Archive for willis earl beal

Willis Earl Beal’s Circular Victory

Posted in Prose with tags , , , on September 16, 2017 by sethdellinger

Turn.  Circle.  Sun.  Moon.

These are the four words that comprise the title of the latest collection of songs by Willis Earl Beal.  The title is not only succinct–it also could not be more apt.

(the album doesn’t have a physical release yet but can be purchased for download at this link.)

All four of the words imply a kind of motion, an orbital, cyclical, or circuital movement (in the case of sun and moon, these motions are dependent on the motions of others).  Beal–who professionally wishes you’d call him Nobody–doesn’t choose words (or melodies, or masks) carelessly.

Sonically, these songs–like much of his recent material–consist of rising and falling keyboard dirges that weave in and out of prominence, often cycling back to where they started, but just as often running like a steady current behind Beal’s  plaintive vocals.  Within the framework of this wide-open musical canvas, Beal still manages to find unexpected nooks and crannies to place his vocal rhythms–he’s suddenly jumping out at you from a corner you didn’t even see–or he’s hiding in it.  Add to this a production value of lo-fi immediacy (I often felt like I could hear him change positions in a chair) and the cumulative effect is one of urgency, despite the modest tempo of the tunes, each song still manages to make you feel as though you are in the grip of strong stuff that is racing to an end.

But to “review” this album in any typical way would be like trying to review a cloud, or dirt.  That statement sounds preposterous, I know, but there it is, just the same.  As he continues to evolve as a songwriter and musician, Beal keeps mining material that gets closer and closer to the elemental; this is art like wind, or the subliminal functioning of a gland.  One feels these songs pass through you like quarks.

Beal has often layered the vocals one on top of another, giving the impression that they rotate around one another (like, for instance, the moon around the Earth and the Earth around the Sun); it’s like Beal orbiting Beal, at first the words just one more sonic tool, one more instrument, but eventually the words start to coagulate and meaning attaches to the dirge.

They are songs of loneliness, and love, and helplessness, and yearning.  From the opening song “Stroll”, where we are taken on a midnight constitutional with our narrator contemplating the greater meanings of the universe, to the closing number “Sun & Moon” with it’s sad binary truth (“I am night/ And you are day”), I felt connected to every song; ultimately, they are deeply human.  We experience the resignation to hopelessness, but also perfect hope (again in “Sun & Moon”: ‘But I will see you tomorrow”).  As we continue orbiting and turning, we experience the push and pull of our contrary desires: to be alone, but to be loved.  To be anonymous, but to be great.  When I invested myself in these songs, I felt understood, but also complex.

In “Cowboy”, we are presented with lyrics so brazen, bold, and current as to warrant presenting some without comment: “Passing places through the mall/ Empty faces filling all/ Hear the laughter off the walls/ Birthday presents for you all/ Know resistance while you can/ Avoid incessant clapping hands/ Put your face in garbage cans/ Take the trash do what you can/Recycle all your wasted shit/ There are people trying to quit/ (You’re a cowwwwwwwwboy/Roping all your bulls.)”

In “Release” we are presented with the lyric “You must let go of all the linear victories”, which is a boy-howdy of a line; you could chew on that line for days.  What is a linear victory?  How do we let go of it?  Like the best art, the songs offer some answers, but not all of them.  However, who knows? If you let these quark-songs flow through you enough, maybe the answers will find you.

The art of Willis Earl Beal–Nobody–has been an undercurrent in my life for years now, and this album more than any others before is like a chameleon, a changeling.  As I listen to it it darts away into my peripheral vision and changes shape, form.  It’s hard to hold onto.

Currently, “Turn, Circle, Sun & Moon” does not have a physical release, but can be purchased for download by clicking this link.  If you buy it, it will almost certainly be a linear victory for you–but at the moment, that’s still the only kind I know how to get.

Favorites, 2016

Posted in Rant/ Rave with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 22, 2016 by sethdellinger

Back in the old days of the Notes, I used to write a lot more about music, movies, and books, and I would every so often post updated lists of my absolute favorites of things.  Not due to any pressing interest from the public, of course–mostly just because it’s fun for me, and also because having such a blog post can be quite handy during discussions online; I can just link someone to the entry to aid in a discussion of favorites.

Of course this is not to be confused with my annual “Favorite Music” list, where I detail my favorite music released in the previous calendar year; these lists detail my current all-time favorites, which are (like yours, of course) constantly changing.

Looking back at my entries, it appears as though I haven’t done a big posting of lists since 2012, so I’ll make this one fairly comprehensive.  All of these lists have changed since 2012–some very little, some quite dramatically:

My top ten favorite poets

10.  Jane Kenyon
9.   Robert Creeley
8.  William Carlos Williams
7.   Sylvia Plath
6.  Billy Collins
5.  Denise Levertov
4.  E.E. Cummings
3.  Philip Levine
2.  John Updike
1.  Philip Larkin

My top 10 favorite film directors

10.  Federico Fellini
9.  Sidney Lumet
8.  Alejandro Inarritu
7.  Christopher Nolan
6.  Paul Thomas Anderson
5.  Alfonso Cuaron
4.  Stanley Kubrick
3.  Werner Herzog
2.  Alfred Hitchcock
1.  Terrence Malick

My top ten bands

10. This Will Destroy You
9.  My Morning Jacket
8.  Godspeed You! Black Emperor
7.  Radiohead
6.  Seven Mary Three
5.  Hey Rosetta!
4.   The National
3.  Band of Horses
2.  Modest Mouse
1.  Arcade Fire

 

My top ten music solo artists

10.  Tracy Chapman
9.  Ray LaMontagne
8.  Father John Misty
7.  Leonard Cohen
6.  Jim James
5.  Nina Simone
4.  Willis Earl Beal
3.  Emily Wells
2.  Paul Simon
1.  Neil Young

My top ten favorite (non-documentary) movies

10.  Citizen Kane
9.  Night of the Hunter
8.  Fitzcarraldo
7.  Magnolia
6.  The Trouble with Harry
5.  Children of Men
4.  Where the Wild Things Are
3.  The Thin Red Line
2.  I’m Still Here
1.  The Tree of Life

My ten favorite novelists

10.  Malcolm Lowry
9.  John Steinbeck
8.  Isaac Asimov
7.  Ernest Hemingway
6. Oscar Wilde
5.  Kurt Vonnegut
4.  Mark Twain
3.  David Mitchell
2.  Don DeLillo
1.  Dave Eggers

My top twenty favorite books (any genre, fiction or nonfiction)

20.  “A Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole
19.  “Slade House” by David Mitchell
18.  “The Terror” by Dan Simmons
17.  “You Shall Know Our Velocity” by Dave Eggers
16.  “Point Omega” by Don DeLillo
15.  “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell
14.  “Fallen Founder” by Nancy Isenberg
13.  “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde
12.  “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding
11.  “Under the Volcano” by Malcolm Lowry
10.  “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” by Dave Eggers
9.  “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway
8.  “Cat’s Cradle” by Kurt Vonnegut
7.  “Dubliners” by James Joyce
6.  “Letters From the Earth” by Mark Twain
5.  “White Noise” by Don DeLillo
4.  “Endurance” by Alfred Lansing
3.  “Your Fathers, Where Are They?  And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?” by Dave Eggers
2.  “Into the Wild” by John Krakauer
1.  “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck

My top twenty favorite albums

20.  “Funeral” by Arcade Fire
19.  “Nobody Knows” by Willis Earl Beal
18.  “High Violet” by The National
17.  “The Battle of Los Angeles” by Rage Against the Machine
16.  “Swamp Ophelia” by Indigo Girls
15.  “Mirrorball” by Neil Young
14.  “Dis/Location” by Seven Mary Three
13.  “Abbey Road” by The Beatles
12.  “Graceland” by Paul Simon
11.  “Bitches Brew” by Miles Davis
10.  “‘Allelujah!  Don’t Bend!  Ascend!” by Godspeed You! Black Emperor
9.    “Kid A” by Radiohead
8.   “Strangers to Ourselves” by Modest Mouse
7.   “This Will Destroy You” by This Will Destroy You
6.   “Time Out” by the Dave Brubeck Quartet
5.   “Secret Samadhi” by LIVE
4.   “Infinite Arms” by Band of Horses
3.   “The Suburbs” by Arcade Fire
2.   “RockCrown” by Seven Mary Three
1.  “Into Your Lungs (and Around in Your Heart and On Through Your Blood)” by Hey Rosetta!

 

My top five composers

5.  Philip Glass
4.  Cliff Martinez
3.  Hans Zimmer
2.  Felix Mendelssohn
1.  Carl Nielsen

My top ten painters

10.  Edgar Degas
9.  George Bellows
8.  Mark Rothko
7.  Johannes Vermeer
6.  Mary Cassatt
5.  Maurice Prendergast
4.  Thomas Eakins
3.  Henri Rousseau
2.  Andrew Wyeth
1.  John Sloan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Favorite Music of 2015

Posted in Rant/ Rave, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on December 13, 2015 by sethdellinger

It is again that time of year, for my year-in-review favorite music blog post.  Again, those of you who usually do will get a sampler CD in the mail.  If you’d like to join the ranks of these lucky people, just let me know.  I think it is fair to say this year’s CD will BLOW YOUR MIND.

A quick display of links, if you’re curious to see previous year’s lists.  It’s interesting looking back to see errors I made in retrospect (2010? I love Grinderman but not more than Arcade Fire!!! Man Man beating out Srcade Fire AND The National in 2013!?):

My Favorite Music of 2009

My Favorite Music of 2010

My Favorite Music of 2011

My Favorite Music of 2012

My Favorite Music of 2013

My Favorite Music of 2014

 

Now, my favorite music of this year! I’m keeping all the entries short and sweet, I just don’t have the energy for this like I used to!

15.  EL VY, “Return to the Moon”

Supergroup consisting of members of The National and Menomena EL-VY-Return-to-the-Moonmanage to actually merge the two groups disparate sounds into a new kind of sullen quirk rock.  It works surprisingly well.

14.  Matt Vasquez, “Austin”

Delta Spirit frontman’s debut solo feature sounds actually very little like Delta Spirit and very much like something new; experimental, riff-heavy, ponderous.

13.  Alabama Shakes, “Sound and Color”

The sophomore effort from super-hip soul/Americana group expands their sound into something more jammy and trippy, to pleasing effect.

12.  El Ten Eleven, “Fast Forward”

Post Rock/ Math Rock looping duo deliver the goods with fifth studio album, somehow find a way to keep the formula fresh.

11.  Marilyn Manson, “The Pale Emperor”

Yes, that’s right: Manson is back and, while maybe not sounding exactly current, manages to make relevant, personal, haunting album.

10.  Will Butler, “Policy”

Arcade Fire guitarist Butler lays down a solo album full of guts, gusto, and deliciously surprising moments.  And he’s not a half-bad singer!

9.  Jennylee, “Right On”

Warpaint bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg drops a solo album (recording as simply Jennylee)–the album is brooding, shadowy, thumping.  This is dirty music.

8.  Sun Kil Moon, “Universal Themes”

Mark Kozelek (recording as Sun Kil Moon) continues his tradition of unexpectedly blunt “blog rock”; although “Universal Themes” fails to live up to his previous album (his masterpiece “Benji”), there are enough disarming, disquieting moments to create a memorable work.

7.  Deerhunter, “Fading Frontier”

The quintessential art rock band’s newest effort surprises at every turn, mostly due to a very unexpected dose of pop and hooky melodies. The styles mesh better than expected with the fuzzy unformed feedback the band is known for.

6.  Willis Earl Beal, “Noctunes”

Beal could not have turned in a more different album from his debut than he did with “Noctunes”: literally songs to fall asleep to, I recommend staying awake–secrets and revelations are tucked away inside the lullabies.

5.  My Morning Jacket, “The Waterfall”

The Jacket return with a concept album that sets its sights as high as possible: an album about lost love and a desire to completely stop time (time is “the waterfall”)–the grandiose vision isn’t quite accomplished but nobody but MMJ could have even got close.

4.  Father John Misty, “I Love You, Honeybear”

Mr. Misty–who has also recorded extensively as Josh Tillman and is a former member of Fleet Foxes as well as Saxon Shore–has finally fully father-john-misty-honey-beararrived with “Honeybear”.  Sporting dreary, catchy songs with take-no-prisoner lyrics (“She says, like literally, music is the air she breathes/
And the malaprops make me want to fucking scream/
I wonder if she even knows what that word means”).  This album is a game-changer.

3.  Foals, “What Went Down”

From huge, sprawling anthems to ponderous, labyrinthine quietude, “What Went Down” set my head spinning and lead me to devour this band’s entire catalogue in a week.

2.  Sufjan Stevens, “Carrie & Lowell”

A delicate album of intensely personal proportions.  I was not prepared for what the words and melodies here would do to me.  It lived in my car’s CD player for almost a month.

1.  Modest Mouse, “Strangers to Ourselves”

08333145.jpg

Picking this #1 was not even a debate for me.  Not only hands-down the best album of the year, probably the best rock album of the decade.  “Strangers to Ourselves” is not a very intimate, personal album–no songs about lost loves or your good old days–this is a “feel bad” album that attempts to uncover the nasty truth of the universe and comes to the conclusion that humans are pricks, the world doesn’t care about us, and everything, everything dies.  But it also rocks like a motherfucker.

 

 

 

My Life in the Church of Nobody

Posted in real life with tags , , , , , on October 16, 2015 by sethdellinger

willis-earl-beal1

Approximately three years ago (the time period of my life when I was living with my mother in South Jersey), I was driving my car listening to NPR. I was listening to the show “All Songs Considered.”  I had tuned in about halfway through, and was listening to a conversation with a musician whose name I never caught. He was a very serious man, he took his music very seriously and everything he said was heavy and dense, laden with meaning, a man many people might label as over-serious, and off-putting to some. But it was just the kind of talk I like, because I like art  that is discussed with reverence. At the end, him and a small band played a song, the title of which I didn’t catch, although I caught some of the words. (it was “Nobody Knows”, although I have yet to find a recording of a live version that rivals the one I heard on NPR that day). The performance was absolutely haunting, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. Unfortunately, I had still never heard the man’s name, or even the name of the song. Eventually I Googled some of the lyrics, and I did manage to find out who he was: Willis Earl Beal. I YouTubed him, watched some performances, and fell quite in love. Not only was his music amazing, his lyrics were literature, and his voice had a bluesy-country-rock quality I’d never heard anywhere before; he sounded like God would sound if he was slightly drunk.  But on top of all that he had a philosophy to his entire oeuvre, a philosophy of nothingness, of him being nothing, of channeling the universe, and all of us also being nothing. It’s a pretty intense philosophy, and more than I can really explain here in this blog, and maybe more than he could even explain to you, but something about it, somehow, connected deeply with me. I bought his debut album, Nobody Knows, on vinyl as well as CD, and even bought two extra copies on CD and sent to friends of mine who I thought might appreciate his music. I dove deeply into some of his online videos, they were not music performances but helped to fully flush out his philosophy, The Church of Nobody. It would be fair to say that for a short time at least, I was a disciple. Being interested as I am in tons of things, he slid off my radar a little bit after a few months, but would always pop back up here and there. I would say not two months will go by without me going to a small Willis Earl Beal  phase.

Willis isn’t famous by almost any definition in America. You’ll never see him in a magazine, (although you might see his name briefly mentioned Rolling Stone). But there are a few circles in which he is very famous. Some of the alternative music press covers him extensively, treating him almost like the next Bob Dylan, with the positives and the negatives that might come from that. He appeared in the much lauded independent movie, to vehemently mixed reviews. Music and culture critics are very torn on how to take him and how serious he is, and his philosophical approach to music, which some say is absolutely brilliant, and some say means almost nothing. Following his debut album, Nobody Knows, he put out an album the next year, Experiments in Time, which I must admit even I was not a big fan of. It was too aimless and meandering, seemed thrown together in order to put an album out. It was also markedly different than the album prior, and if nothing else, I had to respect his change in direction.

Flash forward to yesterday. I work at a nationally recognized coffee chain. I was sitting out in my lobby, doing some work on my laptop, when I looked up and saw what I thought at first was a kind of hapless man, walking around with a cell phone, looking for an outlet to plug it into so he could charge it. I had to snicker because of how fairly helpless he looked doing it, but there wasn’t much I could do to help him as none were open at the moment. I went back to my work. A few minutes later something caught me out of the corner of my eye. I looked up to see the same man, who was with a woman about his age, at one of my outside tables, apparently having trouble with a bee. He was trying to shoo it away from his table with a magazine. He was up and running around, and the woman he was with was laughing at him. I chuckled to myself, and then did a double take. The man was wearing a Willis Earl Beal T-shirt, that has his Nobody logo. My first initial thought was, holy cow, a Willis Earl Beal fan! It would have literally been the first time I had encountered such a thing. But then I realized the man I was looking at roughly matched Willis’ description. I looked at his face, and it was him! There was absolutely no denying it in my mind.  Willis Earl Beal was at my place of employment. And before I knew it, I also realized that I was getting up to going talk to him. I can’t really describe the surreal nature of this, especially since I now work in a suburban Harrisburg, Pennsylvania store, not exactly the sort of place independent artists travel through frequently.  But there was never a moment of hesitation in my mind, or any rehearsal of what to say, or even a moment of nervousness. I just said to myself, I’m gonna go talk to Willis Earl Beal . And that is what I did.

I walked out the front door, turned the corner, and cognizant of the fact that they might not want interrupted or bothered, I said, “I’m sorry, but are you Willis Earl Beal?”  He definitely looked startled, as did the woman he was with, and he said, “yes I am!” The exact wording of what followed kind of escapes me. I thanked him for the music, and he expressed some shock that he had been recognized. Even though he is a large figure in some critical circles, he’s not a man who gets recognized often. We quickly began speaking very much like equals, like two people who were just talking to each other. It was one of the most surreal, electric experiences I’ve ever had. Now, while I’m a fan of Willis Earl Beal , I can’t say that he is absolutely one of my favorite musicians. That would be misrepresenting the case. He would not make my top 10. Would he make my top 20? Absolutely. I am passionate about a whole lot of things, and Willis Earl Beal  certainly falls into that category. So all of a sudden, I go from working at my job in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to sitting across the table and speaking quite frankly and candidly to Willis Earl Beal. This is the sort of thing that simply does not happen.

After a few minutes I admitted I had not heard his latest album (Noctunes), and he offered to sell me a copy of it on vinyl out of his car. I quickly ran to the neighboring  supermarket to get some cash, which I overpaid him for by a little bit in appreciation for his artistry. He signed the record for me, and him and his girlfriend (who is the woman he was with) did not appear to want to stop speaking to me. The three of us had a good rapport, so I just continued to sit there and talk to him. We spoke a lot about the nature of creating art, and how one’s voice and talent evolve over time, and how  some of your earlier stuff can become unrecognizable to you. I told him about how I dabble in writing, and we spoke about that craft as well as the craft of music, me admitting I know nothing about creating music but my intense appreciation for it. We spoke about what it is like in our culture to become known like he is, but still struggle financially, and what is like to have people you don’t know recognize you, and how that changes you as a person. All in all, it was only a 20 minute conversation, but it was very real, and a very intense experience for me. I daresay in some ways it seemed to be a pretty intense experience for him too, not only to be recognized, but I think he rather enjoyed the conversation, as did his girlfriend,

I excused myself even though I had much more to say and didn’t necessarily have to get back to work, but I didn’t want to overstay my welcome. I went back to my laptop, and looked up periodically every few minutes, to the astonishing sight of  Willis Earl Beal sitting outside the window. He was there for about another hour, when I watched him and his girlfriend walk off and get into his car. Another astonishing fact that came out of this meeting was the fact that he is playing a show here, in Harrisburg, tonight! How such a thing slid under my radar, I won’t know, but you best believe I will be there. I quite some time ago stopped hero worshiping people, thinking that the famous or semi famous people that create the things I love are somehow different or more elevated than me. So I definitely do not have a feeling that I was in the presence of a different sort of person in this experience, but the infinite level of statistical improbability of what happened, coupled with the ease with which the two of us fell into conversation, and the depth that we reached, cause a sensation in me but I don’t even have a word for.

12122568_10207883699676139_399675912069254906_n

My Favorite Music of 2014

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 15, 2015 by sethdellinger

Here we go again.  This yearly list is one of the last remaining rituals from when this blog was much more focused on reviews of and discussions about current art and media; I used to post frequent movie and music reviews, and slowly over the years it morphed into a much more personal blog.  Early on, I posted multiple year-end “favorite” lists (I avoid calling them “best of” lists, but only because it seems to piss some of you off).  One year I went as far to make a Favorite Poetry, Favorite Television, Favorite Magazines, Favorite Movies, and Favorite Music lists!  The last 3 or so years, I have only made a music list.  I still like to closely follow new-release movies, but I can no longer make a pointed effort to see enough of them in a timely fashion to make a comprehensive yearly list.

If you have any interest, you can see past year’s music lists here (they did go even further back, but they were on MySpace blogs that have unfortunately disappeared):

Favorite Music of 2013

Favorite Music of 2012

Favorite Music of 2011

Favorite Music of 2010

Favorite Music of 2009

As per usual, if you are a person who routinely gets mix discs and other neat stuff from me in the mail, a mix disc featuring a selection from all of this year’s listings is already in the mail on it’s way to you.  If you are not one of these people and want to be, leave a blog comment/ send me a Facebook message/ text me/ call me/ hit me up on Tinder (huh?) and I’ll put you on the list!  Now, the winners:

This was an especially fertile year for music for me; I’d estimate I listened to approximately 80 new-release albums this year, and really loved about half of those.  This was by far the most difficult year I’ve had when it comes to narrowing down my selections!  Some of my favorite artists had no releases this year, so it was easier to not play favorites and just judge what moved me the most.  Here are the top fifteen, in order:

15.  Modest Mouse, “Lampshades on Fire”

This is the first time in the history of my lists that I have included a single song instead of an album, but I didn’t see as I had a choice.  Modest Mouse’s new album doesn’t come out until March 2015, but this lead single, which was released about 3 weeks ago, has been almost the only thing I’ve been listening to since it came out.  An absolute piece of snarling perfection.

14.  Real Estate, Atlas

If you have any idea what “shoegaze” rock is, and you haven’t heard this album, may I suggest you stop being an idiot?

13.  Phish, Fuego

Finally a return to form after a number of disappointing releases, Fuego finds the band weaving tight, crisp jams over sparse but giddy lyrics that start to hint at the pains of being post-middle age, with a little bit of supreme confidence thrown in for good measure.

12.  Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal and Content Nausea

This New York post-punk-post-pop-pre-rockabilly (huh?  Here I am just joking; the music media loves to label Parquet Courts in so many ways it is ludicrous; they just make “rock” music, albeit kinda…punky?  Amateury?) really hit their stride this year, releasing two back-to-back masterpieces (the second, Content Nausea, being released by their alter ego band, Parkay Quarts).  These taut, coiled, short screeds blast at you like beautiful insults; they are loveable songs that you want to run from.

11.  The Orwells, Disgraceland

The Orwells steamrolled onto everybody’s radar this year with this unforgettable performance on Letterman.  That song (called “Who Needs You”) also features some truly daring lyrics: “You better count your blessings/ kiss your ma and pa/ You better burn that flag/ ’cause it aint against the law!/ Listen up forefathers:/ I’m not your son/ You better save the country/ You better pass the flask/ You better join the army/ I said: no thank you, dear old uncle sam!”.  When their full-length album, Disgraceland, was released shortly after the Letterman appearance, it didn’t much matter that it was a disappointing collection of small-talent noise rock: “Who Needs You” was a song debut good enough to buy them a few years of grace period.

10.  The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream

war_on_drugs_lost_in_the_dream_album

These home-grown Philly boys blew me away with the first track on this album (while not their first album, it’s their first ‘major’ album, and the first I’d heard).  The album is aptly titled, as, if I had to name this genre of rock, I’d call it Dream Rock.  Standout track “Under the Pressure” was my anthem of early summer this year, and provided a soundtrack on repeat for my visit home to Central PA and my friend Michael’s wedding.  I have a clear memory of sitting in my dad’s car after arriving to her wedding, blasting the air conditioning, listening to “Under the Pressure” on repeat, and waiting to get out of the car until I saw someone I knew.

9.  El Ten Eleven, For Emily

One of the more unique “post-rock” outfits in the biz, this duo utilizes looping and custom instruments to create full, intensely emotive sounds.  For Emily is just a 5-song EP, but it is far from a toss-off and there is zero filler.  The production is crisper and cleaner than I’m used to from these guys; I can hear the guitarist’s fingers on the strings, a pleasant departure from the more clinical sound of their earlier (and still amazing) records.

8. Willis Earl Beal, Experiments in Time

The supremely “artsy” blues-psychedlia-R&B crooner of last year’s exquisite Nobody Knows came back right away with a solid follow-up; however, Experiments in Time lacks the urgency and necessity of hisWillis-Earl-Beal-Experiments-In-Time-608x605 previous efforts.  Still, Time succeeds where most artists fail: every moment of this is something that could only have been made by Beal.  Everything he does is unmistakably his, a quality that is more and more rare these days.

7.  Hey Rosetta!, Second Sight

Those of you who have followed my blog for years now may be surprised by this band’s new album ranking seventh on my list this year (they’ve released two albums since I started making lists, each one ranking #1 on their release year).  I continue to maintain Hey Rosetta! as my favorite band (although it keeps being by thinner and thinner margins) and my discovery of them about 6 or 7 years ago remains a defining event of my life; alas, nothing stays perfect forever.  There are lots of moments to like on Second Sight, and a few of these songs would turn up on mix CDs I might make of the band; however, the breathless, emotion-drenched moments I crave from them are a bit too infrequent, and the times the band tries to stretch and evolve often sound too under-developed.  Nonetheless: solid, earnest, and soulful.

6.  Mono, The Last Dawn and Rays of Darkness

Mono_Rays_review

The premier Japanese post-rock band has finally made their masterpiece in these two simultaneously-released twin albums; Dawn explores the light, uplifting possibilities of this genre, and Darkness its depressing underbelly. Both albums are instant post-rock classics; when listened to back-to-back, it can be a damn-near enlightening experience.

5.  Delta Spirit, Into the Wide

Finally this band, who I have always loved, completely lets loose.  They get big and epic.  These are songs about hearts as big as prairies, unchecked regret, the loss of innocence, and the decay of America.  The tales are told through booming guitar loops and underlying synth structures, long atmospheric intros and cacophonous crescendos.  Singer Matt Vasquez’s voice breaks in just the right places, just the right amount of times, like a pubescent boy finally learning to control the caged beast within.

4.  This Will Destroy You, Another Language

This year, This Will Destroy You entered the small league of BANDS THAT ALWAYS MESS ME UP EMOTIONALLY.  This intense, emotive this willpost-rock group from Texas (where else have we heard of a Texas post-rock band?) started out my year amazingly, as I worked my way through their back catalog and they made my life better.  I was caught off guard late in the year by the release of a new album!  Another Language doesn’t often reach the sublime levels of their early work, but some standout tracks (“Newtopia”, “Dustism”, “Serpent Mound”) can make a comfortable home with their best material.

3. Stars, No One is Lost

Stars-No-One-Is-Lost-608x547

This band just keeps on growing on me.  They are wholly unique.  They fuse an indie/alternative vibe with a pop sensibility and then throw in melancholy, defeatist lyrics for a sound and feeling you simply cannot get anywhere else.  No One is Lost absolutely has to be their best album yet.  You leave it dancing your ass off, but with no idea what to feel.  The emotional confusion that Stars provokes is completely intentional and positively riveting.

2.  Warpaint, Warpaint

Warpaint_-_Warpaint

The album is self-titled, but it isn’t their debut album (it’s their third).  This album slithered under my skin from moment one.  It is sinister, sexy, and deliciously complex.  It is bombastic, mathematical, dynamic, coiled.  It punches, swerves, licks, plays.  The four women in Warpaint refuse to make “chick rock”, but they also do not ignore that they are women; this is rock music made from a woman’s perspective, but for everybody.  It’s not about being a woman, it’s about the experience of life, of living in bodies, the depth of feeling, the smell of smoke, the touch of a raindrop, barely felt.  This album is a sensual gut-punch.

1. Silver Mt. Zion, Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything

TheeSilverMtZionOrchestra041213

This is not music for everybody.  This band–and especially this album by this band–is a pretty unhappy affair.  It does not focus on the good things in life.  It’s about dirt, pain, rot.  It is, at times, about rising above these things, about triumph–but it is about triumph as afterthought, as happenstance.  This is perhaps not a complete and accurate portrait of life: but it is not a perspective without its truth.

This downtrodden thematic perspective is accompanied by the band’s usual lengthy, repetitive, droning postpunk post-everything mess rock, but with a little (a little) more typical song structure than usual.  Like I said: this isn’t for everybody.  But you know who it is for?  Me.  While not a single song on this album could ever come even remotely close to being played on the radio (I think most radio stations would pay money to keep it away) it is, to me, one of those rarest things in modern music: true art, worthy of museum display.

 

 

%d bloggers like this: