Aiight, people. I am going to do hardcore in a cluster. And short of the top 2 – no real order. Just celebrate and purchase these bastards.
This is the year of bands that I had heard of years ago – just never got into. But this year, they finally blew me away. Maybe they put out better shit (no….) or maybe my maturation has finally blossomed. Maybe I am finally adjusting my strict guidelines of listenability. *(Of course, that would refuted by anyone gazing upon the thousands of albums I own). I mean, this really was the year of expansion for me, genre wise. Some slower, stuff (with "pop sensibilities"); but, mostly the genres of metal and dub of finally become extensively accessible to me. Now, I obviously love heavy music. What is not "hardcore", fits some needed moniker of "metal-core". But this year, I went into straight genre defining bands that boast singular definitions; e.g., doom metal, stoner metal, black metal, grindcore, etc and even….dub reggae!! I mean, I have always loved metal and reggae – but this year I broke down to outskirts I had always resisted. Call it unemployment. Call it an increase in marijuana smoking. Whatever. I had heard dub before (but it was too slow); bands like Pelican, Mastadon, Sword, Sunn 0))) and my biggest conversion: Converge. I had had Halos, Petitioning the Empty Sky, Jane Doe. I had heard the recent ones. It just sounded liked noise to me. And when I did like a riff or groove – the voice was too grating. But, fuck me if "Axe to Fall" is not an amazing, captivating album.
The whole doom/stoner metal stuff; I just thought it was musicians and hippies. I never had a desire to see a band in fog machines and nod slowly in a droning daze. I have always loved Sabbath. And, well, when a band kicks ass as much as Church of Misery, well, I am hooked. And then, I discover their elements in others; so, it spreads. Killer music is killer music.
Another distinction in this year's list, is the bevy of musicians' music. I am not a musician. I have no idea about chord progression, palm-muting, scales and modes. I wish I did. I am not physically coordinated to play any instrument. Believe me: I have yearned, pined; tried, attempted. Nada. Zip. Zilch. And I still will go for Minor Threat, Sick of It All and Madball anyday for pure passion and piss. But again, this year, I got into a lot more "music". I also, in the beginning of the year, bought Graves of Valor and Hail of Bullets. Straight metal albums – not "metalcore". With deathcore growls I previously avoided. Now, I teased myself with Gorgoroth, Behemoth, Satyricon, and some others; but, did not purchase. If that's your bag; sorry. I just come from a punkrock background. And, Christ, Hail of Bullets rules. Easy when it sounds like Tragedy to me.
I definitely have a decent amount of Reggae, Ska, Jamaican R&B, Rocksteady, Bluebeat…whatever. But I always stopped at 1972. Maybe some mid 1970's. John Holt or Heptones or Greory Isaacs. But even though those years overlap with dub, I stayed away, It was too spacey, to slow, too abstract. But, somehow; whether it was the trees or the re-issues from Pressure Sounds; I found 'da riddim' this year!! "Praise Jah!"
Alrightey. Well – some old school hardcore, some tough guy and some oi! nailed it this year. And some good hard rock was released. Some metal. And a lot of instrumental shit.
Hiphop will not be avoided. Incredible year for rap. While big names dropped albums that I do not even bother to peep – some undergroubd heavyweights rocked it too. 2009 was a banner year. Here is a list of just albums. Check it:
- Church of Misery. "Houses of the Unholy". Rise Above Records *(Double Gatefold green vinyl, bitch!) Without a doubt the album that kicked my ass the hardest in 2009 was Church of Misery "Houses of the Unholy". Japanese doom leviathans (with one very anglo-saxon member, "Tom") bring their best to date; and bring the best album (by which I mean incorporating all aspects of this genre) into one pummeling album. These dudes have been around for awhile (putting out record material since 1997). An awesome doom band? I'm in. All lyrics are references to serial killers? Oh, god. So, as I am absolutely floored by the first few down-tuned riffs and feeling as if I have the holy grail of tune-age (I can now die!), as I am being blasted by the rollicking drums – wait…wait. Is that the bass through a wah peddle? Holy shit. Holy fuck. Oh, speaking of "Holy" – I just thought the title was a clever play on the LedZep album title, because of the serial killer theme. But these dudes love Zeppelin. I do not. But it comes through as a wonderful piece of the puzzle here. This is hands down my favorite album of the year. COM is Clutch's bastard son, downing a bottle of amphetamines, washing that down with cheap bourbon; just to ease the pain of his recalling the memory of his hell-spawn aborted fetus from his tryst with the succubus that was the love child of Led Zep and Sabbath. DOOM! Aggressive groove, heavy. Heavy. Did I say heavy? The Distortion laden songs drive forward with a crushing groove and steady beat that pummels the ears. Growls, revisiting some of the most horrendous serial killers' tales, lay in perfectly. Te songwriting and production have improved on this band's third proper full-length. The other aspect is the artwork. Fuck a downloaded digital copy. Gotsta rock the tangible when bands put this much effort in design. Each song gets its own 12 treatment in a huge booklet inside. They are homages to classic '50s Jazz albums. The font, the wear, the quotes, the colors: all culminate to a masterpiece of visual assistance. And the fact that the cover is adorned with a subtle, disarming photo of a feeble Albert Fish (my favorite s.k.) just seals the deal. I am not being hyperbolic when I say this is a powerhouse of an album. This has everything I want in an album.
"El Padrino" (Alfonso de Jesus Constanzo) slowly creeps in with static and feedback. As the "Most Evil" sample begins to describe a murder scene, the noise uncovers some semblance of a rhythm. Then, at 1:45 – loud crashing and a hypnotic bass groove comes in and grabs you. Still 6 minutes to go, fucker. But this is not torture. The mid-tempo crunch continues. This is rock. We travel through the glorious sludge till about 5:15; when we are seduced my some captivating lead guitars. They all culminate after the scream of "My Soul is Dead! I have No God!" Triumphantly conquering your senses until a fucking wah pedal filters the bass groove at 6:45!!! We all join back together to be escorted through the final riffs and feedback of the song at 8:45. We are left teetering; wondering what just knocked our skull into such a stupor. We are teased with a small respite. That is until "Shotgun Boogie" impales our eardrums in a frantic shuffle. This 4:16 jaunt is fast and, well, a boogie. The instruments are in a spastic orgy and you can only hope to bear your footing in the spew and overspill. Some samples of police, describing James Oliver Huberty's atrocities. We actually end with cymbals and the cocking (and, finally, firing) of a shotgun blast! We are slowly lured back to the naughty place with a Sabbath-esque bass line. More samples of a victim's account of a murderous scene guide us through a fog of noise and ambient chaos. At 1:10, they channel Jimmy Page and we begin "The Gray Man". This clamoring frenzy finds a funk back beat to propel it. I am bobbing my head and shaking my hips as if James Brown himself is forcing me. This is not out of the blue, as the fuzz continues; but it also channels their previous album, "The Second Coming". Suddenly, in the last two minutes, the feedback clears and we get a '70s rock stomp of congo, clav, and straight forward drums and wailing lead guitars. This is the most 'Clutch' of all the moments. Feedback and Testimony – of why not to let Richard Trenton Chase into the community – woo us in to "Blood Sucking Freak". A down-tuned, inward collapse twists our ears, as "I Am a Blood Sucking Freak" is shouted. This slower – expertly delivered textbook doom/stoner metal riff – rides through this glorious ditty, as my mind reels in the clouds of weed smoke. Lead guitar notes start to slap me around as I awaken to realize that I am only in minute 3 of this 8.5 minute romp. The token description of 'epic" begs to be used as COM continues on this furious ride until 6 minute mark. Then we change course to a straight 4/4 beat; a little clearer, a little crisper. The guitar and drums embark together; only to be halted by the tandem of feedback and static. The last 1.5 minutes are a boastful riffage ride that stark drum beat to the finish line. "Master Headache" bandies between frantic and almost catchy. Great blues/stoner drudgery. Time changes keep it interesting and proud. A doctor's account of discovering our perpetrator opens solo – into a drum roll. Then, a great rock groove with whimsical leads establishes itself. A Mid-70s Sabbath type sound comes over us. "Born to Raise Hell. Is growled over this proclamation of doom. Satan weeps. This Richard Speck nod is quite catchy also. Cream tuned way down and did a yard of blow. Halfway through this 7.5minute jewel we slow down – then we ramp back up for a final 2 minute march forward. Finally, "Most Evil" narration calls our attention; which of course is peppered with feedback until the gripping bassline demands authority. The rest of the band joins in on ?Badlands?. Now, whether you know of this story of Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate from Terrence Malik/Martin Sheen/Sissy Spacek or the back of the BFB "Enemy" 7" or The Boss' "Nebraska" or were just interested in twisted shit as a kid (like me.) – or you actually recall that early '90s metalcore band 'Starkweather" – this is the tale most notorious to us Americans: "There's no tomorrow. We're living deep in sorrow". Fuck, yeah. The bass through the wah (again) solidifies a stubborn stance as a finicky lead dances about. Another heavy mid-tempo rant by COM. Then at 4:30m – we break to just strings and ambient noise; which then births tribal drums and a scream and sirens – tripping out until the vocalist beckons, "follow me". We gladly do. Until the smoke and feedback clears after 8 total minutes. Follow them. Follow my advice and buy this. Please do.
- Mariachi El Bronx. Swami Records. I love the Bronx. When I heard the hype of the first album, I avoided it. An upstart band, 6 weeks in, gets signed as a hardcore label's token rock band. Even produced by Gilby Clarke (G'n'R). But then, I got it. And was blown away. Hardcore at heart, furious, lo-fi, smart and fresh outta-give-a-fucks. Dirty and jaundice like a coke bender hangover. Then, the second album. They go from Ferret to Island? Huh? But they still have swami label and distro? The second blew the first out of the water. I still lrotate that regularly and just press repeat. The slow song in the middle is my favorite. And the other gems tickle you ear with subtlety of a corkscrew driven into your palm and doused in vinegar. Three dead sisters? So good. Pure emotion. And, a sad album. Just a really tense, sorrowful album. The third continued; a touch catchier, but great. So between the 2nd and 3rd release – I saw interviews of The Bronx talking of a Mariachi side project. Ok. Just some arrogant rock-star boredom mongers taking the piss out of some scenester hardcore kids. Just the ramblings of a demure, coked-up, passé punk looking to elicit a response. Well, in 2009, it was released. I was afraid. Would it be joke? Would I get the joke? What would the execution be like? Is this a Chris Gaines type endeavor/ Black Velvet Flag? Or just come off as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy/Cherry Poppin' Daddies stuff? Well, fucking hell. Pure magic. When a 32-year old skin is calling a CD "sublime"; well, that's impact, you fat fuck. Incredible. The somber tones executed flawlessly over a beautiful aural landscape. This is no joke. These southern Californian's took an over looked genre and kept the integrity of its history and trials. I blare this album. "Cell Mates" opens the album with some peppery horns. The rhythm is infectious and supported with sweeping strings. The layers of instrumentation on this album is fascinating. Perky nuances and plucky endeavors make me think that I can dance. I want to drink and be alone. This is Tom Waits. This is Richard Thompson. This is the fuckin' Pogues! This is Johnny Cash."Cell Mates" is a tale of a man lost in jail asking his love, "Will you wait for me….honestly?". The guitars continue to strum under words of loss, regret, spite, bitterness and drunken mistakes. Whether it's the charging horns over the ukulele on litigation or the symphonic glides of a desert wanderer of "My brother, the gun"; it all melds perfectly. The crown jewels though are the three songs in a row, all starting with 's': "Sleepwalking", "Silver or Lead", and "Slave Labor". Seriously, I am tearing up as I write this. "Slave Labor is my favorite. "It feels so good to be gone, from my own kind" would sting over punk chords; but as Mariachi, it seduces and savagely tears me away from human interaction. The acoustic break in the middle, then the grasping of the building clamor of various percussion….are you kidding me? "Islands don't dream of cities like us…" ("Sleepwalking") Ouch. Amidst the turmoil and chaos, these three songs give me clarity. The rich stomp of brash horns and crisp drums on "Silver…"I adore these songs. The entire album is not a joke or a Bosstones-type hybrid or a drunken result of a lost bet. Yet, I don't feel the superficial condescension of a musician maturing; like Bono 'discovering' some Indonesian tribal music; or Sting inundating us with some Inuit bongo ceremony. It's not an infusion (a la Paul Simon's Graceland). It is simply four punk des – getting some help from actual Mexican musicians – making a fucking Mariachi album. And it is fucking brilliant. Every song is a fluid serenade of sorrow and yearning. Every song is wonderful music that I want to share with you. Drop the pre-conceived notions or the cynicism. Embrace this. Thank you, Bronx. ….oh, an, if you want – there was a xmas song on iTunes, "Lady Rosalea". It was ok. BU THE GEM: find the SPIN magazine tribute comp with Mariachi el Bronx cover "I Would Die 4 U". What??!?!? Fuck, yeah. Shnikeys.