New Musical Friends I Made In 2011
Near the end of 2011, as I was ruminating about my favorite albums of the previous three hundred fifty days, my thoughts couldn’t help but gravitate toward all the new older music I had been turned on to over the course of the year. A few months back, when I wasn’t working a whole lot, I got a little obsessive with my music cataloging and tagging. Once you get into the grit of that, you start to notice patterns in listening, in collecting, in traversing histories, et cetera. So when I decided to compile my own year-end-best list, I thought I would do a full post on some of the other new material that happened to be released during a previous calendar. Sure, I wanted to have this done over a week ago, but I’ve been both extraordinarily busy of late and it was also just fun to go back and have a bunch more listens to all this stuff. (I plan on continuing this practice, as it also happens to be a great memory aide.) So what follows is basically alphabetical accounting of my favorite non-2011 music I first heard in 2011.
Anacrusis – Manic Impressions (1990), Coroner – Mental Vortex (1991)
As far as I could tell, 2011 was a major year for two already-hot metal trends. So much of what made people’s year-end lists was either “doom”-y or “black[ened]” or some combo. I can’t say I eschewed those trends in my listening habits at all, but one thing I did do was some thrash history homework. At some point in late spring I got an old Voivod album I hadn’t yet heard, Dimension Hatross, that has since become my favorite in their catalog. Not long after that I got turned on to Swiss prog-thrashers Coroner. I had always been under the mistaken impression that these guys were a hair metal band, but whoa was I way wrong. A similar mistake was made with Anacrusis, whom I believed a crust band or something (c’mon, the name totally sounds like a crust band!). One could simply say Anacrusis were the American apex of this triad, so that’s what I’ll do. Both bands wrote technically-adept, yet infectious, songs with sweet guitar riffs (and solos!) and flow-savvy rhythm sections. No, I don’t really know what “flow-savvy” means, but I’m thinking melodic basslines that are interesting in their own right (Cliff Burton style) and drummers who never overdid the flash but were some happy [triangular] medium between Lars Ulrich’s technically-limited solidity, Dave Lombardo’s davelombardosity and a generalized math-tastic choppyness. Every metalhead worth her salt probably knew these two bands inside out already, so consider me “caught up” now. So good.
Antaeus – Blood Libels (2006)
I picked this up after getting into Aosoth as I was informed that vocalist MkM had previously been in Antaeus (who seem to be on a hiatus of sorts). The aura here is more along the lines of the scathing traditional, razors instead of chainsaw, and swarms of descending mechanical airborne infestation. Definitely the type of oxymoronically hyperactive despair/depression that, on the right kind of gloomy day, will have you considering self-mutilation if you’re not already into that sort of thing. Not as enveloping or accomplished as some of the more current French BM acts, but it hints in the direction that things would ultimately take and serves as a notable precursor.
Breadwinner – The Burner (1992)
This short-lived Virginian trio is a staple of math rockery and early influence within the realm, however actually obscure they might be. A collection of recorded songs rather than an actual “album”, The Burner clocks in at shorter-than-my-regular-subway-commute-to-work and keeps me smiling (as much as smiling is possible at 8:30am) the whole ride. All the classic, unoriginal adjectives—angular, jagged, choppy, treble-oriented, non-linear—apply to these guys and apparently it was in some early review of them that the term “math rock” was coined. It’s mostly instrumental stuff, but there are spots with superfuzzed vocals that mostly act like another layer of distorted texture. Guitarist Pen Rollings was a beastly discordant riffmeister, though bassist Robert Donne and drummer Chris Farmer are equally magnificent with their respective tools. A band that literally always leaves you wanting more as this is their only material.
Budgie – Budgie (1971), Toad – Toad (1971)
Classic ‘70s bluesy proto stoner rock, the former from Wales and the latter from Switzerland. Both exist in a very happy medium between Sabbath and Zeppelin with a bit of funkiness thrown in. Budgie has a few solo acoustic “ballads” that are kinda funny in their earnestness, but otherwise they feel a little more edgy than their Swiss contemporaries, a bit more danger with a higher likelihood of motorcycle and scars. Toad is just heavy groove if you saw them in some bar you’d be all boppin’ yr head and raising yr pint and gettin’ to the stage to stand there by yrself boppin’ yr head while yr pint gets warm in the fuzz. I wonder if later Swiss bands like Celtic Frost and Coroner grew up knowing about Toad (I think these are the only three Swiss bands I know). The two bands both alternate between various strains of psychedelia, though I’d say Toad is more blatantly bluesy, where Budgie can get pretty dark, like they took the brown acid and actually liked the effect. They’ll bliss out for a second, but then snap right back into a minor progression; Budgie does a bit of the inverse. Just don’t pay too much attention to the generally unflattering lyrics, it’s easily both bands’ weakest link.
Fieldwork – Door (2008)
I had heard lots of great things about drummer Tyshawn Sorey and this was basically the first project of his I found. I think Hank Shteamer pointed me in this direction (or I saw it on some jazz post of his) and the description sounded pretty cool. I don’t know too much about contemporary jazz, but this is pretty off-kilter yet funky stuff. Some of the sax work isn’t up my alley, but that’s alright because the percussion and keys just get down heavy. I’d love to hear what he’d do with a “non-jazz outfit”. Actually, if you just replaced the sax in this band with some crunched-out fuzzlefied guitar/bass it’d be euphoric. Maybe the blueballin sax is the only thing keeping humanity from experiencing a physio-aural sensation which our species is wholly unprepared to encounter.
Kalyanji & Anandji – Bombay the Hard Way (1998)
Easily the most random record on this list, I was hanging out with my buddy Mark and he had his iTunes chugging away on “random” when a sweet, smoothed out raga-inflected tune came up. Even he was surprised by it and I was all, “What the hell is this?” and he was all, “I have no idea!” Well, ‘twas a Dan the Automator/DJ Shadow project that did involve heavy amounts of Bollywood soundtrack manipulation. If you asked me to imagine my ideal opium-fever-dream hip-hop lounge music this is real close to what I’d come up with, only better.
Meshuggah – Alive (2010 Live Recording)
Apparently Meshuggah produced a live album in 2010, a more-than-welcome addition to their catalog, since it reminded me of how good their albums Nothing and Catch-33 actually are. One problem I always had with the latter was its obviously digital everything, a production technique that fits their aesthetic, but doesn’t fulfil my ear-ogenous zones (chuckles). The songs are still so good, though, and listening to a couple of them in a more “raw” live state completely turned me in their favor. As far as Nothing goes, I don’t think I’d actually heard it since its 2002 release (when I was still in college and only beginning my forays into extreme metal) so had forgotten what songs were actually on the record. Alive sorted out this problem for me and I have since remedied that previous non-listening issue by getting the album and listening to it repeatedly.
Negura Bunget – OM (2006)
When I was a senior in college (2002-3) and played in a band with then-freshman Hamilton Jordan, Ham had lots of great metal shirts and Negura Bunget was among them. What I knew of metal at that time was very rudimentary; I was just beginning to dig into roots of what really knocked me out like High On Fire, Converge and Mastodon. Atmospheric Romanian black metal meant absolutely nothing to me then, but nearly ten years later I finally got with the program and got one of their records. I think I decided to start with OM because it had received significant praise within the metal community, though apparently quite different from their previous work. Whatever, this is the only I’ve heard and I’m into it, how it presages the textures found later in a band like Altar of Plagues. I’m not a BM afficionado by any means, my knowledge is still fairly limited, but the majority of folk-heavy BM I’ve heard feels a bit cheesed and this record does not. Some genuinely weird, esoteric ambient passages and a totally new conception of where metal was capable of going: the sound of Transylvania both ancient and modern.
OXES – OXES (2000)
No bass math-rock! How and why? Sez you. I asked the same thing, especially since there are passages that sound pretty low-end-y (maybe octave pedal or something?). Anyway, this is pretty groovy in a comes-from-a-genre-that’s-not-exactly-groovy way. Not too upbeat but more than enough power and energy with a sweet distortion that not too scathing, rather it’s got a noticeable layer of grime. Oxes are Lynx-ian in their catchy non-vocality, while at the same time clearly treading their own path. Occasionally, like halfway through “Ricki Creem…” they strike this triumphant pose just to dare you not to bounce like a rabbit and you can’t help it, eventually your calves get real sore. But the next day you just wanna do it all over again even though you can’t stand up because of the knots in your legs.
Suffocation – Effigy of the Forgotten (1991)
Oops, always forgot about this one. Truthfully, I have some serious issues with vocals that tend toward cookie monster, though I’m not sure that’s what kept me away from this for so long. Now that I’ve spent a decent amount of time with it I can say that it’s bone-quaking in an unorthodox manner. Mike Smith’s weird snare ping (which does bother me a bit) feels like the only trebly sound happening until the guitar solos squirrel in and out. This is one of those records that, upon absorption, instills a deep empathy with old heads who pine for this period of DM. So many people pooped themselves over how heavy Disma’s record supposedly was this year, but, besides the fact that I didn’t find that album interesting in the slightest I can point to EotF and say “sorry, try again”. (Also it kinda makes me wish I had super long hair I could whip in a circle during the breakdowns.)
Zeni Geva – Freedom Bondage (1995)
Not even sure how I found this one, but it’s so cool. I think the Japanese are the only people outside North America to really really understand rock music. Yeah, the Brits did bluesy-rock stuff wonderfully, of course, but they’ve never produced anything beyond that, it’s all been much more distinctly metal- or pop-oriented. The Japanese, however, know how to do actual weird and actual discomfort. Here, we have a Ruins/Zeuhl influenced mid-’90s doomsludge, Melvins-y or a spazzier Neurosis of that period. Strychnine lsd feel to the whole thing and, as much as you enjoy moving around to it, there’s a decent dose of paranoia lurking to leave everything a little sore.