Thursday, December 8, 2011

My Top Ten Albums of 2011

You should listen.

You should listen to astonishing, impossible musics. You should listen to sounds that no-one-but-no-one could ever possibly enjoy, and listen to these sounds often and engage them deeply so they become genetically infused into your synapses.

You should listen to black metal, to rantings of mad men, to rabid chimpanzees beating on a log with a still-bloody long bone. You should inflict upon your unwilling cochlea the wheezings of a phlegmatic old man with a collapsed lung and a sucking chest wound and by God, you should find the secret of life in there!

Music isn’t like other extreme manifestations of the sublime. It’s unlike taking drugs or racing motorcycles, not like mountain climbing or bullfighting. With music, there is no edge to fall off of to a painful doom if you venture too far out…

Albums are little aural puzzles. I work them out over a period of days and weeks and months. Maybe years. All that time, I’m subconsciously feeling around for connecting fabric between the songs. I’m listening for diamonds chiming deep in the mine. Remapping my brain in surprising ways.  And eventually – hopefully – when I’ve been at it with a particular album for long enough, I’m scaring the primordial shit out of myself.

In 2011, much of this scaring and primordial shitting was spent in the various metals: the black, the death, the heavy, the doom (and do try a bit of that folky post-metal over there, won’t you, dear?). Metal is great for a puzzle solver like me because it takes about ten thousand listens to transform it from white noise into unadulterated magick in my head. At least it ought to take that long if it’s worth a damn.

So I struck upon a lot of aural magick in 2011, and with no permanent injuries.

Here’s the best of what I found:

10.       The Ocean – Anthropocentric
Anthropocentric is the conceptual prog-metal masterpiece that Mastodon would be recording right now if they’d studied in school instead of staying up all night watching cartoons.  It’s Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Mastodon’s Hanna-Barbera. Is that a compliment or an insult? Probably both. But if you wanted to hear ruminations on Richard Dawkins, Epicurus, and Dostoyevsky set to a bi-polar metal beat, you could not do any better in 2011 than Anthropocentric.

09.       Tom Waits – Bad As Me
Tom Waits is a wad of old bubblegum stuck in the tread of a burned-out ’57 Buick. Just ask him; he’ll tell you. And he’s got some gravel squished into the soft parts, and a rusted nail, and maybe some hairs from a stray dog. Miracle is, if you’re willing to clean him off and give him a try, there’s a lot of flavor left after all these years. Still good for a bubble or two! Sure, Bad As Me is not as gloriously weird as 1993’s The Black Rider or as sinister as 2002’s Blood Money or as fresh as 2004’s Real Gone, but that’s because Bad As Me isn’t Tom’s best. It’s merely better than anyone else’s best.

08.       Disma – Towards the Megalith
I know there exists a reasonably good chance that Towards the Megalith is a straight rock record played at one-third the speed at which it was recorded. One day I might even test out this theory. But for the past four months now, I’ve had this old school death metal beast on repeat on my iPod. I’ve had it on repeat even though I know its only redeeming value is that I feel compelled to keep listening to it. And that’s enough.

07.       Joseph Arthur – The Graduation Ceremony
The less ambitious these Joseph Arthur albums get, the more I like them. The Graduation Ceremony is as close to a generic solo record as we’re ever likely to get out of Joe, and I think it’s my favorite one of his 15-year recording career. If he cut this album up and sold the songs for scrap, some real singers could get some hits out of it. Cruise control never sounded so troubled.

06.       Drudkh – Estrangement
Drudkh might be the best Nazi black metal band spouting 18th century Ukrainian poetry that’s out there right now. In fact, forget the “might”. I’m going to throw caution to the wind and say it: Drudkh is the best Nazi black metal band spouting 18th century Ukrainian poetry. Ever.

05.       Nick Cave & the Black Seeds – Henry’s Dream
Why aren’t you listening to Nick Cave already? I mean, right now, instead of reading this blog of mine, which isn’t half as delicious as a Nick Cave album. Any Nick Cave album. Look, if you’re intimidated and don’t know where to start on his discography – and you probably should be intimidated – might I humbly recommend Henry’s Dream from 1992? It’s a great collection of story-songs that leaves an impression of Cave as some sleazy bard cohort of Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name, just tagging along for the ride. 

04.       Agalloch – Marrow of the Spirit
Agalloch is atmospheric nature-worshipping black metal from the Pacific Northwest. It creates this chilling little movie inside my head every time I hear it. And even my wife can dig it, except for that one track where she says the “singer” sounds like Bobcat Goldthwait. If she hadn’t pointed that out to me, this album would probably have been higher on my list.

03.       Drudkh – Microcosmos
Imagine that there was a zombie attack during the recording sessions for My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless but the producer kept the tape running anyway. I like to pretend Microcosmos is the result of that massacre, except this is even better than Loveless, because it’s uglier and more beautiful at the same time. If listening to this doesn’t get you stoned, then buddy, you are a hopeless case indeed.

02.       Arrington de Dionyso – Suara Naga
A couple years back, Arrington de Dionyso broke up his band, Old Time Relijun, to focus on Tuvan throat singing and Indonesian lyrics. It turned out to be a grand move because blues riffs and English lyrics were the last two ropes holding this genius earthbound. This new alien mutant funk thing appeared this year, fully-formed, with no apparent precursor or context to help explain how the hell he came up with it. There is no description I can come up with – primitive, psilocybin-soaked, shamanic dance music, anyone? – that could do Suara Naga justice. Just try it, dude. Just a little taste won’t hurt you…

01.       Deathspell Omega – Paracletus 
The first couple times through Paracletus, I knew how little Regan must have felt in The Exorcist when the demons took hold and tossed her around the bed and twisted her head all the way around. There are patterns in the chaos here, though. You start to make out sonic fractals all around you. It’s a brutal apocalypse told in English, French and Latin, and – SPOILER ALERT! – the forces of heaven get creamed. Nothing else this year even came close.

So there. That’s it. That’s what I listened to in the year 2011. It’s what twisted my head into funny, funny shapes.

Now it’s your turn. What twisted your head into funny, funny shapes?


  1. Glad to see the Tom Waits' "Bad As Me" made your list. Without a doubt, it's my favorite album of the year.

  2. I will check out all of these that I haven't already. Agalloch – Marrow of the Spirit is fucking fantastic. Have you tried some Wolves In The Throne Room? It's good for you.

  3. Ah Nick Cave...saw him this year....awesome

  4. I'll hear some of these funny people since you like them so well. Hopefully they don't sing.

  5. @Ted McLaughlin: I don't know how a songwriter can manage to still have surprises up his sleeve after 40 years. Tom sort of gives me hope for my own old age!

    @Death Strike: I have WitTR's "Black Cascade." I listened to it a LOT last spring. I've heard their others are more varied, more ambient.
    I'll get their new one soon.

    @G: I am jealous! I just started listening to him last year, and Grinderman's little tour got nowhere close to me. Maybe next year, when he releases the new Bad Seeds.

    @Birds: A few of them sort of growl... Most are sort of acquired tastes.

  6. 2 questions - will these albums cure my athlete's foot and why haven't I heard of any of them before?

  7. @Anonymous: I think a couple of the albums will cure anything.
    A note of caution, however. A couple of these albums will make your athlete's foot much, much worse.
    And I don't remember which is which.
    You have not heard of these albums before because "Lesbians in My Soup" wasn't part of your life before! You're welcome!

  8. Burzum's 'Fallen'? Clearly the album of the year.

  9. @Anonymous: Old Count Grishnakh's new one was pretty good, huh?
    The new Burzum seemed to be a love-it-or-hate-it sort of album, and much of the discussion centered not on the music, but rather on Varg. As usual.
    Don't tell anybody, but I've only heard pieces of it. Burzum's back catalog is on my list for next year...
    Thanks for the recommendation!

  10. Great to see Tom Waits on here. A good majority of these are new to me, so I'm going to have to go look them up, but since you didn't mention a single Nickelack, Nicki Minaj, or Justin Bieber album, I feel I can trust your musical tastes. Seriously, never take musical suggestions from someone who has even 1 Nickelback album. You'll regret it.

  11. @A Beer for the Shower: I judge people by their taste in music.
    I probably shouldn't. I mean, it = judging human beings by their choices in consumer goods.
    But still... no one actually likes Drake. If you think you do, I will judge you.

  12. Mad props for Agalloch. They don't get anywhere near the recognition they deserve - not even up here in the Northwest....

  13. @Will: American black metal gets a lot of flack, but I think it's brilliant how a few bands from the Pacific Northwest (Agalloch, Wolves in the Throne Room, et. al.) have transformed a Satanic northern European art form into an American pagan, nature-worshiping thing. Fantastic...

  14. A lot of Metal "vocals" do sound like Bobcat Goldthwait, don't they? I hadn't ever thought of it quite like that before!

  15. @Apuleius Platonicus: Don't think about it too much or else it will ruin a lot of music for you!

  16. Just checked out Disma's new one on your rec, which is correct as hell. Here, have some suggestions: The Devil's Blood's The Thousandfold Epicentre (female-fronted old school doomy heavy-psych proto-metal), Wolvhammer's The Obsidian Plains (sludgy black metal), Septic Flesh's The Great Mass (symphonic death metal), Wormrot's Dirge (shockingly excellent grindcore) or Alghazanth's Vinum Intus (melodic black metal). Enjoy them in evil health.

    1. Hey, DeathStrike

      Thank you. I actually only have about a year of metal under my belt, so a little direction or recommendations always help...

      I will explore...


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