Q: What is this that stands before me? A: Ozzy-era Black Sabbath! Plus the first great rock record of 2014, Against Me!’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues, moody country-rock from Doug Paisley and more. Let’s see what we’ve got.
Against Me!, Transgender Dysphoria Blues: Yeah, I said it: the first great rock record of 2014 has arrived. Maura Johnston goes in deep on this HIGHLY RECOMMENDED record:
Transgender Dysphoria Blues is fueled by the same anger at the status quo that powered earlier records by Grace’s band — when interviewed by Cosmopolitan about her punk-rock past, she plainly stated, “I liked that punk was about fighting back, as opposed to just taking it.” But it never gets overly consumed by its rage; even on the snarling “Drinking With The Jocks,” which takes hypermasculine culture’s most noxious manifestations to task, and the album-closing “Black Me Out,” a tart kiss-off to Grace’s past, there’s an urgency that goes beyond mere complaining, one that’s only accentuated by the top-heavy way the songs are mixed. (The label isn’t called Total Treble for nothing.)
Black Sabbath, Black Sabbath, Paranoid, Master of Reality, Vol. 4, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, Sabotage, Technical Ecstasy: THE WAIT IS OVER. The first seven Black Sabbath records are here and, man oh man, am I excited to revisit these in the dead of winter. The first four are basically perfect, I rep hard for Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (even though the band was somewhat out to sea by the time they made it), and overall they are the definitely the kind of classic records that live up to their recommendation. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, and maybe now I’ll finally listen to Technical Ecstasy.
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything: Latest barnburner from Godspeen You! Black Emperor parallel act Thee Silver Mt. Zion is boisterous and roiling and panicky; more “conventionally rocky” than Godspeed, the group still challenges the definition of what that even means, composing 10+ minute songs that incorporate drone and krautrock and noise with plenty of kick and snarl. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Doug Paisley, Strong Feelings: Excellent new record from Doug Paisley is full of world-wise storytelling and elegantly constructed roots rock. Andy Beta has more on this HIGHLY RECOMMENDED record:
On Strong Feelings, Paisley and band (the core group of bassist Bazil Donovan and keyboardist Robbie Grunwald joined by frequent Billy foil Emmett Kelly and once again featuring The Band’s Garth Hudson as guest) range wider:. Expansive classic rock rises up on songs like “Where the Light Takes You.” There’s smattering of jazz saxophone and –in one instance– Paisley plunked Hudson down in the lobby of Ottawa’s National Arts Centre so that he could play the Steinway piano that once belonged to composer Glenn Gould. But while Paisley introduces new wrinkles, he’s still at his best distilling rock, country, and folk on clear and unfussy numbers like “Our Love” and “Old Times.”
Damien Jurado, Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son: Damien Jurado’s latest is weird and strangely uplifting. Richard Gehr says:
An expansive yet concise album of psychedelic road songs — “Outside is nowhere but inside is endless,” sings Jurado in “Return to Maraqopa” — Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son is illuminated by hallucinatory visions, such as flaming numerals in the sky (“Magic Numbers”) that will sear your eyeballs (“Silver Timothy”). Swift’s Mellotron, displaced vocals, and tribal outbursts suggest both celestial ascents and earthly returns, and Jurado’s lyrics trace a similar arc. “Keep me on the ground,” sings Jurado in “Silver Joy,” the album’s single guitar-and-voice track, but “be sure and wake me when eternity begins.” An intriguing subtheme on silver runs throughout the record, as our seeker encounters “Silver Katherine,” “Silver Donna” and other silver denizens during his journey to Jericho.
Mogwai, Rave Tapes: The Scottish five-piece compress their emotional power and enthusiasm down to tight five-minute pieces. Sam Hockley-Smith says:
There’s “Hexon Bogon,” which junks the buildup you’d expect from a Mogwai song and gets its work done in a mere two-and-a-half minutes, chunky riff bleeding into shimmering feedback and speckled with cymbal splashes. It’s short, but it never feels slight. And then there’s “Repelish,” which features a dude speaking very sincerely about the hidden satanic messages in Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” In the background, Mogwai work a tight groove on repeat. Without the goofy spoken-word bit, it’d be a good mid-album transitional track, but with it, it’s a screwy ode to the magical, transportive power that music can have.
Tom Brosseau, Grass Punks: Brosseau’s seventh record (and first in five years) is full of the kind of bare-bones folk and plainspoken narratives on which he’s built a career. Brosseau has an unusual voice — creaky and cracking at times, comfortably occupying the upper register, which makes his slice-of-life vignettes seem that much odder and more surreal.
Chris Mills & the Distant Stars, Alexandria: Chris Mills also tends toward the folkier side of things, but where Brosseau is a storyteller, Mills’ songs seem beamed in directly from his heart. They’re deeply felt, driven by emotion and a conviction that’s almost palpable. This full-band effort is more richly sculpted and moving than he’s been in the past. It’s RECOMMENDED
Family Circle, Family Circle: Numero Group doing what they do best! Terrific reissue of this smooth soul and R&B from 1973 by New Jersey group Family Circle has the kind of soaring harmonies and swooping strings you’ve come to expect from the mellower moments of Curtis Mayfield. Like everything this label puts out, this one is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Amy Ray, Goodnight Tender: The punkier Indigo Girl shows ventures down the rugged road of alt-country on this collection of evocative roots rock. Bolstered by cameos from Kelly Hogan and Justin “Nothin’ But Free Time” Vernon, this is a really lovely, tautly-constructed record of beer bar ballads and belt-alongs.
Various Artists, Killed by Deathrock, Vol. 1: Absolutely incredible 11-track compilation of some of the lesser-known bands of the ’80s deathrock scene. Gloomy vocals, knifelike guitars, howls, scowls and doom galore. This one is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
The Rolling Stones, Live 1965: Music From Charlie Is My Darling: Soundtrack to the Rolling Stones tour film that was shot in 1965 but not released in the U.S. until 2012, this captures the Stones at their ragged, R&B-ish best; comprised largely of agreeably noisy takes on classic compositions, the album is a perfect snapshot of the group when they were still wild and wooly.
Avichi, Catharsis Absolute: Not the electronic guy. This Avichi is a one-man black metal band from Chicago that churns out evil, demonic, detuned black metal, a swirling vortex of sound that threatens to suck everything around it into the netherworld. RECOMMENDED
Dog Bite, Tranquilizers: Washed Out keyboardist Phil Jones goes solo. Garrett Kamps says:
Listening to the sophomore album from Atlanta shoegazers Dog Bite — essentially the solo project of erstwhile Washed Out keyboardist Phil Jones — is a bit like snorkeling: There’s beauty out there in the deep, but you’ve gotta be willing to swim through a few layers to find it, which makes it all the more gratifying when you do. “There Was Time,” the opening track, is deliquescent, a murky mix of elliptical guitars and hesitant drum beats, blended till smooth. Like much of this record, what it lacks in coherence it makes up for in mood.
Hard Working Americans, Hard Working Americans: A Workingman’s Dead for the new millennium, says Richard Gehr:
Hard Working Americans marks the debut of a promising quintet fronted by agitprop singer-songwriter Todd Snider. In these muscular adaptations of 11 of Snider’s favorite songs by other artists, jam-band euphoria chafes against working-class blues; it’s a Workingman’s Dead for the new millennium. They limn a loose portrayal of a poor soul beaten down by the Great Recession and cut loose every now and again — as on “The Mountain Song,” with its Garcia-esque soloing, and the rambunctious “Stomp and Holler.”
Tempel, On the Steps of the Temple: Ominous, apocalyptic instrumental doom metal, the songs on Steps gain girth and ballast as they go on, with layer of guitar piled atop layer of guitar, sometimes played so fast they sound like a tiny, evil orchestra. Fans of slow-moving acts like Yob, Shrinebuilder and Neurosis, this will be your jam. RECOMMNEDED
Murmur, Murmur: Chicago hard rock group that fuses prog and jazz with black metal and even trace elements of hardcore for a surprisingly successful result. This is stubborn metal, equally indebted to post-rock as it is thrash and black metal. One for those of you who like it brutal, but challenging.
Hidden Cameras, AGE: Sweeping orch-pop from Canadian group has the kind of regal splendor of Erasure and Yaz, but with more strings and slower tempos. This is rich, lush pop music with a regal sensibility.
Adrian Raso and Fanfare Ciocărlia, Devil’s Tale: A globetrotting collection of twists and turns. Chris Nickson says:
Gypsy jazz meets gypsy brass on this spirited collaboration between Canadian guitarist Adrian Raso, a stylistic descendent of Django Reinhardt, and the lauded Romanian horn troupe Fanfare Ciocărlia. The results are often unexpected: “Charlatan’s Waltz,” for example, evokes the post-war Vienna of The Third Man with its zither-like guitar, while “Quattro Cicci” is a prog-meets-rockabilly dash, in which strings and horns madly chase each other.