For some it’s a helpful exercise to stocktake or ‘reflect’ on shit, especially at a years end. I hate to do it and try to avoid it at all cost. The temptation is to get gushy and sentimental and regale with lists on what one was accountable for and, if motivated, check off things to either improve on or avoid in shaping a better year ahead. Puke. Ok, there are always going to be the hopeful highs, many -a-low and predictably, the normal status quo [that rhymes kind of], but the dark hearted cynic in me, is happy to just get on with it and leave the futile dredging to someone else. Well in most cases…
A rare instance where I do like to get nostalgic is in reviewing what I listened to during the past year. This will sounds like a pretty pat thing to say but the one facet that always helps me get through a year is the music, man, more than anything else, for whatever nauseous, sugary reason that might be. I particularly despise the phase ‘music is the soundtrack to your life’ but there is something to be said for the way we choose to listen to what we do and tender towards certain listening habits. One of my habits, for example is to always return to and trash the same core bands year-after-year when music pickings are slim. Some I’ve followed religiously for years. They have become musical touchstones or standards by which every other artist is compared. The disappointing aspect for me in 2008, is it seemed the year that a good chunk of these either split ‘indefinitely’, dropped out of favour, or did the whole side-project slash ‘I need to find my own creativity’ solo album thing. This drew me to search tirelessly for suitable replacements; to find new favourites to satisfy my thirst for refreshing musical chops and regrettably in the same intent retire, for now, some old favs to the back bench.
There is nothing more satisfying [well sadly for me] than sniffing out a winner, especially one most people ain’t heard of, so you can either share them / enlightening someone else or simply keep them all to yourself. Traditionally most quite vocally loath my music taste which is something I particular like. Why would I care and start tethering towards stuff I don’t like. Although my music home is really the ‘metal’ genre my taste is actually relatively eclectic, toggling seamlessly between Cannibal Corpse, Richard Wagner, and Lilly Allen when it calls for it. I am however feeling increasingly at odds with what is coming out under the ‘metal’ tag. Maybe it’s just my increasing age of swiftly approaching the dreaded 30’s, but, well, with metal I have certain standards. A killer band has to balance good songwriting with strong and understandable ‘singing’, have an intensity, fresh image [a cool band name helps], and have a desirable drums /guitars / bass sound. All up, this combination is crucial to holding the ‘Savage’ interest.
The biggest turn-off is usually the vocalist. Some just don’t have voices with any range. Middle of the road vocalists can usually growl and scream on cue [which is fine] but simply lack the innate ability to actually ‘sing’ or show tonal variation in an elegant and meaningful way when the songs obviously call for it. This is especially true of a lot of the American Heavy Metal and Metalcore groups. There are some exemptions of course for say Black, Death, and some Thrash Metal where it’s their shtick to be as foreboding, relentless and as ‘brutal’ as possible [as the character Nathan Explosion would say]. And I’m by no means advocating vehicles like the Glam Metal power ballad, but simply put, it is a breathe of fresh air when a vocalist takes on challenge to explore their instrument like a good guitarist might. I like a particular comment made by Jim Root [Slipknot / Stone Sour] which i’ll steal for this, that “you can only paint with the colour red for so long”. It seems logical that If you are spitting about something which resonate ‘e-mo-tion’ surely not everything requires the same robotic lyrical treatment and intensity. No one can be that pissed off all the time, in the exact same way. But what would I know?
Another prevalence, with a good chunk of newer music I find is the lack of musical distinctiveness. This again is especially true with the metal stuff but also the groups loosely branded ‘Indie’ [which, as a defining term, is somewhat bloated and meaningless right? Is this like a music ‘genre’ now?]. At this moment I hear echoes of my peers criticizing my teenage boy music tastes, proclaiming ‘but it all sounds the same!’, and well maybe in some cases they’re right [though of course I would never admit it and rather defend to the hilt]. Consequently, I do find myself now starting to tune out while listening too some group. I’ll filter these quickly into the ‘every other’ band folder to never likely appear again on my musical radar. ^^lets stop here^^ I might be bitting more than I can chew with the direction I’m going with this. I’m starting get overly ranty and preachy. Anyway, long-story-boring, I know what works for me and it’s getting harder to find. The worms are back in the can.
Ok, with this kicking off post for the illustrious Love and Bandwidth blog, I thought I might highlight a short list of the albums which stuck with me in 2008 [not necessarily from 2008 though]. Some by old favourites and some from new artists. This by no means, of course, encompasses everything. If I can bothered in further posts, i’ll share some others, but shorter, with more specific focus, like: ‘albums I know I should like, but…’, ‘I doubt you’ll like it, but…’, ‘it could have been better’, and certainly other musical beefs and even predictions.
I might add here this isn’t a music blog and I’m no music expert, by any means, especially with regards to the nitty gritty of how music works; structure, time-signature, harmonic function and so on. So please excuse my naive descriptions and feel free to add your own comments and where applicable, slam me with constructive complaints and niceties if warranted.
Album of the Year
Slipknot – All Hope is Gone 
Most people automatically dismiss Slipknot because of their image and well, shame on those people. Its hard to discredit their originality [yes, I’ve heard of KISS, big deal] and presence in the live music market. Few bands survive and sustain with a core line-up for longer than 10 years, let alone a band with 9 member. They have the most loyal fans out there [or maggots as the refer to them] for good reason. So please, keep reading.
This album I wasn’t expecting in ’08. With the success and touring of the intermittent side project Stone Sour, Jordison’s drum stint with Korn and reported holdups with recording it seemed destined to be delayed indefinitely. Then in August, it just came out, to my giddy and gleeful surprise. And, well, It was worth the wait.
All Hope is Gone has a completely different feel than earlier Knot releases. It’s heavier and softer and more than ever foregrounds the complexity and denseness of their sound. The dynamic song structures are to be admired and really show a group who are professionally at their peak and freely flexing a freshly unique refined metal genius. The album is a lot to take-in initially, and I found to appreciate its fullness it certainly does take a few careful listens.
There are plenty of highlight. Here are a few: Gematria [the killing name] is bludgeoning, intricate and lyrical pretty grim. A perfect combo of elements. Psychosocial has a cranking build up [probably my favourite heard in many -a-year]. Fabulously brutal. This was also the first music video single off the release. The driving riffs and momentum of This Cold Black. Sulfur, the strongest ‘singing’ performance off the album and easiest one to scream along to. And finally, Gehanna, although a slower, longer and more cerebral [as some have described] is still pretty severe and brooding. The singing gesture as well is completely different than any other Knot song. Overall, musically, very progressive and as a collection has a nice logical flowing arc.
The bands slight reinvention of ‘image’ is refreshing with this release too. It’s somewhat heightened and more refined with a greater sense of darker fantasy. For the album art work, the cross-processed photographic treatment certainly reflects this change with elements feeling richer and eerier. The inlay is also not as busy as earlier releases but still lavishly printed with tasteful use of spot laminate. In the booklet there’s a big emphasis too on quite desaturated gritty photography, singed with moments of colour which is elegantly done. Oh, and their new masks are like, way ‘cooler’.
This is my number one pick for the year. I really don’t dig rating systems but according to my LastFM profile , I listened to 624 tracks [give or take a few scobbles] from this album [with three songs over 100 each]. So yeah, I bloody liked it. A lot.
As an aside, I really enjoy listening to musicians, especially in the metal genre, talk about their gear and the craftsman side of being a guitarist or drummer. Usually articulateness here translates to technical proficiency and general willingness to explore their machine of choice. Some of them come across as complete numskulls, Dave Navarro for example, who I’m surprised knows how to tie his own shoes. A good example, of course, is from the guitar gods of Knottage, Mick Thomson and Jim Root [excuse the bad initial titles]:
Another, well not short aside… as some will know I went to see Slipknot in Auckland at the Trusts Stadium with me old buddy G-Biscuit [well technically I’m older]. It was fan-bloody-tastic and a bit of an eye opener. Wow, lets say, I felt decidedly underdressed and comparatively quite conservative [which for the later I never feel]. I always listen to Slipknot alone and my somewhat blasé attitude did not really anticipate the range of people that would attend. I expected of course the bogans and teenagers but not all the really young kids with their parent who mixed-in so comfortably with, well, some rather unsavory chainmail wearing bad motorscooters. I was also thrown upon entering [through metal detectors] by the huge tray of confiscated lighters and ball-point pens and the laundry list of no-no’s including no gang patches / colours [which I guess is pretty standard], but also well no spikes longer than two centimeter, pipe like objects or loose chains or other weapons. No camera too, but I managed to sneak one in. Stoked. Anyway it was really good, however not the best set list by Slipknot, with only two songs off the new album and by no means their most exciting performance of all time.
An unexpected highlight was actually the supporting bands. There was a NZ group who opened and were bloody good but I didn’t catch there name [if anyone knows who they were, do tell, as I wouldn’t mind following them up]. After them were the mighty Machine Head. I had listened to them a bit before, a lot earlier on, but kinda turned off them after their early 2000’s amnesic stint of nu metal rapped vocals. But it seems they are well over it and are now leading their own path towards refined darker and even heavier groove metal. In many ways on the night they blew Slipknot out of the water. They were so intense and Rob Flynn [vocals / guitar] really knew how to maintain an intensity with the crowd. What I like most was that the ground was vibrating so much that it went up your legs and made, well me feel sick in the stomach. It was awesome man.
Since the concert I’ve been listening to Machinehead a lot, in particularly their 2007 album The Blackening. It’s as progressive and smart as All Hope is Gone. This release is the first in a long while where I feel like I’m listening to something really new. It’s an absolutely killer. From what I’ve read too, review-wise, that it was considered one of the stronger metal albums to come out in 2007. Kudos certainly deserved. I particularly like Aesthetics of Hate, well probably more for the story behind it. Read here + Lyrics. I’m fond also of the elegantly simple cover art; a big black frame nicely chosen typography and a etching of “a skeleton sitting on a throne with his foot on top of the world … holding up a mirror [of the words] “The mirror which flatters not.”” [The Gauntlet]. A nice sentiment and pretty poetic of what’s going on right now.
Although I only came to The Blackening late in 2008, this I’ll mark as my second favorite album of the year.
Some Honourable Mentions
Willard Grant Conspiracy – Regard the End 
It’s not exactly a new WGC album but it’s a bloody good one. Dark, eerie and heartily depressing. Robert Fisher’s vocals have a haunting but still somewhat hopeful tone not-to-dissimilar to early Nick Cave, J Cash, and Kurt Wagner [Lambchop]. The lead off track ‘River in the Pines’ is a highlight for me.
I really regret missing them at Sammys [due to other unfortunate commitments]. Poo.
Black Light Burns – Cruel Melody 
I’m glad few will know about Black Light Burns. The group is fronted by Wes Borland, who some will know as the former lead guitarist for the loathsome group Limp Bizkit. Ok, I admit at the time I liked LB [there I said it, it’s out there], and Three dollar bill y’all$ was actually a bloody good album. But please let’s forget this and not hold it against Borland.
For Cruel Melody [a fantastic name for an album I will add] Borland aligned himself with really good people, namely Danny Lohner [who produced it] + Josh Freese and Josh Eustis. Topped with Borland’s timely links to Trent Reznor and Marilyn Manson the record consequently has strong hints of a NIN-like industrial slash electronic sound. This treatment however suits me just fine. It’s still very distinctive and especially on an instrument level. The guitar patterns are really unique, matched with well utilized orchestral instruments + fitting atmospheric samples and electronic percussion. This is topped by Borland’s mournful yet compelling vocals and really strong, poetic lyrics. The title track Cruel Melody, I Have A Need, New Hunger and the eight and half minute instrument track Iodine Sky are standouts on this release. I highly recommend this one.
The album art for Cruel Melody is notedly done by Borland himself who is in his own right is a very talented artist. Check out his online gallery, [mostly of his painterly works]. Its all pretty macabre and dark with some awkward hints of Caravaggio. A style I really like. I’m particularly drawn to this selfie. >>
…. the text on the paper reads “This guys gonna eat me cause I just chopped my head off”. Weird.
I’ve uploaded a clip of Borland talking about his artwork here. Very interesting and articulate about what he does. [I’m guessing youtube will in time take my video down though. Boo]
Finally BLB’s first and I think only music video release from Cruel Melody, entitled Lie. It’s weird. Apparently it’s based on three of Wes’s paintings.
Girl in a Coma – Both Before I’m Gone 
Girl in a Coma are probably even lesser known than BLB. Monikered after The Smiths track ‘Girlfriend in a Coma‘ [i think], they are an three-piece group with a clear, restrained sound. Most of their tracks are fairly upbeat and although instrumentally quite simple are very clever and precise echoing eachof their major influences namely Morrissey, Thom Yorke, Joy Division and the Pixies. Nina Diaz has a fantastically mesmerizing voice not to dissimilar to Chrissie Hyndes. I particularly like the way she draws out and repeats words which as a singing gesture I haven’t come across before. My favourite song off the album is the lead off track Clumsy Sky, which has a lovely pacing and energy. [this was also been released as their first single].
The band appear to have a strong Feminist following, though this is not echoed through the music apart from being an all girl group. I’m not really sure what their background is and don’t really care but, hey each to their own if they are. They certainly align more for me with the fringe art scene, sitting any where between the Suicide Girls and the Pop Surrealist art world [notably the album cover is done by the great Mark Ryden, well if it’s not it looks like his]. Anyhoo this is a really nice light rock album; very catchy and easy to listen to.
M.I.A. – Kala 
Compositionally, the music of M.I.A. is somewhat genre-less; its obviously hip hop of sorts, but not that generic same beat, terrible, off the shelf kinda shit we have come to cherish so much. Its also dance slash electronic with a heavy ‘worldly’ quality [with fantastic beats and instrumental diversity]. And it a bit pop but sarcastic enough not to be wholly mainstream. I love it, in particularly how each track magically incorporate sounds which just shouldn’t work in any song [race cars, racking shot guns, cash registers, dog barks, strange horns, and kids named Keith]. It’s hard to pick highlights off Kala as the mood of each song is different and really depends what state of mind one’s in at the time. The Turn for example is quite dreamy, while Bird Flu is squawkingly upbeat. All round though really fluid and just great. Thanks Luci for the recommendation.
Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts I-IV 
Since coming off the juice and dust Trent Reznor has been a very busy boy. Three albums in pretty much three years is unheard of. Ghosts I-IV, is a huge sentiment to this turn towards becoming incredibly focused, holding 36 tracks at 114 minutes [all of which are instrumental from memory]. Ghosts is wonderfully experimental but still retaining that NIN’s ‘sound’. Although there is nothing musically special with Ghosts, it works successfully as poignant background, which heightens the shape and listening focus of past and future halo releases. The release is also topped off by stunning album art work, with each track adopting it’s own photographic image. Take a look nin_ghosts_i-iv [pdf 12mb].
Fair to Midland – What I Tell You Three Times Is True 
This is the third album for Fair to Midland but the first to be released under the Serjical Strike label [founded by Serj Tankian] which seems to attract quite peculiar artists. And this band is no exception. They are definitely unique, revitalizing somewhat the mode of Art Rock and maybe Folk Metal [although again this is another group which defies easy classification].
I would mark this my best find of the year. It has a hard, atmospheric aggression at its core but still retains an interesting melody and poetry. The frontman Darroh Sudderth, has strangely operatic vocals, both powerful and intense. The opening track, Dance of the Manatee is stunning, showing off his ability to flow seamlessly between the rhythmic to throaty puncturing moment of calculated angst.
This group, I get the feeling will unfortunately fly under the radar of most. That’s ok though.
Dream Theater – Systematic Chaos 
When I came across Dream Theater I thought wow what a polished sound for such a new band. After reading a bit more about them, I felt decidedly embarrassed noticing they had actually been going for 20 odd years and release 8 other studio albums. How did I ever miss them for so many years?
Anyway, Systematic Chaos is a masterstroke. There sound seems to hint to quite a few bands, Rush, Metallica sort of, Mastodon and even some Mike Patton stuff. I like that this is one band where their name actually describes perfectly their sound; theatrical, haunting and slighty disorganised [in a good way]. The tracks are really driven by John Petrucci‘s guitaring which alone is enough to listen to the album. Petrucci’s an absolute genius.
Genghis Tron – Board Up the House 
And finally Genghis Tron. This group has a decidely irregular instrument line-up for a grindcore outfiit, with notably no bass player or drums. Instead everything is covered by the laden wizardry of electronic drums and other programming substitutes which surprisingly altogether don’t feel manufactured and overly processed. The band explains that their name [which is a bloody cool one for a band] really describe what they are, quoting them: “The band name isn’t supposed to be very serious, though it’s pretty appropriate. It implies something both brutal and electronic”. [Lords of Metal].
This is a deviation to the sort of metal of usually latch on to but it’s strong and very memorable. Lots of great shredding and riffs, beats and atmosphere. Admittedly off the album there are no real stand out tracks but overall its a very tidy and cohesive package.
Grindcore music is certainly not everyones cup of russian caravan and it’s honestly not an overly popular genre [I only know additionally Naplam Death, maybe even that’s a bit loose]. Of course it does have many overshoots like Mathcore and Post-Hardcore, some Screamo, and Avante-garde Metal which, to an extent, technically are all very similar-ish [man, you got love all these finite metal/rock groupings]. Anyway if you find you digg Genghis [check out the video for Things Don’t Look Good] there are few other like good groups out there, namely The Dillinger Escape Plan [ try their releases Ire Works and Irony is Dead Scene – this is a slight deviation EP though, with vocals from the master Mike Patton] + Ed Gein, Norma Jean [christian mathcore but not preachy], Locusts [quite odd but good] and Protest the Hero [progressive hardcore punk].
Ok, that’s it. Not a complete list but the mind wanders and is off to do other things. If I had the inclination and motivation I would love to translate my years music habits into something not to dissimilar to the Felton Reports, but hey there is always next year.
I’m keen to know what other peoples ‘bests’ lists were for 2008….
4 Comments so far
Leave a comment