Goliath (2016)

My inclination is generally not to review things like television series–not even one that’s self-contained into a generally delineated block like a miniseries. It’s a lot of ground to cover, a lot of hours, and an experience that relies heavily on the sequential knowledge  of the series itself and the obvious room for events to layer themselves across it, for characters to develop (or reaffirm) traits throughout.

I’m struck, however, by the desire this time. Maybe it’s the restraint of general commentary I’m putting myself through, maybe it’s the visceral reaction I’ve had to the series throughout–or both, or neither. I can’t really be too terribly certain about the subject, except for the reality of that desire.

Goliath is a David E. Kelley production, who I personally know best for Ally McBeal and Boston Public, never being an active watcher of L.A. LawBoston Legal, or The Practice (though I was around their showings growing up, thanks to my mother’s viewing habits). I did not initially realize that his was one of the minds behind it, instead being drawn in by the prospect of a leading Billy Bob Thornton.

Thornton is Billy McBride, washed up attorney of questionable character, excess alcohol, estranged marriage, and peculiar companions. He’s surrounded primarily by Patty Solis-Papagian (Nina Arianda), Brittany Gold (Tania Raymonde), his daughter Denise (Diana Hopper), and, kicking off the case at the center of the series, Rachel Kennedy (Ever Carradine). Patty is a fellow lawyer, struggling to turn a no-name degree into a practice, and Brittany is a prostitute Billy has represented and haphazardly employs as a paralegal–Patty, though, also introduces him to Rachel, who insists that her brother-in-law Ryan Larson did not kill himself as his widow believes. This spirals into the associations of Larson’s former employer, Born Tech, headed by Wendell Corey (Dwight Yoakam), and represented by Cooperman/McBride. That McBride is no longer Billy, but is his ex-wife Michelle (Maria Bello), while the Cooperman is Donald (William Hurt). The firm’s namesake is not the primary counsel in the case, that honour belonging to Callie Senate (Molly Parker), Lucy Kittridge (Olivia Thirlby), and Leonard Letts (Damon Gupton).

Before I proceed, I’m going to note that it’s very probable that I’ll feel compelled to spoil parts of this series, because of the elements in it that I wish to discuss.

The cast needed to be named, because the cast is what sells every moment of the series. Regardless of the nature of the characters, the cast works with their material and makes the material work.

Which is where things start to sink a bit. Cooperman, Kittridge, and Senate are repulsive. Utterly, cartoonishly vile. There are attempts to humanize, attempts to shift–but they’re all futile. As the series proceeds and the fishy elements compound (starting, to belatedly submit information to explain a pun, with chumming Billy’s car), no one seems to question their position. People turn up dead, injured, coincidentally involved in other crimes–it’s believable that Senate, as a character, would gloss over the effects on others and regard this entirely from the perspective of its effects on the case, but it’s still a stretch. Of course, Cooperman is so blatantly evil that it’s nothing like a wonder he doesn’t care: he laughs hysterically at Billy being beaten by a paid cop (who proceeds to taze Billy’s daughter…). Kittridge and Senate vie for the affections of Cooperman, primarily as employer, but neither seems to be concerned with his manipulations of them, demanding sexual rewards for deigning to let them work cases, nor with his erratic and insane (also, re: clicker–irritating) behaviour.

This only gets worse when we factor in Michelle. Bello deserves some kind of award for certain, for managing to keep Michelle innocent and sympathetic, while she is a complete fucking moron devoid of either intelligence or moral compass in witnessing the living pieces of shit she chooses to work with. Billy’s crimes–and they aren’t minor–are hard to remember against a backdrop of torture, murder, fraud, war crimes…and yet, Michelle doesn’t seem to care or concern herself. Not even after her daughter is tazed. One would think at least that might give her pause. Her daughter is also insanely irrational, not looking at the serious problems that should perhaps give Billy reason to drop the case, but on how it affects her and her mother alone. The sheer mounts of narcissism in the show are insurmountable, and further confuse things by making Billy–perhaps largely due to Thornton’s excellently likeable performance–the only one who seems aware of the concept of empathy.

The show is intensely engaging, and had me hooked from a moment in the third episode, but my roiling, burning loathing of everyone at Cooperman/McBride was hard enough to stomach that I considered abandoning the series entirely. It didn’t manage to tweak things the “right” way for that (liking Billy avoided my problems with Breaking Bad, and the way the conspiratorial elements were set-up danced around explaining how they were unnoticed with a few of them being clever–setting up a drunk for a fake DUI is pretty believable to have go unnoticed–and otherwise being, well, not really explained meant it didn’t hit the House of Cards inability to suspend disbelief).

And that’s, then, the weird thing: alongside the performances, there’s an intelligence to the construction of the show. It manages to work so well in spite of itself. In spite of having the most repellent, unpleasant, taking-‘love-to-hate’-a-bit-too-far villains, it generally works. I’m still not sure how, because the volume of “Oh, come on…”-type moments from those characters is quite high indeed. That no one ever seemed to notice or call them on it kept me teetering on the edge of giving up on the sheer absurdity of it all, but it never quite dumped itself off that cliff. It’s weird, for that–and enough to make me quite enjoy it overall, while still leaving me with the need to express this reaction.

On the Mutual Exclusivity of My Favourite Comics Characters and Mass-Production (So to Speak)

I’ve just finished a re-read of Lucifer, the Mike Carey Sandman spin-off that was first recommended to me over a decade ago, that I picked up for a brief handful of single issues in its initial run on that recommendation, and then gathered in the earliest days of my lengthiest occupational foray, as purveyor of written entertainment (much though my instincts let me pretend I was moreso that of the auditory and visual).

As I read, as I saw the distant protagonist of the book–distant in the sense that in many issues he appeared as a background character, if even that–I realized that he shares a peculiar commonality with two of my favourite characters in a universe that doesn’t quite share the lofty critical heights of the Vertigo imprint from which Lucifer was derived (and, in that eponymous form, fully published). There’s a detachment, a brutal pragmatism in Carey’s Lucifer that is not meaningfully distinct, in and of itself, from the same qualities in both Starlin’s Thanos and his interpretation of Adam Warlock. There is a cold disinterest in the fates of others that reflects an arrogance and pride that is supreme in all of these characters, a pride and arrogance that also shares the quality of justification. They are as above those they care nothing for as they believe themselves to be.

This isn’t an admirable quality, per se, nor an enviable one. One hopes none want to be above nearly all else, by plan and scheme even when out-powered, at least. It’s not described with explanations of analogous ants, at least not as the personal justification, it’s just how they operate, above and outside the normal realms. There’s something fascinating about this: beings who treat others as playthings, less maliciously than simply as a matter of course.

Mind you, they have their unusual moments:

Thanos is first driven by an adolescent love, and tends toward raging dismissal, in those days, of those whom he sees as displaying errant disregard for him (none moreso than the mouthpieces of Death herself, who relay her responses to him and haven’t even the time to regret where their service leads). He holds a deeply denied affection for his adopted daughter, Gamora, but broken and splintered by the prism of his view of reality; he doesn’t think of her as a daughter so explicitly, nor as detachedly as a legal ward, but some mix of the two, tempered by a refusal to let others–other than, for a time, Mistress Death, of course–have a say in the course of his destiny. He’s also known to relish, on occasion, the simple-mindedness of those he manipulates, setting him, on occasion, to something pettier than his otherwise justified disdain for others might allow

Adam Warlock is tortured by a history of extremes and confusion: the utterly remorseless and unfortunate child-like Him, the almost-past-analogy-to-literal saviour of Counter-Earth, and the cold logic of his Supreme self, which notoriously includes his expulsion of “all good and evil”. He gathers fellows around himself, sometimes out of a Machiavellian interest in being owed favours…and sometimes because there’s something in him that still wants companionship, as most beings do.  He is driven by a need to right things, a moral compass that was his totality on Counter-Earth–but he often finds his will faltering when faced, yet again, with the need to act as the one being the rest of the universe can’t manage to be in the face of a threat which said being is necessary to thwart.

Lucifer is no exception either. While he might kill seven thousand to serve his purposes without even the slightest shudder, he acts on behalf of a select few with something like a shrugging whimsy–a moment of defiance and refusal to acquiesce even to his defiant, willful, self-interested nature itself. That willful defiance is even more central to him, though, as he will forego even segments of self-interest if it involves anything like capitulation to the will of another.

All of this adds up, as I say, to fascinating characters, but what it doesn’t leave is characters that can be readily dropped in, casually, to the stories of others, and, more generally, into the reams of mass-produced media like network television or big-budget movies–despite all efforts to do so anyway. This is what causes that eternal frustration: these are fascinating characters, unique even as they share that concrete and unyielding core of aloof and accurate movement through a universe composed primarily of entities beneath, if not their notice, then at least their deep concern.

To make Thanos a villain, or Lucifer a regular protagonist, they have to be stripped of the quality that defines those characters, as adaptations of both–or usages outside their most prominent creators or stories–makes plain. For all their villainy, it doesn’t boil with the heated malevolence of a Sandalphon or Basanos, of a Magus, or a Man-Beast. They aren’t motivated by an antipathy toward their opposers–they have no patience, time, or respect for the principles of Gabriel or the Silver Surfer, but nor do they lay out plans to explicitly dominate or crush that opposition, except as reaction to attempts to thwart their own designs.

A Thanos or Lucifer set out to cause evil for its own sake is not a Thanos or a Lucifer. Pausing to maliciously, if “playfully”, respond to a traffic stop is beneath Lucifer, as much as relying on Ronan to assist in acquisition of an Infinity “Stone” is anathema to Thanos¹. This isn’t who those characters are: Thanos would destroy the universe (or kill half of it) to make a show of his love for Death, to attempt to openly display that affection, and would do so on his own for these self-same reasons. Lucifer is too above humanity to slum about in “curiosity” over them, is essentially incapable of taking an interest in their day-to-day doings–he’s hardly got time to deal with his brothers, the Lilim, or any other significantly more powerful beings. Humans are utterly beneath even his contempt–in the sense that he is that realization of the true opposite of love: apathy.

These aren’t characters that one necessarily sympathizes with–beyond, perhaps, those fleeting moments of understandable affection or feeling–so there is no use for them to the public at large, certainly not, most especially, in the place of “protagonist” on a television show, nor does a role as villain–however spread between films–allow for any particular character to shine through. In both, their rougher and more complicated edges are sanded down until there’s nothing left but a husk: the executive producer of the “Lucifer” television show is quoted thusly:

“We take our cues from the comic book character, the one that Neil Gaiman created and Mike Cary [sic] developed, which is the devil is the son of god. He’s not evil, he’s just a rebellious son who decided that he wanted what his dad had and doesn’t understand why he didn’t get it,” said Henderson. “He’s mischievous, he’s playful, he’s honest, and he embraces his desires… Lucifer is all about exploring humanity and exploring desires. When he talks to people in Los Angeles there’s no pretense. He just wants to do whatever he sees in front of him.”

This is a fundamental misapprehension of the character. There are a few accurate statements: he’s not evil (depending on how one defines that), he’s a rebellious son, and he’s honest. He is not “mischievous”, “playful”, “all about exploring humanity and exploring desires”, and does not want “what his dad had”, “[not] understand why he didn’t get it”, nor want “to do whatever he sees in front of him”.

But that’s it, isn’t it?

The Gaiman/Carey Lucifer is a character fascinating for character study, not for popcorn, mind-off entertainment. He has to be stripped of planning, intelligence, power, and character to be something that fits into that paradigm. There can, by necessity, be nothing left of that Lucifer when turned to episodic, network television. And so: there isn’t.

By the same token, a being like Thanos that acts on a scale so far outside the Avengers–to say nothing of the already reduced scale of the MCU’s Avengers and Guardians–as to make them utterly irrelevant is, inherently, a poor choice as a villain for those characters, despite the asinine writings of folks like Brian Michael Bendis, who simply did the same thing as the movies, but in a comic book context–stripping the character of everything that makes him who he is so that he could be slotted in to a comic in which he doesn’t belong.

These are the inevitabilities of attempting to shoehorn complicated, other-worldly characters into a context in which they simply do not belong.

This is why it’s angering. Because, by necessity, these usages require the stripping of character from characters. And if you strip the essence from the form, it’s a lifeless husk, masquerading as something far more than it truly is, and blurring the definition of that greater thing to a larger audience. These characters are interesting because of how they operate–not simply because they are “super powerful” or “the devil”. Removing the former to leave only the latter is not just a disservice to those of us who like the characters and their stories, not just an insult to the work of those who wrote those stories (in the sense that it suggests that the only thing of value in their characters is “powerful purple guy” and “the devil”, dismissing all of the blood, sweat, and tears in developing them beyond those things), not just an insult to the audience (suggesting the only thing that they can manage to process of those original incarnations is “powerful purple guy” or “the devil”), but it manages to damage the previous works in its way.

While I thought once thought it only hypothetical, I’ve witnessed those who decided they may or may not read Lucifer depending on their opinion of the show. Already, the show is, for that person–who no doubt represents more, even if not in truly significant numbers–a lens that re-frames a work that it has nothing to do with, simply by dint of association. It says that this Lucifer is in some way like the one on the show–thus creating false expectations about what is to come from it, inserting itself between a possible reader and the work by positioning itself as a meaningful alternate truth for the concept. It creates a conflict, however periodic, by pointlessly setting the two “versions” against each other by pretense of their alleged singular origin. To deny this is to foolishly deny the decades of branding and advertising that so successfully managed to hold our interest in all these years. This is how the human mind operates: we’re told these two things are related and, in general, we take this as a statement of truth, unless evidence we’ve been exposed to exists to the contrary.

I’ve come to the conclusion recently that I would indeed simply rather they not bother adapting. I would like to see these characters come to life, but I won’t settle for these dead-eyed shells, skins and costumes painted over re-written, tired banalities. If no one wants to adapt the characters, then: don’t. Don’t try to trade on the majesty of a better work with a finger-painted facsimile on mass-produced plastic. If you wish to film Devil Cop, do it. But don’t pretend it’s something it isn’t. If you take issue with the way a character is written in a universe that is centered on continuity, don’t maliciously re-frame the character to take them down a peg: just acknowledge that they are clearly not a character appropriate for the stories that you are telling.

I write this knowing that my wishes are entirely futile; such is the nature of art married to a capitalist system. Such is the nature of those who have no interest in, taste for, appreciation for, or understanding of these kinds of characters, that they’ll be dressed down in the fashion of impertinence (Squirrel Girl), or ignorance (Infinity). Would that those who took no interest in something would leave it be–but there is nothing whatsoever to encourage that.

So it goes.

¹Thanos gathered the Infinity Gems twice. First, as relayed in brief by Warlock himself, through his communion with the soul of the then-passed Gamora (Avengers Annual #7), and then again in The Thanos Quest miniseries. In both instances, Thanos gathered the gems himself, never, ever indirectly, as there’s no way on Earth (or elsewhere!) such a schemer would risk the will of others on such acquisition. Indeed, this is made more plain by how he deals in the second instance, significantly less brief–it is, in fact, the totality of that miniseries to watch him acquire the six, one-by-one, for a second time–and his tendency to rely on the ignorance of most of the beings who currently hold them to assist in his gain.

What’s on My Shopping Radar (Part 3: Discogs!)

The stuff I have marked on Discogs is probably the most “simple” in many cases, and down to a matter of “I think it might be cheaper to buy here than on Amazon–third party sellers either way, because it’s not readily available otherwise.”

Plain Ol’ Albums on CD


Slim DunlapTimes Like This (Medium Cool Records, Restless Records – MCR 89277) CD, Album

Former Replacements guitarist, his first album, The Old New Me, is awesome. I have this one on the RSD exclusive 2xLP “combo” with that album, but I have no digital copies. Based on the benefit album for him after his stroke (Songs for Slim, which saw the reunion of the ‘Mats), I want it. Plus, you know, I’ve heard it on vinyl. Though I think Patterson Hood’s cover of “Hate This Town” is ridiculously good, possibly better than the original.


The Celibate Rifles

Nicke Andersson of the Hellacopters was once interviewed on some Australian MTV-type thing, and the host said “We don’t have any rocking bands like you Scandinavians, man!” and Nicke was like “Pffft.” and named a whole slew of sweet, rockin’ Aussie bands, one of which was the Celibate Rifles. I occasionally stumble into these records on vinyl (I’ve got Roman Beach Party and The Turgid Miasma of Existence) but they don’t exactly see U.S. releases, and certainly not in stores.

EdselStrange Loop (Merkin Records – MM 329) CD, Album

If anything should be clear at this point, it’s that almost everything I’m interested in traces back to something most people (I would hope) know I like. Here? Edsel once did a split with Jawbox. It wouldn’t be exaggeration to say that that’s enough (it is enough), but I also liked their track (“Penaluna”) and the albums of theirs I already have. This is the only one I don’t. They also did some singles on DeSoto (run by members of Jawbox) and Jade Tree (a label I trust pretty implicitly).

Gluecifer

The Hellacopters / Gluecifer

Ah, my treasured “70s hard rock throwback bands from Scandinavia” section. Nicke of the Hellacopters is mentioned above, they did a split with Gluecifer (see, right there! I don’t have either one), I love their stuff, I love the Gluecifer I occasionally stumble into, and, oh, they also did a split with the Murder City Devils. There’s not much more to sell here, okay?

The HellacoptersHead Off (Toy’s Factory – TFCK-87431) CD, Album 2008

The last Hellacopters album. Japanese release with bonus tracks. “Last” in the sense of “last before they broke up” as well as “last one I don’t own”.

The Eighties Matchbox B-Line DisasterThe Royal Society (No Death Records, No Death Records – MCD60097, 986 864-0) CD, Album

Though they have a ridiculously long name, EMBBLD are awesome. I found them via early-mid seasons of Nevermind the Buzzcocks when lead singer Guy was on the show. They had clips from “Psychosis Safari” on there and it was great. This is the last album of theirs I don’t have.

Fancified Replacements! (no, not those Replacements)

Drive Like JehuYank Crime (Swami Records, One Little Indian – SWA115, TPLP321CD) CD, Album, RE

Bonus tracks!

SnapcaseDesigns For Automotion (Victory Records – VR100) CD, Album + CD, Enh, Bon + , Ltd

Bonus CD!

Death – Human (Relapse Records – RR7166) CD, Album, RE, RM + 2xCD + Ltd, Num

(Another) Bonus CD! Out of print! Limited!

Compilations and Boxes

The Posies recorded Frosting on the Beater, which is in my top 10 albums (period), and Jon Auer recorded The Year of Our Demise, which is probably somewhere up there, too. This is a collection of rarities, demos, and so on. It includes, in fact, some stuff from the aforementioned group album.

Compound Red had their album Always a Pleasure recorded by Jawbox’s J. Robbins. This was endorsement enough. That said: I am not entirely convinced this CD exists. I have a digital copy. I don’t know if there are physical ones.

City of Caterpillar are one of the awesome bands that came to me recommended by Chaz from Bull City Records over my love of Hot Cross–their original label was Level Plane, which is where this record (and City’s eponymous studio album) were released.

The Hellacopters! notoriously, they released vinyl-exclusive tracks a lot. Those are not on here (they’re vinyl-exclusive, remember?). This does, however, include a boatload of non-album b-sides and compilation tracks. Oooh, my favourites!

Serious Rarities on CD

Nazz – Nazz (Castle Music – 06076-86362-2) CD, Album, RE
Nazz – Nazz Nazz – Including Nazz III – The Fungo Bat Sessions (Castle Music – CMEDD866) 2xCD, Comp
State Route 522 – Retrospective (Status Recordings – none) CD, Comp
Stelvio Cipriani – Solamente Nero (Original Soundtrack) (Lucertola Media – LMCD 005) CD, Album, Ltd
Various – Dope-Guns-‘N-Fucking In The Streets Volume 1-3 (Amphetamine Reptile Records – ARRCD 1/61) CD, Comp
Various – Dope-Guns-‘N-Fucking In The Streets (Volumes 4-7) (Amphetamine Reptile Records – AMREP 008) CD, Comp
Various – Excursions In Ambience – The Third Dimension (Astralwerks, Astralwerks – ASW 6119-2, 26119-2) CD, Comp

Ranging from 1-2 discs, these are all items that fetch a fair bit of money, if they can even be found (State Route 522). Some are not too bad (there’s an $8 cutout of the first Nazz album) and some are pretty awful (the Cipriani soundtrack, performed by Goblin, generally goes for $50+).

Nazz – Todd Rundgren before he was solo. Bonus tracks galore! Sold my original, barebones copy of the debut and have yet to replace it.

State Route 522 – one of the many Seattle splinter bands, related to Minus the Bear and Sharks Keep Moving. Ridiculously hard to find.

Stelvio Cipriani – this is deceptive. Though composed by Cipriani, this is performed by Goblin. Now it all makes sense, right?

Dope Guns… – Amphetamine Reptile’s compilation series that introduced me to a variety of bands, and includes bands like Jawbox (the reason I’m aware of it in the first place)–and is the reason I’m familiar with AmRep in the first place.

Excursions in Ambience – The only digital copy of Aphex Twin’s “‘Stone in Focus'” track. It was on the UK-only 3xLP pressing of Selected Ambient Works Vol, II, my holy grail of music some fourteen-fifteen years ago. The CD pressing lacks that track (the US pressing lacks yet another track–and that 25-minus-2 track edition is what recently got repressed on vinyl, as what I can only assume was a stupid, shitty joke).

Serious Rarities on LP

City Of Caterpillar – City Of Caterpillar (Level Plane Records – LP-36) LP, Album
The Posies – Frosting On The Beater (Geffen Records – GEF 24522) LP, Album
Jets To Brazil – Orange Rhyming Dictionary (Jade Tree – JT1038) 2xLP, Album, Ora
Pretty Girls Make Graves – Good Health (Matador – OLE 624-1) LP, Album, RE
Pretty Girls Make Graves – Good Health (Hand Held Heart, Sound Virus, Dim Mak Records – HHH 016, SNDVRS 09, DM 033)016, SNDVRS 09, DM 033) 3×7″, Cle + Box, Ltd
Sound Team – Marathon (St. Ives Records – SAINT11) 12″
These Arms Are Snakes – Easter (Second Nature Recordings – SN066) LP, Album, Ltd, Red

City of Caterpillar – as mentioned above, a Level Plane band (see the label in parentheses?) thus associating them with Hot Cross. This is a good thing. They happened to have Darkest Hour’s original drummer for a while, at that.

The Posies  – My favourite Posies album, and one of my favourite albums period. Really, really rare on LP–so far as I can see, only promotional copies may exist. Possibly only European promotional copies. Giant pain in the ass to find as a result.

Jets to Brazil – this is my favourite album. You know, period. There are some nice coloured issues that would also hopefully be in better condition than my rather beat up black vinyl one. Orange is the best, obviously. On multiple levels. This one is on par with Frosting for rarity/price. Pretty horrifying. Going for ~$50-70 you have to get it as soon as it’s listed, if memory serves for the range. It usually hangs out at ~$100

Pretty Girls Make Graves – Yeah, it’s the same album in two editions. The 3×7″ version is pretty awesome, and makes sense for the album (especially as it is only ~30m long). The other is more of a “Well, maybe just get it on plain LP…?” only it’s also out of print and also rather pricey. Bloody hell! I listened to this album over and over immediately after first hearing that. It’s really, really good.

SOUND Team – This is Bill Baird’s opinion on the pinnacle of his band. While it doesn’t have my favourite song (of theirs, also of all)–“The Fastest Man Alive”–it does have pre-big label versions of the tracks that would appear on their, well, big label album–Movie Monster. I love the album anyway, and Bill thinks these versions are better. Pretty limited and thus rare.

These Arms Are Snakes – Relatives of Botch, Minus the Bear and loads of others, and super fucking awesome. I was sure I’d like them but first found an album here in Omaha 2 years ago and realized I’d suspected entirely correctly. There are some nice coloured versions around, but it’s rare on LP in general.

Singles with Unique Tracks

Ryan Adams

  • New York New York (Lost Highway – 172 223-2) CD, Single, Enh
  • This Is It (Lost Highway – 602498621493) CD, Single
  • Wonderwall (Lost Highway – 602498630983) CD, Maxi
  • Wonderwall (Lost Highway – 602498630976(11)) CD, Maxi
  • So Alive (Lost Highway – 986 1610) CD, Single, Enh, CD1
  • So Alive (Lost Highway – 986 1611) CD, Single, CD2
  • Easy Plateau (Lost Highway – 602498831441) CD, Single
  • Let It Ride (Lost Highway – 602498818336) CD, Maxi

µ-Ziq

  • My Little Beautiful (Planet Mu, Planet Mu, Virgin – PLUD4, PLUD 4, 7243 8 94299 2 3) CD, Single

Ryan Adams – Of course, I got into DRA in late 2011. I rocketed off into almost everything he’s released pretty damned quickly, especially considering his prior-to-solo band Whiskeytown’s album Strangers Almanac is another Top 10. He is one of the few modern artists to do extensive non-album b-sides–not compiled at this stage, so…

µ-Ziq – I type µ-Ziq often enough in Windows that I have the ALT-code for the unicode mu character memorized (ALT+0181). He’s probably my favourite electronic artist, or at least second. This is a period of his work I’m actually a big fan of.

Rare Self-Released Items

Cave InUntitled (Not On Label – none) CD
Johnny WhitneyAcoustic Mixtape Vol. 1 (Crystal City – none) CD, Ltd, EP

So, this still happens sometimes. Cave In are a hardcore turned post rock turned hardcore again band that’s really good. I have almost everything they’ve recorded…except this. They did splits with Piebald and Botch. Good company.

Johnny Whitney is one of the two vocalists from the Blood Brothers (the one whose voice I like more, no less!). He was also in Neon Blonde, Jaguar Love, and The Vogue. Deep connections to that crazy, tangled Seattle scene going on here. Last of his side projects that I don’t own, hey?

Uhhh…Stuff?

Bash & Pop / His Name Is AliveSoil X Samples 10 (Warner Bros. Records, Soil X Samples – PRO-S-6107, 10) 7″, Promo, Single, Blu
Various – Post Marked Stamps (Tree Records – none) 10×7″ + Box
Melvins13 CD Box Set (Ipecac Recordings – none) CD, Album + CD, Album + CD, Album + CD, Album + CD

Bash & Pop are Tommy Stinson’s post-Replacements band. Their only album, Friday Night Is Killing Me is yet another that’s somewhere in my Top whatever (okay, maybe it’s more than ten, now that I think about it…). This song isn’t on there, and it’s really, really good.

Post Marked Stamps was a 7″ series that includes a boatload of bands I love: Braid, The Get Up Kids, Cerberus Shoal, Aspera Ad Astra, Ida, Tim Kinsella, Compound Red, A Minor Forest, Rainer Maria…I’ve got a few of these, but this box contains all of them, and a bonus 7″! Awesome!

Melvins – lol. This thing is so rare and so large it just goes for $1000. This will never happen, and I’m basically okay with that.

Really nice Colours…!

ConvergeAxe To Fall (Deathwish Inc. – DWI98) LP, Album, Ltd, Tri

I already have this album, on both formats. I even have it on a crazy highlighter yellow LP. But this tri-colour (and a half/half with splatter) are so amazingly on-point with the cover art that I’m tempted anyway.

“Yeah, Sure, I Guess”

Coheed And Cambria

Husking BeeFour Color Problem (Ini – inir-0007) LP, Album
KavinskyOutrun (Record Makers – REC86LTD) LP, Album, Ltd, Num

Coheed and Cambria – Famously my favourite band, but these singles are pretty extraneous. Usually a demo version on the b-side of a major studio track. Eh, right? It’d be cool, but these are pretty low priority for me.

Husking Bee are one of the bands I learned about from the Hana Otoko compilation–a tribute to the Elephant Kashimashi. My favourite of theirs is Variandante (“Makafushigi Thesis” is stupid good). This is mostly a sort of, “Ooh, neat! A Japanese band on vinyl!”

Kavinsky – this is my #1 driving album, but I do already have it on LP. This is just a fancy pants version in a hardcover book with glossies for the fictional movie it’s the soundtrack to.

What’s On My Shopping Radar

I decided on that title, because “My Christmas List, Part 1” has some implications that aren’t what I intend. I just thought it would be neat to break down what I’m eyeing strongly and why¹ to give some insight into the ever-shifting weirdness of my interests.

So, without further ado, here is “Part 1,” also known as, “The Stuff I’d Buy Right Now If I Had the Finances to Allow for It Alongside My Regular Stuff and Intend to Slowly Acquire Anyway, Though They Are Mostly New-Ish Releases”.

(In no particular order)

Shiner – Starless (on white-haze blue vinyl)

($20.00 + shipping)

Oh, come on. Look at it!

Shiner is cool. I meant to see them in Kansas City earlier this year (they’re from there!) but wanted to be social and see the Torche show (I think it was) with folks here (maybe it was the Melvins?). I picked up The Egg (not to be confused with “Egg”, my favourite Alice Donut song, which I think of, because it’s in the catchiest parts of the song) a while ago, and the last, apparently, CD copy of this album they had at the time (it was their display copy!). This is kind of a reflex thing in that respect: a bit of completion, a bit of “nice colour choice!” (I like it when they feel appropriate for the art), and a bit of “This is not a common band, and I want to support this, and it might not be made in enough copies to linger indefinitely.”

Unwound – Empire

($55 + shipping)

The last Unwound set for Numero Group. I have all three of the previous ones (without the bonus discs available only when ordering direct from them that I was unaware of–argh!), and they’re spectacularly well packaged, and have the only Unwound bonus material there is out there (that I know of, at least). This one has the neatest, if I recall, of bonus discs, hence my hesitant stepping away when I’ve seen this in-store. It’s demos instead of a live show (live shows are ranked dead last for bonus material in my book). Completionist, good band, nice packaging (this is a theme, I guess!)

Luna – 92-99

(???)

While this is largely the Luna material that I haven’t developed as strong an affection for (the last two and EP inbetween are up in my top releases ever), this does include The Days of Our Nights, which is in the era I like most (toward the end). That said: RARITIES. EXCLUSIVE RARITIES. I’m always a sucker for those…even if this includes Bewitched, a Luna album I already have on vinyl (curses!). It is, however, as yet un-priced. Terrifying. (also, it’s all fucking white vinyl, but that’s fine, because there’s no other option here).

Baroness – Purple (Deluxe Bundle (3 shipments) + AccessPass)

($125)

It’s the new Baroness album! With all kinds of ridiculousness! This is how I generally buy new releases! This is still a pre-order until 12/15. I’m hopefully going to hop on this soon, as it makes me nervous (most of these things make me nervous, to be honest). I want to get a half-black, half-purple copy to go with my green/yellow copies of Green and Yellow (duh). More shirts? OBVIOUSLY. Extra picture discs, and both CD and LP copies? NATURALLY. (I’m mostly afraid sales will just…end, and I won’t even have the option, you know? I keep trying to find an end-date…probably the release date, yeah?)

Bill Baird – Earth into Aether

(£10.99 CDx2/£19.99 LPx2 + UK shipping, unless the US store is open by then)

It’s Bill Baird! Need I say more?!

Okay, yeah, probably. Bill Baird was one of the minds behind SOUND Team, who are responsible for what is still probably my favourite song (“The Fastest Man Alive”). I’ve collected whatever I can of his material since they imploded and he decided to do whatever the hell he wanted, having tasted the big labels and had the bitterest experience of all. That said, this doesn’t actually come out until August next year. So…this one I’ll probably wait on.

Dan Friel – Life

($13 CD / $16 LP + shipping)

It’s Dan Friel! Need–yeah, yeah, okay.

Dan Friel was one half of the core minds behind Parts & Labor. They did Mapmaker, that album I always tell you was the best release of 2007. I’m just behind here, because I play this stupid game where I pretend local record shops will get in the releases I want to buy (it’s actually 50/50-ish). I don’t order stuff that I (imagine I) can find in a record shop. I’m stupid like that. Friel is wonderfully noisy, yet melodic. The best! (this is basically a new release. that I want. pretty straightforward)

Hammerhead – New Directionz

($20 + shipping)

An ex-AmRep² band releases a new album after years and years! 20/500 copies left on white vinyl! Fuck! I should probably get on this one! (This satisfies my itch for stuff that I both like and is unique, interesting, unexpected, and not common)

Various Artists – Planet Home Series, Vol. 1

(28,00 € + Ger shipping)

Arctic Rodeo Recordings does good stuff. These are an exclusive-track set of 4×7″s, including J. Robbins’s (Jawbox/Burning Airlines/Channels/Office of Future Plans/Producer of shitloads of records I love, including my favourite record) Leatherface and Cop Shoot Cop covers, and some stuff from Matt Pryor (The Get Up Kids/New Amsterdams). And it includes a charitable donation to Terres des Hommes! This is hovering right under my cursor for a purchase. Their stuff sells out pretty regularly.

Steel Pole Bath Tub – Tulip (Green/Yellow Vinyl)

($20 + shipping)

More AmRep² ³! A remaster of a classic (okay, cult) album, on pretty vinyl. Another one where I like finding a record that isn’t the same shit you see in every store, but that I notice anyway because I actually like it. Sure, I like the Beatles and Zeppelin, but it’s not exciting to tell people you have those things, or to pull them out and lovingly caress them and then listen to them. I can’t let this disappear and fully expect to see another show up someday. That’s crazy talk. Once it’s gone, it’s probably just gone.

Die Nerven – Lots of Things!

(€ 14,75 CDs / € 1{5,6},75 LPs)


 

Die Nerven! Sweet German band introduced to me via AmRep²! I have Fun on vinyl, but plan to get it on CD, and both other records in whatever format I can. Out is their new album, and I still haven’t heard their first (Fluidum). Out is a “standard new release” for me, which means it hits “just buy the damned thing”, but I haven’t gotten to it. Otherwise, this is a really unique band, to be able to say, “hey, check out this thing I can almost guarantee no one has mentioned to you, that is really cool.” Enough people are interested in what I recommend that that seems valuable.

Plus, you know, I like them myself, right?

Christian Fitness – I Am Scared of Everything That Isn’t Me & Love Letters in the Age of Steam

( £8 per CD, plus shipping)


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andy Falkous of Future of the Left and Mclusky!
That’s enough to do it right there! I literally just found out about these today, but that changes nothing. They do, then, however, fall into basically “new releases and completionism (see: Falkous)

Usagi Yojimbo Saga, Vol. 3-6

(Price varies, but available readily–Amazon, etc)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arrghhh!

These suddenly started coming out faster than I could dole out ~$80 (MSRP) for them. I have 1,2, but 3 and 4 are out, 5 is out in a few weeks, and then 6 comes out next year. JEEZ. They are collected editions, but I’ve been after the series for years. That said: I am, I think, partway through Vol. 1? (it’s actually the second set, so it’s further than that, but nevermind that confusingness). So, while I’m concerned about them hitting OOP status and becoming more expensive, I’m also clearly pretty lazy on these.

And there you have it. The stuff I’m constantly considering buying right now.

There’s also a plastic mannequin head for my Doomtree Duck mask, though. But nevermind that.


¹Though, also, to move on into what’s on my actual wishlists in the world most emphatically, in response to the fact that people find gifts directed at me are colossally difficult and confusing. For a variety of reasons, this often means I don’t like receiving gifts, because I’m not prone to returning them, and then everyone’s uncomfortable. So, basically: this is not a solicitation. I won’t be held responsible if you choose to take it that way. Obviously, using this, you’d theoretically do pretty well for yourself with me and all…but I’m still not asking. Or suggesting. This is basically for my entertainment (as most things I write are).

²That’s “Amphetamine Reptile”, a Minneapolis noise-rock label I’ve developed a strong affection for.

³So, SPBT actually wasn’t directly on AmRep, they were mostly on Boner when they were still super indie–but they were revealed to me via AmRep’s venerable Dope-Guns-‘N’-Fucking in the Streets series. So, it counts.

My Week [or so] in Music

Well, this is awkward. You’d think I’d slip up due to a dearth of content. Instead, three albums came out alongside my normal reading, and it comes with commentary on gaming, too, because why wouldn’t it?

First, the music:

Released [last] week were Hate Eternal’s Infernus, Ghost’s Meliora, and The Sword’s High Country. Either you’re into modern metal of some kind,¹ or I just spewed a bunch of gobbledygook. In the simplest of terms: we’ve got death metal, heavy metal (nice and specific to most people, in the sense that it isn’t at all), and stoner metal. I don’t know how three metal albums I was looking forward to all came out on the same day, but, it is what it is, right?

Anyway: Hate Eternal was, unsurprisingly, the least surprising in their approach. The death metal bands I still follow actively can mostly be described like this and tend to have mutual appreciation amongst them. Indeed, Hate’s Erik Rutan named the other two–Immolation and Suffocation–in an interview I read recently. There’s a kind of comfort in that. Which is essentially how one responds to a Hate Eternal album, even if it is somewhat confusing to non-death metal-ers: comforting. Hate Eternal is, was, and forever shall be, well, Hate Eternal. There will be tilts and shifts, but the fulcrum stands firm.

The Sword is similarly reliable, but still young enough (Hate Eternal’s hardly orders of magnitude older, but Rutan’s history in Morbid Angel works in there, I think) to continue to reform the barriers on their work. “Seriously Mysterious” is recognizably The Sword, from Cronise’s lyrical choices and voice, but it’s still pretty shocking, appearing in the middle of the album (and being, I must say, pretty awesome). Otherwise, it’s a solid set of grooves and riffs about which I have zero complaints and in which I find plenty of enjoyment.

Ghost (now allowed in the U.S. to be called that, too) I came at backward compared to the others: my first exposure was a friend mentioning being in the video for lead single “Cirice”:

I really dug the track and recently listened to the much more “musical” (I’ll explain) predecessor, Infestissumam while I waited for Meliora to be released. So: more “musical”. Well, the band’s clearly not interested (and have admitted as much) in hewing close to metal tropes in sound, and this album is no exception–well, neither album is, but Infestissumam even more so. There’s something perversely delightful in the choral recitations of “Belial, Behemoth, Beelzebub
Asmodeus, Satanas, Lucifer…”

Meliora, though, scratches the itch that “Cirice” gave me openly a lot better, with a crunch of a swing that is more what I’d hoped for in the first place after being so drawn to “Cirice”–and the kind of band that would make a video that is deliberately modeled on 1980s horror and immediately made me think of the similarly retro-fied House of the Devil. If you must, they’re a band that deliberately eschews personal identities, being entirely characterized by a series of vocalists all named Papa (as in Pope) Emeritus (we’re on III) and then “The Unnamed Ghouls” who play (in matching masks) behind him.

I’ve been very happy with these albums, though I’ve also found myself sidling back regularly toward Fake Problems’s Real Ghosts Caught on Tape again, too…

¹Or know someone who is, but don’t necessarily like all or even any of the above. Still, the names are likely to have flitted about your ears and/or eyes.

My Week in Media

Hello!

I’ve been pretty significantly away, having moved across the country to take up a new job and finding a bit of a social life alongside it.

Normal concerns–cataloguing my collections and experiencing them in their given manner (reading, listening, watching, playing)–are also difficult to get around, but a revived digression from social media and the, ahem, milieu it represents has left me hankering to write about things.

Perhaps, too, it’s the largely-unexpected (but hoped for) printing of my letter (chopped down, understandably, from my rambling) in Darth Vader #8. Perhaps it’s the music I’ve been listening to. Most likely, though, I just want to talk about all of these things and don’t know of a better way right now.

For comics, this week was a bit rough: the first half was spent delving into The New Mutants–Claremont and Sal Buscema largely taking the first stabs, with Sienkiewicz appearing alongside Claremont at issue 18 to kick it into overdrive.

Continue reading

My Own 2014 Top 20 of Music (#10-1)

So, this will at least complete (part 1 here) my top 20 music releases of 2014 (you can see what I drew from here), a relative first, in its way, as I’m actually commenting on them all and what have you. The numbering has been agonized over, but remains fluid, because I rarely make ordered lists that have meaning in their order. Hell, my top 3 have been mingled gases at this point, each being “obviously” number one at the time I’m listening to it, but I factored in a few things and feel (mostly) happy with my final conclusion.

So, without further ado:

10) Young the Giant – Mind Over Matter

Maybe it’s the fact that Fun. got so big–though I think it’s also related to the sound and production style–but I have difficulty framing Fueled by Ramen as a small label.

Ah, who am I kidding? It’s the sound. Young the Giant sounds like a “big” band. I mean that both in the sense of “large, with many members and a full sound” and “probably could be or are played on pop stations”. I don’t actually know if the latter is true, but it would be the least surprising thing in the world if it was. The video for “Mind Over Matter” has 1.4 million views, which, considering some official videos I’ve linked to in this thing have, say, 2,000, should indicate something about their cultural penetration.

Sameer Gadhia’s voice, when it opens up, reminds me of a full-throated–think Genesis–Peter Gabriel, with that unconscious, strained vibrato. Heavy strings and other full-bore production choices really expand the sound of the band and feed those feelings of an enormous band. But the ear worms of particularly the tracks that come in the early mid-section of the album hooked me instantly. Standing in a store I visit on periodic trips across the state (Earshot in Winston-Salem), the guy working that day just happened to be playing it, and I bought it on the spot, something that I don’t do all that often. Revisiting the album recently (mostly in attempting to narrow my choices for this/these list(s)), I found that a few tracks really got me moving, which is something I largely avoid, being as me moving is not something anyone needs to see, or I need to imagine happening.

It says something when an album does it anyway–and that I could suggest this band to both a relatively picky friend and my father and have them both instantly interested after one track. Maybe that all makes this a weird choice, but it is what it is, no?

Get it here (on Vinyl, CD, or Digital).

9) Aphex Twin – Syro

Anyone who knew me in or around high school and college knows that Aphex Twin rapidly ascended to one of my “core” artists and stuck there for a long time. I wandered–a bit–away from electronic music in recent years, less due to disinterest than it was to constantly moving forward (or backward) and outward into new sounds and feelings in music, as I discovered them. It may not have helped that, in most senses, Richard D. James¹ hasn’t released much of anything in years–seven years ago, two EPs as “The Tuss” (both now astronomical for physical editions) and nothing as Aphex Twin since the vinyl-only Analord series in 2004 (which I do, in fact, have in its entirety, unlike the Tuss EPs).

“XMAS_EVET10 [120][thanaton3 mix]” is a mouthful of title and a crazy-long (10:31) track to suggest, but it’s still the one I’d go with. It feels like some really fresh, new stuff, but it also has hints of a number of his older sounds in it and just sounds really good in general. The 120 is an indication of the BPM, and it puts this track in roughly the middle of the pack for the album insofar as that metric. Still, it shows our RDJ has just kind of embraced the freedom he’s largely guaranteed in making music, to make a ten-and-a-half minute track and put it on an album as the second cut and move on. It’s not one of his more frenetic records–this isn’t that mid-to-late 90s stuff–and feels like it has the most in common in overall feel with some kind of amalgamation of the Analord work and Drukqs, which is nothing to be upset about, especially as it refines the rather scattershot collection that is Drukqs (as good as it is).

Buy it on 3xLP, CD, or digitally here. You can also stream each track.

8) Drive-By Truckers – English Oceans

The latest DBT record comes on the heels of continued upheaval: Shonna Tucker exited, cutting the songwriters down to two after years and years of numbering three, and John Neff pulled their overall numbers down yet again (naturally, Shonna, as a bassist, had to have a replacement, and came in Matt Patton).

In a way, the record really epitomizes change: down to two songwriters for the first time ever, some changes occur even in Patterson and Cooley. The record opens on a Cooley track–which hasn’t happened since 2004’s The Dirty South–which was also the first time it happened. As a nice hook for fans, they emphasized that, this time, Cooley sings a song Patterson wrote–another first for the band. Percentage-wise, that puts him on more even ground with Patterson than ever before–2008 got more songs out of him, but it was on a 19-track album, and it was only the one more.

All of this adds up to one of the most consistent Truckers records in years: lean ‘n’ mean and shooting straight. They dropped a couple tracks (“Pauline Hawkins” and Cooley’s opener, “Shit Shots Count”), but it’s been “Part of Him” that has most caught my own ear, expressing Patterson’s peculiar turns of phrase, the roots-y tinges that have lingered in what is largely a Southern rock band that often emphasizes “Southern” lyrically and “rock” musically, but here pushes the first into the music more emphatically, too.

Ever occupied by the thought that I’d unfairly–even by my own reckoning–spotlight part of a group or record to the absence of another, Cooley’s “English Oceans” is a strong contender, with its darkened, ominous musical tone and Mike’s rapid patter of characteristically clever words.

Get it here (on Vinyl, CD, or deluxe edition with bonus live CD and live DVD).

7) Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams (there, three times in a row) has rapidly climbed to the top of my personal “charts” (I suppose literally, if one happens to glance at my last.fm profile) over the last 2-3 years, so I pre-ordered this record in no uncertain terms, as it was a pretty sure shot.

After feeling uncomfortably unfamiliar with particularly the sound of the Cardinals records (I’ve since grown to feel otherwise, mind you), a new sound (that has something in common with, I think, the Cardinals’ III/IV) that is married to the familiar made me pretty happy.

Ryan’s coated the record in a “deliberately 80s” tone and production style, with a touch of smoky reverb and some metallic, sharp guitar. Obviously, this adds up to a winner for someone with my tastes, but the strength of the songs here doesn’t leave the sound to hold as a delicate framework for nothing–“Feels Like Fire” has a pounding 4/4 snare and gnarly guitar (and a pretty buried bass) with Ryan’s voice and uses a light touch of choir with a bass-expanding piano to turn into a prettier, catchy chorus.

The cover is kind of weird, but the coloured lighting on Ryan’s face is kind of in keeping with the neon lights-feeling of the record, which seems to just barely echo something like an early 80s Heartbreakers (Petty, not Thunders, obviously) record.

Get it here (on CD, with a sold out listing for LP, but you can probably find it at the usual suspects or–better yet!–your local record store).

6) Transit – Joyride

Speaking of rapidly climbing up my personal “charts”, Transit appeared entirely on a whim (“That’s quite a bundle of stuff for this band I’ve never heard of,” I said to myself, seeing a monstrous pre-order bundle for their previous album. “I think I’ll order it.”)

While Listen and Forgive and Young New England, especially, have had a dominant place in my listening for the past year, Joyride comes after the exit of founding member Tim Landers². The complaints fans of This Will Not Define Us are turned up even further–in ways that start to make me look askance just a bit–Joe Boynton’s voice is heavily produced in the opener (“The Only One”), drenched in cleaning, touches of reverb, and an artificial tightening. But, that’s all lost pretty quickly to another catchy pile of tunes. The apex on this one–for me, at least–is easily “Summer Dust” which launches a monster hook in that chorus: “Let it go/A wave out the window/So far, so good/It’s all over so/Let it go/Nothing’s beautiful/Face down floating up at the beach house” (considering I heard the guys discussing taking up painting jobs after the show I saw them at, I’m not sure how much a role beach houses play in most of their lives).

Get it here (on CD or Vinyl + bonus 7″).

5) Weerd Science – Red Light Juliet, Broadcast 2: Steady Straight Lights/Sudden Dark Turns

Ah, that moment where your “Oh well, I can’t imagine this drummer for a prog rock band can really rap” thoughts get stuck in your throat and you feel like a total and complete moron, because you couldn’t have been more wrong.

The first Red Light Juliet let Josh and Dirty Ern carve out a clearer sound for themselves as Weerd Science, and the second gets somewhat more subdued and somber through most tracks. While it’s tempting to point out the absurd flow of one of the exceptions to that tone (“Gangsta Dreamz” –which reminded me of Jeru the Damaja’s “Tha Shit” in its central conceit and nothing else, but when I asked Josh he wasn’t familiar), it’s better to point to something indicative of the totality, and that’s got to be “Greater Than You Are”, which manages a sad piano-focused beat that turns into a much bigger, louder chorus, transitioning back and forth with absurd ease.

Get it here (CD). Stream or buy it digitally on Bandcamp. Don’t forget to support the vinyl release of all three RLJ’s, the upcoming release of RLJ3 and otherwise follow the Weerd Science future release via Pledge Music (You’ve got three weeks. Get on it now.)

4) Mike Mictlan – Hella Frreal

Mike Mictlan. Probably the least acknowledged–outside the Twin Cities, anyway–member of the Doomtree crew, at least so far as I’ve seen, bafflingly shrugged at by those who haven’t seen them (and especially him) live, has dropped two records in the past few years–first the very weird, very out there SNAXXX and now Hella Frreal (not to be confused with a track of the same name which appeared on SNAXXX).

The release (characterized as a “mini-LP”) was preceded by the release of its final track, “Clapp’d”, which immediately suggested the self-parody and humour of SNAXXX was nothing like the focus of this release. From the opening of “Benicio del Torso”, it’s clear that Mike brought it on this one–beats that don’t bring to mind anything from DTR (because many of them aren’t Beak, Cecil or Paper), and he’s on his own flow, not the kind he uses for DTR records, whether crew or guesting on someone else’s track.

“I need a rap career to get me thru the year/ I said rap wouldn’t save YOU didn’t say nuthin about me there” he adds on “Less’Talk” in reference to his famous lines in “Game Over (Go Big Or Go Home Boy)” and “Fresh New Trash“. Well, if this is what we’re getting from you now, Mike, it sure as hell deserves to save you.

Get it here (on CD) or from Bandcamp, if you prefer, if you prefer (in your choice of digital formats, including lossless).

3) Davenport Cabinet – Damned Renegades

Well, my thoughts on this one are already out there in far greater detail than would appear here, but let me just note that this band is now a band, and has solidified their sound with their lineup and it is not a thing to sneeze at.

My favourite track is definitely “Aneris”, though, so give that one a listen, but, you know, my love of the guitars on “Glass Balloon” is pretty extreme, too…

As with the next two, any one of them could easily be #1, but, for the moment, I think I’ve got it right.

Probably.

Maybe.

Get it here (CD, Vinyl, or Digital).

2) Braid – No Coast

Not long after I burnt a copy to disc from my digital download pre-order (which included the LP but not CD), this immediately shot to my #1 for the year without any question or hesitation.

A fair number of bands from Braid’s era have re-formed or even just been reignited in recent years, but Braid was largely defunct (split into pieces and various associated acts) since the release of Frame and Canvas sixteen years ago.

No Coast is ridiculously good. Bob Nanna and Chris Broach have smoothed over their vocal approaches in most cases, with a flair that gives the album a tasty–rather than plastic–sheen. It’s one of those albums that’s solid top-to-bottom, with the two trading lead vocals (and, one suspects, writing credits) pretty handily, without losing any sense of cohesion whatsoever. Their guitars are more refined and cleaner, too, another change that also doesn’t coat the sound in anything unrealistic, just grease in the gears of moving it from beginning to end (and, most likely, back again).

I’d be hard-pressed to firmly select a track, but that’s only because “This Is Not a Revolution” is the closing track and it’s especially in that particular position. Additionally, man, the guitars on “Many Enemies” are ridiculously good (though that track was released in a slightly different version on their split with Balance & Composure, anyway), as are the pretty ones used in “Light Crisis”.

Buy it here (on CD, Vinyl, or Digital, and with multiple other places to buy or stream linked directly)

1) The Twilight Sad – Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave

I’ve advocated for The Twilight Sad since I first saw them open for Mogwai in 2007 (and then headline shortly thereafter, with Brakes and We Were Promised Jetpacks in tow), and I’ve liked every album they’ve released up to this point. They’ve always been somber, bordering on morose, and only carried strains of the post-rock characteristics of, well, Mogwai, with too much focus on the vocals of James Graham to really fall neatly into that category.

Andy MacFarlane, as producer and guitarist, keeps the band’s recorded sound clear and cohesive, and keeps that cold, sparse sound that has stayed with them from the outset: even as they are woven together, the separate electronic noises, guitar, bass, drums, and vocals all have just a touch of echo that gives the feeling of cold, dry air surrounding each.

Touches of that tremolo’d My Bloody Valentine sound creep into Andy’s guitar, but it remains an unlikely focal point for the band, electronics often (pleasantly and justifiably) arcing over the tracks as their dressing and adhesive. It’s a fascinating sound, as they manage to appear and disappear quietly throughout tracks, only coming in as fasteners or emphases as needed, never overstaying their welcome. Future single (announced, not my declaration) “I Could Give You All That You Don’t Want” exemplifies this, only dropping in peculiar warbles to punctuate and underscore the chorus.

“Last January” highlights the drum-heavy sound they’ve often favoured, with the ever-passionate Mark Devine precise and powerful behind some of James’s most well-integrated vocals and lyrics. “Sometimes I Wished I Could Fall Asleep” has one of his best vocals, and a spartan backing track that lets it hold center stage as it should, a reverb effect added to even further give it power over that backing. Ending as it does on the draining sustain and then trailing off to heartbeat drums, it’s a brilliant choice for album closer.

In no uncertain terms: this is the best album of an already excellent band’s career so far. It was apparent within moments of listening to it that this was an absolute triumph for them, so perfectly refined, passionate, organic, and laser-focused on being the best that it could be, that it could do little but succeed.

Buy it here (on CD, Vinyl, or digital).


 

And, with that, you’ve got the whole list. Give everything on it a listen–not because it will affirm my taste, but because these are sounds that should be heard and enjoyed, because these are sounds that should be found and recognized. I’m just one person doing it, and there should be more–of course, in plenty of cases, there are more, but that’s not really the issue here.

Incidentally, it was a small note last time, but J. Robbins also snuck out a digital EP called Abandoned Mansions that should also be heard. While he, Gordon Withers, and Brooks Harlan turn out some excellent acoustic versions of J.’s older tracks (Burning Airlines’s “Aviary”, Office of Future Plans’s “Lorelei” and “Salamander”, Jawbox’s “Spoiler” and “68”), it’s the new title track that highlights J.’s writing a song for the acoustic format that really shines.


 

¹I realize most people say “RDJ” and mean “Robert Downey, Jr.”, but I doubt I’ll ever not think “Richard D. James” first, especially when it’s “RDJ”, which was used amongst his fans regularly for quite a while, up to and including in the context of “The RDJ Album”

²I strongly suspect that Tim and Joseph Lacy exited after the band signed to Rise Records and has become more popular on the back of a much more melodic and catchy sound that has irritated some older fans, and, perhaps, some band members. Speculation, though. I don’t know at all for sure.