Second, The Quietus just posted their end of year list. Most of these lists are the same things in a different order. Regardless of if you agree with the choices on this list, many of them will be new to you. Kudos to them for that
Third, The music I loved and discovered this year which did not come out this year.
Maritime- Heresy and the Hotel Choir (Flameshovel)
Despite what today’s weather would tell you, Chicago’s in its gray stage, which will stretch, more or less, from now until mid-to-late-march. Some other cities have active grays, grays which produce snow or rain. Chicago gets its fair amount of snow, no doubt, but mostly, the gray just becomes a backdrop. Every conversation is layered on top of it; when you drive to the grocery store, you’re driving through it; when you file a police report for your stolen bicycle, you’re writing on top of it. Maritime are from Milwaukee, so they’re privy to about the same thing. So when I tell you that Heresy and the Hotel Choir is something unusual, what I mean is it leaves the gray out of the picture. This is an album of about the most downhill, enormous music I can imagine. Nothing toned down, nothing “enjoy it while it lasts,” nothing like that. Here’s something joyous.
Califone- All My Friends Are Funeral Singers (Dead Oceans)
Califone are the best kind of legitimately crazy scientists. They’re the kind crazy enough to actually come out of the laboratory. They start an album with a song which has a bassline which reads like a seismograph teetering on a cliff over a fault line, and then a few tracks later they give the listening public the closest thing to a single
track with adhesive and the looks of a nametag, the kind you stick in a pocket to show to a friend who is, for the first time, taking off the outer layer of gauze following a two year recovery from something that happened a year before you met him, and that single
track has the refrain, repeated, over and over, “All my friends are funeral singers
funeral singers.” This is something produced from test tubes used maliciously in a past life. Something a scientist concocts when they still remember the chemistry but not how to say hello quite right.
Richard and Linda Thompson- Shoot Out The Lights (Rhino)
Here’s one where they couldn’t even convince the acoustic guitars to stay quiet. It’s hard to think of Shoot out the Lights as a break-up album, because that seems so trite, and this record is so goddamn apocalyptic. Both Linda and Richard’s vocals heave themselves into your ears, and every note stings like blisters popping. This is bitter, hazy, terrible stuff. Sadly enough, it also happens to be great.
Marnie Stern- Marnie Stern (Kill Rock Stars)
So there’s a reason, when Brandon bought this one last year and told me it was as great as, it turns out, it is, that I didn’t buy it. While the songs on Marnie Stern are catchier than on either of her previous albums, they’re less grabby; they don’t have the HEY LOOK I’M SHOUTING IN YOUR FACE AND YOU’RE STILL THERE SO MAYBE I HAVE TO DO MORE THAN SHOUT of some of her previous material. It was said when the album came out, but it bears repeating for those who haven’t heard about Stern or may need reacquainting; where previously, she intoned, toothily and plugged in, on this album, Marnie Stern sings. She doesn’t have a great singing voice, but it’s perfect for these songs, these sad songs, these songs so clearly about their creator, the character of their album’s title. This is the time when Marnie Stern takes her own vocabulary and puts in heartbreak, self-doubt, a flushed-out feeling. Previous Marnie Stern album left listeners breathlessly asking, “who IS this?” Here’s your answer.
The Black Heart Procession- The Spell (Touch and Go)
These guys, like The pAper chAse, should be easy to dismiss. Not only are they gothy, but they are gothy and orchestral, and they call themselves The Black Heart Procession. Really? What allows The Spell to be a moving, timeless, and disquieting album is exactly how seriously they take what they are doing. Like the best purveyors of genre-fiction, these guys work within tropes and formulas (one part supernatural to two parts angst, with one sprig of cello to make the whole thing sounds 80 years older than it is), but do them extremely well. While a band like Cold Cave come off to me as phony, The Black Heart Procession are brilliantly macabre. Sure, it’s not easy to relate to, but the band occupies a world so meticulously constructed that disbelief becomes a non-issue.
Mercury Rev- Deserter’s Songs (V2)
This is one I have trouble explaining, because this album is so cheesily orchestral that I’m embarrassed to play it around friends. Its lyrics are so bad that it is approaches a low-key self-flagellation to listen too closely. On Deserter’s Songs, the band lays it on so thick listeners practically suffocate. This is all criticism. But it is also what makes this album so appealing. Does one have to chose between “bold” and “stupid” when describing the 80’s sounding sax solo at the beginning of the otherwise hushed “Hudson Line?” Can’t “Opus 40,” a song with enough orchestration to fill Carnegie Hall fifteen times over, be garish, sickening, and also very, very endearing? Can’t sometimes things which make you cringe because they’re trying so hard also be wonderful because you know so few others would bother to go as far? For me, in this case, yes, absolutely.
Next up is the best of the year. Stay tuned, friends.