Critical Masses All-Time Crate-Digging Top 50, part 1: 50-41


Here is the next part of the hiatus info-dump, a nostalgia trip through the five and a half years that I’ve been doing Crate-Digging columns here at Critical Masses. I figure I’d have fun and quantify some stuff, as much as quantifying anything can be fun. So, I took a trip down the ol’ Internet wormhole and compiled a top-50 list of releases I’ve reviewed. To take a look back at some of the best stuff I’ve reviewed here. You know.

One of the criteria that has developed over the years is that I had to like a record to review it here, and so even though I’ve given myself the arbitrary number fifty as stopping point, rest assured that if I’ve written about you, I’ve liked your music. See? Everybody’s my buddy, at least electronically, whether they like it or not. You’re all top infinity in my book. But this is an exercise, so there you go.

There are a couple rules I’ve imposed on myself for making up this list. No singles or videos were considered, which means there is no Signior Benedick the Moor on this list, which is too bad because his albums and EPs have been some of my favorite work released over the past couple years. It just turns out that I only wrote about his singles and videos for some reason. So rule number 1 here is kind of an honorable mention for Christian – he’s a bad dude, and you should listen to everything he’s ever released.

Also, I tried to keep this to the records I’ve discovered while writing. What I mean by that: I began Crate-Digging as an attempt to write about my record collection in alphabetical order by album, but that became difficult to maintain, and I abandoned that after a year or so in favor of reviewing the new and exciting things that crossed my path. So even though I reviewed a bunch of stuff that was older or more visible (read: popular, I guess), I didn’t consider much of it here. An exception: Ween’s All Request Live, an in-studio performance album that I did discover while reviewing for this site, and I just fell madly in love with. So it’s on the list … somewhere.

I noticed that Northern Spy Records are well represented on this top 50. Bravo.

No more writing – here are numbers 50 to 41. 40 to 31. 30 to 21.

50. Speculator – Lifestyle (Leaving Records)

What I said: “Yes, Lifestyle owes a debt to the 1980s, featuring snippets of dialogue and samples of songs from the era, woven seamlessly into the album as a whole. But instead of being simply a stylistic retread, the tape swallows the characteristics in a fog and regurgitates mutant representations for both easy consumption and critical appraisal.”

49. High Wolf – Ascension (Not Not Fun)

What I said: Ascension smacks of the American Southwest because of its rhythmic tribalism, and while this characteristic is indicative of native cultures throughout the world, the signature tablas and other percussion instruments, combined with guitar, analog synthesizer, and various loops and effects, call to mind swirling space jams that truly make sense under the huge clear night sky surrounded by cacti and red rock formations. There’s no jungle canopy to be found on this record. There’s just space, lots of it, and a feeling of joyous reverence beneath the night sky, the only witness to the ceremony and celebration of earth and nature. Oh, and that fistful of peyote should start kicking in any time. That should help.”

48. Wasted Cathedral – Pleasant Valley (Adhesive Sounds)

What I said: Pleasant Valley is Saskatoon’s Chris Laramee’s debut on Toronto-based tape label Adhesive Sounds as Wasted Cathedral, and it’s my favorite thing so far on the nascent imprint. Top that, you guys! How’re you going to beat favorite? Good luck. But I’m not here to taunt anybody, let alone such nice people. So I’m going to instead opine on how pleasant Pleasant Valley is, and how this quick trip can easily become a much longer one if you turn your stereo on “repeat.” Because if it’s one thing I’ve learned, the most enormous doses possible of good things only make them more good!”

47. Black Unicorn – Traced Landscapes (Field Hymns)

What I said: “[Curt] Brown’s synth excursions (and let’s face it, you can’t call them anything but excursions) are best experienced with high-tech noise-cancelling headphones, the bigger the better, so if you look like a 1980s helicopter pilot while listening, you’ve got the ideal situation going on. There’s no better way to chill out than with the opening couplet of “Lowland Observatory” and “Cosmonoctambulant” (and no, I will not type that again), trippy interstellar passages that tie new age, ambient, and Kosmische together to rip open a new dimensional rift in the spacetime continuum. To paraphrase well-known galactic traveler/popular rift-ripper J. Spaceman, ladies and gentlemen, we truly are floating in space.”

46. Peace Arrow – ↑↓↑↓ (self-released)

What I said: “What’s great, though, is that while you can listen to ↑↓↑↓ and say, “Oh, yeah, this reminds me of [The Microphones and Mount Eerie],” the field, fortunately, is wide open for experimentation, and while Myers uses similar tricks and sounds – acoustic guitar, synthesizer and keyboard elements, found sound, seemingly rickety rhythm, multitracking – he’s definitely embraced his own delivery, striking a path much more akin to his Gainesville, Florida, locale than [Phil] Elverum’s Anacortes, Washington, Pac-NW forest-gazing. Swamp-gazing, then? Nah, I know better – we call ’em marshes this far north.”

45. Each Other – Heavily Spaced (self-released)

What I said: “Don’t pass on this action. Calgary’s got some great music coming from it …, and Each Other is the vanguard. Their equally boss debut EP Taking Trips is worth a listen as well. I am refreshed after listening to Heavily Spaced. Bath-scrubbed refreshed. Hair washed with snow refreshed. (I just watched White Christmas – sorry.) It’s a chilly inhale of an EP, invigorating and exciting. I have it on repeat.”

44. I.E. – Most Importantly (Deathbomb Arc)

What I said: “I.E. is more interested in the exploitation of this life as an artistic expression, not to hold it up as a standard, but to pinpoint its ridiculousness as an acceptable form of living. Like Quentin Tarantino exploits violence to ludicrous levels in his films, Margot Padilla sends up the wretched junior high years everyone goes through, giving the garbage a glossy veneer in the process. When set to a club beat and blasted through speakers, Padilla’s mall-punk snootiness becomes a highly usable form of ravesploitation. Put pipe to lips; smoke.”

43. Kal Marks – Life Is Murder (Exploding in Sound)

What I said: Life Is Murder is a pretty grandiose example of no one winning in the end, especially once the emotional carnage has truly been accounted for.”

42. Brother JT – The Svelteness of Boogietude (Thrill Jockey)

What I said: “He’s back with The Svelteness of Boogietude, a collection so mesmerizing and enjoyable it’s got to be a smash hit. Always somehow behind (or ahead of) trends as mainstream media focused on what Terlesky wasn’t doing (thanks a shit ton, Nirvana), Svelteness pretty much comes at the right time. And I can’t explain why that is – maybe he’s finally found the perfect outlet at Thrill Jockey, nestled among their roster. Maybe it’s because Svelteness is a stylistic roller coaster, brilliantly melding psych, folk, garage, and soul in a postmodern matrix recalling everybody from The Brian Jonestown Massacre to Scott Walker to Marc Bolan. Toss a little bit of Ween in there on the really weird numbers, like “Sweatpants.” Or “Muffintop.” (In fact, muffin tops are mentioned in both “Sweatpants” and “Muffintop.”) Or maybe it’s just because you read a title like The Svelteness of Boogietude and just completely understand exactly what it means and sounds like without hearing a note or a word. It’s a title that deserves a knowing chuckle and an immediate needle drop. It’s a title made for your goddamn headphones.”

41. Moonface – Organ Music, Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped (Jagjaguwar)

What I said: “At this point, I hope you realize that Spencer Krug’s grand narratives embody us all, encompass each and every one of us in universal storylines of love, lust, ambition, violence, and death. He has continued on this path from the very beginning and grown this skill exponentially. The metaphors are at once lofty and meta, yet employ strategically simple language, all in an effort cast the broadest net and reel in the greatest number of likeminded listeners. I am Spencer Krug. You are Spencer Krug. We are all Spencer Krug.”


4 responses to “Critical Masses All-Time Crate-Digging Top 50, part 1: 50-41

  1. Pingback: Critical Masses All-Time Crate-Digging Top 50, part 2: 40-31 |·

  2. Pingback: Critical Masses All-Time Crate-Digging Top 50, part 3: 30-21 |·

  3. Pingback: Critical Masses All-Time Crate-Digging Top 50, part 4: 20-11 |·

  4. Pingback: Critical Masses All-Time Crate-Digging Top 50, part 5: 10-1 |·

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