Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Best Albums of the 2000s: #150-101

150. Shellac | Excellent Italian Greyhound
(Touch & Go, 2007)
For their fourth album, and first in seven years, Shellac return as good as ever, balancing somewhere between the sprawling, low-key Terraform and the more straightforward rockers of 1000 Hurts. Excellent Italian Greyhound opens with a lament for the death of radio, with Steve Albini screaming "can you hear me now?" like a commercial spokesman gone deranged. From there the album winds through scorching punk rock, churning proto-metal, and some of the oddball touches you'd expect from a joker like Albini, who can't help but quote from both The Who Sell Out and the Boy Scouts' motto, the latter, shouted out between non-sequiturs, forming the basis for one of the band's best and funniest stompers.

149. cLOUDDEAD | s/t
(Mush, 2001)
This compilation of the Anticon flagship group's first six singles ranks among the Anticon collective's best work. The music, mostly by Odd Nosdam, is lush and warm, with plodding hip-hop beats pounding holes in the murk of analogue synths and the ground-up haze of samples. Rappers Dose One and Why?, with their unconventional flows, perfectly complement this skewed take on hip-hop, as Dose's hyper-speed whine and Why?'s deeper, smoother vox trade verses of allusive poetry.

148. DJ /rupture | Uproot
(The Agriculture, 2008)
DJ /rupture's approach to the mix is among the most eclectic and boldly multicultural around. Drawing on music from around the world, sampling and remixing fellow electronic artists, hip-hop crews, reggae, various ethnic musics, and anything else he can get ahold of, Jace Clayton smooths it all out into a fluid blend of hip-hop, techno and genre-defying mash-ups. There are moments of pastoral beauty, haunting snatches of song floating up above the drums, strange collisions of seemingly irresolvable musical paradoxes.

147. Aluk Todolo | Descension
(Public Guilt, 2007)
This is a side project for several members of various French black metal bands, but the influence of that genre shows through here mainly in the dark atmospherics, the sense of evil lurking in the shadows. These four instrumental jams draw on the lineage of Krautrock, the steady motorik pulse tied to thick sheets of vicious guitar distortion, barely kept in chains by the stabilizing influence of the beat. It's not so much head-banging music as head-nodding music, hypnotic and eerie, suggesting lonely forest paths with danger omnipresent in the surrounding darkness.

146. The Unicorns | Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?
(Alien8, 2003)
Pretty much a perfect pop album from a band who appeared from nowhere and disappeared just as quickly, breaking up not long after this, their second album, was released. The group stacks up thick, fuzzy riffs with snatches of pirate-like sea shanties, singing with strange exuberance about the inevitability of death. It's a loose concept album about the acceptance of mortality, but what makes it great is its childlike enthusiasm in the face of death, its playfulness and rough garage beauty.

145. Vic Chesnutt | North Star Deserter
(Constellation, 2007)
On Vic Chesnutt's penultimate solo album before his 2009 death, the folk singer with the unmistakable cracked, eccentric voice turns out a suite of apocalyptic songs that often position his unsteady warble within storm clouds of noisy rock overload. The album's roster includes Guy Picciotto of Fugazi along with many members of Canadian post-rock troupe Godspeed You Black Emperor!, and the resulting music is fiery and intense, matching Chesnutt's strident pronouncements with the sturm-und-drang of the explosive music. There are moments of tenderness, too, and bleak humor, and offhandedly clever references, like the way a snatch of a Christian hymn introduces the atheist Chesnutt's ode to poet Wallace Stevens.

144. Destroyer | This Night
(Merge, 2002)
Destroyer still sounds like he wishes he was Bowie on this, his sixth album, but his songwriting is better than ever, and his production has become increasingly complex and layered. As in all the best pop-rock, the pleasure's in the details: the little touches of feedback slow-burning through the undergrowth of an elegant ballad, the multi-tracked guitars criss-crossing one another, the sophisticated melodies and harmonies. The album boasts some stunningly beautiful tunes — especially "Crystal Country" and "Trembling Peacock," which evokes its title through the quavering strings that set its mood — and it's probably Destroyer's most consistent effort as well, with nary a wrong step.

143. Wolf Eyes | Mugger
(Hanson, 2003)
A live recording that's among Wolf Eyes' most ferocious works. Here's my attempt at being poetic about this noisy brilliance, from 2003: "Wolf Eyes' live noise does have some analogue to the ferocity of a hardcore band on stage, but it's very hard to imagine this stuff — as messy and chaotic as it is — really coming from living, breathing humans. The final track is the most truly hellish of them all, a static-filled representation of the Devil's fiery rivers... This is demon's hardcore, and it's easy to imagine a bunch of hunch-backed, scaly-skinned creatures sprawled across a stage, stuffing their clawed fingers into guitar innards and holding live wires to the skulls of their victims. I mean, what else could possibly have produced this racket?"

142. Burkhard Stangl/Christof Kurzmann | schnee_live
(Erstwhile, 2005)
Stangl and Kurzmann, along with others in the Viennese improv scene, have in recent years been incorporating pop structures and melodicism into the usually abstract and tuneless music of electroacoustic improv. This disc is the most charmingly rough document of these musicians flirting with pop and song. Kurzmann's deadpan vocals are joined by Stangl's warm, surprisingly melodic guitar tones, the "song" sections flowing naturally into more abstract stretches where Stangl's guitar is joined by Kuzrmann's dark, moody computer buzz. The piece is structurally complex, and infused with both a dry sense of humor (quoting Prince and singing wistfully about laptops) and an eerie mood that's well-suited to the lyrics' references to a dead friend.

141. Prurient | Shipwrecker's Diary
(Ground Fault, 2004)
Prurient's Dominick Fernow has always been fairly emotional and open for a noise artist: his music is especially potent because of how completely he pours himself into it, even if his literary lyrics, swallowed up in waves of noise, aren't often even remotely decipherable without the aid of a lyrics sheet. Shipwrecker's Diary is one of Fernow's most emotionally affecting albums, as much for its ambiguous coda (a young girl's hesitant farewell) as for the half hour of blistering noise that precedes it. As I described it in my 2004 review, "After half an hour of some of the most alienating music imaginable, the album ends with this girl earnestly whispering 'I love you, good night,' the last sound heard on the disc before a few moments of utter silence allow that final proclamation to sink in."

140. Dean Roberts | Be Mine Tonight
(Kranky, 2003)
Recorded with a band sprawled out loosely through a house in Italy, Dean Roberts' best solo album has a sense of space, and spaciousness, that results from this attention to context. These layered compositions evoke sounds passing through walls, wafting in from a distance. Roberts' warm guitar tones reverberate through the space, wrapped around delicate touches of piano notes, hints of spare brushwork and percussion, droning bass pulses, and electronic murmurs suspended in the fragile hush. And despite the sprawl, it's intimate music, providing a hearth-warm cocoon for Roberts' quiet vocals, as each track builds slowly towards the traditional song hidden somewhere at its center.

139. Tarentel | Ghetto Beats on the Surface of the Sun
(Temporary Residence, 2006)
That Tarentel was once a rock band is just barely perceptible on Ghetto Beats, a set of four limited LPs collected as a two-CD set. These loose improvisations, often lengthy and meandering, utilize rock instrumentation but are more often dedicated to spacey ambient drift, spiked with noisy machine interjections, electronic splatter, static skittering across the surface of the music. Only the drumming — jazzy, jammy, propulsive — holds everything together, the solid base around which the band's improvisations cohere.

138. David Sylvian | Blemish
(Samadhi Sound, 2003)
A sparse album on which the deep, warm voice of David Sylvian floats above minimalist electronic burbling and shimmery guitars, quiet beds of sound for Sylvian's voice — simultaneously gentle and forceful, soothing and surging with subdued rage over a shattered love. Sylvian further fleshed out his sonic palette by enlisting guitarist Derek Bailey, who lends his signature dissonant plucking to three tracks, and computer musician Christian Fennesz, whose watery electronic textures close out the album.

137. Redrot | Drunk On Cadaverine
(Chondritic Sound, 2002)
Industrial crunch housed within a noisy, abrasive cacophony. Militant beats pound insistently as the fuzz threatens to overwhelm the rigid structure of these songs. The four songs here seem torn between coherence and chaos, on the verge of being ripped apart from within by this sublime tension. This is a harsh, dark and yet strangely accessible 20 minutes from this underappreciated industrial/noise artist.

136. Ryan Adams | Heartbreaker
(Bloodshot, 2000)
Ryan Adams' first album is a chronicle of a breakup, a subject well-suited to Adams' cracked, almost unbearably sad voice. The album opens with a masterpiece: "To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)," a rollicking good time of a song where the energetic drive of the music can't quite smother the melancholy sentiments at its core. It's a perfect song, and its passion and fervor lingers over the rest of the album's downbeat, minimalist country, occasionally resurfacing in the bar-rocker moments that burst out from the desolation. It's angry, emotionally wrecked music, naked and unembarrassed.

135. John Butcher | Resonant Spaces
(Confront, 2008)
This album from saxophonist John Butcher is based around a concept that gives structure to some of Butcher's most inspired solo improvisations. During a tour of Scotland, Butcher sought out unconventional places to play, places where the resonance and geography of the location would influence his playing. He plays in caves, in a mausoleum, in an oil tank, outside in the center of a stone circle. Each space resonates with Butcher's unconventional approach to the sax in different ways, and as a result each piece here showcases a radically different style and sound. This varies from the eerie high-pitched tones of opener "Sympathetic Magic (Stone)" to the low, almost mechanical rumbling of "Wind Piece," to the repertoire of hollow-sounding scrapes and shrieks on "Close By, a Waterfall."

134. The Streets | Original Pirate Material
(Locked On, 2002)
Mike Skinner's debut introduces the British MC's unconventional approach to hip-hop: his awkward delivery and slice-of-life lyrics about relationships, lower-class life, fighting, friendships, music, gambling and more. Skinner's flow is gimped and halting, stopping and starting without warning, and his music has the raw, harsh electronic quality of UK garage. Skinner's down-to-earth lyrics are the real appeal; he has a certain directness and honesty that grounds his tales of urban bar brawls and hanging out with mates. As Skinner raps over minimalist synth sweeps and junky rhythmic pile-ups, one feels that the rapper is inviting his listeners to simply hang out, have a drink, chat a bit about this and that, maybe let off a little steam here and there. It's confessional and, at times, uncomfortably personal.

133. Weakling | Dead As Dreams
(tUMULT, 2000)
The only album from these elusive San Francisco black metal legends, released after the band had already split up. It's abrasive and oppressive, comprised of five lengthy, complex songs, with the gibbering screech of John Gossard cutting through a wall of martial rhythms, blast-beats, and a raunchy guitar sound that seems equally inspired by the grime of Scandanavian metal and the melodramatic melodicism of prog-metal.

132. Gang Gang Dance | Saint Dymphna
(The Social Registry, 2008)
Gang Gang Dance's fourth album gleefully merges the band's jammy Krautrock influences with exuberant thumping techno, as the squealing vocals of Lizzi Bougatsos are increasingly harnessed to tight, polished songs. The album has an addictive forward momentum, constantly charging on the waves of pounding drums, as squelchy synth melodies and tinkling piano tones weave around the rhythms. It's a tribute to the album's eclectic, accessible sound that when, on "Princes," British rapper Tinchy Stryder unexpectedly shows up to drop some rhymes, the bouncy groove of the band's music is a surprisingly perfect fit.

131. Martin Siewert/Martin Brandlmayr | Too Beautiful To Burn
(Erstwhile, 2003)
An album of supple, burbling improvisation on which Siewert's melodic acoustic guitar and synths are offset by the active, unconventional percussion of Brandlmayr, who largely eschews traditional drumming in favor of rhythmic patterns assembled from various scrapings, rubbings and hollow clanks. Standout "Source" kicks off with "a low, steady drone from Siewert, as Brandlmayr lays down a clattering, hesitant rhythm. These two sounds — the warm drone and the pinprick drum hits — slowly develop over the track's course into a complex, organic interplay that builds tension without ever releasing it. It's a glorious exercise in extended restraint, with Brandlmayr's increasingly complicated rhythms and percussive sidebars constantly riding the soaring highs of Siewert's tiered drones. At around four minutes in, it all drops out into a startling, bassy emptiness, then builds up again just as compellingly from scratch."

130. Clipse | Hell Hath No Fury
(Jive, 2006)
The lyrics might be the usual glorification of a drug-dealing lifestyle, all about hos and designer clothes and fancy cars and coke, but the music is stripped-down and minimal, raw and ugly. Malice and Pusha T trade verses over rumbling bass, shards of melody stretched out into siren-like sine tones, and hollow-sounding percussion hits. By the time they get to "Dirty Money" — on which the pair raps about impressing women with their drug riches, telling a prospective conquest, "you don't gotta love me, you just gotta be convincing" — the glamorous veneer has been thoroughly worn away, and the album is revealed as not just another ode to crass urban lifestyles, but a solemn lament that this is unfortunately the best option available to so many people.

129. Radiohead | Amnesiac
(Capitol, 2001)
A sister album to Kid A, comprised of songs recorded at the same sessions, but far from being a collection of leftovers or second-tier tunes, Amnesiac is nearly as coherent and powerful as its predecessor. This set has a few of the more traditional rock songs from these sessions, but also some of the more challenging pieces, like the noisy, ear-tickling techno of "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" or the reversed melody and vocals of "Like Spinning Plates." And it closes with one of the band's best songs, the New Orleans jazz band dirge "Life in a Glasshouse."

128. Autistic Daughters | Jealousy and Diamond
(Kranky, 2004)
Jealousy and Diamond is notable for being a proper "rock" album from a trio of musicians who have occasionally flirted with the genre but have mostly been involved in free improvisation and electronic music. The band arose from guitarist Dean Roberts' experiments in loose, partially improvised rock songs, where texture and musical interaction becomes far more important than structure or melody. He's joined here by the endlessly inventive drummer Martin Brandlmayr and bassist Werner Dafeldecker, so that they form a de facto rock band arrangement in order to deconstruct the form. The songs are appropriately loose, drifting around Roberts' low-key vocals; the segments of cohesion and real "rocking out" are all the more delicious for the tentative process by which the band builds up to these ecstatic moments.

127. Hair Police | Rattlers Echo
(Chondritic Sound, 2004)
Best described as a noise power trio, these guys have produced some really inspired stuff, balancing on the edge of noise, hardcore and metal, and this 20-minute little disc, divided more or less in half between two pieces, is their most compact and perfect statement. Back in 2004, I described it as capturing "the moment before the killer bees attack, and the haphazard drums sound like they're being played on a kit made of metal." Add to that the screechy howls of Mike Connelly, who sounds like he's been possessed by a black metal vocalist as he unleashes throat-scraping conjurings from within the music's sandpaper texture.

126. Xiu Xiu | A Promise
(5 Rue Christine, 2003)
Xiu Xiu's second album is as dark and strange as all the band's work. Jamie Stewart's gender-blurring storytelling is set amidst the band's minimalist, Asian-influenced percussion minefields, with shards of electro-industrial sound providing further friction. Stewart moans, croons and periodically screams his way through these devastating, poignant stories of exploitation, abuse and loneliness. It all climaxes with a stark, harrowing cover of Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car," which ekes out every trace of emotion — longing, regret, fear, pain — from that song's evocative scene-setting.

125. Otomo Yoshihide & Saga Yuki | See You in a Dream
(F.M.N. Sound Factory, 2006)
Otomo Yoshihide is a truly unpredictable musician, who has worked in ultra-minimal abstraction, free jazz, melodic movie soundtracks, harsh guitar noise, frantic digital sampling, and various combinations of these disparate forms. Even by those standards, See You in a Dream is unexpected, a double-disc set of playful pop tunes built around the versatile voice of Saga Yuki, who alternately sounds like a lounge jazz crooner and a showtunes belter. Yoshihide's arrangements, scored for a tremendous array of musicians from his New Jazz Orchestra and other musical associates, range from droning guitar feedback, to lilting borrowings of traditional Japanese melodies, to bursts of jazzy horns, to sweet string arrangements, to mournful piano accompaniment. It's light and airy music, infused with a sense of fun best represented by the delightful moment when Yuki giggles slightly towards the end of a line, fluidly picking up the tune again afterwards.

124. Sole | Selling Live Water
(Anticon, 2003)
Sole is an awkward, off-kilter rapper, and he makes the best of his ungainly flow on this album, spitting out wordy, eloquent diatribes about the post-9/11 climate and life on the road. The album is bolstered, too, by the dense, warm music of Anticon producers and DJs like Alias, Jel and Why?, who provide the album with a fuzzy melodicism and crisp, minimal beats. This approach reaches its apex on the title track, Sole's abstractly poetic response to the political exploitation of 9/11.

123. Yeasayer | All Hour Cymbals
(We Are Free, 2007)
Who would expect a band of young indie rock guys based in Brooklyn to sound so cosmopolitan, so of the world? The band's disparate influences — incorporating Middle Eastern melodies, African rhythms, soul and R&B, synth-pop and the Beach Boys — make for an eclectic, offbeat sound that goes down surprisingly easy. Their smooth, melodic surfaces can't disguise just how much is going on in these songs, though, as they flirt with abrasive electro-pop, layer summery harmonies over an ambient drone, or craft joyously fast-moving genre mash-ups.

122. Joe Colley/Jason Lescalleet | Annihilate This Week
(Brombron, 2006)
Two master sound manipulators join forces, and though the results aren't as monumental as Colley and Lescalleet are, separately or together, in live performances — and what could be? — it's a fine album of textural sound-molding. It's all droney sizzle and crackle, tape loops grinding, snatches of sampled sound leaping out of the eerie near-silence, hints of an expected explosion that never quite arrives. Both musicians are sonic sculptors, building odd structures and landscapes with worn, crackling sounds, and here they form a perfect union, each adding subtly to this soupy drone.

121. His Name Is Alive | Someday My Blues Will Cover the Earth
(4AD, 2001)
A complete stylistic shift from this longtime avant indie-pop band, who by this point had stripped down to a duo of Warren Defever and soul/R&B vocalist Lovetta Pippen. The result is a straight-up album of old-school R&B: lovely, melancholy, with its own inbuilt nostalgia for a lost era. Pippen's gorgeous voice croons above the minimalist production of Defever, resulting in intimate songs of heartache and loss, channeling classic soul and Billie Holiday.

120. Molasses | A Slow Messe
(Fancy, 2003)
The best album from this Montreal-based desolate folk band, tangentially related to Godspeed You Black Emperor! It's a sprawling double album, a set of ramshackle songs with field recordings and snatches of avant jamming serving as dividers. My 2003 take was that this set is "a lot denser than past efforts, surrounding [Scott] Chernoff’s plucked acoustic guitar and impassioned wails with scraped strings, bursts of feedback, minimal piano, electric guitars, and singing saws... Molasses' songs are all instantly affecting, inflected with a post-apocalyptic angst that is stark and somewhat terrifying, and yet still strangely enveloping... as the album progresses, you're drawn into the group's unique vision, until even tracks like the epic 12-minute death-crawl 'Delirium Rag,' which opens the second disc, don’t seem excessive."

119. Tortoise | Standards
(Thrill Jockey, 2001)
This fourth album by the Chicago post-rock stalwarts seems to have been unfairly forgotten in comparison to their seminal first three recordings, and that's a shame. With Standards, the group added liberal use of electronics and synths to their jazzy palette, resulting in an album that seamlessly weaves together jazz, synth burble, progressive rock, and even hints of 80s pop melodicism. It's Tortoise's warmest, most fun album, from the trashy-sounding, distorted drums of opener "Seneca" to the light, summery vibes of "Six Pack" to the glitchy, shuffled drums and borderline-cheesy synth melodies of the delightful "Monica."

118. The Thermals | The Body, the Blood, the Machine
(Sub Pop, 2006)
They sound like a particularly solid bar band — fuzzy riffing and relentlessly propulsive beats, Hutch Harris' distinctive howling vocals — but there's real heart and intellect in the Thermals' unpretentiously poppy rock. This disc is a real time capsule of a particular mid-2000s moment, an angry, sardonic concept album about a Christian theocracy taking over the United States. Harris' clever lyrics incorporate Biblical imagery and are often sung, with ironic detachment, from the point of view of the theocrats, as evidenced by song titles like "I Might Need You To Kill." What's interesting, though, is how compulsively catchy and vibrant the album remains despite its lyrical darkness. The band's political rage never overwhelms their instincts for in-your-face melodies, and their pessimism can't extinguish their energy.

117. Bob Dylan | "Love and Theft"
(Columbia, 2001)
A real old man's album in the best possible sense. Dylan, always old before his time, once a young man who sounded like a croaking old blues singer, now fits the voice and the attitude, and he seems to have permanently settled into that slightly crotchety old blues singer mold. But he's rarely sounded better than he does on the heartfelt poetry of "Mississippi," one of his very best songs (and isn't that really saying something!), or any number of the album's other folksy jams.

116. Masada | Live in Sevilla 2000
(Tzadik, 2000)
John Zorn's "Jewish jazz" outfit Masada harnesses Zorn's skronky free jazz to the snaky, sinuous melodies of klezmer. In typical Zorn fashion, the band has released a lifetime's worth of albums in the past 15 years, and I'm in no position to say this is the best by any means. But it's the best of the ones I've heard, lively and energetic, bursting with love for the ethnic music this group of downtown musicians is appropriating. The group alternates between furious bursts of noisy free jazz chaos and long stretches where the crystal-clear melodicism of the music cuts through beautifully, and the soloists frequently seem vivified and urged on by an appreciative audience.

115. Local H | Here Comes the Zoo
(Palm Pictures, 2002)
Who would've guessed that these purveyors of small-town angst, who once scored a few modest hits by doing a solid Kurt Cobain pastiche back when that was the ticket to mainstream radioplay, could move past those roots to craft such an elegant, rocking album? Let alone an album so classicalist at its muscular core that it's structured around LP sides even though it appeared primarily (only?) on CD. It's great stuff, especially the central nine-minute epic "(Baby Wants To) Tame Me," a towering melodic rocker, and the closing "What Would You Have Me Do?," which shuffles together and recycles riffs and moments from the rest of the album into a hard rock collage.

114. Dälek | From Filthy Tongues of Gods and Griots
(Ipecac, 2002)
Dälek is ostensibly a hip-hop act, but they combine trace elements of hip-hop — mostly in the sluggish beats and Dälek's spoken word delivery — with noisy soundscapes, fiery guitars and industrial rock textures. This album seldom grooves; it seethes, and churns, like magma rolling relentlessly over anything in its path, while Dälek spits out Beat-inspired apocalyptic poetry atop the dark music of producer and turntablist Oktopus and Still.

113. Smog | Dongs of Sevotion
(Drag City, 2000)
There's just something so great about concept albums dealing with death and mortality, and Bill Callahan's take on this morbid but popular subject is one of the best, in part because he has such a good sense of humor about it. Take the album's obvious single choice, "Dress Sexy At My Funeral," in which Callahan urges his wife to use his death as an opportunity to celebrate their sexual history, to remind the mourners that before he died, he lived, and lived well, with a sexy woman. That says it all, as does the chorus of cheerleaders who unexpectedly show up for a chant on "Bloodflow." And as clever and witty as the lyrics are, especially when delivered by Callahan's wry baritone, the music is equally satisfying, backing these songs of loss and death with a rhythmically insistent pulse and occasional bursts of chugging rock.

112. Shellac | 1000 Hurts
(Touch & Go, 2000)
Shellac's third album strips away the meandering, minimalist instrumentals of previous efforts, replacing them with lean, mean rock songs driven by Steve Albini's typical spartan production sound. The songs are alternately nasty (opener "Prayer to God," a raging death wish for a cheating spouse) and absurd ("Squirrel Song"), and each one hits hard, the rhythm section a pounding headache pulse beneath the slashing guitars and Albini's bitingly sarcastic vocals.

111. Nihilist Assault Group | Aural Retribution
(Hospital, 2005)
It's pretty hard to separate this one-sided 12" from the memory of this group's performance at the 2005 No Fun Fest, where they appeared as a masked trio with one member (Richard Rupenus) simply sitting up front drinking wine while the chaos erupted around him. Hard to tell even who's on this recording, since the group's ambiguous construction combines Rupenus (of legendary UK noise pioneers the New Blockaders) with Ron Lessard of RRRecords, even though Prurient and FFH apparently contributed to the live performance. It hardly matters, though the air of mystery does add a special something to this blistering noise platter. Ambiguity and the destruction of identity were always integral to the New Blockaders' mission statement, and this mysterious project, mostly represented by just this solitary document and a few other scattered artifacts, lives up to the parent group's legend.

110. various artists | Wooden Guitar
(Locust Music, 2003)
A great compilation on which four amazing guitarists unleash lengthy, gorgeous solo acoustic guitar pieces. Steffen Basho-Junghans and Jack Rose represent the more traditional end of the spectrum, wearing their influences — John Fahey and Robbie Basho — on their sleeves to produce deft, lively folk tunes. Tetuzi Akiyama and Richard Bishop (of Sun City Girls) approach blues, folk and raga from a slightly more out-there perspective, but still pay tribute to their forebears through their time-stretched, emotionally intense solo blues.

109. The Fire Show | s/t
(Perishable, 2000)
The Fire Show's first album proves that the Chicago trio had a radical vision of rock right from the start. Waves of static occasionally overwhelm the music, singer M. Resplendent's voice shifts without warning from lulling croon to spastic howl, and the music is raw and textural, with plucked strings making pinprick holes in sheets of feedback. There's a ragged grandeur to this music, which seems perpetually torn between unrestrained emotionality and the wordy precision of Resplendent's cerebral lyrics. There's no question, though, that the emotion wins out on the band's stomping, angry cover of "Who Do You Love," to stunning effect.

108. Yellow Swans | Descension Yellow Swans
(Three Lobed, 2007)
This LP from Portland noisemakers Pete Swanson and Gabriel Saloman isn't so much the sound of descent as the sound of being overcome by waves, buried beneath accumulating layers of crushing, churning noise. The first track builds from a low-key drone into an eventually smothering onslaught, while the second track creates an eerie atmosphere right from the start with sizzling sine tones producing a subtle intimation of dread.

107. MIMEO/John Tilbury | The Hands of Caravaggio
(Erstwhile, 2002)
It seems like an idea that couldn't possibly work: pitting the spacious, quiet piano work of John Tilbury against an eleven-member all-electronic ensemble whose very nature ensures that their music tends towards the loud and tumultuous. Instead, the resulting album is a true masterwork in which Tilbury's perfectly placed notes drift out from the roiling electronic sea all around him, moments of perfect clarity amidst the chaos, overcoming even the interventions of Cor Fuhler, who further complicates matters by applying preparations within the piano even as Tilbury plays. It's the rare album where the high concept hijinks don't overwhelm the music, which is dynamic and viscerally exciting.

106. Rollerball | Behind the Barber
(Silber, 2004)
I've never gotten why no one seems to care about Rollerball, a daringly experimental Portland band who fearlessly hop and blend genres to stunning effect. This album — a return to form after several years of uncharacteristic inactivity — is among their best and most consistent, at least in terms of quality; stylistically, the band is all over the place, as usual. There's free jazz jams, a dub pop tune, a bit of dark techno remixed by electronic artist Nudge, some witchy incantations and chants, and several vocal-less pieces that range from delicate multi-instrument compositions to churning electronic noise.

105. Devendra Banhart | Rejoicing in the Hands
(Young God, 2004)
One of two albums Banhart released within the space of six months, on which he moved on from the bedroom lo-fi of his spotty (but spottily brilliant) debut. The glossier psychedelic production of later albums hadn't yet taken over, and this period is the best balance between Banhart the lo-fi troubadour and Banhart the grandiose psych bandleader. This album focuses on the singer's melodic, somewhat mournful side, with his characteristically inventive lyrics suggesting dark and frightening imagery.

104. Resplendent | EP series I-III
(Mixxtape, 2003-2004)
Following the quiet breakup of his band the Fire Show, singer M. Resplendent barely released these three EPs worth of genre experiments, sound collages and tunes, packaged in three identical, featureless metal cases with labels Scotch-taped onto the surfaces. No wonder no one heard them, but it's a shame: these discs take Resplendent from the Fire Show's deconstructed post-punk into weird electronic atmospherics and pseudo-hip-hop grooves, as well as revisiting some of his former group's best attributes. The best songs on these discs — like the abstracted description of heartbreak in "Wings Beneath the Sills" — deserve to be remembered along with the Fire Show's high points as examples of just how good these musicians were, together or solo.

103. Derek Bailey/Franz Hautzinger | s/t
(Grob, 2002)
The pairing of legendary improv guitarist Derek Bailey with trumpeter Franz Hautzinger resulted in one of Bailey's best collaborations in a very long career. It turns out that the breathy exhalations of Hautzinger — deep underground rumbling, the clicks and clatter of keys being depressed, the whispery mutter of a single breath arcing through the trumpet's length — are a perfect complement to Bailey's jittery, percussive playing. The music is spacious and patient, as Hautzinger's minimalism inspires Bailey to prune down his own maximalism into drawn-out twangs and scratchy insect-like scramblings.

102. Arcturus | The Sham Mirrors
(The End, 2002)
An epic of prog-metal absurdity. A synthesized string section lilts and murmurs behind the inevitable black metal blast-beats and shrieking guitars, while the dramatic vocals of Garm soar and screech out sci-fi fables. The album is eclectic in reaching far beyond the band's metal roots, introducing "Collapse Generation" with a tinkling music-box lullaby and inserting reverby dub interludes, carnivalesque organ drones and stretches of symphonic grandeur to balance out the heavier segments.

101. Aesop Rock | Labor Days
(Def Jux, 2001)
Rapper Aesop Rock's first album for El-P's Def Jux label is a truly defining work, as Rock's drawling raps float above the complex production of his collaborator Blockhead, whose music manages to be simultaneously stripped-down and warm. Melodic samples, like the trumpet that wafts through "Battery," representing the song's homeless character plying his street corner trade, provide a strong backbone to these songs of down-and-out working men and outcasts.


The remainder of this list will be posted, 50 entries at a time, over the next few days, with the top 50 appearing Thursday morning. The other entries in the list are here:
200-151 | 150-101 | 100-51 | 50-1

7 comments:

Kevin J. Olson said...

Hmmm...of these the only one I own is The Unicorns (a great album!) as tossed the Radiohead after about a year of listening to it after its release, eventually giving up because I apparently didn't "get it". I know A LOT of people who are sold on that album being their best example of their experimental phase (which I suppose they're still in), but I still prefer their more "conventional" rock efforts (because they did them so flawlessly) The Bends and OK Computer.

I am not much of a hip hop/rap fan, but I remember thinking The Streets was pretty clever when some of my friends would have it on in the car.

More great suggestions. I'm compiling a pretty formative list, hehe.

Ed Howard said...

Thanks, Kevin. If you like the Unicorns, the one from this batch that leaps out as one to check out ASAP is the Thermals, another great fuzzy, fun indie band.

I was in college when Kid A and Amnesiac came out, and they came out at around the time that I was first starting to dabble in avant-garde and electronic music, listening to lots of Krautrock and starting to check out some outright noise, so I was listening to some of Radiohead's most obvious influences, like Can and Aphex Twin, at around the same time, and it all made sense in that context. So in a way those albums hit me at a perfect time, after I'd already been primed for that kind of adventurousness but before it would've started to sound too familiar. Before Amnesiac came out, the label had a small pre-release listening party on campus, a bunch of kids crammed into a small auditorium with some nice speakers, and it was really amazing to hear it for the first time in that context. The album is really diverse, and at times pretty challenging, and then it ends with the perfect emotional catharsis, and it's just beautiful. Honestly, though, I'd have a hard time picking between Kid A/Amnesiac and the earlier rock ones you mention; I'm not a partisan of one period over another.

Drew said...

Yeah, like Kevin I have heard of far fewer from this batch than from the first 50. That's a good thing, though, as the blurbs you've written are awesome, Ed, and many of these albums I'm compelled to seek out now.

The DJ/rupture album you've listed is fantastic and very much as you've described; a veritable stew of rich sounds and textures that's imminently re-listenable.

I've only heard snatches of that particular Chesnutt album you've listed, but what a talent he was, and his passing was a big loss for music.

Good call on Heartbreaker. My favorite is still probably Gold, but there's no denying the raw power of this album, and it's great to see Adams represented on the list.

Hell Hath No Fury and Amnesia are both just great, and are probably the only two from this group that might make it onto my own top 50 list (which I began the first stages of hammering out last night.) HHNF is by far my favorite Clipse disc yet.

I've heard great things about both the Wooden Guitar and The Thermals discs, so I guess I'll have to check those out.

Really looking forward to the next entries, Ed!

Ed Howard said...

Thanks for commenting, Drew. I find Adams' Gold so uneven, with some great songs and some unfortunate filler. In my opinion, that sums up pretty much everything he's done other than Heartbreaker, actually. He's a very talented songwriter but his quality control is a bit spotty. Weirdly enough, I do love the bonus EP that came with the initial release of Gold.

That Clipse album is definitely amazing, I love the stark production, it makes it sound so grimy and dark.

Troy Olson said...

I'm in the same boat as Kevin with Radiohead, as I mentioned when I commented on the last post. I like your explanation there, Ed. (And I talk to Kevin just about every day and I didn't know we were on the same page there).

Beyond that album, I highly enjoy The Unicorns and The Thermals albums from this portion of your list, while also having a bit of surprise over your inclusion of Ryan Adams, a singer many reviewers would sluff off as inconsequential (I like Adams' style, even here and there in his more recent stuff, even while I realize it's just one step above AOR).

Destroyer I'm hit or miss on, as I enjoyed him at first, until the point where all his stuff sounded like the same thing over and over again, at which point I kind of gave up on listening to him.

I mentioned the loss of Lala in my last comment -- Ed, do you know of a place where one could listen to some of these, short of going to each artists website? Any chance you are going to issue us a mixtape with some samples when you are finished...

Ed Howard said...

Thanks for the comments, Troy. Hard to imagine anyone disliking the Unicorns or Thermals if they're into that type of exuberant indie rock; those bands are pretty much perfect examples of the form. As for Adams, I can see the AOR complaint about his later stuff, and I more or less lost interest in him after the uneven Gold for exactly that reason. Too many maudlin piano ballads and lame pop tunes on Gold, crowding out the good stuff. But Heartbreaker is a damn good album, bursting with passion and anger. I'd be tempted to include it even if every song sucked besides "To Be Young" (such a great opener) and of course the other songs don't suck by any means.

I have to admit I'm in a similar place to you with Destroyer. I like both This Night and Streethawk, but since everything he puts out sounds more or less the same, he's kind of worn out his welcome. The newer ones are no better or worse, but they've suffered from the over-familiarity.

I wish I knew of a good place to find samples. I'd heard of Lala, and when I was making this list I went there to see if I could link to it for samples of each album - only to find it had shut down! Honestly, if I want to sample something before I buy, I usually download it from Soulseek, which I highly recommend checking out. It's the best current-generation music download software, in my opinion. Otherwise, iTunes of course has brief samples of lots of stuff.

I'll have to think about the feasibility of a mixtape of some sort, maybe just in the form of mix CDs for the people who really want it. We'll see...

Troy Olson said...

Yeah, Lala was a godsend for testng out music (and for linking to it in blog posts). I did some more searching and found this. Seems to have many of the albums from your list. Try it out:

Grooveshark

As for the mixtape -- I was just thinking of a purely online one. I know there are sites out there where you can throw one together. It'd be a great way to get an idea on sampling some of these albums, but I can understand that it takes a ton of time...