The end of fall semester is upon us, which means a gargantuan influx of stupidly arbitrary “Best of” lists (which the Herald ArtsEtc. section unabashedly contributes to). It’s a guilty pleasure, one that always makes me feel so far out of the loop, that I’m usually addicted to finding every single one possible. Spin and Rolling Stone (with its horrible number-everything approach: does listing the “Top 500 Albums of All Time” seem a little pompous and self-inflating to anyone else?), Pitchfork, Maximum Rock N Roll, Elemental, Urb, all those Brit’s imports coming in post-New Years (NME, Mixmag, Q, etc…), its all too much really.
But so much phenomenal music is bumped just out of view with every list made, so I’m going to concentrate on the tunes that deserve to be heard but probably won’t show up in the mainstay rock rags. This is by no means a “Best of” synopsis, but simply a selection of artists that are doing interesting work and need to be heard.
Since electronic dance music is criminally absent from the psyches of most American music fans, I’ll kick things off with Mylo’s Destroy Rock and Roll, a monstrous disc that won’t even be available in the states until sometime early in 2005 (Amazon and others do offer an import version for less than $30). Mylo is already massive in the United Kingdom and a popular import for frantic audiophiles and blog scavengers over here. Mylo fuses a simple rock aesthetic into the traditional house format, creating simple refrains that never seem to grate or become overly repetitive. “Drop the Pressure” is a major highlight off the disc, and will no doubt become a dance floor classic globally with its drop dead disco bass and morphing vocal chops.
For anyone that likes their electronic a little more organic and sleep-inducing, Puerto Rican trio Balún have created some elegant folky, tranced-out atmospherics with its While Sleeping E.P. Echoing percussive pops and sputters bounce across stereo time, mingling with accordion and guitar to create tempestuous gems like “I Shouldn’t Do This” and the almost-indie rock vibe of the title track. The band explains its music as melodies for imaginary films, which turns out to be a perfect description for these cinematic soundscapes.
For the throngs of bleached, heartbreak kids awaiting the Postal Service’s U.S. Post Office gigs, there are a few viable options for tide-over tunes in a similar vein. Producer/musician Arne van Petegem teamed up with the crew at Brussels-based Club Ancienne Belgique to fly in a vast array of musicians for his latest disc under the pseudonym Stryofoam. The result, Nothing’s Lost exhibits the sort of indie-pop meets laptop beat king that made Give Up a huge hit, with contributions from the Notwist (and Lali Puna) guitarist Markus Archer, American Analogue Set’s Andrew Kenny, Belgian group Das Pop’s Bant van Looy and of course Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie and the Postal Service. Gibbard’s contribution, “Couches in Alleys” could easily be a new Postal Service single, but tracks like “Ticket Out of Town,” with its My Bloody Valentine/Jesus and Mary Chain homage to noise guitar and indie-glitch-hop steamroller “Misguided” make Styrofoam a diverse, enjoyable listen. Puking and Crying by S. (former Carissa’s Weird leader, Jen Ghetto) is another glitchy indie dive, with less melody and a bit more experimentation.
Harder rock fans should revel in recent releases from Mastodon (whose latest Leviathan, is based upon “Moby Dick”), spazzy, intricate scream geniuses Dillinger Escape Plan (Miss Machine) and massive riffologists Unearth (Oncoming Storm).
Mos Def and his little brother DCQ released a stellar hip-hop mix up with their group Madina Green’s U-Know the Flex: The Mix Tape Vol. 01, which contains hard to find Mos Def tracks like “Beef” and indie-hop stunners like “Pump Da Pump” and “Cats Copy.” Across the ocean, London-based Lex Records dropped a handful of incredible hip-hop discs from Prince Po, Dangermouse and Jemini, Sage Francis’ Non-Prophets and Anticon staple abstract noisemaker Doseone, with his latest group Subtle. Subtle’s A New White pops out of speakers like Leatherface rampaging in a record store. Indie rock guitar bruises itself on blistering breakbeats and surreal narrative infrastructures in an all out mindmelt of a disc.
Prosaics’ Aghast Agape E.P. is a momentously dark spin, perfectly ripe for Joy Division fans looking for hot tracks to rile up their weekends. Aghast Agape is picking up momentum and quickly becoming this year’s answer to TV on the Radio’s phenomenal Young Liars E.P. The danceable beats and introverted lyrics are desperately at odds on such tracks as “Teeth” and “Now the Shadow of a Column.” Dogs Die in Hot Cars dropped the best XTC album that XTC never made with Please Describe Yourself. And the band tying Dogs Die for best band name of the year, Austin-based I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness, dropped a horribly hot E.P. with killer, slow-brewing tracks like “We’re Still the Weaker Sex” and the highlight track, “Your Worst is the Best.”
And I’ve hardly broken the surface. Other phenomenal discs that can’t be missed are Frog Eyes’ The Folded Palm, Panda Bear’s Young Prayer, Mouse On Mars’ Radical Connector, Tegan and Sara’s So Jealous, Rivulets’ You’ve Got Your Own, J. Robbins’ latest band Channels’ Open E.P., Animal Collective’s Sung Tongs and Dollhouse’s Rock and Soul Circus. Anyone that says this year lacked amazing music is simply being lazy. Naysayers always gravitate toward easily defined end points, spouting off about this and that on the front steps of every new year, without having ever bothered to dig into what is happening.
Great new music is always there, always around the corner and ready to be discovered. Just don’t ever stopped looking for it.