Jan 11, 2016

RIP David Bowie 1947-2015

I have to admit, this was shocking news to wake up to this morning. It wasn't just that I was a big fan, it wasn't just that I had recently been in another of my deep dives into his catalog, no, it was more that there had been so many reasons just recently to believe that he'd be around for a long time yet. Just two short days before he passed was the man's 69th birthday, not to mention the release of his 25th studio album, the well received Blackstar. A record that pointed to yet even new directions for a man never content to rest on his laurels or with sticking with what has worked well in the past.

I was slow to get into Bowie, mostly only acknowledging him through my childhood by the inescapable singles and classic rock staples that filtered through my world - the ubiquitous (for a child born in 1976) "Let's Dance", "Modern Love", "Blue Jean", "Fame '90", "Fame", "Space Oddity", "Rebel Rebel", not to mention his appearance in Labyrinth. It wasn't until college and he spent some time palling around with Trent Reznor and being covered by Kurt Cobain that I undertook my first of many deep dives. Immediately enamored by the early 70s run, I mostly stopped there, it took a few more years and a wider musical berth before I grabbed onto Station To Station, Low, and "Heroes". From there I was caught up and able to experience Bowie's career in real time, starting with Heathen. The excitement and thrill of his return with 2013's The Next Day was an absolute joy to experience, and I was really excited to hear what else Blackstar was to bring.

And I still haven't explored it all. As of this writing, I've still yet to hear many of his albums int heir entirety - Young Americans, Tonight, Never Let Me Down, Black Tie White Noise and both Tin Machines, to be specific. But I look forward to having unexplored terrain, knowing that with Bowie's restless mind and enormous talent there will be something unexpected around every corner. Pushing Ahead of the Dame was, has been, and will remain a treasure while I continue to explore the man's legacy.

I also have yet to crack open Blackstar, I picked it up on Friday but my busy weekend never allowed the time I wanted to sit with it. I was planning to listen today, but somehow I didn't think I could deal with it. Tomorrow. Or the next day. Or maybe I'll continue to console myself by randomly skipping through his massive catalog.

There are plenty of other, more thoughtful, knowing tributes to read out there today, so I'll just leave this with a clip of one of my favorite pieces of Bowie related ephemera - the scene in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds when Shoshanna is preparing for "German Night" at the soon to be decimated movie theater while Bowie's "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" plays. It's anachronistic, to say the least, but a powerful movie moment and one of the keys to unlocking Bowie's 80s work.

Jan 5, 2016

Phish NYE @ MSG - "Twist"

Probably the only blog out there that'll go from the 'Mats to Phish but, hey, here we are. One of these days I want to make it out to NYC for a NYE run at MSG, but for now I'll have to content myself with AUDs and the videos, like the one below, that surface on YouTube. This is an absolutely killer "Twist" that heads into some funky places, I especially dig when Trey steps on the gas out of the swampy, murky jam about 11 minutes in.

Once I work my way through the last two nights of the run, I'll offer up some thoughts in preparation for their upcoming three nights in Mexico.

Jan 4, 2016

The Replacements @ 7th Street Entry, 1981

Well, why not heat up your cold January with some surprisingly well capture 'Mats from September of 1981, just a month or so after releasing their debut record. They tear through songs from both that debut and the soon to come Stink EP, as well as a rippin' cover of Chuck Berry's "Maybellene". It's already clear that Bob Stinson is a damned beast. Be sure to stick around for all six parts.

Jan 2, 2016

2014 Year In Review Part VI: The Albums

Well, I missed getting it out before the calendar flipped to 2016 - but, here it is, via//chicago is finally wrapping up our coverage of the year that was 2014 up by presenting the favorite 75 albums of the year. Thanks for reading (both of you)!

75. Eyehategod - Eyehategod (Housecore)
74. Anjou - Anjou (Kranky)
73. Vijay Iyer - Mutations (ECM)
72. Pontiak - Innocence (Thrill Jockey)
71. Ice Dragon - Seeds From A Dying Garden (Self-released)
70. Ex Hex - Rips (Merge)
69. Death Penalty - Death Penalty (Rise Above)
68. Spoon - They Want My Soul (Loma Vista)
67. Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell - Check 'Em Before You Wreck 'Em (Rise Above)
66. Sunn O))) & Ulver - Terrestrials (Southern Lord)
65. Usnea - Random Cosmic Violence (Relapse)
64. Dawnbringer - Night of the Hammer (Profound Lore)
63. Electric Wizard - Time To Die (Witchfinder)
62. Pyrrhon - The Mother of Virtues (Relapse)
61. High Spirits - You Are Here (Hells Headbangers)
60. The Both - The Both (SuperEgo)
59. Doug Paisley - Strong Feelings (No Quarter)
58. Godflesh - A World Lit Only By Fire (Avalanche)
57. The War On Drugs - Lost In The Dream (Secretly Canadian)
56. Aphex Twin - SYRO (Warp)
55. Oozing Wound - Earth Suck (Thrill Jockey)
54. The Horrors - Luminous (XL)
53. The Graviators - Motherload (Napalm)
52. Conan - Blood Eagle (Napalm)
51. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Pinata (Madlib Invazion)
50. Goat - Commune (Sub Pop)
49. Krieg - Transient (Candlelight)
48. Pilgrim - II: Void Worship (Metal Blade)
47. TV on the Radio - Seeds (Harvest)
46. Neneh Cherry - Blank Project (Smalltown Supersound)
45. Chris Robinson Brotherhood - Phosphorescent Harvest (Silver Arrow)
44. Taylor Swift - 1989 (Big Machine)
43. Blues Pills - Blues Pills (Nuclear Blast)
42. Truckfighters - Universe (Fuzzorama)
41. Nothing - Guilty of Everything (Relapse)
40. FKA Twigs - LP1 (Young Turks)
39. The Budos Band - Burnt Offering (Daptone)
38. Comet Control - Comet Control (Tee Pee)
37. Salem's Pot - Lurar ut Dig Pa Prarien (Riding Easy)
36. Horrendous - Ecdysis (Dark Descent)
35. Todd Terje - It's Album Time (Olsen)
34. King Gizzard & The Wizard Lizard - I'm In Your Mind Fuzz (Castle Face)
33. Teitanblood - Death (Norma Evangelium Diaboli)
32. Solstafir - Otta (Season of Mist)
31. Dead Congregation - Promulgation of the Fall (Profound Lore)
30. Witch Mountain - Mobile of Angels (Profound Lore)
29. Sun Kil Moon - Benji (Caldo Verde)
28. Steve Gunn - Way Out Weather (Paradise of Bachelors)
27. Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso UFO - Astrogasm From the Inner Space (Important)
26. Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band - Intensity Ghost (No Quarter)
25. St. Vincent - St. Vincent (Loma Vista)
24. Horseback - Piedmont Apocrypha (Three Lobed)
23. Thee Oh Sees - Drop (Castle Face)
22. Satan's Satyrs - Die Screaming (Bad Omen)
21. The Oath - The Oath (Rise Above)

20. Thou - Heathen (Gilead Media)
Baton Rogue's thicker than molasses sludge doom purveyors Thou first entered my consciousness with 2010's excellent Summit, but it was their 2015 work on a split with The Body and on this most recent full-length that bumped them up to a vital act to keep tabs on. Heathen is both the band's most powerfully punishing work and, arguably, their most gorgeous sounding as well. Exploring more than ever the band's buried melodic sensibility, the juxtaposition of the beauty and the fury creates a powerful statement that is best experienced as a single piece.

19. Triptykon - Melana Chasmata (Century Media)
You've got to hand it to Tom G. Warrior, a.k.a. Thomas Gabriel Fischer. If he'd have retired completely from music after putting his Celtic Frost project to bed in 2008, his legacy among the pantheon of heavy music gods would have already been cemented. Not just for his two all-time classic albums release with Celtic Frost (To Mega Therion & Monotheist), but for his trailblazing work with early black metal pioneers Hellhammer. Never content to rest on his laurels, Warrior introduced his third great band, Triptykon, with 2010's Eparistera Daimones. As great as that debut was, Melana Chasmata is even better - blending pulverizing doom with bursts of black metal intensity, all topped by Warrior's surprisingly melodic vocals.

18. Warpaint - Warpaint (Rough Trade)
Los Angeles indie rock quartet quickly gathered a lot of buzz with their 2008 EP Exquisite Corpse and 2010's full-length debut, The Fool, but it was with their self-titled second album that the band's sometimes slippery sound crystallized into nothing short of a full aesthetic. Aided by production help from no less than Flood and Nigel Godrich, paired with visual imagery courtesy of Chris Cunningham, the album was a fully formed vision. Many complained about the record's lack of hooks, but as much as I'm usually loathe to say this sort of thing - those people were listening wrong. This is mood music, pure and simple, the enjoyment pulled from the sense of exploration and expansion of space between the notes. It's a genre tag that gets thrown out way too easily these days, but Warpaint comes the closest to capturing the sense of adventure that post-punk promised.

17. Pallbearer - Foundations of Burden (Profound Lore)
Pallbearer's 2012 debut record, Sorrow and Extinction, was that all too rare of an event in modern day doom - a debut record that became an instant classic within mere months of its release, universally acclaimed for the intensity and emotion packed into its five tracks. While the Little Rock band's follow-up, Foundation of Burden, falls just short of the lofty heights of the debut, it was nonetheless another fantastic modern day doom masterpiece that cements the band's legacy. The big evolution this time out is a widened scope and increasingly complex vocal melodies, but the heft and emotion remain. A lot of (quite good!) doom sells you on atmosphere, Pallbearer excel at actually showing you the emotion the feeds it.

16. Real Estate - Atlas (Domino)
Since flooding the market with an EP, three singles and a self-titled debut record all in 2009, Ridgewood, New Jersey's finest have carved out a distinct niche in a field that I figured didn't have much room left for improvement - that of melodic, laid-back indie pop. But that was before I heard Matthew Mondanile's luxuriously chill guitar lines paired with Martin Courtney's clean and clear musings on suburban ennui (again, I'm surprised this works so well, considering the less than ripe territory). They're the rare band that has gotten better on each subsequent album, focusing their vision as crisp and clean as possible. It's likely they've reached an impasse with this record and will either start the decline, or branch out dramatically, but even if this were to be the end - it's a fitting culmination.

15. Mark McGuire - Along the Way (Dead Oceans)
Much like many others undoubtedly were, I was extremely disheartened to learn of the dissolution of electronic trio Emeralds just months after the release of Just to Feel Anything, the follow-up to their 2010 breakthrough, Does It Look Like I'm Here?. While still a big loss, even two years on, we've since been blessed with compilations and solo excursions by two of the band's masterminds - Steve Hauschildt and Mark McGuire. Along the Way, McGuire's third full-length is the best of the bunch, an epic exploration of personal transcendence via psychedelia and krautrock that I found to be one of the more endlessly rewarding listens of the year. Between the extended instrumental explorations and the detailed character recordings, it's a fascinating and ever engaging listen.

14. Flying Lotus - You're Dead! (Warp)
For a record with such an emphatic declaration, Steven Ellison's fifth full-length record as Flying Lotus is a surprisingly joyful experience. Reaching deeper and deeper into his distinct blend of hip-hop production, high technology and free jazz exploration, You're Dead! just may represent the closest yet he's come to capturing the spirit of his great-aunt, Alice Coltrane. Aided on this journey by a diverse cadre of musicians that includes Herbie Hancock, Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, Metalocalypse's Brendan Small, Kamasi Washington, Thundercat and Angel Deradoorian (among many, many others), FlyLo bounces between genres with a reckless, yet carefully curated, abandon.

13. Earth - Primitive & Deadly (Southern Lord)
After the excellent two-part Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light series back in 2011 and 2012, it was anyone's guess as to where founded Dylan Carlson would take the project next. Since reforming in 2005 as a country and blues-based drone band, Earth had evolved through the subsequent three albums to achieve an exploratory spirit that encompassed jazz and classical music as much as heavy metal and drone. For the band's eighth studio album, Earth surprised by returning to a stronger focus on songs and recruiting guest vocalists - gravel-voiced lifer Mark Lanegan sings on two songs, while Rose Windows' Rabia Shaheen Qazi sings on one. Complete with fiery guitar solos, including a moment where Carlson duels with Built To Spill's Brett Netson, it's the most unexpected of turns for Earth - a return as a proper rock band. Even more unexpected is how well it works and how well it sums up the project's journey to date.

12. Colour Haze - To the Highest Gods We Know (Elektrohasch)
As they steadily creep up on the 20th anniversary of their debut record, Munich's Colour Haze has evolved into a highly dependable instrumental stoner-rock influenced psychedelic band that has a rabidly devoted fanbase, despite being pretty much unknown in America. Through incredibly powerful and consistently strong records like 2008's All and 2012's two-disc masterwork She Said, they've sculpted their distinctly rich guitar tone into a wide variety of shapes and forms that would surprise any stoner rock naysayers quick to dismiss the entire genre. To the Highest Gods We Know wisely scales back the ambition of She Said, but is no less enthralling. It culminates with the twelve minute title track that, by its end, forgoes the volume and fuzz for a stirring string arrangement and acoustic guitar - a hymn to the stoner rock gods.

11. Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 2 (Mass Appeal)
By this point, Run the Jewels probably needs little introduction. After collaborating on each other's records for a few years and dropping the universally acclaimed debut as Run the Jewels, uber-producer El-P and your favorite rapper's favorite rapper Killer Mike reached a much bigger audience than either achieved on their own (a damn shame in and of itself, but that's for another day). As one might expect as the project shifted from free mixtape to honest-to-goodness album, Run the Jewels 2 is everything Run the Jewels, but more. Instead of Prince Paul and Big Boi, this time we get the reclusive Zach de la Rocha (on one of the album's more intensely captivating tracks) and Three 6 Mafia's Gangsta Boo. It's a louder and darker vision than it's predecessor, fitting for the state we've found America in in 2014, but still eminently listenable and quotable.

10. Scott Walker & Sunn O))) - Soused (4AD)
Maybe I just have a masochist's appreciation of patently ridiculous collaborations, but this is the second high-profile team-up between an irascible, probing vocalist and a band of heavy music musicians this decade that I've absolutely adored. While the previous, 2011's Lulu (a record I still stand by as being much, much better than the many detractors would have you believe), featured the unlikely and awkward meeting between Lou Reed, the pairing of Scott Walker and Sunn O))) at least makes some absurd kind of sense on paper. In essence, this is very much a Scott Walker record, though one on which he just happens to be backed by a noisy drone band. His vocals and confounding lyrics remain the centerpiece, the record's genius lies in just how well Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley's guitar drones fit his world.

9. Agalloch - The Serpent & The Sphere (Profound Lore)
It seems that Portland's Agalloch split opinions with this, their fifth full length album. I've read reviews that praise the band for a quieter, gentler and more atmospheric approach, while others have lambasted the turn and pronounced an end to their run of stellar records. Considering you're reading about The Serpent & The Sphere on this list, you'll know in which camp I'm firmly placed, but I really can't overemphasize how pleased I am with the band's turn here. While I do enjoy and appreciate the band's harsher Ulver-inflected folk developed over their first three albums, I've found myself much more excited by the two most recent records on Profound Lore, particularly the quiet and stately beauty developed over the course of the classical inspired guitar miniatures and the stirring, well-earned climax of "Plateau of the Ages".

8. Parquet Courts - Sunbathing Animal (What's Your Rupture?)
Sharp-eyed readers with long attention spans will note that New York City's Parquet Courts have climbed a spot here since last year, when the wide reissue of third album Light Up Gold landed at #9. While each year is relative, the comparative placing makes perfect sense, as I found Sunbathing Animal to be exactly the sort of confident step forward I was hoping to hear. It's the perfect balance between the riled up punk spurts and the Television inspired tension-release jams in which they excel, with "Instant Disassembly" being a perfect example. It's totally revivalism of dormant "smart" indie rock, but I'm perfectly okay with that.

7. YOB - Clearing the Path to Ascend (Neurot)
While Agalloch was a Pacific Northwest metal band that seemed to divide opinions in 2014, their nearby neighbors in Eugene, YOB, seemed to reach unanimous consensus as to the high quality of their seventh full-length, Clearing the Path to Ascend. Anchored by the album's closing track, the gorgeous 19-minute "Marrow" (a high watermark for any band this year, let alone YOB - #6 on my top tracks list), it builds slowly and deliberately, forming on the horizon like an impending thunderstorm. Though it's the moments of near breathtaking beauty when a ray of sunlight pierces the gloom, and reveals the band's otherworldly power.

6. Swans - To Be Kind (Young God)
Three albums into their, at the time, rather unexpected return, it's clear by now that Michael Gira's Swans are as deathly serious about things as ever. While both 2010's My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky (via//chicago's #20 that year) and 2012's  The Seer (#7), were endlessly powerful statements from an uncompromising group that returned at full power, it's 2014's To Be Kind that has replaced them both at the top of the pile. A two-hour, double-disc behemoth, To Be Kind is structured much like The Seer before it, but contains an elusive, darker energy that occasionally, in the biggest shocker of all, coalesces into something resembling hope at the edge of the abyss.

5. Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues ( Total Treble)
I've already had a lot to say about this record for the two songs from it that made my Top 10 tracks of the year, but I can add that the entire record lives up to those high standards. Sure it's a powerful statement that speaks within a segment of America that has too long been marginalized, but it's also a damn near perfect pop record. The ten tracks fly by in just under half an hour and that feels like the perfect length. Even scanning the tracklist again right this second, I see nine songs that I want to put on first. That's pretty incredible for any record, much less an inspired, impassioned one like this. It's a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, usually dripping in irony, but I think it applies here - punk as fuck.

4. Wo Fat - The Conjuring (Small Stone)
I've been paying attention to this Dallas stoner rock band since the release of their third full-length album in 2011, Noche del Chupacabra. While this is only their second full-length since that, they've been on such an upward trajectory that they already feel like a completely different band. 2012's The Black Code was a significant upgrade on Noche and this year's The Conjuring marks an even larger stride forward for the trio. Being Southern, the band's sound is deeply rooted in the blues, but in an appropriately greasy way - don't get visions of your local T.G.I.Friday's blues band in your head. The slide guitars and fuzzy blues riffs are nicely rolled into a fat spliff of psychedelia, making songs like the closing 17-minute "Dreamwalker" an enjoyable trip.

3. Ty Segall - Manipulator (Drag City)
Though I'm sure he'd bristle at the very suggestion, SoCal's Ty Segall is quickly setting himself up to be his generation's Robert Pollard, cranking out multiple albums each and every year under a variety of projects and bands. Aside from his seven solo records, he's released enough other records to fill a small record store through his work with the Ty Segall Band, Fuzz, The Traditional Fools, Epsilons (among others) and collaborations with Mikal Cronin and White Fence. At this point, his solo records seem to serve as sort of signposts along the way that either point to new directions for him to explore (Goodbye Bread) or, as was the case here, as a summing up point of where he's been. Clocking in at nearly a full hour, this traces all of the threads that have informed his own career, from lo-fi garage rock scuzz to Neil Young inspired songcraft, as well as heavy influence from the titans of smart '70s rock (Bolan, Davies, Townshend). No matter where you decide to start dipping in, you come up with a rewarding track.

2. Opeth - Pale Communion (Roadrunner)
While some of the band's longest standing fans have wrinkled their noses at the evolution of Stockholm's Opeth from a death metal band to a full on progressive rock band, I've really been enjoying it. The thread of '70s prog rock has been present since the start of their career, but it was really only with 2011's Heritage that they dropped any pretense of remaining any kind of metal band. Where Heritage showed the band finding their footing without the death metal growls and riffs to fall back in, Pale Communion truly represented their coming out party as full-on prog rockers. Heritage's timidity is blown away by real force and intent behind the guitars - while not overwhelmingly heavy, they serve each song perfectly and provide a great focal point beyond Mikael Akerfeldt's lyrics (another significant improvement over Heritage). It's a haunting record, full of tension and atmosphere, and one that places the band firmly in the camp of sometimes collaborator Steven Wilson as modern day progressive rock masters.

1. D'Angelo and The Vanguard - Black Messiah (RCA)
This one was a surprise on nearly every single level. While reports of D'Angelo working on new music had intensified in recent years, the long absence and personal troubles that plagued him since the release of his last record, 2000's Voodoo, had no one holding their breath for this. And like Beyonce's 2013 December surprise, this was sprung on an unsuspecting public just ten days before Christmas in 2014. Most surprising of all was just how timely the material within was, considering the long gestation. Given the events of 2014 in Ferguson and Staten Island, among countless other underreported incidents, Black Messiah's was socially relevant and powerful from the start. Even setting all that aside though, it's a thrilling mix of R&B, funk, rock, soul and jazz. D'Angelo is backed by a stellar cast of collaborators, including The Time's Jesse Johnson on one of the guitars, Pino Palladino on bass, the ubiquitous Questlove on drums and programming and Roy Hargrove on horns. From the greasy funk groove that opens "Ain't That Easy" to the Prince inspired soul vamp that closes out "Another Life", it's one of the greatest rides of the year. Even with such a late in the year release date, this was easily my most played record of the year and is well deserving of it's place on the top of my list.