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 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.
What I said: “With records like LVL UP’s Hoodwink’d bursting through my earbuds, it’s impossible to wear the mask of perennial grump, at any time of the year. I’m stoked that records like this still sound relevant, that bands like LVL UP are still arriving at fresh destinations while utilizing the tropes of the genres they grew up with. And I’m glad to be along for the ride – these guys were my friends in college, and my bandmates too, and I’m a big ol’ lump of nostalgia for those groovy times when I listen to them.”
What I said: “But I can’t talk about movies here without talking about some music, specifically Field Hymns’ 3x cassette box set release of some of synth sculptor Yves Malone’s most, er, revelatory and inviting work. I choose those adjectives carefully, because the films Malone has soundtracked, and three of whose scores are presented here in full, don’t exactly warrant those descriptions. But, it’s exciting that after twenty-five years, the music, untethered from its filmic images, conjures far deeper and wider appreciation than the movies ever likely could.”
What I said: “I start at the beginning because it’s kind of the Rosetta Stone of Xe. “The Future of Royalty” opens with a drum machine pattern that wouldn’t be out of place in a drumline, but it’s rudely interrupted by Patrick Higgins’s guitar squealing all over it. [Saxophonist Sam] Hillmer skronks, and Greg Fox shreds on his skins, and still through all that racket, to recall Busta Rhymes, Zs brings the head-nod shit that, ahem, “makes you break your neck.” It’s noisy, it’s ugly, but it’s controlled chaos, and it’s incredibly approachable, perhaps surprisingly so.”
What I said: “#POPPUNK is everything you expect from this crew, which, essentially, means the unexpected. I honestly had no idea what EP2 was going to sound like following #MONSANTO, and I had no idea what #MONSANTO was going to sound like when it came out. That may be the best thing about TNC, that the members and collaborators alike imprint the results with their unique perspectives – they’re like this weird tribe that gets it, knows what they’re all doing, and coalesces to form a Voltron-strong hybrid trading in prog rap or krautrap (yeah, I said prog rap and krautrap, SHUSH) that also has the particular zest of their LA home base and the “ghost” of the titular pop punk.”
What I said: “[T]his is a pretty insanely powerful debut. It’s not a proper, “welcome me to the big leagues of paid musician” type of debut – Ray’s been knocking around for a while, most specifically with her group Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers (yeah, good name). As such, she knows her way around wailing her performances in the face with a metaphorical baseball bat, and she certainly does her fair share of that here on Last Year’s Savage. Her instrument of choice is a harmonium, and she’s got a great backing band, at times reminiscent of – duh – the Bad Seeds. (Not all the time though.) She’s Indian American. She’s actively feminist. There, boxes ticked – mix it all together, and there’s this blues-punk Ella Fitzgerald madwoman who is making refreshingly angry – and startlingly beautiful at times – music for people who are totally giving up and totally not giving up at the same time. ’Cause we’re all in the shit together. Rile us, Shilpa. Rile us.”
What I said: “But to be reminded, almost twenty years after the band’s lone album hit the shelves that somehow we all missed Rodan in some way, that we all overlooked them because of their short time with us, is almost too much to bear. They should be one of the first names on our lips in any conversation about any number of genres, and we are hereby served a reminder. But we are not scolded – we should take joy in reminiscing about the energy and life we felt, and still feel, while listening to Rodan. Fifteen Quiet Years is the perfect ending of the saga, the best way to close the final chapter.”
What I said: “I guess in the end I’m just unconcerned with the big picture, and would prefer to experience a record like Water Tiger on its terms, losing myself in the enjoyment I inherently find in the spaces between the huge concepts. I’m not under some delusion of grandeur, with some expectation that my life (or yours) is heading in a direction filled with meaning and understanding. But if I’m capable of perspective – like Lenz is here, clearly – then I’m in good shape. That’s why I can get behind Water Tiger: it’s meaningful, to me, in all the best ways, in the greatest detail.”
What I said: “Do you want to know something weird? I’m just reading Isaac Asimov’s famous Foundation trilogy, a space opera that spans an entire millennium. Wanna know something far less weird? It’s really good. … Anyway, the reason I bring that up is because of the, er, “psycho-historical” significance of me reading those books at the same time I’m listening to Adderall Canyonly’s phenomenal new Moss Archive tape, Beneath the Crystal Canyon a Spark Remains. Both recall far-out otherworldly landscapes where life is abundant, hundreds of extrasolar planets coexisting within a single galaxy. Both hint at (or flat-out declare) massive upheavals in existence. Both hint at (or flat-out declare) a necessity for modern-day Frippertronics as a soundtrack. Both kick ass.”
What I said: “Through Force of Will has no shortage of highlights, from the science documentary soundtrackishness of opener “I Am Returning” to the midnight dancekraut territory of “A November Mission.” “To Overthrow” adds cop show guitar flashiness to give it a sunglassed sheen. “Streets on Fire” belongs in any number of 1980s culture-moment films, making the album’s cover choice of a pixel-scribbled Judd Nelson at the end of The Breakfast Club, fist held high, perfect in every way.”
What I said: “Raj, ten tracks of complex IDM, pushes the boundaries that Piotr’s already pushed – and he’s already pushed quite a few, approaching electronic music as a composer rather than a programmer and forcing the listener to blur his or her hearing as one would vision while looking at a particularly difficult painting. And while he hasn’t sacrificed the experimental nature of his previous work, he quite possibly does something even more difficult than the university-baiting soundscapes of his other releases: he’s able to weave his experimental tendencies into something much broader, using unusual sources and compositions to actually broach the threshold of accessibility. Derek Piotr has come as close to a pop record as he likely ever will.”