Tuesday, November 1, 2011

October Roundup and the Home Stretch

I admit, I've probably spent an embarrassing amount of time contemplating my "Album of the Year" list.  Its proving to be more difficult than I anticipated. For one thing, I think that later entries don't get a fair shake. Its hard to compare an album that has stood the test of time since February with a late November entry. Also, when you've taken careful notes all year long (which, if you have been paying attention, make up the content of this blog), boiling it down to a "Top Ten" seems impossible.  I'm inevitably going to have to ignore some great work.

To get at the first issue, I am cutting off my "Album of the Year" entries after Thanksgiving. Unless there's a really mindblowing exception, I plan on focusing my listening time on "the year in review," so to speak.  You will probably see me indulge in more entries that reminisce on past greats during this time than usual, or maybe playing catchup on other recent releases. Also, my end-of-year list will have 20 entries rather than last years ten.  By the end of this month, I think I'll have a good idea of who will be left standing, so in place of the November roundup, I'll post the results for 11-20.

For now, though, October sounded like this:

The tUnEyArDs - W H O K I L L: This album has grown on me in a big way. It may seem a bit cacophonous at first listen, but only because it's a pretty unique beast.

Gamelan of Central Java vol. XII: Pangkur One: Javanese Gamelan makes for a soothing and intellectually rewarding listen. Plus, the baby just loves it.

Thundercat - The Golden Age of Apocalypse: This album is much more complex than it seems, and warrants continued listening to find its finer points. There is a sense, however, that Thundercat is searching for something unique that doesn't quite pop into clear focus on The Golden Age of Apocalypse.

Opeth - Heritage: For many years, part of Opeth's fan base has secretly hoped that they would just make a prog album. Heritage is their answer, and their haunting, spooky approach to the genre refreshingly avoids branching off from the Yes family tree.

Pink Floyd - Obscured by Clouds: Although Obscured by Clouds is a bit unfocused in comparison to their later work, it shows interesting snapshots of the Floyd to come. It seems that even when Pink Floyd clears their throat in preparation to make their next statement, it’s worth taking notice.

Rolling Stones - Exile on Main Street: If, as I suggested in my review of Goat's Head Soup, the Stones' attitude is thier biggest innovation, then Exile on Main Street indeed deserves its classic status. It’s unflinching and unapologetically brash, and generally lacking in "hits," but still seems to convey an undercurrent of respect for the blues that is its source material.

Grizzly Bear - Vekatimest: This band sits at the crossroads of the Flaming Lips and Jellyfish, and every time I listen to their album, I feel like there is more to it that I am missing. There is quite a bit of depth that I am just now beginning to get into.

The Vaccines - What Did You Expect From the Vaccines?: If accessible low-brow power pop is your thing, The Vaccines do it really well. Seriously, I was singing along with this album on the first listen.

M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming: Yet again, M83 carries the torch for the music of the 80s, reinventing its pop conventions into a distinctive psychedelia that is somehow relevant in 2011. The production on the album is truly unbelievable - as in, it is past belief.

Genesis - Nursery Cryme: For some reason, when artists try to wear outlandish get-ups and sing about enchanted fountains, it usually seems goofy and lame. In the early 70s, however, Gabriel's Genesis was so defiantly surreal and countercultural that they ended up being just plain awesome.

Robert Johnson - King of the Delta Blues: There is a hot debate concerning the playback speed of Johnson's small but profoundly influential catalog. Listening to them with this in mind, I think its pretty apparent that they are a bit too fast, which causes one to wonder how Cream, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin would have reinterpreted them if they were pressed at their actual performance speed.

Oingo Boingo - Dead Man's Party: Danny Elfman's penchant for the thematic, which would later be refined in his film scores, peeks through on this album. Many of the songs on Dead Man's Party break the five minute mark, but construction is such that the listener barely notices.

My Bloody Valentine - Loveless: Some of my favorite bands, like Mew and M83, cite to this band as an influence. I do find its swirling guitars and whispered vocals to be an enjoyable listen, but I think that I like where shoegaze ended up going more than its prototypical form.

I Monster - NeveroddoreveN: Although it probably won't steer the future of my musical concept, I really do like NeveroddoreveN. It’s an eclectic mix that hangs together by the barest vaudevillian thread.

MuteMath - Odd Soul :  I should accept each album on its own merit, but for some reason later entries in MuteMath's catalog just don't click for me.  Like their sophomore release Armistice, this album is very, very good, but is missing the transcendent quality of their debut.

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