Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ici Même

Today is the day!

After ten years and a dozen or so re-readings of my Dutch-vacation-acquired French edition, I will finally read Kim Thompson's English translation of Barbarella's Jean-Claude Forest's French words in one of my favorite of Jacques Tardi's comics.

I love this book so much, and now I'll know what the hell the characters have been saying this whole time! Surely, my love will be doubled. Or it will be drawn and quartered* and you will find me drowning in a puddle of my own tears and vomit.

*Or whatever the Fantagraphics equivalent of that is.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


In response to Pitchfork and other venues beginning to post their Best of the Decade lists, some friends and I got on about ours. With all the confidence that comes with 5% of the decade remaining, here is mine:

10. Mastodon — Crack the Skye

When I first heard that Mastodon, the band that did Leviathan and Blood Mountain and Call of the Mastodon and some of the heaviest, craziest, difficult metal ever was going to court the mainstream with a keyboard-focussed album about traveling back in time through a cosmic rift in the ghost of Rasputin to lead the drummer's sister into heaven (or something), I thought they'd finally lost it. But, once I heard it, I couldn't unhear it. Even now, the jackhammer plow riffs on Ghost of Karelia won't let go. It only came out this year, but I've had most of the year to listen to THE pop-prog-metal album of the decade. And I think Scott Kelly of Neurosis plays Rasputin. Let this album explain metal to you.

9. Fucked Up — The Chemistry of Common Life

Fucked Up are undoubtedly a hardcore band. Post punk. You could draw a straight line through Husker Du to these guys, but it's also one of the heaviest albums of the decade and full of multimultimultimutitracked guitars. I heard tell that some songs have over 100 guitar tracks for the wall of sound. It's also fantastic. I put this album on and i want to be absorbed in that thickness. It's shoegaze gone rough like an antidote to the pretty and the droney and the DOOOOOOOM. It is fast and screaming and kicking shit over like the Who in fast forward.

8. Antlers — Hospice

Another concept album of questionable conceit. Two people are in love and one of them is dying of cancer. The point of view switches back and forth between the two, and their emotions run a full gamut of regret, anger, disappointment, empty hope, futility, memory, nostalgia, beauty. Another 2009 album, but one I can not stop listening to. I heard the first single Two back in the early spring and ended each listen liking it more than the previous. The song itself improves from start to finish. I was looking forward to the album, but wondered if they'd shot their load in one. They didn't. It's great, varied in indy-rock sound from lilting melodies to bursts of guitars. it's the album you want to hand all of your friends, but you're afraid to because it's a concept album about dying from cancer.

7. Burial — Untrue

I didn't even know dubstep was a thing until i heard this. I've heard lots since, but nothing matches this, album-wise. Actually, I'm not sure anything matches this in any way. Every song seems to be caught in the interdimensional membrane between two worlds on different nights. Barry Allen's not sure when he is, Parriah looks around and can't tell if this is Earth-Q4◊ or Earth->pß32, one is dissolving into the next. Kamandi is editing a rough draft of Dracula, underwater, a little too stoned, a little too drunk, he's swimming, the street lights are reflecting off the puddles on the sidewalk, he's wearing pants for some reason and they seem as practical as they do absurd. William Gull has eviscerated his last victim and was whisked away to the hallway of a club playing Tricky in the room on one end and The Orb in the other.

6. Daft Punk — Alive 2007

Home Work and Discovery are both good (although I rate Home Work higher), and i had seen Daft Punk live back in 1997 (it was one of my favorite concerts: Aphex Twin, Crystal Method, Daft Punk, Sneaker Pimps... and the internet tells me Fluke and Death in Vegas), but they were not the highlight of the show, just a group i was happy to see. I really didn't understand it when people said Alive 2007 was awesome (they said the dvd was better, but the album was great). it's prpbably because it's the best thing they've ever done. All the music is recontextualized into something new, transforming the studio albums into raw material for something better. Songs blend together, warp and diffuse. The sound is warmer, thicker, fuller. The crowd is another texture and not just a tag at the end of the track. None of the terrible live album traits are present. They never talk to the audience. Never ask them how they're doing. Never ask them to say it louder. They just want you to dance and discover new combinations with them.

5. Jay-Z — Unplugged

I'm sure it's my own lack of imagination that put these two live albums together. jigga does indulge in all of the worst traits you find on a live album: small-talking to the audience, telling them to get more pumped up, going off on weird, rambling tangents. BUT this was also a complete revision of most of his best songs. And these were songs. Hits for a reason. And a lot of them. The Roots turn out to be the best backing band ever and turn even the lamest original productions into weird, funky, playful numbers. Jay-Z sounds like he's been playing with them for years and never sounds even remotely surprised at how well it all came together. I consider about half of these to be the definitive versions of the songs, like the Blueprint was just that.

4. Ghostface Killah — Supreme Clientele

I like Iron Man and I love Cuban Linx, but I still can't believe how much of a revelation Supreme Clientele was. I had finally come to grips with the fact that I liked rap, and had resisted too much greatness for too long and then all of a sudden one of the greatest rap albums ever came out. Everything was weird, dozens of stories seemed to be interwoven in each song. I'm having a day when this is the best Wu album ever. but every day it is the last truly great Wu album. There have been really good ones since (a couple from Ghost), but none this good. It's the old RZA sound, but cleaned up. More soul, less grime. More blaxploitation, less kung fu. Lyrically? East coast rappers used to judge each other on lyracism alone: clever word play, neologisms, metaphor, complex rhyme patterns. I don't know if there's a rapper alive that can match Ghost. There may not be a rapper dead that could either. This rappin's like ziti.

3. Modest Mouse — The Moon and Antarctica

I frequently pick MM as my favorite band. This album gets all messed up in my head sometimes because I discovered the band in 2000. In between the release of Building Something Out of Nothing in the spring and this album in the fall, I was also devouring the entire rest of their catalog. it was a lot of Modest Mouse at once. So much that I would remember songs i loved and insist they were on different albums. I couldn't keep them straight. Since then, I've had more time between albums, time to go back and listen to each one as its own entity. To me, this is the most Modest Mousey album. The mid point from being a band that could fit somewhere on a bill with Built to Spill and the Pixies and about to turn into a band that could co-headline with the Cure. And it's got everything: loud, noisy guitars, soft, dark introspection, travel that goes nowhere, our place in the universe, and a lot of stopping right in the middle of life to reflect.

2. Kanye West — The College Dropout

This album is important. It's important to me and it was one of the defining albums of the decade. The meme for about a year now has been that kanye is a jerk, a twit, and egomanic, a whatever. To that, I say, put down the US magazine! Why would you rather read Perez Hilton than listen to great music? Where are your priorities? I can't think of too many albums that tackled the strange world of the 21st century quite like this. It's over-sexed, over-spiritual, over-materialistic, over-conscious. It wants to be better, it will work hard but hates work, it wants to be dirty but it worries about having bad thoughts, it mines the past in a way that triggered the future. it is fun, it is sweet, it is hurt, it is unsure with confidence and it is an album full of singles.

1. Radiohead — Kid A

I think, with all the years and increasingly lesser albums and bad impostors, the shock of this album has worn down to nothing. In a way, i think that's in it's favor: for some people, this album was the final alienation from a band they thought they loved; now it just seems like an album like any other. But this shit was nuts. Even if you could pick out all that influences, you hadn't heard them together like this. This album could be pretty and heavy and go from screeching free-jazz horns to programmed IDM. It is also spooky. And haunting. And manic-depressive. And it's a fucking rock album. From start to finish, it is a rock album in the tradition of Abbey Road, Scary Monsters, 10... it is big and introspective, dancable basslines over ambient textures. A stadium-size sound that tries to reject the things that worked as hits before. Everyone said this was music that couldn't be played live, and then i saw them play it live. People call them whiney, but I hear paranoia. It's a sci-fi album, not a slacker album, Blade Runner.

Most-honourable mentions! The rest of the short list:

T.I. — King
Apparat and Ellen Allien — Orchestra of Bubbles
Aesop Rock — None Shall Pass
Isis — Oceanic
M.I.A. — Kala
Xiu Xiu — Knife Play
Beach House — Devotion
Radiohead — Amnesiac
Sian Alice Group — 59.59
Neurosis — Given to the Rising

There was also a less-than short list that had 55 strong contenders on it. And an even less short list that had about 80.


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