Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Top 10-ology

have been working on my year-end Top 10 list for "Time Out." prolly shouldn't reveal all contents until they go to press next week, but i've got some thoughts. last year, it being my first year on staff at the magazine, i definitely had some sort of point to prove about how esoteric my tastes were--it's kind of embarrassing to admit, but i'm kind of a contrarian at heart, or an obscurantist or what have you, i.e., i enjoy pursuing active interests in things that no one else gives a shit about and i wear that as sort of a badge. i can't imagine anyone who writes about art for a living not having at least a little bit of that quality.

anyway, but this year was a bit different. making my list, i decided to use the guiding principle of simply determining what records i returned to the most, and more importantly, which were the ones that i decided to make part of my collection. as for that last part... like anyone who writes about music for a magazine, i receive a shitload of free CDs. obviously the vast majority of these are releases that i would never in a million years have purchased. i'm obliged on a daily basis to give records a spin in order to evaluate or at the very least describe them, and most discs fall into that category, i.e., they're simply data to process. even a lot of the CDs that i do larger pieces on become mere obsolete research tools once i'm done with them--i have no real emotional investment in them and i wouldn't in a million years throw them on in my free time.

but there are the select few CDs that actually make it home with me, and if they're really special, they get filed alphabetically with my other CDs. yeah, i know, know--Oooh, how very special! But for me that gesture has become somewhat meaningful: it's like i'm promoting a CD from the status of data, or work fodder, to that of a work of art that i choose to own, much as if i had bought it. there's a huge pile of CDs in my room that are sort of in limbo--the ones from work that i don't want to toss, but that aren't quite part of the real collection either. if i was really honest with myself, i'd probably throw these in the garbage right now, but i'm still not into the idea of disposing of smaller releases that indie labels or individual artists take the time to get into my hands. but that will probably change; it sort of has to, given the sheer amount of product i receive on a daily basis.

anyway, though, re: the Top 10, every CD that ended up on there was one that i took home and upgraded, made into "a real boy," so to speak, or something like that... it only happens a few times a year, honestly. it's a very powerful thing for me to actually take a CD home after i review it; because let's face it, as cool as the job is, i'm still listening to a lot of stuff merely because i have to produce music-related copy on a weekly basis. something has to hit me hard for me to pluck it out of those huge stacks on my desk and rescue it from anonymity.

anyway, i don't want to give away any of the records that made it, but here are a few honorable mentions that i couldn't find a slot for but nevertheless really enjoyed:

Carnival Skin - s/t (Nemu)

this is a really nice new collective jazz group with clarinetist Perry Robinson, trumpeter Peter Evans, guitarist Bruce Eisenbeil, bassist Hill Greene and drummer Klaus Kugel. you see very few jazz bands where everyone pulls their weight compositionally, but this is one of those scenarios--everyone writes. the pieces are fun and the playing is mostly awesome, especially from the Robinson/Evans tandem. solid free-jazz features, but smart organization too.

speaking of Evans...

Peter Evans - More Is More (psi)

i've gushed so much about Peter in TONY that i feel like i've run out of stuff to say, but he's an amazingly focused and dedicated improviser, and this debut solo set doesn't disappoint at all. yep, killer focus and drive on this one.

Deicide - The Stench of Redemption (Earache)

ah, Deicide. loved the shit out of these guys in high school, but they got into some really shitty, stagnant crap in the late '90s and early aughts. this new one really rips, thanks to these two badass new guitarists, Jack Owen (formerly of Cannibal Corpse, who also have a pretty killing straight-up-death-metal CD out this year called, uh, "Kill") and Ralph Santolla, who do these awesome clutch-the-hand-of-your-creator leads that are just unapologetically shred-tastic, just really noodly and catchy and fun. kind of sounds hilarious pressed up against Glen Benton's gruff vocal nonsense. but really heavy and relentless shit here, even if it ain't really that special songwise.

Peeesseye [pronounced "Pee Ess Eye] - oo-ee-oo (Evolving Ear)

i love these guys: Fritz Welch, Jamie Fennelly, Chris Forsyth (that's them looking all krazy up there at the top of this post). they've been doing weirdo conceptual electroacoustic improv around NYC for years with great success (well, aesthetic success, at least). but they sorta turned a corner recently and this is the first document of that. basically they're doing an all-acoustic thing now, with Forsyth swapping his electric axe for an acoustic and Fennelly switching from electronics to...drumroll...harmonium. a lot of their music is now strummy and droney and almost dreamy, but with plenty of good, old Peeesseye unsettlingness to it, e.g., Fritz's guttural speaking-in-tongues, which has a really awesome juxtapositional effect with the pretty, dreamy surroundings. this is a hot disc. ring Evolving Ear for a copy.

Dave Burrell - Momentum (High Two)

a really strange, strange record. very prickly, much like Burrell's last for High Two, "Expansion," which is really growing on me now that i'm revisiting it. like that one, this one has impeccable sound quality, but in the service of some totally weird, static (and i don't mean that in a bad way, just in a descriptive one) musical conceptions. don't wanna spoil the TONY review i just wrote, due out next week, but i'm really impressed/baffled by the subtlety and open-ended experimentalness of what Burrell is up to these days. and the rhythm section, Michael Formanek on bass and Guillermo E. Brown on drums, is totally fucked-up rad. some weird fractured almost hip-hop-like grooves happening at times. Brown in particular is totally virtuosic and perverse and inventive in a way that i never had even the slightest inkling of during his Ware tenure. maybe the best drumming of the year right here.

hmmm, what else: sure there's a lot more. gotta reckon with that Mastodon record. hey, i've said it 1,000,000 times, here and elswhere, but here's what happened with that little mf: got it, played the hell out of it for three weeks...then lost interest completely. go figure; i really thought that had the makings of a classic metal record. ha, who am i kidding--there's only like five of those in existence. i'm exaggerating, but metal just seems to date so quickly. Metallica, Sabbath, Morbid Angel, maybe a little Pantera; nothing can touch the bread and butter, folks. anyway, i've had my ups and downs with good, old Mastodon and i just gotta say, they rock like motherfuckers, but they've got a lot of weaknesses that may yet keep them out of the pantheon. those vocals... i thought they were cool, but they're kinda bad--too close to grunge garbage. they need to get someone up front who can actually sing.

Scott Walker record... bottom line: i respect it a hell of a lot more than i actually like it. listened to it exactly once through to write my review (5/6 stars, possibly too high in retrospect) and haven't gotten through more than ten minutes of it since. this goes back to what i was saying above--when making my Top 10, it was simply about which records made that leap from data heap to home library, and which ones i actually found myself spinning. thus my list might look a little more "normalized" this year, but i think it's more honest. will throw a link up here when it goes to press. my #1 (yeah, at TONY, they're sorta ranked)? here's a hint: "The end of the line is lonely / Like a heart without a homey."

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