Every year around this time, I end uprepeating this thought: There are no bad years for music if you know where to look for the gems, of which there are too many for one person to thoroughly absorb. The charts and commercial radio may be a travesty, and major labels may be losing their asses and flooding the market with instantly forgettable inanities, but great music continues to be created and released--and it's never been easier to scan the globe to locate it, thanks to Nobel laureate Al Gore's invention.
I heard more than 100 releases in 2007 that could have made my top 10/20/whatever list, so whittling the year's output to the tight confines of this column has been difficult--and I didn't even hear Boredoms' Super Roots 9, which surely would've blown away everything in its path. Nevertheless, I somehow narrowed the glut to five releases that enabled me to withstand the nauseating socio-political activities happening worldwide. Such is the power of awesome music.
Holy Fuck,LP(Young Turks; www.myspace.com/turkishdelights). Imbuing krautrock's irrepressible motorik grooves with a feral vigor that can incinerate motherboards at 40 paces, Toronto's Holy Fuck create dance music that swerves off the grid yet contains a focused intensity. LP is a raw, turbulent species of techno that inspires you to climb mountains rather than wave glowsticks. Here's the solution to your energy crisis.
Black Dice,Load Blown(Paw Tracks; www.paw-tracks.com). Do you like music that unhinges the doors of reality? Do you enjoy occasionally losing your precarious grip on sanity through sound? Then you need to roll with Black Dice. This is the sound of confusion--which is sex, as Sonic Youth posited, and Black Dice give it to you XXX-style, sans lube. No handy genre tags exist for Load Blown, but think of it as hypnotic yet ruptured dance music spliced with grotesquely beautiful musique concrete--or maybe we can call it "shock exotica."
LCD Soundsystem,Sound of Silverand45:33(DFA; www.dfarecords.com). Virtually everyone in the blogosphere, ye olde print media and meatspace is top-listing Sound of Silver, but it really is all that. Loaded with sleek dance tunes and indelible melodies and adorned with wry lyrics and oodles of odd textures, Silver rocks parties with graduate-school savvy; 45:33 is a Nike-sanctioned cosmic-disco epic crafted for working out. You will glisten like a glitter ball by the end of it.
Burial,Untrue(Hyperdub; www.hyperdub.net). The most hyped artist in one of the most hyped genres (dubstep; go Wiki it) at the moment, Burial is a reclusive London producer who's lacing this typically stern, bass-heavy music with almost unbearable poignancy and soul. Yearning, forlorn vocals (nobody's credited, so they're probably samples, but no matter) haunt Burial's ectoplasmic atmospheres and entwine themselves around brittle yet exhilarating beats. Untrue is heartbreaking urban desolation rendered in sound.
Valet,Blood Is Clean(Kranky; www.kranky.net). From my Heard Mentality post: "Valet is Honey Owens of Portland postrock mavericks Jackie-O Motherfucker. Blood Is Clean. . . is ghostly dreambient (dreamy ambient) that appears to be channeled from [an] enigmatic place into which few musicians dare to tap. Owens uses subliminal hand-drum patter; tranced-out, sotto-voce intonations and drifty sighs; guitar strands that recall the brain-teasing microtones heard on Spacemen 3's Dreamweapon; and a grip of effects boxes to generate a panoply of ectoplasmic evocations. Call it lullabies for angels bathed in sacrificial blood. This is the sort of album you play at 3 a.m. when you're feeling out-of-sorts and exhausted from the world's bluster and soul-crushing demands." Yep.
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And here are some of the best shows I saw in SoCal this year:
LCD Soundsystem, Coachella, April 28. Remember what I said above about their records? Multiply that by 100, and you have the adrenalin O.D. of the live LCD SS experience.
Battles, Troubadour, June 30. An ultra-rare blast from the future, this concert proved that mad scientists can get down and move the crowd with damn-near-unprecedented sounds. Reviewing the gig on Heard Mentality, I wrote, "Battles seemed to be composing thrilling car-chase themes for MENSA members, insanely rapid gamelan pieces for fans of '80s King Crimson, or avant-garde Looney Toons for those who find Carl Stalling's work to be too sedate." Maybe geeks will inherit the Earth after all. . . .
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Magic Lantern, The Prospector, Sept. 8. Drone, throb, step on effects pedals, repeat. Recipe for boredom in many cases, but in Magic Lantern's able hands, that approach reaps trance-inducing dividends. This show was my introduction to the Long Beach quintet, and they surprised me with how capably they mastered the art of maximizing power via a few basic riffs layered with surgical precision. Blessed with a deep understanding of the world's greatest minimalist composers and psych-rock musicians, Magic Lantern know music history-and they're determined to transcend it.
Free the Robots, Detroit Bar, Sept. 26. Santa Ana's Chris Alfaro and Phil Nisco make instrumental hip-hop laced with unlikely jazz and psych- and prog-rock samples seem like the next big thing. Free the Robots couple inventiveness with danceability, and they can whip a crowd into a frenzy without the usual corny hip-hop concert shtick. I expect them to blow up nationwide any month now.
Holy Fuck, The Prospector, May 1 and Sept. 16. The best live band on Earth? Quite possibly. Hearing them in the flesh makes me think what a communal jam between space-rock pioneers Hawkwind and motorik-groove merchants Neu! would sound like. It's the closest approximation to a rocket trip you can experience while still rooted on our doomed planet. And Holy Fuck's music is so euphoric it'll make you forget our species' dismal circumstances. Miraculous or what?