2009: Doug Mosurock
A lot of great music was released in 2009, amidst turmoil and loss of nearly every stripe imaginable. I am alternately excited for what will follow in the coming decade, and relieved that the nightmare of the ‘00s is now historically behind us for good. Punctuated by the loss of my dear friend Jerry Fuchs last month, I feel like the past ten years should be burned to the ground.
Anyway, here’s twelve albums that did it for me this year. For singles and EPs, you’ll have to read Still Single in January, and keep hitting up the Still Single blog for reviews as they’re written.
In musical exile since the demise of Harry Pussy, guitarist Bill Orcutt surfaced in 2009 with a 7” single, limited to 100 copies, and this album, self-released in not much more significant of an edition. Shocking, aggressive folk that sidesteps both the lucid dreaminess and studied experimentalism that flanks both ends of the spectrum, here are eight violent ragas designed, seemingly, to increase your blood pressure, maliciously ripped out of a four-string Kay guitar in a kitchen somewhere in Oakland, CA. This is a style that Orcutt has no doubt perfected over the years, and A New Way to Pay Old Debts speaks to the timeliness of release at the end of 2009, a marker for such a miserable era for humanity. He plays like he’s trying to rip out his fingernails, and yours as well. James Blackshaw marked for death – this is a prelude to unspeakable acts.
The duo of Aaron Coyes and Indra Dunis moves out of the rhythmic wilds of Rahdunes and into this, a sleepwalking search through a morass of oscillations, reverberations, and late night acid burn. There are records like it (Blues Control and Valet paved this direction to an extent), but Peaking Lights takes those red-eyed sessions off into its own corner, where machines thrum while you sleep, and melodies decay into dust. McMansions are vacated, stripped of their copper assets, and left to rot in the winds and rains of global warming. Peaking Lights dances around the fire barrel in the great room, watching the grasses grow up through the floorboards and black mold grow spirals on the tainted drywall. Some things cannot be broken down.
Because comfort is needed in the end times, there is Phoenix, a French pop band that has mastered the post-Rundgren songcraft celebrated by compatriots like Daft Punk. This is their most polished effort to date, with gorgeous musicianship, warm and excitable tones, top-loaded with killer singles (“1901” might be the only song in a car commercial that I don’t mind hearing too often) and reinforced by an under-celebrated back end that never lets up or outstays its welcome. If nothing else, Wolfgang reminded me and many others of the band’s initial success (an outstanding synth-pop nug called “Too Young,” from 2000’s United), and more importantly, steered me to their third studio album It’s Never Been Like That, one of the most enjoyable releases of its kind this decade.
I had beef with members of this band before I’d ever seen them play (even if they were too drunk to understand why), and checking them out at a dismal, blood-soaked Silent Barn gig at the start of the year confirmed their uselessness … or so I thought. Here’s a record that expands on the latent, tired concepts of noise rock, eschewing both the prog-rock machinery of the Jesus Lizard/Tar type band, the psychomaniac dirge of casualties like Unsane or the Cherubs, even the forced nihilism of Swans or Whitehouse. There’s not much of a precedent here, save maybe Unholy Swill or maybe Sightings – detuned, mid-paced, grinding terror, relentless and single-minded. Guitar tone is the most disgusting of its kind. We can close a chapter of subculture now; this is the Guantanamo Bay of music, vile and burdensome but, for some sadistic reason, justifiable in these times. Not recommended for children under 13 or the emotionally unstable. (Support Twin Stumps bassist Michael Yaniro, beaten beyond recognition by muggers, in need of reconstructive surgery, and without medical coverage – please visit http://mikeyanirofund.wordpress.com for more details).
Having relocated from Queens to Richmond, VA (described in paraphrase by BC’s Lea Cho as “a garden paradise with a giant Big Mac squashing everything in sight”), one of the most important bands of the day casually drops another love bomb on the aware. Nothing much has changed, but the level of engagement with the listener is more attuned than ever, moving from bad-ass biker bar rawk to endless loop Hall & Oates piano pound on jangled nerves, from Music for Bus Terminals to the ratty conga line that develops in the subconscious of the only living denizen of such an establishment. Classical training meets low-tech solutions for ambient music that pushes its way out of the Celestial Seasonings ghetto. They say that, back before punk saturated the groundwater, punks used to see one another on the street and recognize each other. If ever there was a musical act that needed its own proverbial hanky code, where fans could recognize one another and get nice, it would be Blues Control. Nobody dares to cop Russ Waterhouse’s style, so plan B needs to take effect, pronto.
Some may argue that Eat Skull is a band interchangeable with any number of blankdoggers, lo-fi enthusiasts, folks reinventing the wheel, etc. It’s true that this era has generated its share of unlistenable garbage in the name of Myspace, but Eat Skull gracefully sidesteps all of that crap, zeroing in on why this sort of thing was fun the first time around. Great pop musicianship, suitably destroyed production, a varied batch of styles that hangs together as one piece, and the attitude to piss off the punters make this band work where others fail. It’s also a vast improvement over their debut LP Sick to Death, and I hope they a few more in ‘em.
A British noise/rhythm consortium intent on crushing popular culture between god-sized tits and asscheeks, Shit & Shine bumrush a door that Big Stick kicked open in the late ‘80s, a sweat-slicked offensive of crushing drums and blistering textures intent on being the last thing you’ll ever hear. Their gradual move towards electronic rhythms mimics the ascent of dirt Ambush Recordings-style breakcore, but never crosses the line into such navelgazing nerdism. DJ Scud has a posse, apparently, but $&$ are hoarders of sound as well; anything they’ve done before gets added into their sound, inextricable from where they go next. This logic might deem that every record they make is better than the one before it, and here’s a rare case where that rationale is not at fault – this double album carries the weight of their greatest successes and piles several lifetimes of trash on top.
I needed a punk record this year, and this one did it. Borne out of a vibrant Vancouver punk scene that’s focused on writing the next chapters of what Kill Rock Stars, Vermiform, Three One G and other also-rans generated in the ‘90s, here’s some peerless, female-fronted darkness from the basement, Gothed-out and shaking fist defiantly against the era. I’ve listened to this one dozens of times, especially when other records were awaiting review. It satisfied a craving I knew I had, but which had been left unsatisfied for a long, long time. Hope they’re still around and that they come to NYC soon with some of the other greats out of the region (Sex Church, Nu Sensae, Random Cuts, B-Lines, etc.)
Again with the ‘90s thing … LLW didn’t strike me as any great shakes on their 7”, but this album slayed me – pitch-perfect Unwound/Harriet the Spy worship that pushed every button I needed to have pushed.
My last pick will go here, to Orland, CA’s Nothing People. They win for a few reasons, namely that they’re actively trying to bend the rules for what can happen on a rock record, without necessarily breaking them. They bring a spirit of adventurousness and a perspective outside what most twentysomethings might have thought of, and perhaps that makes all the difference. Their third LP, due out in the next few months, could very well change the game entirely (then again, might not) but Nothing People have succeeded in getting out and feeling around in a place, to quote Joan Didion, where nothing is.
By Doug Mosurock