MUSIC: The best of 2009

(This article was originally supposed to appear in the 2010-opening issue of Birmingham Weekly.  It did not.  Perhaps it will eventually pop up there, but in the meantime, you can read it here.  Do so… now:)

Mastodon “Crack the Skye” – It’s the year that Mastodon reached out to the overlooked and underappreciated Trustifarian metal heads.  A friend remarked at their tour kick-off at Workplay in the spring that Mastodon had become “Widespread Sabbath”.  And maybe they have, but goddamned if these aren’t the scariest, most brutal hippies ever.  Blenderize old-school Metallica, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, a conceptual thread inspired by Bill Burroughs and a sheet of blotter acid, and two bottles of Absinthe, and you’ve got a hangover made just me.

Hey, Charlie Manson might really dig this disc, now that I think about it.  Maybe Phil Spector can pass him a copy?

Bigelf “Cheat the Gallows” – I’ve heard people categorize Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie as horror rock, but I think of both of them as more slasher-metal.  Really, is Jason Voorhees that scary? Bigelf, though – man, there’s something really creepy lurking underneath the surface of this whole disc.  Yeah, it sounds very retro, sort of Alice Cooper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the Floyds From Mars, but then you start picturing the three-ring circus, and the tent, and the clowns… Yeah, lots of clowns, but not the happy ones.  More like that goddamned doll from Poltergeist. And John Wayne Gacy.  And Willie Whistles. Ever been ear-raped by a clown?  Yeah.  That’s it. (Note: This apparently came out in August, but I live in Birmingham, AL, where nothing happens when it’s supposed to.  Therefore, it counts. For me.)

Swallow the Sun “New Moon” – In a better world, the sequel to TWILIGHT would have been written by 1970s Wes Craven and directed by Eli Roth.  It would have been filled with torture and buckets of blood — not red syrup, but actual blood.  The entire soundtrack would have been replaced with the latest release from Finnish doom metal band Swallow The Sun.  It would have been AWESOME.  And teenage girls everywhere would be traumatized for life.

Ah, to spend a day in my fantasy world…

Muse “The Resistance” – Does Matthew Bellamy have a Thom Yorke fixation?  Does Muse want too badly to be Queen? Are positive answers to the previous two questions bad things?  Really, imagine it: Paul Rodgers stuck with making Muddy Waters tribute albums, and so Brian May and company invited Yorke to spend six months away from Radiohead to work on a new album. How wonderful would that be?  The correct answer: “The Resistance.”

Animals as Leaders “Animals as Leaders” – I wouldn’t normally list an all-instrumental guitar record on a year-end list, but there’s something so phenomenal and out of this world about Tosin Abasi’s debut that not including it is a musical injustice on par with Jethro Tull’s 1989 Grammy win.  Sometimes I want to compare his writing and playing to Miles Davis, but that’s only because both are so far beyond my ken that it’s pathetic.  Other times, I compare it to putting Mentos and bleach into a mixture of Diet Coke and ammonia.

3 “Revisions” – You know how critics are always all like, “These guys are an overnight success!” And then the bands are all like, “Nuh-unh! We worked for, like a month on this!” New York’s 3 are not at all that band; in fact, they had three discs released indepently before scoring a national distribution deal.  REVISIONS is a nice little project of re-recorded reboots from those first three discs and some bootlegs, cleaned and tightened for a modern day.  These are tight pop songs, not as adventurous as their last two more progressive efforts, really showcasing Joey Eppert’s songwriting and arranging abilities. It’s a great introduction to the band, as well as being something that fans of other bands may find themselves wishing for – another, more polished listen to songs that deserve a wider audience.

Them Crooked Vultures – This is like the best tribute album you could ever imagine.  It’s Zep, but it’s not.  And it’s not a Queens of the Stone Age disc, but it kinda is.  If you know both bands, and picture smashing them together so violently that neither one ever existed, then this is the album you got stoned to every day after class in high school. I expected Grohl to be more prominent, until I realized that if ever John Bonham had a natural successor it was the guy who played drums on Queens of the Stone Age’s SONGS FOR THE DEAF. In all honesty, this disc made me ask for a Karmann Ghia for Christmas.

Andrew Bird “Noble Beast” – My girlfriend couldn’t make Bird’s show at Workplay earlier this year, and so passed on her ticket to me. I was, to drastically sell the moment short, blown away, so I borrowed her iPod and now refuse to give it back. Among all the indie, alt-kewl stuff I’m finding there, Andrew Bird’s is probably the most cinematic, like watching someone paint with sound.  It’s captivating, provocative, and best of all, happy.

I still though, for the record, hate hipster audiences.

Porcupine Tree “The Incident” – There’s this idea that progressive rock has to be pompous and effete, that concept albums are for stoners and armchair philosophers. But remember TOMMY? Or THE WALL? Both are concept albums, progressive in their own right, that have a number of brilliant and classic songs that stand alone (Pinball Wizard and Comfortably Numb, respectively). Add THE INCIDENT, a fourteen track “song cycle” about “beginnings and endings and the sense that ‘after this, things will never be the same again’”.  It’s a seamless, beautiful  but demanding project filled with dynamics and explorations both comfortable and challenging.

Devin Townsend Project “Ki” / “Addicted” – Look, folks. Off and on, since 2000 (holy crap, Glenny – 10 years!), I’ve been writing these little capsule reviews of albums that I love and hate.  I try to focus on the stuff I love, because there’s too much hate in the world.  And seriously: if you’ve not yet picked up a disc featuring Devin Townsend – either one of his solo projects or some of his work with Strapping Young Lad – then maybe my job here is hopeless, superfluous.  There’s only so much I can rant and rave about something before I realize that no one’s listening.  KI is soothing, sublime, reflective – I love it, but I’m willing to accept that maybe it’s more personal than something I can recommend to everyone.  ADDICTED, though – frankly, if you don’t pick this disc up, you’re doing yourself a real disservice, and if you pick it up and don’t like it, your soul was stolen in the middle of the night.  It’s bouncy, and heavy, and poppy, and layered, and filled with so many ‘ands’ that your head will explode.  If there’s such a thing as an aural orgasm (an eargasm, maybe?), you will experience it sometime during tracks 7-9.  And then you can thank me – after you wash your hands, please.

Friends of mine also suggested the following albums make the list: “Born on Flag Day” (Deer Tick), “Veckatimest” (Grizzly Bear), “American Sunshine” (Colin Hay), “I and Love and You” (The Avett Brothers), “Cage the Elephant” (Cage the Elephant), “OK Bear” (Jeremy Enigk), “Me and You” (VAST), “Elvis Perkins in Dearland” (Elvis Perkins in Drealand)“Monsters of Folk” (Monsters of Folk), “Black Clouds and Silver Linings” (Dream Theater), “Outer South” (Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band), “Wilco” (Wilco), “Back from the Dead” (Spinal Tap),”It’s Blitz” (Yeah Yeah Yeahs), “Bitte Orca” (Dirty Projectors), “Masterful Mystery Tour” (Beatallica), and “Kingdom of Rust” (Doves).

Sadly for them, this is my list, not theirs.

Someone also suggested Scream (Chris Cornell), but I punched them in the throat, and we are no longer friends.