For a couple years now I’ve decided to make a kind of midway list at the end of May of the records that have come out in the year, it helps me remember them when the year-end lists start rolling up. It’s also probably the best opportunity to shine a light on some records which may have flown under your radar, with enough time for you to digest and perhaps include them in your own year end list. I suppose one can dream. Lets get under way…
5. Stubb – Stubb
I had known and liked Stubb before I went to Desertfest in Camden back in April and yet I surprised myself when I sang along with ‘Scale the Mountain’. In fact what was more surprising was that the Purple Turtle, the venue, was packed and sweaty and everyone made their voice heard, and it was only 2.30 in the afternoon. This did not happen regularly.
On stage they were just regular guys in rather colourful shirts, but as Stubb they swaggered and rocked, the record’s practically anthemic yet it is dirty and sleazy, and we all loved it washing over us. There’s a sense of invigorated classicism about their 70s psych tinged stoner rock; they’ve suffered their share of evil women and they’ve studied every note of every Hendrix solo, and it feels real with Stubb whereas if it were another band it may seem cliché.
The record easily benefits from the superman Tony Reed’s (Stone Axe) production skills (he has also done Saint Vitus’s new one this year) making this catchy and memorable release a standout of the year so far.
4. Meshuggah – Koloss
This was my most anticipated release of the year, I had Nothing and ObZen in my regular rotation beforehand and I was desperate for Koloss to drop. Indeed, my intoxicating and fraught keenness for this record made me drop this comment over on No Clean Singing:
“I’m starting to feel sick with anticipation for this record, I get sweaty and cold at the artwork and I mechanically dry heave when I listen to ‘Break Those Bones Whose Sinews Gave It Motion‘. Want.”
Of course that was a little overwrought however, the sentiment was there. I wanted it very much.
And Meshuggah delivered.
They played in Bristol near the time Koloss dropped and by then I’d already knew the record well. I had seen them previously but not in the dark; they were backlit the entire set and their silhouettes were absolute, stripped of identity as parts of an engine, they mechanistically pummelled downwards in to the earth thrusting the dirt onto us.
They killed it.
I wholly appreciate the more earthy production of Koloss, the glossier production of ObZen was probably my only complaint of that record, and a little dirt under the fingernails hurts nothing.
The chilling lyrics to ‘Swarm’, a song which swells enormously with almost alien soloing, acts as a warning I can barely refuse to not take notice of:
Insectine man, carnivore. The shape of us, the conduct of fliesAll-consuming swarm in inconspicuous disguiseBloodseeking, parasitic. Ecstatically tracing decayThriving in the glow that death emits, the warm perfume it radiatesRevolting conformity. Hive mind unityExcitedly their madness grind, aroused by vile ambitionAt the sickly sweet promise of decompositionDeliriously ingesting. Liquefied ruin absorbedInnocence devoured by the elated hordeThey are us, let’s not even pretendAroused and frenzied they scurry, encircling deathA vile swarm awaiting the final breathMyriad eyes visualizing the endBlackened skies. Rabid heavens descendOn the bereft, unforgivinglyPrecious life debased. Our dipteran legacy embracedCrack the shell. Ascend the skyRise, extend your palpitating wingsCrack the shell. Ascend the skyFly you disgraceful wretched things
3. Crippled Black Phoenix – (Mankind) The Crafty Ape
The Crafty Ape was one of few records which have come out this year which have aroused me enough to actually try and commit my ideas about it to a proper and formal review.
Their expansive Pink Floydian progressive rock approach to composition and their ability to imbue melancholia into every twist and turn, even the more upbeat rhythmic cuts like ‘Laying Traps’ ache with nostalgia and gloom. And yet although this record dedicated to the craftiest of apes is seemingly morose Crippled Black Phoenix execute their craft with insurmountable beauty and splendour; an ability which reminds me of the much revered gothic writer Mervyn Peake, who wrote the unequivocally excellent Gormanghast trilogy.
I believe there is a perfect comparison between Peake and Phoenix, each able to beautify misery and embodied exquisitely in Peake’s description of the character Sepulchrave, the 66th Lord of Groan:
“There was a library and it is ashes. Let its long length assemble. Than its stone walls its paper walls are thicker; armoured with learning, with philosophy, with poetry that drifts or dances clamped though it is in midnight. Shielded with flax and calfskin and a cold weight of ink, there broods the ghost of Sepulchrave, the melancholy Earl, seventy-sixth lord of half-light.It is five years ago. Witless of how his death by owls approaches he mourns through each languid gesture, each fine-boned feature, as though his body were glass and at its centre his inverted heart like a pendant tear.”
Incredible language woven almost musically, with intelligent metaphors and stylised images, these skills I hear lucidly within Crippled Black Phoenix’s composition which makes them one of the best of the year.
2. Cattle Decapitation – Monolith of Inhumanity
When I think of Travis Ryan’s vocals for the chorus of ‘A Living, Breathing Piece of Defecating Meat’ I think of the Swedish version of the film Girl with a Dragon Tattoo when the main character, Mikael Blomkvist, is put in a chain noose in a basement and is near asphyxiated to death. I imagine the clenching constriction on his purple throat and the whites of his eyes, and I think that maybe that’s not a too far off face Travis pulls when he sings that chorus. That is a part of why I think this record is so good, it’s grotesque, it contorts and rages, it’s almost inhuman.
For a while now I have been disaffected with death metal, so much so it’s practically fallen over the side, particularly considering that the last death metal record I’ve paid any attention to was Hate Eternal’s Phoenix Amongst the Ashes. Of course that record only dropped back in May 2011, yet in our weekly releases existence a year is quite a long time, and even Phoenix didn’t appear in my 2011 year end list. It’s needed the bionic giants of Sweden to rear their heads for me to take any notice in the genre, and now it seems it needs a mutation with Grind for it to sustain.
Monolith leaps and attacks first with teeth bared and blood pumping around its body, the guitars are razor sharp and dexterous in their handiwork while the drums hammer dizzily and Travis Ryan seethes and trills and shrieks and howls. Where everything else has been pedestrian Cattle Decapitation have gripped me by the throat and shown me how it’s done properly. I couldn’t thank them enough.
1. Caltrop – Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes
What I want from my music:
– to be honest
– to challenge my own taste and to make me think
– to experiment within their genre
– to be comparable to other art I like
– to be earthy and have little gloss
– to promote an idea or a concept I haven’t considered
– to truthfully express their emotions and project their lives as people
– to have riffs and something I can sing along to
And most importantly,
– to evoke an emotional response from myself
It didn’t take me very long to decide what I thought was the best record of the year so far, a single listen to record opener ‘Birdsong’ and I’ve been hooked since. The title alludes to the time it takes for energy to build up inside the core of the sun and for it to reach the surface and then the time it takes for that energy to reach us on earth. Ten Million years and Eight Years. Incredible. Throughout there’s a sense of marvel at the world around us, no exaggeration or manufacture by imagination, it’s the wonder of the simple truth of things. I love the courage and the curiosity of the record and where it ambles and when it strides allows for equal pacing and interesting linear structures that expand the envelopes of the kind of prog rock Caltrop play.
For me this is a record that will last for a long time, other records I enjoy will face burnout and be inevitably forgotten, but Ten Million Years will be a cherished friend for years I feel, and I would hate for you to miss out.
Of course there are so many cool records already out this year not to mention Ulver, 16, Ahab, Snail, Switch Opens, Black Sleep of Kali, Horseback, Jack White or Black Bombaim, High on Fire, Torche, Saint Vitus, The Machine, Kindness, Ufomammut and an embarrassing amount more.
And only to make our collective heads spin even more there are expected records from Baroness, Gojira, Neurosis, Colour Haze, Shellfin, Queens of the Stone Age, Ihsahn, and my personal favourite band Om.
So much! I could make this entire list again with completely different bands!… but I won’t. Not ‘till the end of the year at least.
Thanks for reading, I hope you’ve found something that you dig.
So, who and what has been your favourite releases of the year so far?
And, probably a more interesting question, what do you want from your music?