Album: The Bee's Made Honey in the Lion's Skull
Label: Southern Lord
This album has stayed with me; and on these long mornings with the earth shining with cold blue light it makes even more sense.
Here's what I thought back in May:
There is something in the deliberate sloth of Earth that fits the new coming of summer; and this new album, whilst at times following the deep-furrowed plough lines of past albums, has something brighter about it, at times clean and new. Gone are the massive buzzing one chord drones that took the fibrous walls of Tony Iommi's riffs to some logical if bastardised extreme, to be replaced by something more structured and architectural. At times I find myself looking into the rafters of these tracks looking for crows, looking for hideaways...
'Miami Morning Coming Down' is as shimmering a track as Earth have ever produced, and one of the sweetest, with Dylan Carlson's guitar tolling like a huge bell matched and layered by a gentle piano.
Accompanying Track: Earth - Miami Morning Coming Down
Artist: Marconi Union
Album: A Lost Connection
Label: MU Transmissions
For a band who are obsessed with communication, or the lack of, Marconi Union are an elusive prospect. They have been around for a few years now but only surface every couple of years to release another album then go back underground. They have a levitating metallic sound that falls somewhere between the Durutti Column, Bark Psychosis and Labradford with percussive clicks operating beneath dubby soundscapes. On A Lost Connection, an album purportedly about a retreat from the world, they have expanded on their minimalist techno sound and there is certainly an enveloping womblike quality to the album. It throbs around you like a warm balm.
A Lost Connection is available as a download from the band's website.
Accompanying Track: Marconi Union - We Travel
Artist: Fleet Foxes
Album: Fleet Foxes
Label: Sub Pop/Bella Union
This seems to have been around for ages and I can remember hearing it when it first leaked and being overwhelmed - it seemed very other somehow. Then I put it away for six months and tried to ignore it as it went stratospheric. It was only recently that I put it on again and it's a suite of gorgeous songs, brilliantly constructed and crucially, it feels timeless. And yet more evidence that Sub Pop are slowly, quietly building an enviably good roster of great pop bands. The poor band have absolutely no hope of following it up but there you are.
Accompanying Track: Fleet Foxes - He Doesn't Know Why
Label: Division Records
Now this is immense - a 29-minute long collaboration between Kehlvin and Rorcal, two Swiss bands, that was recorded over 4 days and it is a slab of brutal intense metal that out sludges and out shreds anything released this year. Throughout its length, the track moves from crawling doom through an intricate Isis-like centrepiece, a brooding acoustic section, to a crescendo at around the 20 minute mark that threatens to collapse under its own weight. As a friend pointed out to me, listening to this made him feel like a sabre-toothed tiger. Quite.
Artist: The Tallest Man On Earth
Album: Shallow Grave
You wouldn't have thought anyone could come out of a description that compares you to Dylan circa Another Side of Bob Dylan, with any dignity or credibility at all but Kristian Matsson, aka The Tallest Man On Earth does, with bells on.
Accompanying Track: The Tallest Man On Earth - The Gardener
Album: Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill
This is a bit of a departure for Liz Harris, or Grouper as she's better known. Well, perhaps departure is the wrong word - this is more of an unveiling. Way Their Crept (the only other Grouper record I've heard, currently) was a fuzzy miasma of effects and billowing textures, but somehow you knew the songs were in there, buried for sure, but there, as if at the bottom of a moss-choked well. This time round the fuzz-drench has all but dissipated and Harris is revealed as a haunting siren with a clutch of beautiful, aching songs. Some of the reviews I've read have naturally concentrated on the Cocteau's and This Mortal Coil element in all this, but to me this is closer to the sound Judee Sill was reaching towards - a mesmeric questing folk sound that flung itself outwards and grazed the heavens. Also, great to see Type Records back, what a year: Grouper, Peter Broderick (whose Float I've only just got but would have been a contender at the top of this list, I think) Helios, Goldmund...
Accompanying Track: Grouper - When We Fall
Accompanying Track: Grouper - Stuck
Artist: Black Mountain
Album: In The Future
It's strange having to write about a record like this because my response to it is nearly all physical but there's something comforting about Black Mountain - that there are still bands out there making great rock records. And this is a great rock record, full of molten grooves and superbly weighted crescendos and managed zones of light and dark. The band clearly have such a nuanced grasp of the dynamics of what makes a huge rock song that each track is a like hearing a narrative of the genre unfold before you. Long may they continue.
Accompanying Track: Black Mountain - Stay Free
Artist: Fuck Buttons
Album: Street Horrrsing
I was thinking there was a secret something to Fuck Button's rural violence - two blokes from Bristol splitting the atom of pastoralism and calling forth something we were all afraid to see. I was thinking of Ted Hughes holed up in his Devon farm, hiding from the oppressive weight of the countryside that pressed up against the creaking house; I was thinking of the rusted ribcages of wrecked farm machinery leaking colours under slate skies; I was thinking of Turner in the Avon Gorge having his twitching Alpine dreams, summoning winter storms; I was thinking of the popping croaking cloudcrowds of rooks and jackdaws as they settled in the tops of naked oaks at twilight. I imagine in a barn in the middle of all this, rigged up to a huge PA they would be immense - a proto-rave band, or a rave band turned inside out, incanting, pre-linguistic and primitive, the house band for the new wasted millenia...
Accompanying Track: Fuck Buttons - Sweet Love For Planet Earth
Artist: British Sea Power
Album: Do You Like Rock Music?
Label: Rough Trade
This is another album that seems to have been around for an age. When it first appeared I was mystified by the title - it sounded like a teeth-grindingly ill-judged come on and way too much to live up to. But after finally listening to the whispering one the title is spot on, and mainly because it works on a double level - BSP are after all a band utterly immersed in the mythology and time spirits of this baggage of rocks we call an island and as such their music has always been about giving voice to the arcane history that seeps from between the crags and vents beneath our feet. Do You Like Rock Music? becomes, then, a kind of document of Britain in 2008.
I think there's something in the fact that the band went to the States to record this, as though the period of exile gave form to a mist of nascent thoughts and ideas. The album was last to be recorded in the Hotel2Tango in Montreal, a loft space made famous by the Godspeed collective. It was produced by Howard Bilerman, a semi-fabled figure who drummed on The Arcade Fire's first album and has produced bands such as A Silver Mt Zion and the Black Ox Orkesta. His influence must have bled into the album as there is a strong sense of Arcade Fire style dynamics and confidence throughout (not least on the massive instrumental 'The Great Skua' which is the album's centrepiece). The album was mixed by Graham Sutherland, he of Bark Psychosis, and he has given the record a real sense of depth and polish - it has a chasmic sense of power about it, which is only backed up by the thematic quality of the lyrics.
And what of the lyrics? Is anyone else doing this kind of broad literate sweep? Incorporating child rhymes, wrestling chants, historical documents, Reichian mysticism? 'I'll be the first to admit this a bright but haunted age' - that they manage to do all that without sounding up their own arses or mawkish is a feat in itself. And I'm glad there is someone out there listening to the ghosts, channelling the boundless muster of spectres... Any other year this would have been easily the album of the year. Except, except...
Accompanying Track: British Sea Power - A Trip Out
Artist: Frightened Rabbit
Album: The Midnight Organ Fight
Label: Fat Cat
So there you are: this is best record I've heard this year. There is something unique about coming to terms with a great record - a process that unfolds over a number of weeks, months, years even. The crucial thing is waiting for that hit to stop, the emotional whack that keeps you returning. What's amazed me about The Midnight Organ Fight is that for such a seemingly simple record, the force of the hit just keeps coming, stronger, deeper. I should be growing out of this scruffy guitar music with its chest ripped open, but there you are. I hope I never do.
No track with this, just go buy the fucking album.