Monday, December 28, 2009

My 10 Favorite Singles of 2009 (...This Week)

I'll be the first to admit it, I'm milking the whole end-of-year list thing. But the Village Voice's Rob Harvilla asked me to vote in their annual Pazz & Jop poll, and with that came the opportunity to pare down my Top 10 favorite singles of the year—which then evolved into a more personal list. (Here's a hint, it has something to do with the above-pictured Yeah Yeah Yeahs.)

Quite frankly, even I was surprised by this compilation. So much pop candy, so few hip-hop bangers. I'm sorry to say that no club-ready rap track made me want to pop, drop, hit or shake anything that my mama gave me. (Where are you, Lil Jon?) And there was so little metal. If I'm citing artists I listened to before Taylor Swift was born, there's definitely a problem.

With that rant aside, here are my 10 favorite singles of 2009 (...this week), with a few videos below.

1. "Heads Will Roll" - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
2. "The Royal We" - Silversun Pickups*
3. "Run This Town" - Jay-Z featuring Rihanna
4. "Remember December" – Demi Lovato**
5. "Head Crusher" - Megadeth
6. "When Doves Cry" - Twilight Singers featuring Appolonia
7. "You Belong With Me" – Taylor Swift
8. "Gives You Hell" – All-American Rejects
9. "Freedom" - Clipse
10. "Americon" - Slayer

*No, I can't explain it either. This is worse than the time in 2005 when I couldn't stop listening to Midtown's "Help Me Sleep."

**Just close your eyes and think of it as a lost Femme Fatale cassingle.

Monday, December 21, 2009

My Top 20 Albums of 2009

1. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!
Though it may not seem like the most obvious choice for album of the year, It’s Blitz! delivered on so many levels that it simply couldn’t be denied. Progressive, dance inspiring and hopelessly chic, the YYY’s third showing is just as explosive and artfully askew as ever.

2. Cursive – Mama, I’m Swollen
Sure, it’s arguable that Cursive will never recapture the symphonic glory of 2003’s The Ugly Organ. Yet I suspect most fans keep coming back to eagerly ingest Tim Kasher’s latest batch of tortured, autobiographical lyrics—and one listen to Mama, I’m Swollen would satisfy even the most rabid acolyte.

3. Converge – Axe To Fall
For all its endearing attributes, the best part of Axe To Fall is its endless barrage of riffs—and the overall sense of controlled chaos it breeds throughout. It’s almost easy to forget that Converge has been scaring the mainstream since 1991.

4. Mastodon – Crack The Skye
Blah blah Mastodon blah blah, epic wonderment blah blah blah blah blah metal saviors blah blah blah blah prog-inspired blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah awesome.

5. Pissed Jeans – King Of Jeans
Within the first 35 seconds of “False Jesii Part 2,” King of Jeans’ opening salvo, I knew I'd love the PA-based noise rockers' belligerent sound. Sure enough, this Alex Newport-produced masterpiece turned out to be a study in brash, hearty and angry post-punk music.

6. The Gossip – Music For Men
The Gossip’s transition from soulful rockers to dance darlings has been a relatively smooth one—almost as if Beth Ditto & co. decided to create an homage to KISS’s Dynasty. If this disco-era analogy seems absurd, just check out Music For Men’s “2012” and its obvious nod to “I Was Made For Loving You.”

7. [tie] v/a New Tales To Tell: A Love & Rockets Tribute and Spin magazine’s Purplish Rain mixtape download
I've always had a thing for finding good, obscure cover songs performed by unlikely admirers, and these two tribute records supplied a bounty of treasures, including contributions from Flaming Lips, Mariachi El Bronx, Of Montreal and Blaqk Audio, plus worthwhile gems like A Place To Bury Strangers’ version of L&R’s “Light,” and The Twilight Singers’ take on “When Doves Cry,” featuring Apollonia.

8. Coalesce OX
Far more complex and multidimensional than your average “extreme” release, this comeback album from the Kansas City metalcore stalwarts soars with its smart interplay of vocal styles, wild tempo changes and textured harmonies.

9. Ace Frehley – Anomaly
Everyone knows that Ace Frehley’s was the best of the four solo KISS records—and Frehley’s Comet wasn’t so bad, either. Yet when word came down that Frehley would release his first solo album in over a decade, most critics instantly wrote him off. Such a shame as Anomaly captures the essence of what we’ve always loved about The Spaceman: chunky guitar riffs, ultra-melodic hooks and an otherworldly point of view.

10. Red Fang – s/t
Simply put, Red Fang put out the album that I’d hoped Big Business would this past year. But while the latter faltered, Red Fang were there to remind folks of what happens when heshers grow up listening to both Black Flag and Black Sabbath: pounding, stoner goodness.

11. Kowloon Walled City – Gambling On The Richter Scale
Somehow, Gambling on the Richter Scale seamlessly melds the influences of Jesus Lizard and a doomy Young Widows into an austere, note-bending noise rock epic. Big-ups to Brooklyn Vegan’s Fred P. for turning me on to this record.

12. Baroness – Blue Record
Generally more harmonious than Baroness’ previous Red Album, this blue endeavor begins with the galloping “The Sweetest Curse” and continues on to unveil track after track of stomping Southern-fried goodness.

13. A Place To Bury Strangers – Exploding Head
Though not nearly as noisy, there’s something about Exploding Head that reminds of My Bloody Valentine and all the anglophilic fetishism that comes with it. Fuzzy, atmospheric and bordering on psychedelic, it’s hard to believe these guys hail from Brooklyn.

14. Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II
This sequel to the Chef’s legendary album could have been a huge let-down—overwrought by C-level appearances, trendy gimmicks and (smh) auto-tune—but we all knew Rae would never go down like that. As expected, this record is a cinematic, soul-sample fueled affair worthy of its predecessor’s lofty moniker.

15. These Arms Are Snakes – Tail Swallower & Dove
Already unparalleled on stage, TAAS desperately tried to recreate their maniacal live magic in the studio for this album. And while Tail Swallower doesn’t quite succeed in capturing the glory, it still contains some rhapsodic standout tracks like “Red Line Season” and “Ethric Double,” which sound incredible in concert.

16. The Clipse – ’Til The Casket Drops
If I hadn’t looked at the credits, I would have thought The Neptunes fell back on their production duties, giving in to Pusha T and Malice’s rebellious growing pains. But sure enough, Pharrell & Chad are credited with eight out of the 13 tracks therein. Still, there’s a somber, subdued tone to Casket that resonates well in today's social climate.

17. Band of Skulls – Baby Darling Doll Face Honey
This British trio has a Zeppelin-meets-Verve thing about them that I really dig, and their switch-offs between male and female vocals on several bluesy numbers are always cleverly handled. Finally, a buzz band worthy of their hype.

18. Clutch – Strange Cousins From the West
"Can't stop, won't stop" might as well be Clutch's motto, as these electric lumberjacks can't seem to keep away from the stage nor recording studio. But why stop when you're still creating sinuous, jam-worthy harmonies like "50,000 Unstoppable Watts" and "Minotaur"?

19. Slayer – World Painted Blood
Perhaps it was because World Painted Blood made me nostalgic for ’90s-era Slayer, or it could be that the song "Americon" had me reeling for a week. Whatever the case, the world's preeminent metal mongers are back and scarier than ever.

20. Katatonia – Night is the New Day
Ever wonder what a talented but melancholy Swedish metal band would sound like if they listened to a steady stream of mopey shoegazer rock? Just listen to the atmospheric Night is the New Day and find out.

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order): 
Black Anvil - Time Insults The Mind
The Dead Weather - Horehound
16 - Bridges to Burn
La Roux - s/t
Behemoth - Evangelion
Kurt Vile - Childish Prodigy
Dinosaur Jr. - Farm
Lucero - 1372 Overton Park
Black Dahlia Murder - Deflorate
Goatwhore - Carving Out The Eyes of God
Cable - The Failed Convict
Beanie Sigel - The Broad Street Bully
Bang Camaro - II
Demon Hunter - Live In Nashville
The Fall of Troy - In The Unlikely Event
Gallows - Grey Britain
Hull - Sole Lord
Light This City - The Hero Cycle
Krallice - Dimensional Bleedthrough
Revocation - Existence Is Futile
Silversun Pickups - Swoon

WTF Happened?
Big Business - Mind The Drift
Them Crooked Vultures - s/t
Depeche Mode - Sounds of the Universe 
AFI - Crash Love

Stop The Madness:
White Wizzard - High Speed GTO 
Chris Cornell - Scream 
Muse - The Resistance
Julian Plenti -Julian Plenti is Skyscraper
Dredg - The Pirate, The Parrot, The Delusion

Friday, December 11, 2009

Happy Hanukkah, Y'all

 I'm still in Texas, which means that deep fried pickles will be part of my high holy holiday meal this evening, as will a screening of Nic Cage's crazy-licious Bad Lieutenant remake at the Alamo Drafthouse. Yee haw and shalom, y'all.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Shut Up And Listen To... Karma To Burn

Back in the day when instrumental-only bands were as rare as Republicans with a sense of humor, Morgantown, WV's Karma to Burn were tearing up stages and blowing through towns like a gang of rock n roll outlaws. And like all good (or bad) volatile creations, the band eventually went out in a blaze of glory, becoming the stuff of legend.

Then earlier this year, the trio made peace and decided to give it another go—headlining festivals all across Europe (where they're HUGE) mere months after the reunion. So in honor of their recent signing with Napalm Records and brand-new DVD, I implore you to shut up and listen to Karma to Burn.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dear Dave Grohl

Dear Dave Grohl,

I'm writing because as I sit here organizing a list of 2010 album releases, I realize that Probot II isn't among them. So I'm thinking maybe you should get going on that now that you got Them Crooked Vultures out of the way.

Congratulations on its success, by the way. In particular, I enjoyed the way you sassed the media and your label by withholding music, plus you got to play with John Paul Jones! And sure, people are pretending to like it, but we both know Them Crooked Vultures is kind of trite. On the contrary, everyone loved Probot—and it's been almost six years since the first album came out.

I know you're busy. You've got your tour, the holidays are coming up fast and the Top Chef finale is a week away (will it be Kevin? The Voltaggio bros?), so I've decided to make it easy for you. Below you'll find a list of vocalists I think you should work with. Hell, I'll even project manage the thing if you promise to throw Ville Valo into the mix for a bonus track.

Anyway, give it some thought. You know how to reach me.

  1. Chuck Billy
  2. Rob Halford
  3. Bruce Dickinson*
  4. Down**
  5. Dave Mustaine
  6. Tomas Lindberg
  7. Hank Von Helvete
  8. Sean Harris (Diamond Head)
  9. Kyle Thomas (Exhorder)
  10. Glenn Danzig
  11. Mark "Barney" Greenway
  12. Dwid Hellion (Integrity)
  13. Robert Plant***
*If you can’t get him, you can always try for Eric Adams.
**Imagine all that Bower power on guitar with Anselmo and Pepper fighting for vocal duties.
***Just to keep John Paul Jones on his toes.

Photo lifted from MyChemicalToilet.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

My Top 15 Concerts Of 2009

Ultimately, 2009 will go down as the year I got to see a myriad of acts who've helped shape my psyche and meant so much during various stages of my life. A few performances (the Jesus Lizard, St. Vitus) were damn-near transcendent; others—like Nine Inch Nails' and Ratt's—reaffirmed my love for the artists. And some, like Rancid and Mehtallica, were pleasant enough but didn't arouse any particular emotions.

In total, I managed to see Young Widows and Earthless the most at four shows each. I also caught Brutal Truth and Bang Camaro three times apiece. Not sure what that say about me, exactly. But without further ado, here are my favorite shows of 2009, plus two newer artists I was really impressed by.

In Order Of Awesomeness:

The Jesus Lizard @ Irving Plaza - By far, the most impressive show of the year. I found myself wondering what life would have been like if I started listening to Goat instead of Metallica's Black Album as a teenager. [Set list above.]

Devo @ Austin Music Hall - Watching Devo perform in the last year of the ought decade, all I kept thinking about was how avant-garde they seemed here and now, much less during their early '80s heyday. Astounding visual show.

Nine Inch Nails @ Terminal 5 - I'd almost forgotten the love I had for NIN for over half my life until I saw Trent & co. destroy this warehouse of a venue; the Peter Murphy cameo was just gravy. Thank you for waving goodbye in high style.

Ratt @ Nokia Theatre - It was almost worth the 25-year wait to see my beloved childhood icons perform their debut album, Out Of The Cellar, in its entirety.

St. Vitus @ Europa - Truly, this was a bucket list moment for any true stoner rock fan. America's most revered (yet underrated) doom icons put on a better show at Europa than they did at this year's Roadburn festival. Guitarist Dave Chandler and Wino have never sounded better.

Gallows @ Latitude 30 - Led by lithe angry ginger Frank Carter, the Gallows is the most volatile, dynamic hardcore band around today. They're probably the only group I'm willing to see knowing I risk getting kicked in the head by one of its members.

Mastodon @ Irving Plaza - With a perch near the sound board, I had the perfect vantage point to see my Atl buddies perform their latest opus, Crack The Skye, in all its symphonic glory. The visual show, combining CGI and early Russian art films, further enhanced the experience.

Tom Jones @ Ruth Eckerd Hall - Half of what made this show so amazing was the fact that I saw it amongst nearly every geriatric and post-menopausal woman in Tampa Bay, FL. And those bitches went crazy each of the many times Tom girated his pelvis! Panties of all sizes went flying during "What's New, Pussycat?"

Cursive @ Bowery Ballroom - On the eve of Mama, I'm Swollen's release, I caught this intimate show from Tim Kasher and co. and left feeling a cathartic release. With healthy helpings of tracks from the last three albums, the performance was utterly sublime.

Pat Benatar @ Asser Levy Park - This free show at the Coney Island beach-adjacent park was a hilarious summer experience. Sitting on blankets and sipping booze out of Snapple bottles amongst south Brooklyn locals, hipsters and oldsters while listening to Benatar belt out hits like "Invinsible" and "Promises in the Dark" was incredible.

Hank III @ Music Hall of Williamsburg - Folks get their money's worth when they attend a Hank III show. Not only does the country scion put on a honky tonk set, he also includes a hellbilly review and closes things off with a metal set not recommended for the faint of heart (or at the very least, those who are squeamish about seeing vocalist Gary Lindsay bleed from the head). A birthday shout-out at the stroke of midnight before III launched into "Life of Sin" was an amazing gift.

The Sword/Year Long Disaster @ Bowery Ballroom - The Sword have come to be synonomous with my late friend, Erlene Zierke. We were all set to see them play at Lenny's in Atlanta the night we found out she was gone, and in her spirit all tearily attended the show. Then their turn in NYC this past January coincided with her birthday. Seeing them, and my old friends in Year Long Disaster was nostalgic, but in the the warmest way.

Young Widows @ Emo's - The combination of a good venue, fantastic lineup (it was a Brooklyn Vegan/SxSW event) and an energetic crowd—not to mention the Widows' tight, cogent sound—made this my favorite set of theirs of the many I'd witnessed in 2009.

Earthless + J Mascis @ Habana Calle 6 Annex - Earthless are pretty goddamn dope on their own. Add Dinosaur Jr.'s J Mascis into the equation, and you've got a psychedelic, head-nodding experience made even better with a belly full of Iron Works BBQ. Bonus: watching Mario Rubalcaba play drums.

These Arms Are Snakes @ Shea Stadium - Arty, loud, noisy, visual, layered. These words barely begin to describe the evocative, glorious noise that came out of this half-assed art gallery's sound system during TAAS' tumultuous set.

Two More To Grow On:

Krallice @ The Studio at Webster Hall
- They absolutely blew headliners Wolves in the Throne Room off the stage with their Voivod-inspired metal sound.

Orphan @ Union Pool - This duo remind me more of a garage-rock Black Cobra than they do De Stijl-era White Stripes. The shit was gully.

For visual records of these shows plus a ton more, check out my Live Shows Flickr set. Jesus Lizard set list photo stolen from Brooklyn Vegan.