Critical Masses All-Time Crate-Digging Top 50, part 5: 10-1

Top 10 red 3d realistic paper speech bubble isolated on white

Here is the final 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.

Here are all the previous ones in the list: 20-1130-21. 40-31. 50-41.

10. Wreck and Reference – No Youth (The Flenser)

What I said: “Can you tell that I’m sold? I’m invigorated, as I mentioned above (in case you can’t remember). I’m not often floored by much, but Wreck and Reference have done it with No Youth, and I’m hoping for more of the same – well, more of the same genre-pushing experimentalism anyway.”

9. Frog Eyes – Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph (Dead Oceans)

What I said: “I am not here to whittle down the language and extract meaning from this album – that would be foolish, and I would clearly fail. I’ll leave that to a literary critic. I am here to tell you that, sonically and cohesively, the band sounds like no other, and sounds better than ever. This here is their fifth album, and one incarnation or another has been active since 1994. That’s a lot of years for small band on a small label whose members have (or had) day jobs. But the mythos and magic of collaboration has kept them going and maturing exponentially. (It also doesn’t hurt that Mercer is married to drummer Melanie Campbell – oh to be a fly on the wall at those dinner-table conversations: Melanie – “How was your day?” Carey – “Revitalization has become the pitfalls of the lame, as if I was the wind pirouetting between the rain.” Melanie: “Goddammit, Carey.”)”

8. Ween – All Request Live (Chocodog)

What I said: All Request Live is so dope.”

7. Zammuto – Anchor (Temporary Residence)

What I said: “[T]herein lies the fun of listening to Anchor – there are no easy answers, and something new and exciting is bound to surface each time you press ‘play.’”

6. Wolves in the Throne Room – Black Cascade (Southern Lord)

What I said: “It helps, then, that the band is known for spacious breathers, more organically shifting passages within their marathon tunes that allow the listener time to breathe and collect themselves within the dynamics. The shrieks and shreds that open a track like “Ahrimanic Trance” are cut with a comedown period, featuring slower grooves and copious synthesizer. … “Ex Cathedra” carries on that tradition, although it separates itself with a slower, more atmospheric groove to begin. … “Crystal Ammunition,” instead of dronier breaks, gives us a full-on acoustic anti-folk breakdown midway, a nice touch. Only “Wanderer above the Sea of Fog,” named after the painting by Caspar David Friedrich, refuses to let up as it blasts throughout its ten-minute-plus runtime.”

5. Dama/Libra – Claw (Northern Spy)

What I said: “But it’s that struggle between light and dark (lacking clearer sides) that makes Claw such an easy record to return to, as it reveals different levels of itself on repeat listens. Dahlquist and Phelps exquisitely delight in the macabre while expressing it through sounds perhaps most appropriate in dead-serious holy spaces, and as such they glimpse beauty, defeat, and all manner of articulations in between. Of course there’s gallows humor as well – “Death Rattle” has cheering children as its only vocal source. And “Destroy” is peaceful and tranquil, but in a sense that the duo are the last ones standing on the ashes of the earth post-apocalypse – maybe they’re gods surveying their damage. Maybe Claw is what’s playing on their Walkmen at that exact moment.”

4. Aa – VoyAager (Northern Spy)

What I said: “It’s remarkable that Aa spent so much time away between albums, but the seven intervening years have been kinder to the band than I ever would have expected. Who cares if gAame came out in 2007. And anyway, “Mossy” and “Glow Wreath” appeared on a 2009 12” EP in Sweden, so there was that too. Let’s not spend so many years with singles and comp appearances to tide us over between albums, OK guys?”

3. Foot Village – Make Memories (Northern Spy)

What I said: “Some might call the [stylistic] shift [from previous FV records to Make Memories] maturity – although their drums-and-shouting modus operandi is still gloriously intact, the textures and restraint exhibited throughout serve the band well. This is a fabulous album, by an extremely forward-thinking band, and both band and album (and back catalog) are perfect antidotes to malaise, musical or otherwise.”

2. The National – High Violet (4AD)

What I said: “It’s taken me until the very end of this column before I’ve even talked about the music, but don’t think it’s overshadowed by the heaviness of the mood. In fact, it’s perfectly complementary, as it builds and retracts slowly and deliberately, taking cues from likeminded sad sacks The Wrens or The Walkmen, or even Tindersticks. But there’s a vastness to it, one that could fill a large venue, a thousand-seat theater, adorned in dark red velvet and amber lighting, representing the ideal location. A great setting for the emotional cues…”

1. Future Islands – In Evening Air (Thrill Jockey) / Singles (4AD)

What I said [about Singles]: Singles really is what it says it is, an amazing collection of songs that could slot easily into any pop culture situation and ingratiate itself to our collective consciousness. It’s an album chock full of true, real, actual singles. Hits, even. … Singles is a bombastic delight from moment one, the true first single and opening track “Seasons (Waiting on You).” It’s hard to even describe how beautiful a pop moment this is, a rarified combination of all of Future Islands’ strengths – catchy synth pop, Herring’s soaring and uninhibited voice, a deep emotional resonance betraying words that wouldn’t necessarily warrant it in lesser hands (a song for the people!).”


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