The Year in Review :: Part Four: Denouement

In which indierocket! editor Patrick counts down his favorite records of the year. More...

1. Dirty Projectors, Rise Above (Dead Oceans)
Mad genius Dave Longstreth and company rewrite, reimagine and recontextualize Black Flag's seminal classic Damaged, showing that the problems of the past — remember, Damaged came out in '81 — are still the problems of today. But Longstreth — replaying the album essential from (an albeit very damaged) memory — and company turn Black Flag's calls to arms into Baroque meditations, utilizing snaky guitar lines, Dirty South beats and other compositional curveballs to abet Longstreth's beautiful, melodic tenor. The words are the same, but the message is different: Damaged was pissed off; Rise Above is hopeful. That, to paraphrase Frost, makes all the difference.
Dirty Projectors - "Rise Above"

2. The Twilight Sad, Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters (Fat Cat)
It's s#!t being Scottish was the grand sentiment of Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting (well, that and heroin is bad for you), and no Scottish rock group in recent memory has captured that gloomy sentiment like The Twilight Sad. A Sunny Day in Glasgow it ain't: Anchored James Graham's thick Scottish brogue, The Twilight Sad crafted an epic, guitar-driven and appropriately titeld shoegaze masterpiece filled to the brim with torrents of reverb-washed guitar riffs, subtly powerful drumming and twinkling, hypnotic melodies rooted in Scottish folk. Trust me: When "Cold Days from the Birdhouse" bursts into high gear, you'll get it.
The Twilight Sad - "Cold Days from the Birdhouse"

3. Pillars and Tongues, Protection (self-released)
Sometimes surprises come in the most wondrous of places. It was in a small town in Indiana that I discovered Chicago trio Pillars and Tongues, who expertly mash together three of my favorite musical genres: Stately post-rock, haunting slowcore and challenging Chicago free jazz. Protection's tunes veer back and forth between restrained beauty (a la The Dirty Three) and wild, thrashing, chaotic jazz (think the electric cello work of Fred Lonberg-Holm). Protection is practically perfect in every way.
Pillars and Tongues [MySpace]

4. Love of Diagrams, Mosaic (Matador)
If Kim Deal fronted Wire, the result would have sounded a lot like Love of Diagrams. Mosaic, the Aussie trio's American debut, doesn't reinvent the post-punk wheel, but it doesn't have to: It expertly recalls the pioneering godfathers of the genre (Wire, Burma, Gang of Four) and evokes the skilled blend of malaise and fury of The Pixies. Yet it's no stale period piece, working spellbinding magic with tracks the likes of "The Pyramid" and "The Pace and the Patience."
Love of Diagrams - "The Pyramid"

5. Radiohead, In Rainbows (ATO/XL/self-released)
Forget all the digital release, pay-what-you-want bullshit associated with In Rainbows. You would've plopped down $20 for this at your favorite record shop and you know it. And it's worth every penny — In Rainbows finally does what no Radiohead album since OK Computer has been able to do: Blend the band's electronic tendencies with its three-guitar orientation with absolute aplomb. The record's also Thom Yorke's most lyrically harrowing yet, as evidenced on the absolutely gut-wrenching "Videotape."
Radiohead - "House of Cards"

6. Battles, Mirrored (Warp)
"People won't be people when they hear this sound," Tyondai Braxton — through pitch-shifting manipulation — croons on "Atlas," one of Mirrored's standout tracks. But perhaps he should've said "People won't be people until they hear this sound": Mirrored is possibly the most sonically adventurous record of the year, bringing dinosauric prog rock into the digital age. Nothing on Mirrored — from the precise, kinetic drumming to the intricate guitar loops and phrases to the highly processed vocals — is an afterthought; it's a human exercise in being inhuman, a masterful melding of man and machine. This is the future of music, and the future is now.
Battles - "Race:In"

7. Electrelane, No Shouts, No Calls (Too Pure)
Sure, No Shouts, No Calls doesn't break any new ground, but what's the shame in just recognizing it as an excellent record. No Shouts, No Calls finds Electrelane at its best since The Power Out, blending girl-group soul and Krauty art-rock with ease and grace.
Electrelane - "To the East"

8. Yesterday's Universe, Prepare for a New Yesterday, Vol. 1 (Stones Throw)
Sure, Madlib — nee Otis Jackson Jr. — churns out more music than a vinyl-pressing factory. But his Yesterday's Universe project is the diametric opposite to his Yesterday's New Quintet, looking forward while looking backward, blending the finest cuts of free-jazz skronk, baile funk, thick soul bass, hip-hop beats, post-bop piano, sitar drone and synthesizer solos to create the most groove-conscious record of the year.
The Otis Jackson Trio - "Free Son"

9. The Engines, The Engines (Okka Disk)
Chicago free-jazz is not for the faint of heart. But while The Engines embody some of the hallmarks of the Vandermark sound, they cull the right ones and perform them perfectly. The overblowing and blustery unison horn lines are kept to a minimum, relying on the quartet — each of whom are accomplished composers and Vandermark sidemen — to lock into vicious steamroller grooves. Sure, The Engines can rev with the best of 'em, but like every good engine, it's best when it just purrs along.
The Engines -

10. (tie) Baroness, Red Album (3D)
10. (tie) Boris and Michio Kurihara,
Rainbow (Drag City)
The two best heavy records of the year couldn't have been more opposite: Baroness' new-millennium metal meets in the middle ground between Mastodon and Kylesa, amping up its epic, brutal dirge with intelligent, indie-rock-rooted melodic accents. All hail the new lords of smart-metal. Across the Pacific, Japanese sludgelords Boris teamed up with national guitar hero Michio Kurihara to create an unlikely monster: A sludge-metal record filled with psychedelic sunshine; an organic, heat-driven record, the knife-like tones of which cut a shining swath through the din.
Baroness -
Boris and Michio Kurihara - "Rafflesia"

11. Burial, Untrue (Hyperdub)
Burial's danceable grimestep is a little too active for Eno's definition of ambient music, but it still comes pretty close. Untrue is like looking out onto a Minnesota lake in the dead of night in the dead of winter (and we're playing up death only slightly facetiously): Its production is icy, sleek and absolutely gorgeous in its stark simplicity, and angelic voices blow about like snowflakes in the wind. Close your eyes and it's just like December in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Burial - "Near Dark"

12. Ours to Alibi, Beacons (self-released)
Atlanta's Ours to Alibi did something I never thought possible: It out-Explosions-in-the-Skys Explosions in the Sky. From the opening cello riffs of "The Dirt is a Womb" to the resounding coda of "Weary, We Fell Upon Land," Beacons takes the listener on a journey through post-hardcore-inflected post-rock.
Ours to Alibi - "Beacons"

13. Meneguar, Strangers in Our House (Troubleman Unlimited)
Dude, it's Meneguar. I Was Born at Night was retroactively one of my favorite records of 2005 (having heard it in 2006), and Strangers in Our House expands upon its jittery energy expertly. The NYC quartet sounds a little less like Q and Not U and a little more like its own band — and that's a good thing.
Meneguar - "Bury a Flower"

14. Explosions in the Sky, All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone (Temporary Residence)
Just because Ours to Alibi beat them to the post-rock punch doesn't mean that Explosions in the Sky aren't still the kings of transcendent, cinematic American post-rock. They made that Smashing Pumpkins tour worth going to. Bonus: The attached remix disc, which contains bang-up remixes of "The Birth and Death of the Day" (by Justin Broadrick of Jesu) and "Catastrophe and the Cure" (by Four Tet).
Explosions in the Sky - "Welcome, Ghosts"
Explosions in the Sky - "Catastrophe and the Cure (Four Tet Remix)"

15. Kickball, Everything is a Miracle Nothing Is a Miracle Everything Is (Houseopolis)
Kickball's ABCDEFGHIJKickball was among my shoula-beens from last year, so it makes sense that this Pacific Northwest trio cracks this year's list with another set of attractively unwieldy indie rock tunes, each of which burst with authentic nervous energy. Everything also wins massive points for having three of the best truisms of the year, each occuring in "Fight": "If you fight / It's automatically a fight"; "If you don't believe in ghosts / You won't see ghosts"; and "If you build / A house on the beach / It's automatically a beach house."
Kickball - "Fight"

16. Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (Merge)
Everybody's saying it, but it's true: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is the best record Billy Joel never made. While Ga doesn't recreate the absolute magnificence of Girls Can Tell or the strutting glam-rock brilliance of Gimme Fiction, it still showcases frontman Britt Daniel at his leanest and meanest, crooning like he never has before, most especially on "The Underdog," the finest (and, truthfully, the most Billy Joel-biting) of the lot.
Spoon - "The Underdog"

17. (tie) Aesop Rock, None Shall Pass (Definitive Jux)
17. (tie) Ghostface Killah,
The Big Doe Rehab (Def Jam)
Aesop narrowly edged out El-P for best indie-rap record of the year; Ghostface takes the mainstream crown.
Aesop Rock - "Keep Off the Lawn"
Ghostface Killah - "We Celebrate" (feat. Kid Capri)

18. Les Savy Fav, Let’s Stay Friends (French Kiss)
Les Savy Fav, we were never not friends. That said, you sound as good now as you did on The Cat and the Cobra. Glad to have you back.
Les Savy Fav - "What Would Wolves Do?"

19. Dinosaur Jr., Beyond (Play it Again Sam)
Fuck it. There's definitely something in the water in Massachusetts. The only post-millennial rock reunions that haven't been utter embarrassments have come from the Bay State (see: Pixies, Burma). Continuing this trend is Dinosaur, which reunites the original lineup of Lou Barlow, J Mascis and Emmett Jefferson "Patrick" Murphy III for the first time since 1988's Bug. Beyond finds Dinosaur in fine, furious form; it's as if they never tried to kick each others' asses on stage.
Dinosaur Jr. - "Been There All the Time"

20. Thurston Moore, Trees Outside the Academy (Ecstatic Peace)
True, this ranking might be a reflection of how little I actually digested the Sonic Youth frontman's first solo release since Psychic Hearts. But you know what? I like Trees Outside the Academy a lot more than I liked Rather Ripped. The unusual chord structures and bizarro tunings are still there, but there's a folksy ruminence that permeates the record; a simple, western-Massachusetts charm that enhances Moore's particular quirks instead of suppressing them. Bonus points for "Thurston @ 13"; I know I wasn't that cool when I was 13, and you damn sure weren't.
Thurston Moore - "Wonderful Witches"

21. Band of Horses, Cease to Begin (Sub Pop)
Again, this falls under the caveat of "Just because it's disappointing doesn't mean it's bad." On the contrary: Cease to Begin is a delightful and logical follow-up to Everything All the Time. The lush, reverbed guitars are still there, and Ben Bridwell still has a knack for ear-catching, easily hummable indie-rock melodies. Whereas Everything All the Time was stricken with themes of death and triumph, Cease to Begin is a darkly romantic record, most especially in the shimmer of "Detlef Schrempf." (I have to say, though, that I was a little disappointed to find absolutely no reference to the German sharpshooter actually, you know, in the song.) Dig that beautiful artwork, too.
Band of Horses - "Detlef Schrempf"

22. Bridge 61, Journal (Atavistic)
Again, Chicago avant-jazz can be a difficult thing to get into. And this Ken Vandermark-led quartet doesn't make it particularly easy. Journal is filled with all the guttural, atonal sax-skronk you'd expect from Vandermark, and while that's all well and good (after all, Vandermark's a legend in his own right and, as you'll recall, a MacArthur Foundation-recognized genius), Journal's strength is found in the supporting players: Jason Stein's bass clarinet work masterfully complements Vandermark's difficult phrasings, and Nate McBride's bass is best when it's in searing, snarling orbit around Tim Daisy's outstanding drum work. And, indeed, it's when McBride (who alternates between acoustic and electric bass) plugs in that the ensemble really soars, most especially on the spy-movie-riff "Various Fires (For This Heat)" and the appropriately hard-hitting "Shatter."
Bridge 61 - "Various Fires (For This Heat)"

23. Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Start, Worst Band Name Ever (self-released)
Sometimes somber, sometimes sunny, always earnest indie rock a la American Football (or really early Jimmy Eat World) from this New Jersey quintet. That's all there is to say; one of the most absolutely pleasant discoveries of the past year.
Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Start - "Boise"

24. Shellac, Excellent Italian Greyhounds (Touch and Go)
What, you thought Steve Albini was going to put out a record this year and I wouldn't put it on my year-end list? Foolish reader, don't you know that Albini's the smartest man in rock history, and that Shellac's angular angst gets my fists a-pumpin'? (Aside: Albini, as I've learned from the Electrical Audio message boards, is a much better poker player than I am.)
Shellac - "Steady as She Goes"

25. Jesu, Conqueror (Hydra Head)
Sounds like icebergs fucking. “Conqueror” is one of the most achingly beautiful epics in recent history — slow, emotional, breath-taking and destructively heavy.
Jesu - "Conqueror"

26. Menomena, Friend and Foe (Barsuk)
Basically makes it on the strength of "Wet and Rusting" alone, but that doesn't mean the rest of the record — especially "Pelican" and "Rotting Hell" — ain't any good.
Menomena - "Wet and Rusting"

27. Low, Drums and Guns (Sub Pop)
So apparently the biggest thing to happen to Alan Sparhawk between The Great Destroyer and Drums and Guns was a nervous breakdown. Hey, whatever works — Drums and Guns is yet another fine record from the Minnesota slowcore giants. Delicate? Not as much as Things We Lost in the Fire. Austere? Not so much as The Great Destroyer. Hypnotic? As fuck.
Low - "Murderer"

28. Dethklok, Dethalbum (Williams Street)
Call it heavy meta: We know it’s supposed to be a joke, but what does it say when an animated band rocks harder than just about every metal band in existence? There’s more life in these songs than in anything Cradle of Filth’s ever written. And it’s as witty as it is heavy.
Dethklok - "Hatredcopter"

29. Between the Buried and Me, Colors (Victory)
Dude, I hate just about everything Victory Records (which by now has the 15-year-old-girl-into-shitty-emocore market pretty well rogered) has ever put out. But this Raleigh quintet is the exception that proves the rule. Epic sonic-clusterfuck mathcore for the thinking man.
Between the Buried and Me - "Prequel to the Sequel"

30. No Age, Weirdo Rippers (Fat Cat)
Weirdo Rippers absolutely rips, weirdly, even. No Age accomplishes something very few lo-fi duos manage to do: Sound bigger than the sum of its parts. Weirdo Rippers is hardly an album; it's an all-out blitzkrieg of fuzz-rock, filled with chugging chords and fantastic feedback.
No Age - "Everybody's Down"

31. Wu-Tang Clan, Eight Diagrams (Street/Universal Motown)
Dude: Wu-Tang ain’t nothing to fuck with. And even though the Killah Bees have depreciated into a squabbling, O.D.B.-less mess, they can still kick out some sick-ass rhymes.
Wu-Tang Clan - "Wolves"

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