Thursday, January 18, 2007

top50 - round two!

31. m.ward - 'post-war'
The constant M.Ward metamorphosis continues. This man can easily sing from either 1906 or 2006, always with the same passion, the same subtlety and the same relevance. On 'Post-War' he has fast-forwarded a bit in time from 'Transistor Radio' (who made my list last year too) while still maintaining a traditional bluesy folk ambiance, making this record comparable to both Neil Young's latest and Springsteen's Seeger Sessions up there. Above all, Matt is a prodigious musical talent. Check out the song 'Chinese Translation' for the most clear piece of evidence.

32. stolen babies - 'there be squabbles ahead'
The End Records seems to be a safe haven for the oddball bands that don't really fit anywhere these days, and its output in 2006 has been of an unusual standard of quality. From Unexpect to Sleepytime Gorilla Museum (both previously mentioned on this list) to Estradasphere (who barely just missed it), and the best of all, Stolen Babies. Your head hurts just trying to categorize it. There is a guitar, yes, but that's where the rock conventionality ends. Then you have an abandoned music shop from the 19th century - accordion, glockenspiel, mandolin, tuba, trumpet, you name it. The songs plink-plonk their way along some demented circus ride, giving exactly the feeling that the album cover suggests, the demonic/childish killer-clown mood that fits strange music so well. Dominique Persi's voice is the glue that holds everything together - a highly versatile voice, she can shriek, croon, whisper, speak and creep out just about anything you can ask her. Creepy, creative and enormous fun, you can't miss this record.

33. darkthrone - 'the cult is alive'
A lot of people still haven't gotten the Darkthrone joke, and this album must annoy the hell out of them, all the tr00 kvlt obsessives. A song like 'Graveyard Slut', with its dirty Motörhead groove, suggests that they're taking the piss - and they are. As, if you've been paying attention, they've always been. That's the (ugly) beauty of Darkthrone - they take themselves only reasonably seriously, and this fuck-it spirit should be the true black metal spirit. 'The Cult Is Alive' is one massive, blasphemous and noisy rock-out, and anyone with an interest in extreme music should love it.

34. bruce springsteen - 'we shall overcome: the seeger sessions'
Armed only with a bunch of traditional and folk songs, as they were performed by folk icon Pete Seeger, Springsteen invited a bunch of NYC musicians and their traditional instruments to his country house for a few days, where the tape was rolling freely. The spontaneity and the joy that shines through this musician collective makes the result one of the best homages to folk music in recent memory. It’s also amazing how most of these protest songs are still very relevant today, like the Irish ballad ‘Mrs. McGrath’, in which Springsteen alters a lyric to read I'd rather have my son as he used to be/than the king of America and his whole navy, mirroring his well-known feelings towards his country's government. The rest of the album goes from the beautiful to the frantic, never wavering in quality. Raise your voices with him - we shall overcome indeed.

35. ron sexsmith - 'time being'
Ron is a mystery to me, because he has everything one could want from a musician in his genre, and yet he remains in semi-obscurity. A model for any aspiring singer-songwriter, his songs have beauty, melancholy, character, variety and most of all they show immense honesty, as if the man is really pouring his heart out to you in every one of them. 'Time Being' is yet another brilliant chapter in the Canadian's career, slightly more sombre than his previous records but with a songwriting maturity that borders on the brilliant. 'Snow Angel' is one of the saddest and most beautiful songs of the year.

36. isis - 'in the absence of truth'
Having basically taken the Neurosis blueprint and added different atmospheres to it, Isis have become more or less the face of the current post-rock boom. Therefore, a lot of people have been exposed to them, and ever since 'Celestial' there have been the usual gang of shortsighted critics picking at them for evolving too much, for not evolving, you name it. The fact is that Isis are one of the bands pushing musical boundaries today, and the fact that they are reaching wider audiences is mostly a good thing. 'In The Absence Of Truth' takes the general formula for 'Oceanic' and 'Panopticon' and adds some very Neurosis-like tribal drumming, lots of atmospheric passages and an overall more esoteric feel. As usual it'll take you a while to get into it, but once you do, it will be a vastly rewarding experience.

37. unexpect - 'in a flesh aquarium'
For all the doors opened by Arcturus' 'La Masquerade Infernale', for all its underlying influence in most of the wildly creative music that has been created for the past decade, there have been few records to actually attempt something remotely similar to it. 'In A Flesh Aquarium' is the first one to do so in some time, and while it won't have the historical significance of that record, it is a worthy spiritual son. One of those albums that induce some head-scratching when you're first subjected to its vaudeville-on-acid approach, it's also very engaging and even amusing at times. It would be easy to take classical music, spoken word, death and black metal and theatrical female vocals, mix it all in a big mess and call it avant-garde, but these Canadians blend it all into their characteristic brand of craziness and, somehow, everything makes sense. Come on, be adventurous.

38. virgin steele - 'visions of eden'
David DeFeis and his gang usually take their time between releases, but it's understandable why, given the care, the attention to detail and the sheer dimension of the metal operas they create. Six years after the conclusion of the massive 2-act epic 'The House Of Atreus', they are back with yet another ambitious offer, this time a one-CD only affair which nevertheless lasts for 79 minutes. It is, fortunately, business as usual for Virgin Steele - sweeping choruses, melodic, intricate guitar leads, beautiful melodies and brilliant songwriting that will appeal to anyone with a weakness for grand storytelling. The wealth of detail in 'Visions Of Eden' ensures you will get a lot from it for a long time to come.

39. various artists - 'rogue's gallery: pirate ballads, sea songs and chanteys'
Yes, the purists will tell you that there are better sea song compilations, and there are a few glaring omissions that would have lifted this collection to greater heights (Tom Waits, Flogging Molly, you name it). But the thrill of hearing well known and established artists like Nick Cave, Antony, Ed Harcourt, Loudon Wainwright III, Bono or Sting going all out for drunken piratey fun is unrivaled, and that's what makes 'Rogue's Gallery' so compelling. As all compilations, some things work less well (Sting, ye shall walk the plank), but most of them are lots of fun, like Nick Cave's contributions, Baby Gramps' songs (you have to listen to this old man, and his real name happens to be, yes, Baby Gramps) or The Three Pruned Men's (before you ask, members of the Virgin Prunes) piss up. The traditional songs are actually better chosen than what you might think, offering a good representation of the tunes that you could hear on ships back in the day.

40. voivod - 'katorz'
It's impossible to start listening to 'Katorz' without a heavy heart. The tragic loss of 45 year old Denis 'Piggy' D'amour, one of the finest, most passionate and truly creative guitar players of the last two decades, to cancer, was one of the biggest musical tragedies of the last few years. He hid the disease from his bandmates until very late, and then he revealed to them not only the sad truth, but also that they could find on his computer material for a few Voivod albums still, and his last wish was for Denis 'Snake' Belanger, Michel 'Away' Langevin and Jason Newsted to go ahead with them. 'Katorz' is the first of these 'legacy' albums, and the best compliment that can be paid to it is that it does clear your head of the unfortunate circumstances right after the first few moments. 'Katorz' is probably their best effort since the classic 80s albums, without which a great deal of bands would not even exist. The typical Voivod spaced-out feeling is constant, and the album is inventive and unpredictable, as Voivod always was. Rest in peace, Piggy.


  1. Nice mix! I agree with your comments on Voivod, a great album. Rogue Gallery is fun. The Babe Gramps tracks are my favourite. I know not much else of the rest... ooh this is very exciting!

  2. glad you're enjoying it still. :)