Friday, December 31, 2010

New Vibrations I Heard In 2010

Mr Serj Tankian: purveyor of "Amazingly inspirational stuff."
1 Serj Tankian - Elect The Dead Symphony
The balance remains between that which is sought by the few - profit/And that which is sought by the most - peace, oh peace
Download: Empty Walls, Falling Stars, Honking Antelope

At the end of 2007, I made Serj Tankian's first solo release my album of the year, and described it as "Damned near flawless". At the end of 2010, I have to say that this symphonic re-working of those songs lifts them even more transcendently high, and the new songs featured here are fully worth their place in such exalted company. If anything, the subtleties of Tankian's "perfectly crafted, multi-dimensional, emotional wringer of a metal album" are brought out even clearer by his phenomenal orchestral score, and if it is possible, his voice was even more expressive that night in Auckland. Amazingly inspirational stuff. It must have been even more amazing to be there.

2 Fear Factory - Mechanize
I will forge my place in this time/Contention is sharply refined/I will expose you and force your demise/To take control of what is truly mine
Download: Powershifter, Designing The Enemy, Final Exit

2005's dreadful Transgression could never have been the end of Fear Factory. It was the end of one lineup; Raymond Herrera and Christian Olde Wolbers fell foul of Burton C. Bell. But with the onset of the economic crisis, Bell decided that Fear Factory needed to make a comeback. After all, in the words at the start of the Fear Campaign video: "It is not necessary to camouflage the insanity of the world today within a science fiction setting." In other words, the futuristic nightmares that inspired Fear Factory's greatest work are coming to pass in the present day. Burton is on fire, Gene Hoglan is a perfect fit on the drumstool, and the message to the ruling class is clear: "You want war? You got war. More than you bargained for."

3 Rotting Christ - Aealo

And now that painted crows laugh in the shade/Spreading their screams in the valley of death/Just feeling my heart trembling/The time has come to rage and fight!
Download: Aealo, ...pir Threontai, Orders From The Dead

This is the other album in my top ten with a Greek title, and this one means "thrashing, catastrophe or destruction". Considering the intense class war that's been raging in Greece this year (more than any other country so far in the crisis), listening to songs about Greek people and wars whilst reading about brutal austerity, general strikes and riots has been exciting to say the least. I don't know for sure what Sakis Tolis' take on the situation is, but listening to this I feel he must be on the side of the angels. And Diamanda Galas' contribution recalls the victims of twentieth century dictatorships in Greece. So very Greek, but so very international. Thrilling, thrilling, thrilling stuff! Non Serviam indeed!

4 Killing Joke - Absolute Dissent

Let flags of black and red unfurl/Echoes of distant laughter/Confederation of the dispossessed/Fearing neither god nor master
Download: This World Hell, The Raven King, Ghosts of Ladbroke Grove

The band's first album since the death of bassist Paul Raven (gloriously eulogised here on The Raven King) is the sound of an always intellectually edgy and vitriolic group coming to terms with the new great depression and the age of austerity. Some of the politics is still a bit conspiracy-orientated for my taste, but it's also shot through with the urgency of the crisis, and reinforced with anger at the kind of "wankers and bankers" now raping the once bohemian environs of the band's spiritual home in Ladbroke Grove, and who are now brazenly demanding unrestricted power over the lives of billions. All in all, this is everything a Killing Joke should be in 2010.

5 Triptykon - Eparistera Daimones
As you descend, I shall rise/Your demise shall be my conception/Your failure shall be my triumph/I shall feed from your decay/Your despair shall give me strength
Download: Abyss Within My Soul, Myopic Empire, My Pain

One of two albums with Greek titles in my top ten (it means 'demons to my left' apparently), this is of course Tom Gabriel Fischer's follow up to Celtic Frost's Monotheist, but without those pesky Celtic Frost members. Well, this is the best album CF never made, and every note of every song is soaked in pain and hatred for...someone. And not in any contrived way; the sad racoon was doing this way before it became cliche, and he's far too serious an artist to indulge in any fakery. Maybe he's a bit self-important, actually, but I wouldn't say that to his face.

6 The Ruby Kid - Maps

The bosses' game is only pain/My art is anaesthetic/I'll work if I have to/But never with an ethic
Download: the whole thing, after paying him! Listen to Hoxton Bounce here.

All in all, this is a superb album from a modest but extremely accomplished twenty-three year old poet. Maybe this isn't going to be the soundtrack to the struggles kicking off during this winter of such massive discontent, but it is definitely a great accompaniment. By repping those "on that next gen proletarian tip", The Ruby Kid will surely win many new fans with this material, in these times. To quote a work I'm sure he'd approve of, "true art is unable not to be revolutionary, not to aspire to a complete and radical reconstruction of society." Word. Click here for my full review.

7 Íon - Immaculada

As heavenly sounds resound around/Peace is ours, and perfection/For we are mute, deep in the heart of the earth/Absorbed in the absolute
Download: Temptation, The Silent Stars, Return To Spirit

As Duncan Patterson continues his journey away from the kind of sounds that made him famous as part of Anathema more than a decade ago, he presents us with Immaculada: a strange mixture of quietness and disquiet, beauty and fear. Lisa Cuthbert's vocals evoke themes that would normally be described as 'spiritual' - i.e. using the supposedly metaphysical to try and make sense of your place in the world - over exquisitely composed layers of eerie folkish instrumentation.

8 Neil Young - Le Noise
I can feel the weather changing/I can see it all around/Can't you feel that new wind blowing?/Don't you recognize that sound?
Download: Love and War, Peaceful Valley Boulevard, Rumblin'

After four million years or however long it is, the old stager can still craft a near perfect song, and he's still thoroughly engaged with the world around him, with all its Love And War. He longs for companionship on Walk With Me, he feels seismic societal upheavals brewing in Rumblin', and he gives a potted history of the Americas in Peaceful Valley Boulevard. And all with that voice. Le Noise is so much more than just noise. It is beautiful composition.

9 Cathedral - The Guessing Game

So I built a house up in a tree/To view reality and began observing/From there I saw an abattoir for minds/A system of lies man is enslaved in
Download: Painting In The Dark, Death Of An Anarchist, Requiem For The Voiceless

Once upon a time there was a radical idealist called Lee Dorrian, who would shout down from his treehouse about the truth he believed only he could see (Funeral Of Dreams). When the ants on the ground failed to heed his words of wisdom and overthrow the system, he lost his belief that they had the mental capacity to smash their chains (The Running Man). Feeling lonely, he distracted himself from thoughts of suicide (Death Of An Anarchist) with Cats, Candles, Incense & Wine, and even Painting In The Dark. Then one day, material circumstances called a working class resistance movement into being, and Lee Dorrian became its enthusiastic and vocal supporter (songs yet to be written).

10 Eels - Tomorrow Morning
The old oak tree was dead; I had to cut it down/The sapling roots were new and sprouting through the ground/New worlds were taking shape, unseen and unknown/A branch to rest upon; a place to call my own
Download: I'm A Hummingbird, Oh So Lovely, Mystery Of Life

Following last year's Hombre Lobo, and January's Endtimes (see below), Mark Everett decides that things aren't so bad, he's a decent enough guy, and maybe there is hope after all. That's all very nice. But more than that - far more than that - is the sense of musical reaching that pervades every single track. He's not invented a new style of music, but he's tried. On some level, he has decided that the Eels sound that seemed to fit the 1990s and early 2000s so well is no longer enough for the next decade, and the challenges it will bring. This is the sound of a man taking stock of his life, and getting ready for an exciting new era.

What I was listening to this year and that...
Eels - Endtimes
So in the narrative, the whirlwind woman who came shook up Mark Everett's life and inspired 2009's Hombre Lobo has now left him. Alone, he gets all sad and that. But there's so much more to this album, which is just as well, because otherwise it might be pretty monochrome. For Everett, the turmoil of the relationship's end seems mirrored in the global turmoil, and indeed it seems to him that 'end times' are here for all of us. A gloomy prospect indeed, but don't get too down, because Tomorrow Morning isn't far away...

Filter - The Trouble With Angels
Filter are the rarest of things - a band that keeps getting better. In reality of course, it's Richard Patrick who keeps getting better, both in terms of his songwriting and his hiring of hands to make the songs work. Whereas 2008's Anthems For The Damned was explicitly political, with a politics far deeper than the then popular anybody but Bushism, The Trouble With Angels is more emotional and personal. But these are not Richard Patrick's emotional issues we're dealing with here; he's looking out at the world rather than in, and he shows a passion for life missing from 'emo' individualism.

Grinderman - Grinderman 2
Nick Cave's "lower" self is still much loftier than most people's highest of highs, and when it isn't ("What's this husband of yours ever given to you? Oprah Winfrey on a plasma screen"), it's often funny. And maybe even more so than the first Grinderman, the music is uniformly haunting and compelling.

Brendan Perry - Ark
An extremely 'serious' album - both in the subjects tackled by the lyrics, and the attention to musical detail so familiar to Dead Can Dance. His voice remains as otherworldly and yet soulful as ever, and his attacks on politicians, their wars, their environmental destruction, and the numbing effects of television are very powerful indeed. This is an album to immerse yourself in.

Hole - Nobody's Daughter

Okay, so there's no doubt that Courtney Love isn't the most likeable of characters, but she's a desperate mess, and a vulnerable, pitiful figure who needs some compassion and understanding. That's certainly how she presents her self here, and not (so far as I can detect) in a self-conscious way. The assistance of Billy Corgan and others has helped her craft an often extremely heartfelt album, detailing what it's like for her to be nobody's daughter and nobody's mother in 2010.

Nevermore - The Obsidian Conspiracy
A very decent album, but from a band with standards as high as Nevermore, it feels like a bit of a letdown. Warrel Dane's philosophy seems buried under something, and Jeff Loomis really doesn't seem to be firing on all cylinders either. With their brilliance somehow muted, this seems like a work in progress.

Rome - Nos Chants Perdu
I'm very new to this band, so don't really feel qualified to say too much about this album. They are (obviously) named after the capital of Italy. Their main man is from Luxembourg, and he sings in French and English about vaguely political and philosophical themes. And they apparently play "apocalyptic martial folk", but that nowhere near describes the loungey sound of this album. Pretty confusing, but pretty good all the same!

Anathema - We're Here Because We're Here

This one just doesn't grab me, as much as I would like an Anathema album to grab me. It floats above reality, and refuses to swoop down to its level. It is brim full of pseudo-insights that actually shed no light on anything. It aspires to soar to the very heights of heaven, but it doesn't have strong enough wings for the task. Sad to say, life isn't eternal, so we'd better start improving our lot before we start writing paeans to self-help individualism. Still, technically excellent, and Steven Wilson pulls things together very well. It's just...I wish he could have produced an earlier Anathema album. This is not what the Cavanaghs' home town of Anfield sounded like in 2010.

Korn - Korn III - Remember Who You Are
I don't really know who's in Korn these days, and if any of their members are currently 'born again' Christians, but they still have dirty, chunky riffs, grinding bass, and Jonathan Davis' often gorgeous vocals.

Ozzy Osbourne - Scream
Following a couple of pedestrian albums, Ozzy has rediscovered an energy an urgency which belies his age. Gus G on guitars and Tommy Clufetos on drums bring new tricks to the Ozzy brandwagon, and if the man himself really does write the lyrics then he's definitely watching the news with growing concern and disgust.

Swans - My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky
This is not classic Swans - given the gap of fourteen years since the last release under that name that is hardly surprising - but there are moments of dark, dark, dark transcendence.

Deftones - Diamond Eyes
With Chi Cheng still in a coma, Eros has been postponed, so Chino Moreno and co. have released another platterful of crunching riffs and pretty melodies. Chino doesn't want to talk about his place in the world, commenting that "I love songs where I can totally take myself out of being human." How very human.

Soulfly - Omen
An omen of what then? Max Cavalera's retirement? Hopefully not, because he's still got the fire, it's just a bit dampened here. With such a small gap between this and Conquer, plus Cavalera Conspiracy and goodness knows what else, perhaps he's not got enough grrrrrrrrrrrr to go round anymore. Which would be a shame, in these times, when Refuse/Resist is finally starting to come true around the world.

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis - The Road

Another beautifully melancholic film soundtrack from Nick Cave and bandmate Warren Ellis.

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Hawk
A very passable album, with some nice moments, but really, it's no Sunday At Devil Dirt....

Tindersticks - Falling Down A Mountain
A fairly typical Tindersticks album. Pianos, balladry, melancholic gin-soaked vocals. Excellent in parts.

Serj Tankian - Imperfect Harmonies
Without a doubt the most disappointing album of the year. Aside of Borders Are... and Left of Centre, no tracks live up the sprawling, majestic sweep of Elect The Dead, and the messy electronica and orchestral combinations could really have done with a few Daron Malakian riffs underneath them. If Elect The Dead was a step away from metal, it still had System Of A Down's knack for creating order from musical chaos. Here, Tankian seems to be stepping away from songwriting in the traditional sense of that term. That is a step backwards.

Melissa Auf Der Maur - Out Of Our Minds
Certainly pretty decent, but a tad disappointing after a five year wait and the brilliance of her eponymous solo debut, 20% of my life ago.

Arson Anthem - Insecurity Notoriety
A full length (i.e. about half an hour) blast of hardcore punk fury from that one out of Eyehategod, that one out of Pantera, and a couple of other people. The resulting mess sounds like Eyehategod anyway, which is always nice.

Stone Sour - Audio Secrecy

A very ballady effort, which is far more introspective than Come What(Ever) May. At times, it seems hard to believe this is the same Corey Taylor. Not bad, but certainly not good enough, considering the calibre of the protagonists.

Sarah Jezebel Deva - A Sign Of Sublime
SJD's 'solo' debut is a definite grower, and shows off her vocal range to far greater effect than her album with Angtoria.

Stone Temple Pilots - Stone Temple Pilots
A mostly forgettable 'comeback' album. The technical ability is so obviously still there, but the inspiration isn't. Still, First Kiss On Mars is very nice indeed.

Enslaved - Axioma Ethica Odini
After three listens it seems epic but samey, although having said that, Vertebrae took a long time to fully hit me. And then when it did...

Disbelief - Heal
The band take a bunch of other people's songs and make them sound like Disbelief songs, which is a good thing. Their cover of Killing Joke's Love Like Blood is especially enjoyable.

Sodom - In War And Pieces
A solid return from the veteran thrashers, but there's no Napalm In The Morning here. Then again, this is not the 1980s, so new style and content is needed to create a powerful impression.

Dead Prez - Revolutionary But Gangsta Grillz
There are occasional solid moments, but Dead Prez are treading water really. Much as they try in their self-referential manner, they can't live on past glories (Let's Get Free, Revolutionary But Gangsta and the Black Panthers). This is yet another talented act that needs a fresh look at things. There's got to be more to the future than constantly invoking "Malcolm, Garvey, Huey".

Manic Street Preachers - Postcards From A Young Man

Yet another disappointing album from the once-mighty Manics. The reality of the world is there somewhere, but it is seen from afar, from above, disconnected. There are a few decent songs, but the rest leave next to no impression, even after a few listens. If this is the best they could do in 2010, it really is time to hang up their boots.

RPA & The United Nations Of Sound - United Nations Of Sound

Richard Patrick Ashcroft is disappointingly self-absorbed for the most part, while some vaguely interesting noises go on in the background.

Skunk Anansie - Wonderlustre

They came back just to release a bunch of relationships songs by numbers? What a shame.

Misery Index - Heirs To Thievery
Curiously uniform and unaffecting, especially when compared with 2006's Traitors.

Cradle Of Filth - Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa
A mostly boring regression from Godspeed On The Devil's Thunder, and that's saying something. They've now done two serial killer concept albums (Cruelty and the Beast and Godspeed...), and two fall of mankind thingies (Damnation And A Day and this). In both cases, the later album has been vastly inferior. Dani Filth still has the lyrical skills to pay the bills, but he desperately needs to reconnect with the real world if he's going to write anything of lasting significance.

iLiKETRAiNS - He Who Saw The Deep

A soporific sophomore from the Leeds band, which is polite enough not to leave any memories of its presence after it has left your auditory equipment.

Rob Zombie - Hellbilly Deluxe 2
John 5's crunching guitar means this certainly rocks, but maybe this is one release too far for Mr Cummings and his Ed Wood of metal act. B-movie themes seem so irrelevant in 2010.
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