Friday, December 13, 2019

My Favorite Records of 2019

The Ham photo via @djmlysmn
Simple as it may seem, early on in the year I started a note on my phone to chronicle every album that blew me away. Sure enough, I amassed 10 that really moved and inspired me without much browbeating about rounding out the list.

What’s notable is that several of the top records were created by politically aware bands I loved throughout high school and college, who returned to the stage seemingly as a direct reaction to America’s (and the world’s, really) farcical political regime in the only way they knew how. Randy Blythe once said something about shitty politics making for great protest records, and 2019 certainly proved that theory to be true.

This year has also been a boon for extreme music, especially in the realm of death metal, which historically has not been my favorite subgenre. But there’s no denying Blood Incantation’s Hidden History of the Human Race will go down as a classic; the same can be said for Gatecreeper’s Deserted. And at this point, it's safe to say we are all down with Lizzo.

A few other adaptive behaviors I picked up this year included thinking one day at a time in hopes of staying in the present moment (ie: not habitually thinking of to-do items three days ahead), and avoiding upsetting triggers that might pull me into a depressive funk. Unfortunately, that means I haven’t really given Nick Cave & the Bad SeedsGhosteen a proper listen, nor have I been able to get through Dead to a Dying World’s Elegy in full. Surely, there’s still time to discover them along with many new artists and songs.

On that melancholic note, the below are my favorite albums of 2019, as well as the most outstanding metal releases to have come out during the past 12 months.

My Favorite Records of 2019 (in no particular order):

Though I’m still discovering the majority of Mary Timony’s musical output, this sophomore release from Ex Hex features some of the best production I’ve heard in ages, bursting with harmony-filled power pop tracks polished to a slick sheen.
Key Track: “Another Dimension

I’ve wanted to make out with this record since first discovering it last summer. Unabashed in its classic and power metal worship, there is not a single weak link among the 10 bombastic tracks from the Swedish quartet (who also recorded the entire album with Spanish vocals!).
Key Track: “Die for the Devil

Like a Molotov cocktail comprised of stark electronica, austere noise, and punishing performance art, this latest release from the Chicago duo pushes the listener’s comfort level far more than last year’s Castration Anxiety in the best way possible. 
Key Track: “SSSD

Not only did the recently reunited L7 tour throughout 2019, they also put out one of the best records of their career. Chock-full of their signature surf-rock-meets-pissed-punk riffs and politically venomous lyrics, Scatter the Rats was a most welcomed return.
Key Track: “Fighting the Crave

Feral; primal; blistering. These are a few of the words that come to mind when considering the Welsh crew’s latest offering. Samsara taps into a primeval energy that’s meticulously refined into adept technical death metal compositions guaranteed to inspire involuntary desk moshing.
Key Track: “Uterine Industrialisation

Peck’s unique shoegaze via Roy Orbison sound is about as alt-country and sublime as it gets, eclipsed only by his fringed mask signature aesthetic. From behind this disguise, Peck churns out haunting and intimate ballads to drink and sway to.
Key Track: “Buffalo Run

Eilish’s rise to fame has been inspiring to watch: a young and talented self-taught musician who eschews sexually explicit imagery, letting her electronic-tinged pop tracks do the talking instead. The result is a debut full-length that’s as exhilarating as it is relatable at any age.
Key Track: “Bury a Friend

Truth be told, I found out about this band after admiring the singer’s dog* on Twitter. But I’m really glad to have discovered these British metalcore bashers and their chugging debut—filled with angular breakdowns and banshee wails—that never fails to make my heart race when used as a cardio soundtrack.
Key Track: “The Language of Injury

Atmospheric noise rock has always been like catnip for my ears, yet the only album this year to come close to emulating that intoxicating effect was this fourth release from the Southern Lord artists. Raw, expansive and hypnotic, it’s really easy to get lost in this Gaze.
Key Track: “Holding Pattern

This solo effort from The Sword guitarist was a passion project in many ways. Not only was it completely crowdfunded, but Shutt also played every single instrument therein, as well as sang on every track, and produced it himself. Though there is a shared DNA with his stoner rock roots, the debut leans towards warm-toned, fuzzy garage rock with whimsical tangents built in. Plus, it’s catchy as shit.
Key Track: “Set You All On Fire

 *See photo above

Outstanding Metal Records (in no particular order):
Blood Incantation - Hidden History of the Human Race

Cult of LunaA Dawn to Fear

Big BusinessThe Beast You Are

RingwormDeath Becomes My Voice

Death AngelHumanicide

Demon Hunter   War and Peace

Russian CirclesBlood Year

Sacred ReichAwakening

Gatecreeper Deserted

Tomb MoldPlanetary Clairvoyance

Haven’t listened to yet: Slipknot, Chelsea Wolfe, Possessed, Cattle Decapitation, Obsequiae.


Thursday, June 28, 2018

Marilyn Manson Covers '80s Goth Classic

We interrupt this semi summer hiatus to present '90s icon and Goth granddaddy Marilyn Manson's cover of "Cry Little Sister," the brooding ballad made famous in the 1987 film, The Lost Boys.

Death in June, you say? Thou shalt not kill. But thou shall watch the video below.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Exhibit: Mike Mignola at Society of Illustrators

I recently attended the opening of The Art of Mike Mignola: Hellboy and Other Curious Objects at the Society of Illustrators. Here are my thoughts from that evening, along with some favorite images.

The rich complexities of Mike Mignola's art disguised as simplicity in B&W have been a calling card throughout his career. Utilizing few tools beyond pen and ink, he transforms pages into cinematic masterpieces that combine the best of horror, film noir and classic comics - never leaving a negative space or light source to vanquish without careful thought or consideration.

It’s what makes Mignola and Hellboy one of my favorites, and I had a bonafide nerdgasm being so close to so many iconic originals of his. Few pieces of art can make my heart race the way these did. I suggest y’all check them out while you can.

A more complete gallery can be found here. The Art of Mike Mignola: Hellboy and Other Curious Objects will remain open at the Society of Illustrators until April 28, with the man himself coming back to SOI on April 13 for a special talk with Karen Green, Curator for Comics and Cartoons at Columbia University.

For more info, head to

Monday, December 11, 2017

Putting DMX in XMas... or How I Created a Viral Moment

Some people are lucky enough to create a viral sensation once, but as I listened to DMX’s officially recorded rendition of the Christmas classic, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” for the first time, I couldn’t believe the outlandish idea I had during an iHeartRadio digital department meeting was now in its second life.

Let me backtrack and recount my role in the making of this “modern classic” (truly, it’s frightening how proud I am of my involvement in hatching this idea). I’m obsessed with DMX and his tenuous understanding of reality. Don’t get me wrong, in a perfect world, the Ruff Ryder should always be known for his gravel-voiced flow on some of the darkest hip-hop classics this side of the Gravediggaz—but you gotta admit, Dark Man X has been known to raise an eyebrow when he opened his mouth, particularly during a rash of Breakfast Club interviews he’d treated us to during my tenure at IHR.

Who could forget the time DMX detailed his mindset prior to being arrested for impersonating an FBI agent in an Arizona airport parking lot? “I was rushing for a flight, and this dude in the raggedy-ass Honda, he’s driving wild slow. Now usually if I’m in a rush and I’m in that truck, I hit the lights and throw [up] the sirens and they get out the way, but he was just totally disrespecting my authority. NOT that I really had any authority. I didn’t really have the authority, but what if I really had the authority?"

When asked if perhaps having a black-on-black Supercharger with tinted windows and police-style lighting might have added to his bravado, X threw in: “Well, I might have asked for his license…” before being busted by a parking lot guard.

And now, back to that digital department meeting. Having to create daily content around five radio stations and their wide-ranging audiences wasn’t always easy, especially when it came to keeping things fresh for Lite fm’s monumental Christmas-themed ratings juggernaut – which I was conditioned to begin thinking about sometime around Halloween. As we sat there discussing the various guests that would be coming in the following week—DMX among them—the latest of his bon mots remaining fresh in my head. “What if we get DMX to rap 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' or something?” I blurted.

Little did I know, our Power 105.1 junior producer, Vanessa Denis, took it upon herself to follow up on my idea implicitly, going as far as printing out the lyrics to the classic song. Vanessa, too, had experience with X’s ways, having asked him to Google himself just months earlier. Not only did DMX respond positively to the request, he eschewed the carefully-printed lyric sheet, bragging: “I know this, I GOT this,” before launching into the beat-boxed rendition in the Breakfast Club studio.

Sure, I was amused, but I was really excited that planting the video on all my applicable sites (sorry not sorry, Q104.3 fans!) meant making the lofty KPI goals set by the IHR national leadership. What I hadn’t expected were so many hilarious mash-ups and remixes, including a hilarious Claymation version created for The Soup.

But imagine my surprise when five years (and many more X ordeals) later, news dropped that the rapper would finally be releasing an official version, replete with beats by Divine Bars. When I heard the short single, and moreover, watched DMX perform it on Showtime at the Apollo’s Christmas special, there was a strange sense of pride mixed with the hope that perhaps this wholesome act might balance out for some of his troubles. If we can keep the DMX in Xmas, surely there is hope for all of us.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Another New York Comic Con in the Books

I survived another NYCC! This one actually felt closer to one set in Manila, given that the early October weather clung to the mid 80s with tons of humidity in the air.

Javits Center cosplay; credit: Steve Bunche
Because of the Javits Center's undergoing multi-year construction project, the airy annex that once housed Artist Alley is gone, leaving creators to squish themselves tightly into the subterranean space the convention outgrew long ago. That, and sales practices preferring single day admission tickets meant that over 200,000 attendees were uncomfortably close at times, some wondering if they'd make the return in 2018 or seek out new and smaller, more specialized shows.

Still, it was great to see so many cosplayers, new action figures, inspiring art, and to speak with so many people in real life that I tend to only catch up with on social media these days.

A gallery of my photos can be found here, and my roundup of the 7 Coolest Booths at the Con can be found on the fabulous The full thing, as is my life is documented on Instagram.

Monday, October 2, 2017

I Wrote a Thing for Noisey on L7

L7, l to r: Suzi Gardner, Donita Sparks, Dee Plakas, Jennifer Finch

It's been a while since I delved into professional music journalism, but when one of my all-time favorite bands, L7, became the subject of the documentary, L7: Pretend We're Dead, I knew this was the interview and topic I had to explore.

Thanks so much to the patient and gracious Kim Kelly at Vice for letting me to have a ridiculously revealing and candid interview with L7 singer/guitarist Donita Sparks - and for letting me hold a personal record for longest pitch-to-published piece I hope either of us will ever deal with.

So without further ado, CLICK ON MY NOISEY L7 FEATURE and read the damn thing!  I worked long enough on it.

I recently described writing as "worthless torture and I don't understand why anyone does it." Which might just be the most Russian writer thing to say, ever. So... yeah, maybe I'll still pitch a thing or two.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Free Download: New Afghan Whigs Single

Heads up to all my fellow Afghan Whigs completists: the band has released a free download of the Pleasure Club cover, "You Want Love," in honor of the late Whigs guitarist Dave Rosser.

His longtime favorite song from the New Orleans local legends was recorded with Afghan Whigs and Pleasure Club vocalist, James Hall. I had the pleasure of seeing them perform it live at their European tour warm-up gig at the Apollo Theater and it was moving, to be sure. Chances are they'll still be incorporating it into their U.S. set when they begin touring here in September.

Get your download now at