tunes - especially on its 'Yellow' part - 'Purple' is still unmistakably a superb rock album, containing every bit of Baroness that we've come to know and love, the harmonies, the warmly enveloping production, the attention to detail, the incredible artwork... in a way it's "just another" Baroness album, and considering the hell they've been through, that's exactly what we wanted from them. They're okay, and they'll be okay.

65. UNDERSMILE Anhedonia
My, how they've grown. When this blog was still alive (I'm flogging a corpse right now), I had them as band of the week when I first discovered them, and 'Anhedonia' is at the same time the exact same band, in terms of how they continue to impress, and also a completely different band, in the maturity and quality of songwriting they've since acquired. The powerful, pachidermic doom stomp is still a factor in their music, but it's used to reinforce the moodiness and to create dynamics alongside some near-slowcore atomsphere-drenched parts rather than a main vehicle, which makes 'Anhedonia' a potent and affecting record to listen to and maintains the excitement to see what they'll come up with next.

64. PIGS Wronger
Not only was Pigs' 2012 debut 'You Ruin Everything' one of my favourite records of recent years, it also had the best artwork ever. Seriously. It would be hard to keep up with such an abundance of awesome, and 'Wronger' is just a little bit off the mark, but it's still kickass, a vicious bout of bruising, nasty noise rock that'll just pummel you mercilessly and remorselessly from start to finish. What else would you expect from a band with Dave Curran and Andrew Schneider in it?

63. LIGHTNING BOLT Fantasy Empire
Such a big fuss was made about the way 'Fantasy Empire' was recorded, "ohhh, they went to a proper studio, is it different now?" kind of thing, let me tell you this - I interviewed the guys for a cover feature on Rock-a-Rolla, so I got the album really early and still without a press release, so I had no idea how it had been recorded, and you know what? I might be hard of hearing, but it sounded all the same to me. Sure, you can tell details here and there once you do know, but meh. It's Lightning Bolt, okay? It doesn't matter, they'll just charge ahead like electro-shocked rabbits anyhow. 'Fantasy Empire' is another collection of songs that sound like they're running away from an angry mob and trying to catch the last train at the same time a fireworks display is going on, like only Lightning Bolt know how to make 'em.

62. KEN MODE Success
'Success', with all the sarcasm contained in that simple title and all, even sounds like an older, lost KEN mode record at times, such is the angry and raw fashion these songs snap at you. It's not even the most metallic of their albums, far from it, but the rabid mix of noisy grunge and Cop Shoot Cop/The Jesus Lizard sardonic bitterness just lends these songs an extra bite that even time and successive listens won't be able to fade away. They've made an awesome record! That's success. That and nothing else.

61. KRISTIAN HARTING Summer Of Crush
I've been into Kristian ever since I got up early at one South Of Mainstream festival because this Danish singer/songwriter dude who didn't have records out yet was playing and I couldn't miss him, I was told. Well, it was a very good tip, because it was spot on - Kristian has a very unusual approach to the habitual guitar/voice setup, and his songs, while still catchy and frequently emotional, seem somewhat skewed and jagged, almost alien. His debut 'Float' was like that, and 'Summer Of Crush' is even more so, you get the feeling you can't really hold these songs firmly, and yet their slippery, elusive nature is what keeps you coming back for more and more listens. That, and singular moments of genius like the delicately heartbreaking 'Temporary Rooms', too.

While trying to grasp the appeal of Kontinuum, I think I came up with a pretty good way to do it when I reviewed Eistnaflug festival for Terrorizer a couple of months ago: "The next band to shake us out of our constant daylight lethargy are the amazing Kontinuum, whose appeal continues to be hard to describe. Theirs is a very straightforward, no frills kind of heavy rock, yet somehow it manages to drip with a very characteristic groove, cold and mysterious and deeply captivating, a sort of more focused Madrugada." Metal Archives throws the "progressive post-black metal" tag, whatever that is, but yeah. Just listen to 'Kyrr' and let me know what you think, as soon as you recover your dropped jaw from underneath the couch.

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