Crate-Digging: 2011 Year-End Spectacular (Part 2)

In case you missed it, head on over to Part 1 of the Year-End Spectacular and catch yourself up. All set? Good. Here’s Part 2, and a little bonus to whet your appetite for future Crate-Digging columns. Bon appetit!

13. CAVE – Neverendless (Drag City, 2011)

I wrote a blurb for a music licensing company for this album. Enjoy!

The question: Can you crowd-surf to krautrock? Or is that just an awesome-sounding question that should hang in the air like a rhetorical magical obelisk? CAVE says ka-chunk, and destroys it with some powerful medieval talismanic weapon (or something), setting us all free from the shackles of music journalism trendsetting. Crowd surf? Try circle pit, suckas! (OK, maybe we shouldn’t go that far.) Mixing motorik repetition with swirling psychedelics and face-melting guitar and synth heroics, Neverendless, CAVE’s debut full-length for Drag City, drives forcefully over its five lengthy tracks as the quartet’s restless energy rises and converges Voltron-like for maximum action. Wanna have your mind blown immediately? Try acronym-or-drunken-stutter (not sure which) “WUJ.” Got time to hitch a ride on an interstellar convoy? Then “This Is the Best” is right on. I often want both, so I listen to the whole thing. You should too. (READ THE FULL REVIEW)

12. Neon Night Riders – The Neon Album (Sinewave, 2010)

It’s quite shameful, but I haven’t paid attention to Brazilian netlabel Sinewave in some time. I should be reprimanded – the label consistently releases quality post rock/shoegaze/post metal records, but I guess I’ve been focusing elsewhere for musical entertainment. (And journalistic fodder – can’t forget that – you all matter too, apparently!) Regardless, Sinewave has a deep catalog, available to download free of charge, so there’s no reason to not dig in, Portugese-language website notwithstanding. (Google translates it funny, anyway, so there’s extra incentive.)

Neon Night Riders sound like their name – a driving, dark-blue-and-purple blur of street signs smeared with synthesizers and overtreated guitars, propelled by crystalline drums and bare buoying half-sunk vocals. It’s equal parts Swervedriver and the Jesus and Mary Chain. It wants to dance but hates to. It’s freezing cold in the rain, and sleek like the motorcycle you decided to take out instead of your car. (Idiot.) Do you speed home after getting drunk? This is probably a good soundtrack for that. I don’t condone that in the slightest though. (READ THE FULL REVIEW)

11. Speculator – Lifestyle (Leaving Records, 2010)

Nick Ray is Speculator, and his Lifestyle cassette repurposed a bunch of gunk from the 1980s and 1990s, warped, warbled, and ran it under water, and came out the other side with a lo-fi pop masterpiece. It could’ve sucked so bad! It didn’t at all. I loved every part of it – the use of the lo-fidelity as a songwriting trope, the samples of Janet Jackson’s “I Wait All Day” on not one but two songs, Tommy Lee Jones, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, “Wonderwall” slowed to a crawl and run through a flanger and titled “Sick Oasis,” the dream pop of “No Future” and “Dreams” (duh) – listening to Lifestyle is something like flipping through the radio dial in Speculator’s parallel world, the tunes pulled like taffy and existing only in your head. Don’t you want to exist in a realm like that? Do we start getting into quantum entanglement if the world that exists in your head contains the real world and vice versa? You know, like that parallel universe box episode of Futurama. The one with two of everybody, and the Zoidbergs end up with the box and remain losers regardless. (READ THE FULL REVIEW)

10. Tonstartssbandht – Dick Nights (Does Are, 2009)

I am slowly but surely getting through the Tonstartssbandht discography. Brothers Edwin and Andy White have left us hours of weird and wild material to digest, and Dick Nights, their second full-length album released in 2009, is an experimental pop fan’s dream. Constructing songs on a foundation of vocal layers, the Whites close the divide between novelty and accessibility, somewhat like their stylistic peers Animal Collective, by understanding exactly what they’re doing and executing it to perfection. Even the fuzzy full-band numbers are decent (although “Haughty Deb” doesn’t hold a candle to debut album An When cut “Black Country”), but it’s the twists and turns that define the band and give them staying power. Take “Preston ‘Great-Ass’ Imfat,” a honky tonk number that morphs into a doo wop hit, or the acrobatics of the vocal-sample tune “Seriously” (my two favorite songs on the album), and you’ll realize that Tonstartssbandht excels at multiple genres, and can experiment at will with great results. I’ll stop fawning now – get to know this band. (READ THE FULL REVIEW)

9. Future Islands – On the Water (Thrill Jockey, 2011)

I was disappointed upon first listen with On the Water because it didn’t live up to Future Islands’ impeccable prior album In Evening Air (my number one record of the year in 2010). But then I realized I was a stupid idiot and everything I complained about wasn’t actually worth complaining about. The title track opened the album on a slow note, an emotionally wrenching torch song that set the stage for the more subdued affair that was to come. And what, do I have something against a more subdued Future Islands? Do I absolutely need the intense catharsis present in songs like “An Apology”? No and no – it’s fine, we can have both, and it’s all OK. Samuel T. Herring is still one of the most singular voices in music, and there are some amazing gems that On the Water yields upon scrutiny, like the upbeat “Before the Bridge,” the duet “The Great Fire” with Celebration’s Katrina Ford, the sneakily placed “Give Us the Wind,” and the driving synth-pop of “Balance.” So if you’re convinced, like I was, that In Evening Air is the be-all and end-all of Future Islands’ oeuvre, I think you ought to reinterpret your position. On the Water is worth it. (READ THE FULL REVIEW)

8. Pissed Jeans – King of Jeans (Sub Pop, 2009)

Doesn’t it feel like this album’s been out forever? And here’s me, just getting to it this year. I’m kind of surprised they haven’t put out something new (besides the “Sam Kinison Woman” 7-inch) in the time it took for me to get to King of Jeans. Why’d it take me so long? It’s been two years since year-end lists fawned over the noise rockers (I guess they did anyway – who wouldn’t have noted this highly as 2009 came to a close?) Well, fine, I fawn now, dig it? The band has two notable features, in my opinion: 1) They love The Jesus Lizard, in that sweaty, drunken, workingman’s way that they careen and flail and tend not to give much of a shit, and then they go ahead and deliver such clutch performances that you wonder if any of it’s a put-on. 2) They’re from Allentown, Pennsylvania, my hometown. And here I thought nothing good came out of Allentown. Well, “good” is relative – Pissed Jeans are mean, angry, and likely … er … pissed out of their minds. And for good reason – there’s nothing much more to do in Allentown than wallow in your own self-pity. Strangely, Pissed Jeans are making an exceptional career out of reflecting that. Good for them. (READ THE FULL REVIEW)

BONUS COVERAGE: A preview/review of what I missed in 2011, and what I intend to catch up on

This is something a little new. Obviously, I’ve favored the music I’ve reviewed over the past year, regardless of release date, instead of sticking to a strict diet of 2011 releases. As such, there are several I’ve overlooked that I hope I can get to in the next year. The following is a list of records that came out in 2011, and they’re burning a hole in my iPod in anticipation of my getting around to them. But let’s not stop there.

Let’s make this an interactive experience.

What’s on this list that you want me to tackle sooner rather than later? What’s not on this list that you want me to tackle? Leave your suggestions in the comments, and then head on over to Part 3 of Crate-Digging’s Year-End Spectacular – the Top 7!

  • James Ferraro – Far Side Virtual
  • Wooden Shjips – West
  • Moonface – Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped
  • Steve Hauschildt – Tragedy and Geometry
  • Sleep ∞ Over – Forever
  • White Hills – H-p1
  • Speculator – Nice
  • Robedoor – Too Down to Die
  • Ricky Eat Acid – Haunt U Forever
  • The Psychic Paramount – II
  • Peaking Lights – 936
  • Para Siempre – Hysteria
  • Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica
  • Niggas with Guitars – Ethnic Frenzy
  • Monster Rally – Crystal Ball
  • Laserdisc Visions – New Dreams Ltd.
  • Jürgen Müller – Science of the Sea
  • John Maus – We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves
  • Hauschka – Salon des Amateurs
  • Galapagos – Sounds Vol. 1
  • Dylan Ettinger – Botany Bay
  • Bill Callahan – Apocalypse
  • Andrew Sinclair – Evil Summer

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