The Best Music I Heard All Year, 2006 Edition.

Again, in alphabetical order:

Current 93, Black Ships Ate The Sky (2006)

David Tibet has recorded two undisputed masterpieces — at least in my opinion, Dogs Blood Rising and All the Pretty Little Horses, though Thunder Perfect Mind and Sleep Has His House are close — and this is his third. Representing, perhaps, the feverish, apocalyptic culmination of over 25 years of death-haunted meditations, Current 93 — here augmented by an all-star cast — weaves a stunning album, what Tibet calls “a Hallucinatory Patripassianist Dream.” (Okay, the fact that my name is listed as one of the album’s “subscribers” on the last page of the booklet is cool too.)

Dengue Fever, Escape from Dragon House (2005)

I’ve written about the coolest band in America many times on my blog, so this should be no surprise. Working off the same template that made their debut album one of my favorites of 2002 — covers of Cambodian rock tracks — Dengue Fever’s second album makes a huge leap to original songs, albeit throwing in psychedelia, spy-movie chase scenes, surf guitar, and Cambodian lyrics into the mix. But you folks really have to catch them live.

Easy Star All-Stars, Radiodread (2006)

In which they follow up their song-by-song reggae cover of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon with an equally impressive reggae version of Radiohead’s OK Computer. It’s nowhere near as immediate as the former — basically because Radiohead just isn’t Pink Floyd — but both Thom Yorke fans and reggae fans should enjoy this in equal measure. The highlight: an impossibly happy version of “Let Down,” sung by Toots & The Maytals.)

Linus’ Blanket, Labor in Vain (2005)

Delicate Korean twee pop, sounding much like a Siesta Records release from the late ’90s but without the archness. Fifteen-minute EPs should be as perfect as this.

Mclusky, Mcluskyism (2006)

There’s a ragged, furious, nasty joy to this compilation by the recently-disbanded (alas) Welsh band Mclusky, appealing to that ragged, furious, nasty part of you that would sing along to refrains like “Our old singer is a sex criminal.” (Hunt down the three-disc set, as it comes with rarities and live versions, including some of the most withering put-downs of a heckler in the audience — “You tape Sex and the City, you fuck?” — I’ve heard on record.)

Spangle call Lilli line, or (2003)

It’s not easy to describe this album: delicate vocals, guitar filigree, electronic crackle, the virtue of repetition and stretched-out instrumentals. Just gorgeous.

Bruce Springsteen, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (2006)

Springsteen hardly does studio recordings of songs he didn’t write — maybe a cover like “Deportee” on a couple of tribute albums here and there, “Jersey Girl” from the live box set, so that doesn’t even count — so this new album was either going to be extra-special or evidence of a creative drought. Thankfully, it’s the former; it’s the most exuberantly angry and joyful music I’ve heard all year. Music to want the wide American earth by.

Up dharma Down, Fragmented (2006)

What I wrote earlier, on my favorite album of 2006, hands down:

It’s only April, and I think I already have one of my favorite albums of the year. Up dharma Down’s Fragmented is an urban soul chronicle from the streets of Manila, both tense and laid back, full of nervous energy one moment and suffused with post-club comedown the next.

I still remember the first time I saw the video for the fantastic first single, “Maybe.” I was idly flipping channels one December night in Los Banos last year when the video came on, and I was transfixed by its evocation of claustrophobia, as the camera followed a near-hysterical woman pacing inside a hotel room, then down a narrow stairwell, tear-smeared mascara on her face.

But it was, of course, the music which kept me glued to the TV: an insistent, propulsive reverbed guitar riff; a skittering, distorted “Amen” break; a bass line turned up way high in the mix; and that voice which stretched “Maybe” into 27 different syllables. (I had to grab paper and pen to scribble down the name of the band; alas, their album wasn’t coming out until a few months later, as the kind women at Odyssey and Tower Records had absolutely no idea what I was talking about.)

The rest of the album doesn’t quite approach the succinct drama of “Maybe,” but it’s quite strong nevertheless, and I suspect more songs will float their way to the top as the year proceeds… I can’t wait to see them live.

Yo La Tengo, I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass (2006)

Scattered, undisciplined, almost self-indulgent, uncontained, all over the place: my second-favorite band ever (after the Beatles) returns to the heights of I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One. And it has the best album title too.

Plus some more YouTube fun:

Dengue Fever, “Sni Bong”
Easy Star All-Stars, “Let Down”
Mclusky, “She Will Only Bring You Happiness” (though I rather like the Flash animation for “Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues” more)
Spangle call Lilli line, “nano”
Bruce Springsteen, “John Henry”
Up dharma Down, “Maybe”
Yo La Tengo, “Mr. Tough” (Live)


Current 93 / Om / Pantaleimon / Six Organs of Admittance / Maja Elliott, SF, 11/5/2005.

This was Night #2 of the big Current 93 lovefest; given that this was only the second time, in almost a quarter century of existence, that Current 93 has toured San Francisco, I bought my ticket the day it went on sale. (The fact that Om was opening for them made the concert even sweeter.)

First up was Maja Elliott: while her piano has, in essence, been the cornerstone of Current 93’s sound in the last few years, Elliott solo is another matter; the music wouldn’t seem out of place on a Windham Hill release circa 1982. (Not necessarily an insult, but you know what I mean.)

I have to confess I walked out once from hearing Six Organs of Admittance (he was opening for Ghost last year). This time, however, Ben Chasny started off with some serious effects pedals din, flailing around like Keiji Haino; by the time he would alternate this with relatively gentle and intricate fingerpicking, I was hooked. I’m not walking out on him again.

Pantaleimon, who is basically Andria Degens — whose album I bought off eBay when I got home from the concert — played haunting stuff: droney tone poems on harmonium (I think) and hammered dulcimer (I think). Too bad the audience was extremely, rudely loud at this point.

Then Om was next. I have Variations on a Theme (and of course all the Sleep albums), but listening to them on crappy computer speakers simply didn’t prepare me for the sheer, brutal, lunkheaded purity of their vision: detuned bass guitar, a badly-abused drum kit, blown-out speakers, hair flying everywhere, and one hypnotic 45-minute track (or at least it seemed that long). This was straight-up, bludgeoning stoner rock right out of Jerusalem / Dopesmoker; considering that Om is basically Sleep minus one (i.e., Matt Pike’s guitar), the new music is necessarily even more reductive, if that were possible. (I think they annoyed the hell out of the Strawberry Switchblade goths in the audience, so it was great to hear Tibet later call Om “my absolute favorite band in the world.” A few around me had their fingers in their ears the entire time; that may have included the guy with incense up front who, I swear, was writing in his diary in between sets.) Their set alone practically wiped me out already.

Of course, the band everyone came to see was Current 93. The current touring lineup — Elliott on piano, John Contreras on cello, Joolie Wood on violin, William Breeze on viola (one would think that the Caliph of the O.T.O. would be pretty busy, but hey), Baby Dee on harp, Chasny on electric guitar, the legendary Simon Finn on acoustic guitar, and of course, The Artist Formerly Known As David Tibet on vocals — was a quite formidable one, at least sonically speaking. Because of this, in many ways, the highlights of the concert were the new apocalyptic songs from the upcoming Black Ships Ate The Sky album; the so-called Coptic single, for instance, is a collision of Soft Black Stars-style minimalism with the industrial crash of his earliest albums.

The last time I saw David Late Tibet was at the same very venue, though I was standing next to the bar and mostly hearing the clink of the bottles. This time, however, I had managed to wriggle my way into the second row, close to the center, right behind David’s lyric sheet stand (one row away from where I was standing at the Merzbow concert a couple of months ago). This gave me the perfect vantage point to see him declaim and grimace and twitch like a preacher possessed, almost unrelenting in intensity.

The setlist, as one could have guessed, drew largely from the output of the last few years (see also How I Devoured Apocalypse Balloon and Halo), with a blistering “Oh Coal Black Smith” before the encore, from those days when David and Boyd Rice and John Balance and Douglas Pearce were all still buddies. (At some point some idiot in the audience yelled for “Freebird,” to which Tibet replied, “We’re no fucking covers band,” but did do a scary version of Bill Fay’s “Time of the Persecution.”) The evening ended with one of my favorite C93 songs: piano, vocals, “Have pity for the dead / Sleep has his house.” Amazing.


C93, SF, 5/9/03

The setlist for Current 93’s once-in-a-lifetime concert at the Great American Music Hall, May 9 (as posted on the C93 list) — I’m at a loss for words, and I’m even more stunned than I was at the amazing Angels of Light / Devendra Banhart / Vetiver concert last month:

1. Judas as Black Moth
2. Larkspur & Lazarus
3. Gothic Love Song
4. Mocking Bird
5. Soft Black Stars
6. Anti-Christ and Bar Codes
7. Signs in the Stars
8. Moon Light or Other Dreams or Other Fields
9. Whilst the Night Rejoyces Profound and Still
10. Sleep Has His House
11.In the Heart of the Woods
12. Mary Waits In Silence
13. A Silence Song
14. Be
15. All This World Makes Great Blood
16. The Great Bloody Bruised Veil of this World
17. This Carnival Is Dead And Gone
18. Calling for Vanishing Faces I
19. The Blood Bells Chime
20. Calling for Vanishing Faces II
21. All the Pretty Little Horses
22. The Magical Bird in the Magical Woods
23. Immortal Birds
24. Anyway, People Die
25. Alone
26. A Sadness Song
27. Oh Coal Black Smith


some eerie music

Haven’t posted in a long while — just came back from a whirlwind trip to Ithaca, NY, and now a lot of catching up on paper-grading awaits me — but here’s a bit off a thread on the Zorn list.

Someone had requested some eerie music, that is, music that will freak you out if you were listening alone at night. Some mentioned Diamanda Galas — the Plague Mass is wonderful, but for my money Schrei X is the scarier, if less interesting, one — and Painkiller‘s Execution Ground (it is the Zorn list after all).

There’s a Nijiumu-sounding track on the Purple Trap box set called… Forest of Spirits, if I remember correctly, and one of the sections sounds just like what the title says, as if Keiji Haino placed some microphones in the woods and did a field recording and picked up disembodied sighing. Scary as all hell.

The soundtrack to The Exorcist is also extremely effective (the George Crumb piece in particular). Hear it also on the Kronos Quartet‘s amazing Black Angels album.

There is also a whole genre of so-called dark ambient music, though a good amount of the practitioners rely on the same tonality of drone. Lustmord’s “The Place Where the Black Stars Hang” is a great starting point, as is also “Heresy.”

Nurse With Wound‘s “Homotopy to Marie” is excellent as well — nowhere near as pure dada as some of Stapleton’s other stuff, nor as droney as, say, “Soliloquy for Lilith.”

Comus‘s “First Utterance” has a way of really getting under one’s skin, though since it’s acid-damaged psych folk it’s an acquired taste. But if the image of mad, gibbering violinists, hangings, and things in the woods appeals to you… (Later David Tibet would do a very fine cover of Comus’s “Diana” on Current 93‘s “Horsey” album — now that I think of it, listening to Current 93’s “Dogs Blood Rising” late at night really freaked me out.)

And now to black metal: it’s hard to take a group like Abruptum seriously because their main dudes are named It and Evil. (I keep thinking of Cousin It and Dr. Evil hamming it up together.) However, their album “Obscuritatem Advoco Amplectere Me” is nothing but pure howling and screaming for an hour. Guaranteed to scare your neighbors.