James’ favorites of 2012

January 1st, 2013 · 3 Comments · By

Better late than never, here are 10 albums I liked from this past year, plus an extensive run-down of my favorite concert experience of 2012.

Mount EerieOcean Roar (P.W. Elverum and Sun, Ltd.)

Phil Elvrum’s return to form (albeit a slightly different form than the one he started out with) continues; this is the second of a pair of LPs he released this year, and my favorite of the two. It has all of the Pacific NW-flavored neo-Romanticism and unexpected-yet-satisfying post-Lo-Fi production choices of the classic Microphones albums, all wrapped up in a warm winter cloak of imitation-Black Metal — though the occasional synths and unvarying lyrical concern with wind and pines also add a subtle, yet unavoidable Twin Peaks vibe. The 10-min opener “Pale Lights” starts out crushingly heavy, before calming to a literal whisper and building back up again. That’s followed by the short&sweet title track, which somehow rethinks garage-y Brian Wilson-esque doo-wop pastiche from the ground up. Those are the highlights, but it’s all solid; there’s even a Popol Voh cover on here. Recommended for both longtime Microphones fans and newcomers who should soon become Microphones fans.

Guardian AlienSee the World Given to a One Love Entity (Thrill Jockey)

OK OK, yes, this does have easily the worst album cover of any album this year… but I assure you, it is worth your time. I had initially avoided Guardian Alien due to the erroneous assumption (based on their band name?) that this was some sort of dubstep / chillwave bullshit. Northrup set me straight on the car ride down to Hopscotch by playing this for me without introduction or comment — and then accidentally seeing this band play live two afternoons later confirmed my first impression. Much has been made of the fact that this guy was the drummer for Liturgy, but really this more in millennial-era Boredoms territory. They also remind me of Gang Gang Dance, Can, and Acid Mothers Temple; woozy, druggy, sprawling, cathartic noise-rock that also manages to be driving and focused and immensely satisfying. Also the whole album is a single 37-min track that occasionally quiets down to just bass-drone, errant percussion and field recordings of birds; but really, it’s not like you’re gonna want to put anything else on while this record is playing; it’s hard to stop listening once you start.

RaglaniHusk (Arbor)

I’ve been championing Joe Raglani for a few years now, and it’s weird to me that he seemingly hasn’t yet found the critical success of Oneohtrix Point Never or the underground popularity of Emeralds, because he’s equally good (often better) than those two acts, and would totally appeal to the same crowds. He makes synthesizer music (with indeterminate other elements; field recordings? singing? acoustic instruments?) that is dense and layered and really beautiful in a shoegazery / make-out-vibe kind of way, while also being dense and noisy and surprising. He’s not just reading from the Tangerine Dream songbook either; clearly he’s another one of those vintage-synth-gear nerds, but his approach to assembling this stuff is really fresh and contemporary. He did put out a proper album last month (Real Colors of the Physical World — which, like the Godspeed!, is a 12″+7″ combo), but his best release this year is actually this odds&sods/best-of (like Dilloway’s Jester), combining unreleased tracks from the past 6 years with the best material from otherwise obscure cassette and CD-R releases.

Case Studiesthe World is Just a Shape to Fill the Night (Sacred Bones)

Well, sure, technically this did actually come out in like, late November 2011 (it even says so on the cover!) but if there was a better songwriter-y release yet released in 2012, I haven’t heard it yet. This is really thoughtful, dark-yet-accessible folky/indie stuff that never goes for obvious clichés, aside from the very tried-and-true ones that it honors faithfully. Basically, if you like the first 3 or 4 Leonard Cohen records, you pretty much can’t go wrong here. (also, apparently this is the guy from the Dutchess and the Duke? took me months to figure that out, though. I’m a dope). Continuing the Cohen comparison, the album is at its’ best when it’s suddenly veering between solo-guy-with-a-guitar and unexpected-ensemble mini-bursts; there are tons of lovely touches like an unexpected string instrument, or vocals that sound like a small dinner party suddenly chiming in. It’s the exact right balance of intimate, catchy, brooding, and charming. Bonus points for repeated mentions of California and Halloween.

Ensemble EconomiqueCrossing the Pass, By Torchlight (Dekorder)

It’s not that I don’t like moody, mid-tempo dance music — it’s just that most of it made in the past 10 years involves flashy production choices that I find upsettingly distasteful. I had to have Dylan Mulshine explain to me the name of that thing where the bass gets so loud that it appears to make the rest of the track phase out for a half-second (that shit never should have been used for more than 4 bars, much less 4 years). Likewise, the dubstep/frat-raver crowd’s obsession with “the drop” — how is it that the fixation with a fourth-generation obscure UK dance-genre knock-off has become so commercially successful that it has remained current for more years than almighty Jungle itself?  Anyway, whether you are a young person with a strange haircut or a grumpy old IDM nerd like me, there is a good chance you might enjoy this overlooked record of Cluster-beats, Terminator-synths, dubbed-out reverb-heavy shit, and unexpected moments of sublime beauty. It’s full of moody warbling and quiet moments loveliness that probably sound best if you’ve already been up all night. If you’re into Boards of Canada, Labradford, Third Eye Foundation, and 70’s Eno, check this record out. (If you’re not — you should be! Call me, I’ll loan you some stuff.)

God’s Pee – ‘Allelujah! — Don’t Bend — Ascend (Constellation)

Godspeed got back together (mostly — it’s like 7 people now instead of 9-12) have a new record and it’s pretty great. Not as all-time-classic/amazing as their first 3, but also far stronger than that weak fourth one before they broke up / disintegrated into a half-dozen smaller bands. Strangely, it comes on both a 12″ and a 7″, with an impossible to read tracklist and a complex set of instructions on what order to play it in, but whatever, it all sounds good. The LP is two 20-min tracks that build up from quiet to heavy without just sounding like another Mogwai rip-off, and the 7″ is two more stationary pieces that sound equally lovely.  Also: the only identifying band name that I could find anywhere on this release are the words “God’s Pee” on the spine. Strange that every single music media outlet in the world went along with that annoying thing where they moved the exclamation point to the middle of their band name for their sole bad album (although presumably everyone just went along with this to make fun of them), but I haven’t seen a single one mention this newest band-name change, presumably because everyone reads press releases and ID3 tags now instead of tracklists. Anyway, it is a very different time for music and the world since this band was last around, but they are still good and worth listening. If you know and love Godspeed, this one is worth it. If you don’t, though, maybe check out those first 3 (and the first Silver Mt. Zion album) before getting to this one.

Outer SpaceAkashic Record (Events 1986-1990)  (Spectrum Spools)

It wouldn’t be a best-of list from me without something from the Emeralds crew on here (see: Mist’s House from least year and Emeralds’ Does it Look Like I’m Here? from the year before), but oddly I thought this one was their strongest offering this go-round. The new ‘Emeralds record’ proper is too bogged down in melodramatic watered-down “post-rock” moves (not helped by McGuire’s corny-ass guitar-playing; baffles me that his solo material is the most popular of his ilk, as he’s clearly the weak link here); by contrast the seemingly-more-lauded Outer Space (one of John Elliot’s many side-projects) album “II” stretches further but gets lost in unfamiliar territory. But this one hits the spot just right. The contemporary movement of bands that sound like Klaus Schulze and/or mid-/late-70’s Tangerine Dream is now competing with the original for sheer volume, and as a listener… I’m totally OK with that. But, to pick one from this year: this is it. Bonus points for yet more baffling Robert Beatty cover art and the tracklist implying some sort of not-fully-revealed/articulated sci-fi narrative.

Earn / Mirror to MirrorSympathy / Soft Years split cassette (Jugular Forest)

I really like both of these artists and would enthusiastically recommend everything I’ve heard by them; this tape just happens to have both of them on it, and happened to have come out this year, though it is among each of these artists’ finest moments. This music is super-simple; the Earn side is all drones and chimes, the Mirror to Mirror side is all simple keyboard melodies; both are filled with lovely little low-fidelity loops. Handcrafted, unpretentious, and cozy. As I’ve said before: Sometimes the way to make one of the best records of the year is by not trying to do that.

Sissy SpacekDash / Anti-Clockwise (Gilgongo)

No, not the Albemarle County resident and star of Carrie, but rather a long-running LA-based ensemble of dudes (some of whom I went to college with), loosely organized by John Wiese — a man who has released over 100 7″s, toured with Merzbow when he was still a teenager, and is among the most thoughtful and talented of contemporary noise performers. Spacek is Wiese & Co. doing “hardcore,” but it’s a far cry from the traditional punk band aesthetic. This sounds like a hardcore band that has been shattered into a million pieces and hastily taped back together into a roaringly incoherent mishmash of screechingly heavy crashing and buzzing. It has all of the awkward room-tone and grit and hiss of a basement recording, but filtered through a razor-sharp cut-and-paste aesthetic, for a resulting barrage that is overwhelmingly abrasive. Punk in flavor, Noise in structure. SS are quite prolific, putting out dozens of 7″s and CDs, some of which are compilations of their blink-and-you-missed it vinyl releases. I bought like 4 or 5 albums by this band this year, but this one is the most immediately satisfying — 58 tracks of splintering harshness, the longest of which is 38 seconds long. It’s actually a collection of two earlier 45s, apparently culled from the same session back in 2010, but I’m overlooking that fact in order to include it on my list this year because I love it so much. Bonus points for having the best track titles of the year; there’s an art to coming up with names for dozens of 10-second long burst of noise, and these guys have pretty much perfected it.

Motion Sickness of Time Travel – “Motion Sickness of Time Travel” (Spectrum Spools)

Four LP sides of mysterious ambient loveliness, ranging from field recordings to warm, inviting drones to burbling synthesizer blorps to thick New Age-y crescendos. It never stays in one place for longer than a few minutes, and never returns to a theme that it’s moved on from, but the transitions are so gentle that they’re barely even noticeable; like traveling through a slowly changing landscape. It reminds me more than a little of Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind’s Four Seasons 2xLP from the 70’s, not only in format but in the general mood and aesthetic as well. Comparisons to Brian Eno’s 80’s material could also easily be made, but it’s also fairly grounded in the contemporary retro-synthesizer / tape-label movement, which Rachel Evans (the artist in question) has been a prolific part of, the past few years; this album has been widely seen as her big breakthrough, and on the available evidence here that’s richly deserved.


Honorable Mentions: Oren Ambarchi – “Audience of One” (Touch)
Eternal Summers – “Correct Behavior” (Kanine)
Dustin Wong – “Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads” (Thrill Jockey)
Dum Dum Girls – “End of Daze” (Sub Pop)
Matmos – “the Ganzfeld EP” (Thrill Jockey)
Aaron Dilloway – “Modern Jester” (Hanson)
White Fence – “Family Perfume, vols. 1 & 2” (Woodsist)


Best Live Show of the Year:

As heretical as this may seem on a Charlottesville-centered music blog, I’m going to have to admit that the best thing I saw/heard this year was definitely the Hopscotch Music Festival down in Raleigh, NC.

I’m not usually much of a festival attendee — in the past 12 years, I’ve attended precisely three of them — but the line-up of this one was too good to pass up. It seems like a lot of Festivals (Coachella comes to mind) start out with a definable, distinct taste, and then as they become more successful, book bigger and bigger acts until they’re totally indistinguishable from every other big summer fest. Hopscotch, though, doubled-down on the weirdness in their third year; many of the acts on that list are among the most interested and excellent of music being made right now, even if a lot of them aren’t quite (or probably never will be) household names. Hopscotch didn’t book retro-nostalgia MOR dinosaurs, and they didn’t go for trendy, blog-popular buzz bullshit; they got many of the best people making music right now to come to Raleigh for 3 days and play shows.

This was my first visit to Raleigh, and I have to say I was kind of charmed. Sure, the downtown center has a corporate office-building vibe, like most towns, but it’s peppered with solid bars and killer BBQ spots. Within an hour of arriving I was sitting at a sidewalk table drinking a bottled PBR and eating hush puppies stuffed with BBQ pork, which is hard to complain about. A vast majority of the shows I caught over the weekend were in small-to-medium sized venues like The Hive, Berkeley Café, and Kings Barcade — which is just the size I like my venues in any town. Sure, there were bigger spots like the furiously overcrowded CAM museum, or the Lincoln Theatre, but they were pretty centrally located and worth visiting for the acts there. One of the best aspects of the festival was the time spent wandering from venue to venue, catching some excellent acts by chance and having surprise run-ins with friends I hadn’t seen in years. At some point I ran into a Charlottesville acquaintance who mentioned that he’d recently come from Bonnarroo, during which he had the revalation, “I’m basically just hanging out with a few thousand assholes on LSD in an uncomfortable field” — Hopscotch’s diffuse, centrally-located, urban setting was a far preferable experience.

Another nice aspect of the festival is that many of my friends were equally excited to go, despite the fact that their list of bands to check out was almost wholly different than mine; it seemed like Hopscotch actually succeeded in being many things to many people. While there were a very few boneheaded booking-overlaps (Bill Orcutt and Alan Bishop playing at the same time in different bars?), the wealth of side-festival daytime events and unexpected guest appearances meant it was still possible to catch an act you’d missed the day before (Orcutt and Bishop ended up playing together the next afternoon). Many of the Festival’s best sets, in fact, were off the “official radar” but easy to find; label showcases like the ones put on by Three Lobed and Thrill Jockey meant I’d often already seen more great bands in a day than I usually do in a month, all before the evenings’ official festival events had even started.

As near as I can reconstruct after a hectic three-day weekend (which also involved partying with Invisible Hand and the Naked Gods pretty much nonstop from breakfast until last call each day), I was able to catch 25 different acts in 2½ days, not counting the bands whose names I didn’t even catch or heard by accident while I was looking for my friends or a different show. Below is a summary of each, followed by a Storify embed which catalogs the constant stream of tweets sent to the Nailgun Media Twitter account via my cheap-ass, 2004-era dumbphone which can neither look at the internet, autocomplete normal english words, nor allow much punctuation (including hashtags). My proposed column for the C-Ville never saw print due to deadline shifts, and Nailgun was too busy covering those same acts’ tours through town in the days following Hopscotch to find room for a festival recap at the time, so here it is, for posterity and your enjoyment:

I drove down on Thursday with Matt Northrup and Jordan Owens from Holy Smokes Booking, and soon met up with the boys from the Hand (with whom I was crashing at WhateverBrains / Order singer Rich Ivey’s condo; many thanks to all involved for their generosity). After the aforementioned BBQ&beer pit stop (during which we also caught the Obama speech on a bar TV), I had my first tough call of the festival: former Harry Pussy guitarist and harsh, abstract bluesman Bill Orcutt, or former Sun City Girl and Sublime Frequencies operator Alan Bishop, who had put out one of my favorite records of last year as Alvarius B.? It was a tough call, but Bishop won out, so I made my way to the upstairs of a tiny, overpriced bar called The Hive and crowded into the narrow space with about 20 other folks (the only people I recognized there were Yo La Tengo and Ben Chasny), to hear Alan Bishop sing, whine, narrate, strum, howl, and ramble. Bishop’s performance was alarmingly confident, and any number of wild whims, bizarre digressions, or sudden shifts in tone that would have been clumsy or misguided in another performers’ hands became perversely fascinating when Bishop executed them. He sang sweet songs, he sang scary songs, and in-between he let out a constant stream of rants about contemporary politics and creative insults to the audience without ever seemingly pausing for a breath. To the best of my recollection, the set list included “Viking Christmas,” “You Only Live Twice,” and a bizarre version of Johnny Cash’s “Wanted Man” which Bishop re-wrote as he sang to take on a variety of topics that spanned the full range of his interests and career, all painted Bishop himself as an outsider, outcast, vigilante and provocateur (best line: “Wanted man by Led Zeppelin / for teaching them how to steal another man’s song”)  it was a Dylanesque bit of self-mythologizing that was totally successful, and it was one of the best performances I saw all weekend (or all year). I later rushed over to the Berkeley Café (actually a dingy dive-bar) to catch Six Organs of Admittance, who apparently was booked as a last-second replacement for Ducktails. I’ve seen Ben perform a number of times over the years, but he’s always phenomenally great and worth hearing; he closed with a duet with Chris Corsano, one of my favorite performers, and someone I’d see making guest appearances again and again throughout the weekend. I wrapped up the evening by heading to the CAM art museum, and suddenly saw what everyone else had been up to all weekend; while my first two shows had been quiet, small gigs that allowed the appreciative audience a close view of the performer, the CAM’s huge lobby was absolutely packed like sardines with wild, sweaty, drunk youngsters. Thee Oh Sees were the right band for the occasion, though, and ripped through a killer set of rowdy rock&roll, sounding more like the Cramps on a Krautrock groove than their recorded material would leave you to believe. Smith and I camped out right by the stage and were treated to Dwyer’s wild gtr/vox antics, which involved heavy shredding and microphone fellation.

Friday got off to a start that was both satisfying and disappointing; I ate at a BBQ place that had been around since 1938 (and was goddamn delicious), but missed all but the last 5mins of the Orcutt / Bishop / Corsano trio that began at noon. From what little I heard the set was surprisingly blues-rock-centric; I’m not sure if that’s the common territory they compromised on playing together, or just where they ended up after a set that had gone elsewhere. I did, however, stick around for most of the rest of the Three Lobed Records showcase, which included brilliant folk performers I’d never heard of (Chuck Johnson) as well as musicians whose records I’d been listening to for yours  (notably a superb drone-duet by Oren Ambarchi and David Daniell, which also featured Corsano in it’s second half).

Later that afternoon, in a rush of confusion that involving running all over downtown trying to figure out where Kid Millions’ Man Forever project was playing (it turns out it was one floor below in the building I’d just left), I accidentally stumbled upon a Guardian Alien set, which was fantastic. I did in fact get to see Man Forever, who in addition to Oneida’s Kid Millions and Guardian Alien’s Greg Fox, featured three other drummers (all five playing two solitary snare drums), some guitarists, and the usual antique organ — just as mind-expanding and patience-testing as it had been the first time around.

Dinnertime saw me rejoining the rest of the crew and catching most of a disappointing set by Built to Spill, simply because the main outdoor stage were they were playing was closest to the spots where we were likely to find cheap, quick food at that hour. They sounded overwhelmingly half-assed; if the musicians themselves are telegraphing overwhelming boredom with their songs, there’s nothing but empty nostalgia to keep the audience interested either. I split and spent the early evening wandering / discovering more of downtown Raleigh, plotting my strategy for the evening while still hearing the tired, halfhearted strains of BTS’s 90’s classics wafting over from blocks away.

The night’s main challenge was the fact that I wanted to hear both the Psychic Paramount and their tourmates the Jesus & Mary Chain, but their sets were happening more or less a the same time, a few blocks apart from one another. the Psychic Paramount set was technically scheduled for 20minutes earlier, so my goal was to start there and ditch after half hour or so, hopefully splitting the difference between the two sets.  Despite my rabid enthusiasm for the band, I wasn’t able to convince any of my buddies to come to the PP show, which is too bad — it was easily the best set of the entire weekend. Psychic Paramount are a NY trio who play in darkness, surrounded by a thick cloud of fog machine smoke, wordlessly shredding their way through a set of harsh, energetic, clanging, metallic kraut-y math-rock — something like Don Cab filtered through the angrier parts of This Heat. Their set felt overwhelming, thrilling, and almost dangerous; the way I imagine the J&MC must have sounded when they first starting out in the mid-80’s. Despite my intentions to leave halfway through, their set was so satisfying that I couldn’t drag myself away.When they finally stopped, 50minutes later, I was filled with an overwhelming feeling of catharsis and joy.

I rushed back to the main stage to catch the Jesus and Mary Chain — a band for whom I have no small amount of respect and affection — in the hopes that their set could begin to measure up. We’ll never know, I guess, because the Reid brothers were barely even trying, limping their way through a halfhearted set of MOR pop-rock.  The J&MC’s reputation is staked on their groundbreaking early work, the historic and influential combination of early-60’s teen-pop with scorchingly heavy VU-inspired feedback and distortion, but the truth of the matter is that their career soon departed from that trajectory, and it’s a sound they’ve only returned to with nostalgia and self-conscious revisionism in the decades since. Their set was a reminder that at heart, they were also pretty much a BritPop band, and at this point a rather washed-up and uninspired one, still hanging in it for the money and the parties rather than any remaining desire to do something interesting or good. (Adam Brock later related a hilarious anecdote about encountering their touring drummer and a young groupie in the hotel elevator — but the main fact I took away from that story was that that groupie was probably born well after the bands’ last good album came out).

What I needed after that, even more than I needed another $2 hot dog and a few more  shots of whiskey, was some satisfying, exciting, fun rock&roll. Luckily, the Naked Gods set at the strangely named bar Tir Na Nog (I think it’s Welsh?) hit the spot precisely. I’ve long been a fan of their unique blend of Southern rock and artsy garage punk — “Creedence Clearwater Fugazi” is the most accurate summary of their sound — but this was easily the best set I’d heard by them, a sweaty, energetic, swaggering set of kick-ass anthemic tunes. They are good dudes in a great band and I am glad to know them and hear them often.

It seems the Hand and the Gods and our assorted crew mostly wanted to hang and relax after the gig, so again I struck out alone to hear a curiously under-attended set by Dave Pajo, the legendary guitarist of Slint, Tortoise, Papa M, the For Carnation, and Zwan — occasional Will Oldham side-man and current touring member of Interpol. Stranger than the size of the crowd was Pajo’s set itself — shrouded in darkness, he wandered through a rambling set of loop pedals, field recordings, and instrumental guitar tangents, which felt far more like an eccentric artist fiddling around and keeping himself engaged than you might expect at a show by a legitimately famous member of the indie-rock royalty. It was fitting, though, and worthwhile — it’s a set I’m still thinking about, and I’m far more pleased to have seen that then I would have been at a set of the “hits” played for a crowded room of half-fans drawn in by name recognition. The defining aspect of Pajo’s performance might have been the tiny, rinky-dink fog machine (laughably ineffectual, in comparison to the Psychic Paramounts full fog assault) that he triggered with his right foot about nearly as often as he worked the loop pedals with his left. It was a small, strange, and almost sad thing that, if looked at from the right angle, was also strangely beautiful; a nice encapsulation of the performance as a whole.

I wrapped up the evening with the last ⅔ of Yo La Tengo‘s set, which was predictably excellent and wonderful. They played some slow songs, they played some new songs (many of which they debuted that evening) and asked the audience to help name them; they wrapped up with a 35+minute fuzzy-garage-jam medley that went from “Nothing to Hide” into “Sugarcube” into a version of “Little Honda” that included a 20-minute bridge/solo during which they brought Glenn Jones and Chris Corsano onstage. I have never regretted a Yo La Tengo concert, and hope to hear them many more times in the years to come.  At this point, however, my phone had died and I had run out of money, so I spent the next hour wandering a darkened downtown Raleigh attempting to find my friends and my ride, an adventure that eventually led me to experience an embarrassing and underwhelming dB‘s reunion in a small, brightly lit church.

By Saturday we were all exhausted, hung over, satisfied, and content, but still had half a day of concerts ahead of us. We kicked things off as noon with a surprise performance by Oneida, on a stage set up on the street smack dab in the middle of town. There are many festivals and events that will put up a temporary stage on a Main St on a Sunday afternoon, but how many of them will then ask Oneida to play a full rendition of “Preteen Weaponry” on that stage? I had first/most recently seen Oneida almost exactly 10 years earlier, so it was good to check in with them and see how they’re doing; by my count, they’ve gotten even better. If you’re wondering how they handled the live performance final movement of “Preteen,” which involves heavily edited and chopped-up drum sounds, the answer is that they brought Chris Corsano (of course) onstage to duel drum kits with Kid Millions — it was both a fairly accurate rendition, and a fantastic way to spend a Sunday brunch. Next I caught the end of the Holy Smokes showcase, the highlight of which was a killer set by a Baltimore band called Roomrunner, sounding more than a little like the Jesus Lizard and Big Black (in the best way).

The day was still young and there weren’t any sets I was desperate to see until the evening, of the rest of the afternoon was spent partying with the Hand and the Gods and a few strangers (a few of whom were naked) in a hotel pool; whiskey was chugged from a plastic bottle, loud vocal exercises were conducted to take advantage of the indoor pool’s alarming acoustics, and dumb rough-housing ensued until a fellow named Travis (a record-store owner from Boone whom I’d met at lunch) busted his skull open and had to be taken to the hospital.  Travis was a good sport about it; drunk and possibly concussed, he didn’t seem as concerned as the rest of us (who were freaked out by the blood and insisted he seek medical help ASAP) — his main concern was that he might have to miss Sunn O))) later that night.

I spent the evening reminding myself how much I enjoy Amen Dunes, discovering that being in a pitch-black bar packed front-to-back with sweating drunkards too distracting to be able to tell whether or not I enjoy the Spits, and decided that I would probably appreciate Danny Brown more if he didn’t rap every line in every single song with the exact same cadence (I’m a grumpy old nerd about modern rap). Exhausted and wasted and deliriously satisfied and happy, there was no better way to end the weekend than by crumpling into an auditorium seat for a few hours and spacing out to an overwhelmingly loud set by Sunn O))). It was my second time seeing them; the last night I lived in NYC, in 2006, I stood amongst a swaying crowd of metalheads who wanted to mosh, standing stock-still for 2 or 3 hours while they droned in the heaviest, slowest, most stationary buzz imaginable.

I can definitely say that having a cozy chair is definitely a more preferable way to hear a Sunn concert, but they’ve also greatly widened their range over the past 6 years; there were more dynamic shifts in sound, quieter passages, a whole section of slow, crackling bass that reminded me more of early Growing material than Sunn’s usual wall-of-doom. They struck the perfect balance between having enough content to keep the ears engaged while being overwhelming enough to effectively prevent conscious thought. The second half of the set was grounded by vocals by Attila Csihar, former vocalist for Mayhem and frequent Sunn collaborator. He looked like he was wearing a rubber goblin mask and a jewelled metal glove under his monks’ robe, and reportedly may also have been on stilts (scale was hard to discern from my point in the auditorium), but the most important thing was that his vocal performance was just incredibly nuanced and well-crafted and fascinating, in addition to being unsettling and frightening. Not all Sunn concerts are created equal; a lot of factors can make them into a chore or a bore; but this one, at this particular moment in time, was pretty much perfect.

My full tweets from that weekend are embedded below; I’d love to hear your thoughts, disagreements, and recommendations in the comments section at the bottom of the page.

Tags: endorsements · feature · site news

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 davis // Jan 11, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    Good list James, definitely some stuff I had not checked out on there, and quite a few I enjoyed this year as well. Also, as a side note, I think one of R. Beatty’s record covers (his own Three Legged Race, that Raglani cover, Peaking Lights, etc. etc. etc.) has made it into almost every year-end list I have seen. Dude deserves some kind of award for that for sure, though his own Three Legged Race album has made it onto a few year end lists on its own merits. The few tracks I have heard from it are great, definitely like it and the Raglani more than any Emeralds or OPN stuff I have heard, but I am no synth fetishist, so that may explain it (though bigger barrier to Emeralds for me has been Mark McGuire’s distorted guitar tone, which bothers me enough that I can’t listen to anything with it in the mix).

    This may be the year that I finally give P. Elverum a serious listen, as I think his more recent records might be up my alley more than his higher-profile records from the past. Certainly the descriptions of them are really intriguing.

    Guardian Alien really has their moments, some of the playing on that record is great, especially the drumming and shaahi baja (or Japan banjo as it is sometimes called). Love that instrument, which is also what Mick Flower destroys on all those Flower-Corsano duo albums (and played in that solo set at Dust all those years ago). Such a cool instrument. In another side note, the guy who plays the shaahi baja in Guardian Alien, Turner Williams, is friends with Matthew Clark and is doing the next release in Matthew’s “Secret Museum of Kind Men” 7″ series. He can really play that thing, so I am excited to hear that 7″.

  • 2 James // Jan 13, 2013 at 11:46 am

    Thanks, Davis. I am indeed a huge fan of Beatty’s cover art — a general rule of thumb is that I try to pick up anything he’s done the sleeve for, and I’ve discovered some really cool stuff over the years by applying that method (those who don’t know Beatty’s work — or don’t know that you know it — are advised to check it out: http://www.flickr.com/photos/arbagegarbage/ ). I haven’t actually been able to get my hands on a copy of the new 3 Legged Race LP yet, but I have heard very good things about.

    re: McGuire, it was actually announced that he left Emeralds the day after I wrote this, so I guess folks who want either more or less of his guitar antics (I know plenty in both categories) will be able to adjust their listening habits accordingly in the future. Not to rag on the dude too hard though, I do like a lot of his material — the Inner Tube 12″ with Spencer from the Skaters was a nice one from last year.

    I think I’ve made this recommendation before, but in terms of Phil Elvrum / the Microphones, for me it’s all about the holy trinity of 1999’s “Don’t Wake Me Up,” 2000’s “It was Hot, We Stayed in the Water,” and 2001’s “the Glow Pt. 2” (all on K Records)… those have been three of my favorite albums for the past decade-plus, now. he didn’t get into the Black Metal / Twin Peaks vibe until 2009’s “Wind’s Poem,” though.

    I’m still really bummed I missed that Mick Flower show at Dust, I think it happened about a week before I moved back to town… it happened right at the peak of my Sunroof! / Vibracathedral Orchestra obsession, too. Flower-Corsano have been one my absolute favorite things the past few years, and though I haven’t been able to hear them play together live, at least I was able to hear each of them play totally unrelated shows at the Tea House last fall.

    oh, and I’m definitely looking forward to that second Secret Museum 7″!

  • 3 davis // Jan 15, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    Not trying to rank on McGuire, I just don’t like his guitar tone, which is hugely subjective. Guy is obviously talented, and folks seem to like his solo stuff too, just never clicked for me. Thanks for the Elvrum recommendations too, will check them out at some point, and maybe start from the beginning if I can.

    That Mick Flower set was better than anything else that night, and maybe anything else I saw that year. Just great. Corsano set was definitely my favorite live thing from last year, though I really liked the Man Forever show generally and Mike Gangloff solo about as much. Mike rules, hope to see him a few times this year as well.

    Have only heard a small bit of Vol. II of the Secret Museum of Kind Men, but it sounded pretty great. May be mellower but definitely in a similar vein.