New Releases

Zola Jesus – Conatus
There has always been something almost subliminally idol-killing about the Zola Jesus project, and it really comes into focus here. Danilova’s childhood opera aspirations are subverted into something nearly opposite. Opera singing is narrative and flows smoothly from deep within. Danilova is more allusive and tortuous. Her voice keeps getting caught in her throat, where it’s stressed and twisted by transient emotional surges. Though the theatricality and the epic-pop trappings may evoke artists like Dead Can Dance, the vocals have the passion of blues singing. Danilova is equally iconoclastic when it comes to industrial influences like Throbbing Gristle, finding ways to make abrasion as musical as possible without sacrificing tension. Her touchstones have been digested into a personal style that is much more substance than reference. Read the full review on Pitchfork

Mastodon – The Hunter
The Hunter sees Mastodon taking a much more riff-heavy approach — shorter songs, more bombast — without compromising their epic feel. A purist raised on the literary universes encompassed on the band’s last three albums (Leviathan, 2004; Blood Mountain, 2006; and Crack the Skye, 2009) could pine for the 13-minute cosmic journey, but The Hunter is just as expansive as any of Mastodon’s earlier efforts, despite the lack of Hawkwind-style noodling. Having a pop radio producer at the helm seems not to have diminished the band’s determination to push boundaries, but rather to have made that desire more concise, more focused, and somehow more powerful. The shine given to The Hunter is definitely worthy of Warner Bros. (the parent of Reprise), and a measure of rock-radio friendliness hasn’t been a barrier to metal bands in the past. Read the full review on Tiny Mix Tapes

St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
Describing Annie Clark’s work as St. Vincent comes down to a toss-up between cinematic and clever. Both in the studio and in her videos, Clark is captivating, expansive, and yet undemanding. She slyly earns your attention with bombastic hooks, witty turns of phrase, or by mentoring a kid who just got a merit badge for “mind sandwich” (all done together in the video for “Jesus Saves, I Spend”), and then she reels you in further. She convinces you to take another step closer to the difficult subjects she intends to work out. Many were drawn in by the title track of her debut, Marry Me, for its cute power, the smoky vocals, the pretty girl singing directly to you with stark emotion. But what sticks in the end are her clever twists (“Let’s do what Mary and Joseph did… without the kid”) and the huge scope of such a simple song. Read the full review on Consequence of Sound

YearEnders: My Top 5 (Tanner)

Here’s my list – I decided to narrow it down to 5 albums. It was hard to do as this year was a very good year for music, the influential rise of Witch House & Dubstep alone could populate a top 10 list with fantastic albums. This year though the more i’ve thought about it, the more i want to highlight the albums that have really resonated with me emotionally. So many arguments can be made the anthropological or technical value of an album like the universally loved Cosmogramma – but what matters for me is how it works as a soundtrack to my daily life, and though i’m sure there are no hard feelings, Flylo ain’t got nothing for me. These albums however do.

5. Salem – King Night

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one that feels like shooting a big bag of heroin after listening to this gargantuan sludge beast of an album. If Kanye’s latest is the emotional 8ball (complete with moments of hysterical crying), King Night is the massive dose of Ketamine and heroin that finally brings me down. Wayyy down. To the point where blood red subbass rolling it’s uglies all over the screaming face of Oh Holy Night or lyrics like

“It’s like people say, we all gonna die
But me is different Im not tryin to be alive
I just try to get high
Baby I just I just I
pull the sheet over my face before I die”

Slurred and menacing over molasses-slow dirty south beats held under water by an industrial freezer synth bass and punctuated by samples of cars crashing. These are just what the good doctor ordered.  It’s a sound that always feels like it’s on the verge of it’s eyes rolling back up into it’s own head and passing out with a Malborough 120 in its hand, but somehow manages to be not only the soul transcendent offering from the whole Witch House scene to date, but one of the best albums of the year.

(See also Balam Acab, OOooOo, White Ring, etc)


4. Zola Jesus – Stridulum II

Zola Jesus’s Nika Roza Danilova is the voice of the over-mother. Cold, powerful, emotionally and physically all encompassing – her drums pound like a determined heart and her synths continually rise and wrap round with thick blankets of cold, stifling love. (What? Me?Mother issues? Nah…)  I’m just saying, Stridulum II is the best sequenced, mixed and mastered version of Zola Jesus to come out yet. When Zola finally uncovered her voice and melodies from behind the wall of noise she showed us she was ready to take it all on, and showed us what was really there – angst, sure, but anger and violence turned out to be love, strong determined love – A woman hell bent to shield her lover from harm, to offer protection, to assure them of the end of suffering.

Stridulum II soars with leaden inevitability, there’s a deep core of strength, and even when she sings “You gotta help me out” on Manifest Destiny, you know she’s gonna make it regardless, and on the way she’ll rescue you, the kids, and anyone else she sets her love to.

(see also Zola Jesus)


3. Twin Shadow – Forget

This album was so close to being my number one, and depending on my mood, how much I’ve had to drink, how sentimental I let myself get – it can quickly run up the charts and stay on the top of my playlist for days.  Tight, melodically dazzling songs about romantic young love, dancing, ghosts, a voice that takes me back to everything that’s great about Morrissey but minus some of the whine and none of the falsetto yelping, shimmering synth lines, lean, choppy guitars, funky bass lines, swinging drum machines – everything in it’s right place. A true gem of an album that on every listen gives you a new favorite track, new favorite lyric ( “As if it wasn’t enough to hear you speak, they had to give you lips like that.”), and new favorite reason to let this one just roll on repeat.

(see also Wild Nothing, The xx)


2. The National – High Violet

The National are my boys – I wanna sit in the back of a bar in a button-up shirt and jacket, tie askew, hair-line receding (faster and faster) – Whiskey in hand and listening to this album on repeat with these guys. They’d pick it and each other apart, laugh at it, downplay it, there would be quiet moments and deep draws, we’d go out and smoke cigarettes even though we shouldn’t – we’re getting older and there are fewer of us around these days…

Some have argued that it’s the same album they’ve been making for the last 3 or so, but that’d be ignoring the subtleties, the small but important changes, new skills learned, melodies refined – much like the common person’s life, when viewed from afar, seems the same, unchanging, monotonous – but we all know that upclose and person, we’re all constantly in flux, growing and straining.

The National are the soundtrack to my everyday, while the rest of the albums on my list are part of my escape from it, High Violet is the sound of the working week, driving to the doctor, the grey skies, late to bed, late to rise weekdays that bleed into weekends, domestic disagreements, quiet insignificant resentments, things we forget to do, things we wish we’d never done.

It’s an album about the cold, uncertain world and its uncertain people making uncertain decisions and its little, wiry special power is that it makes it all feel ok.  In fact, The National’s music lifts up all those moments in our mundane lives and drinks a sad toast to the secret drama and magic we give them.

(see also The Walkmen)


Continue reading YearEnders: My Top 5 (Tanner)