Thursday, December 13, 2007

Top Albums of 2007

Top Ten Albums of 2007

By Josh Ruffin

The Alchemist

In case you ever wondered what Cream would have sounded like with a little more drone and an almost unhealthy interest in the occult, Witchcraft would like to show you. The Alchemist takes a giant leap past the Sabbath/Pentagram worship of their first two offerings, and drops a warped blues-rock bomb right down your throat. Absolutely essential listening for…well, anyone.

A Life Once Lost
Iron Gag

ALOL rep the ugly underbelly of Philadelphia, as opposed to every other ugly part of Philadelphia. Iron Gag finds the group at what is thus far their creative peak as they churn out a perfectly-balanced but combustible mixture of groove, sleaze, and just generally being really drunk and pissed-off. I hit repeat on “Firewater Joyride” at least once every time I spin this disc.

The Red Tree

This thing actually dropped back in April of 2006, but I just reviewed it this year, so accept it and get over yourself. One of the sleepers on this list, The Red Tree is unabashedly emo, but distinguishes itself by being about eighty-five times as intelligent as anything Fall Out Boy or Panic! At the Disco could ever even think about writing. Also just about the best live band I’ve seen…period. Kenny Bridges gives awesome hugs, too.

Dog Magic

Assisted by a skyline-sized wall of Sunn and Green amps, Zoroaster are what a black hole sounds like. These Atlanta-based sludge-o-matics aren’t breaking any new ground with their latest album, but I’ll be damned if they don’t take every single stoner-fuzz formula in the doom canon and do cartwheels with them. A split EP with Sunn 0))) within the next five years sounds like a good idea.

The Hotel Alexis
Goliath, I’m On Your Side

The production and instrumentation on this second LP from Sidney Alexis is so fragile, you’re afraid to break it if you listen too closely. Goliath, I’m On Your Side presents a version of Alexis equally as contemplative as on his 2006 debut, but one infinitely more adventurous. Don’t take that as an implication of machismo, though; his pained vocals evoke assurance as well as vulnerability on “Sister Ray” and “Suddenly It’s You and Me,” respectively.

City of Echoes

One of the few instrumental bands to distinguish themselves as more lyrical than most groups that actually have a singer, Pelican’s compositions prior to 2007 had been typically characterized as sprawling, progressive epics usually clocking in at over ten minutes. For City of Echoes, the foursome pared down the arrangements, resulting in their most tightly-focused and accessible work to date; weighty, aggressively optimistic songs like “Spaceship Broken, Parts Needed,” and the title track are just a reminder that the best of Pelican is probably yet to come, but what we’ve got so far is pretty damn cool.


If anyone goes and tells the dudes of Bigelf that it’s not actually the early 70s anymore, I’ll hunt you down and bludgeon you with a stack of vinyl. Though recorded in 2003 and released stateside only this year, Hex takes everything melodic and funky about the Zeppelin era and rolls it all into one big psychedelic eight-ball. They’ve definitely earned their “evil Beatles” moniker; “Sunshine Suicide” sounds like George Harrison repeatedly slamming his Telecaster into Paul McCartney’s larynx. And yes, that’s a good thing.

Conqueror, Lifeline

That’s right, Jesu’s got two albums on this list. Don’t bitch too much, though; at least I had the decency to combine them into one spot and not let it take up too much room. But c’mon…we’re talking Justin Broadrick here, and if you don’t get that, then this isn’t for you. Conqueror’s thundering guitars meld seamlessly with Broadrick’s trademark atmospherics, while Lifeline fully realizes the direction that the Silver EP implied, as the former Godflesh main man lays out an ocean of ambience as the foundation for some truly ethereal melodies.

Burning Brides
Hang Love

This one snuck in under the radar, and I wouldn’t have even had a chance to give it a listen if it hadn’t randomly shown up in my mailbox one day; thanks, File Thirteen! For their third album, Philadelphia’s Burning Brides deliver an absolutely pulverizing barrage of boogie-metal riffs, balanced by refreshingly self-aware pop hooks. Apparently they teach this stuff at Julliard. “Ring Around the Rosary” is the most ferociously catchy thing I’ve heard all year, and probably the best opening track in recent memory.

The Blow
Paper Television

Proving once and for all that electro-pop can actually make you tilt your head to the left and ponder the meaning of life, The Blow’s Paper Television made a relatively soft commercial landing when it was released early this year. I get the feeling, however, that brainchild Khaela Maricich could give a piss; “Pile of Gold” and the quirky love ballad “Parentheses” are simultaneously whimsical and challenging.

Honorable Mention:

Pig Destroyer, Phantom Limb: PD turn in their usual big f’n slab of death-grind, only this time it also happens to have some hooks hidden within the murk.

High on Fire, Death is this Communion: Try to imagine Motorhead being dragged across the ocean floor by a brontosaurus on a bad day.

Calvin Johnson and the Sons of the Soil (self-titled): A career-spanning collection of re-recorded gems by the seminal Northwest troubadour freak; he and Nick Cave should duke it out in a Battle of the Lower Registers.

Ladybirds, Regional Community Theatre: Saccharine pop perfection from Gym Class Heroes’ keyboardist Tyler Purcel and vocalist Teeter Sperber. Prepare to grin like an idiot in love.

Grinderman (self-titled): A garage-punk splinter of Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds, the Aussie songsmith gets downright raunchy on “No Pussy Blues,” and reaffirms his pop sensibilities with “Honeybee Let’s Fly to Mars.”

Friday, December 7, 2007

Iran, nukes, and all the rest.

Amidst the ongoing Iran nuclear program controversy, I feel that its my responsibility, as a citizen who does his best to stay educated with regard to all sides of an issue, to toss in my two cents, not to mention a couple of facts. I'll keep the pontification to a minimum here. Let's start with what we know:

1. Already wading chin-deep in the mire of an unpopular, largely unsuccessful and seemingly directionless war, concerns over Iran's nuclear capabilities started to increasingly plague the collective American consciousness, and not without good reason. The nation is home to a large extremist population, and the presidency borders on dictatorship. In other words, potential recipe for disaster.

2. It came out a few days ago that, surprise surprise, Iran suspended its nuclear ambitions sometime in 2003, and has not picked them up since. Democrats hail this information (ironically, as it came from the same source as the bogus Iraq/Al-Quaeda links, as well as the WMDs supposedly held by Hussein) as an "I told you so!" moment, while Republicans maintain (also ironically) that we must "keep the heat on Iran."

3. We know also that Iran is capable of, and continues in, enriching uranium. Some say that this is a definite sign that they are either developing a weapon in secret, or will soon restart an official nuclear program.

4. Tehran states that the enrichment of uranium is intended for energy programs only. We're still not sure what to believe.

Those are the facts, and while we can sit here all day screaming at each other about what Iran's intentions may or may not be, there are a couple of things we need to remember:

1. Iran is not the only country currently with active uranium enrichment programs. Other nations are: China, Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, Russia, Japan, the whole of the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States. Australia, Argentina, and South Africa have stated their intentions to explore the option of such programs.

2. The United States maintains an arsenal of around 9,960 nuclear warheads, about 5,000 of which are currently active, with the remainder sitting in usable reserve.

3. In 2006, the Bush administration proposed and put into effect the Reliable Replacement Warhead program with the intention of developing a next-generation ICBM. Previously, in 2005, the U.S. also revised its Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations, putting more emphasis on the possibility of preemptive nuclear strikes on countries that may pose a military or nuclear threat.

All of that, not to mention that the U.S. was the first country to develop such capabilities, and are to date the only nation to implement such force against another nation in a time of war. Should we keep an eye on Iran? Probably. Should we be surprised that another country that doesn't particularly like us could possibly be developing the kinds of weapons that we ourselves have been developing and stockpiling (as we continue to) for the last 60 years?

Certainly not.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

CD review: Savath and Savalas "Golden Pollen"

Golden Pollen
Savath and Savalas
Anti Records
Available Now

It was but a couple of weeks ago that I received an advance copy Savath and Savalas’ newest album Golden Pollen in the mail. Now that’s cause enough for celebration; on top of that, however, I had been thinking to myself that morning, “Damn, I wish I had something to listen to that combined chopped-up bossa nova jazz with Argentina freak-folk, topped off with just a dollop of Sigur Ros.”

Serendipitous, no?

But that’s just what Savath and Savalas, the more organically instrumented alter-ego of Prefuse 73 mastermind Scott Herren, is: a chill Frankenstein’s monster, blissfully setting a tropicalia hallucination against brilliant dreamscapes.

Golden Pollen is best taken in as a single complete track (though not in the sense of Sleep’s Jerusalem), as songs tumble slowly and purposefully into one another, evoking one moment a natural orchestra in “Concreto,” and the next a slow-motion apocalypse in “Estrella de Dos Caras.” Little flourishes like a seven-second electronic loop or a sudden crash of digitized electric guitar serve as party crashers to the poem, as they disrupt the disc’s overall stillness and serenity.

Music nerds will most likely revert back to headphone-dissection of Prefuse 73 tracks. Though a bit more accessible than its electro-cousin, Golden Pollen holds true to the roots of that avant-garde experimentation while simultaneously giving us more of a glimpse of Herren’s personal self than we have heretofore been granted. Masterful, to the last crest of ambience.

CD review: Zoroaster "Dog Magic"

Dog Magic
Terminal Doom Records
Available Now

How much do you want to bet that the members of Zoroaster spent nine months in the womb with Saint Vitus and Cathedral being piped in by headphones strapped to their mothers’ bellies? With maybe some “ba-dum, ba-dum” white blues thrown in…

Dog Magic, the latest release by these three Atlanta-based doomsayers, is a crash course in Stoner Drone 101. The guys certainly know where they came from; progenitors like Electric Wizard and Sleep are all over this freakin’ thing, but guitarist Will Fiore and company are clever enough to channel the spirits of their inspirations through subtle tribute, and not a rehashing.

Dog Magic is an audio definition of stoner metal. Some riffs come crawling up out of your speakers like mutated zombie crocodiles from the sewer in a 70s grindhouse flick; others slow down to a veritable ooze so thick you’ll have to scrub down your body with Lava soap after a single listen; and once you get to the 14-minute oil-drip epic that is “Algebra of Need,” you can count the seconds between notes in the riffs. You want solos? Well, too bad, you ain’t getting any. Wait, what? Those ridiculously sustained lead lines on “The Book” that sound like a demonic ambulance siren heralding the impending journey of some agonized soul across the river Styx? Those are solos? Oh okay, my bad.

Occasionally the album moves along at a pace more brisk than a brontosaurus; the titular closer starts off with some immediately post-binge Motorhead grooves, but soon slinks back into its familiar tempo. And while flyers of the doom flag will find no fault in that (this writer certainly doesn’t), less experienced metalloids will likely find themselves bored or confused.

But that’s their own fault…screw ‘em. Zoroaster is by far the heaviest thing to come out of Georgia since Mastodon, and Dog Magic firmly entrenches them alongside the elite of both Southern and stoner metal. Turn up the volume, light ‘em if you got ‘em, and wait for the bottom to drop out.

Concert review: Coheed and Cambria

Coheed and Cambria, Clutch, and Fall of Troy
The Tabernacle

Ah, Tabernacle. Where once the peal of church bells rang out into the grimy Atlanta night, choirs lauded the love of God, and congregations…er, congregated to press their otherworldly cases. I wonder if, even then, the venue had deteriorated into a veritable cesspool of limited parking and horrible area road planning?

No matter; the place is now one of the city’s most celebrated music venues, usually playing host to the variety of metal and rock tours that fall somewhere in between the commercial success of He is Legend (the Masquerade) and U2 (the Fox). Yes, the Tabernacle has long been a place of welcome for genre stalwarts, as well as talented upstarts that may or may not soon die a slow, slow marketing death from overexposure.

Sci-fi progressive dork-rockers (and I say that with all the fanboy love in my heart) Coheed and Cambria stopped off this past Tuesday in support of the recently released No World For Tomorrow, with Southern metal legends Clutch directly in tow, which I guess means that Fall of Troy brought up the precious little dented red caboose at the end.

I somehow managed to find a parking space and haul ass inside just as Fall of Troy was kicking off their set. Honestly, I had never listened to these guys before, so I asked my friend Jake when I got there “So, what do they sound like?” Without hesitating for a moment, he replied: “Dude, like Coheed in high school.” Jake should be a music writer; I couldn’t come up with a more apt description if I tried (which I didn’t), though Thomas Erak is significantly more tap-happy than Claudio ever thought about being. These dudes listen to a LOT of Aphex Twin. Great set, but they got the loudest pop when they hyped up the next two bands. Meh, so it goes.

Clutch absolutely murdered the room, playing with the bourbon-fueled swagger of a band that has nothing left to prove, and the jolting ferocity of one that has everything to prove. Over one hour of booze-addled, Skynrd-on-quaaludes brilliance. During the set, some tweener in front of me wearing a 30 Seconds to Mars hoodie remarked “What the hell am I listening to?” Before he was able to get his clove cigarette out of the pack, I grabbed him by the throat and shook him like an Etch-A-Sketch, salivating and shouting “GREATNESS, YOU FOOL, GREATNESS!!!” I may have some demons.

As surely as I sit here in my pajamas at 10:30 in the morning, Coheed and Cambria are one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen. Ever. Eschewing their expected openers “In Keeping Secrets of the Silent Earth,” or “Welcome Home,” Claudio (whose hair has reached epic proportions in its own right) and company instead came thundering out of the gates with “No World for Tomorrow,” jumpstarting a monstrous set that spanned all four albums and hitting nearly every fan favorite. The single ovations for songs like “A Favor House Atlantic,” and “Ten Speed of God’s Blood and Burial” rivaled the reactions that most bands get for their entire set. The screaming and applause for “Everything Evil” alone had to register at least a 6.5 on the Richter.

My last words? “Bury me with my photo pass.”

Note: Flash photography wasn’t permitted at this show, though I was able to squeeze off a few good shots of Fall of Troy. If you want to know what the rest of my pictures would have looked like without the flash, find some stock photos and then shake your head from side to side until you can feel your brain banging against your skull.