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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

SF Weekly Best Albums of 2007 : John Graham Edition

Posted By on Tue, Dec 25, 2007 at 7:09 AM

Feh... top 10 lists are written by lazy bastards for other lazy bastards. But I can outlazy all of you! I can’t be bothered to dig through every CD stack in my cramped apartment, so here are ten fingers’ worth of albums that have impacted my eardrums within semirecent memory. There are surely others that deserve to be here ... stuck in a pile somewhere ... maybe someday to emerge again.

This Moment In Black History - It Takes a Nation of Assholes to Hold Us Back

Released in late 2006, this disc has spun around my CD player many times over the past 12 months — and TMIBH’s live show (as seen this very December at the Hemlock Tavern) totally goes off. Singer Chris Kulcsar is a hyperactive freakball, doing manic pogo-hops around the mic stand whenever he’s not busy flipping across the floor like an angry fish, leaping off tables like an awkward gymnastics nerd, or punching squeals of noise out of his Radio Shack synthesizer. The remaining members — guitarist Buddy Akita, drummer Lamon Thomas, and bassist Lawrence Daniel Caswell — are the shifting rock off of which Kulcsar jumps, their avalanching punk riffs and rhythms only slowing down when something breaks. All told, these Clevelanders sound like the logical continuation of an Ohio tradition that contains the atavistic garage-rock of Rocket from the Crypt as well as the lasering post-punk absurdity of Brainiac. Fun times, friends. Fun times.

Career Suicide - Attempted Suicide

On another late-2006 release that saw endless spins in 2007, these Canuck punks play warp-speed retro blitzcore that sounds like it could have been recorded somewhere between the first Circle Jerks LP and the last Criminals CD. Granted, 13 songs in under 25 minutes may not be the best dollar value for your $10.99, but this breakneck blaster will energize your ass better than five pots of Juan Valdez. (Warning: Attempts to listen to this album while under the influence of other, nonlegal Colombian exports may cause instant cardiac explosion.)

Badawi - Unit of Resistance

New York’s Raz Mesinai, aka Badawi, combines a love of traditional Middle Eastern music with a modern compositional style that mashes up avant-garde electronics, classical motifs, and cinematically dramatic flair. Here he throws his songs to a pack of remixers who alternately transform them into funky dancefloor-dub tracks (DJ Spooky’s “Jihad Remix”) or turn the guts inside out until they become glitchy black-ambient menacers (Seth Ayyaz’s “Bahr El Dumu Part II”). Bad puns notwithstanding, this is where the bazaar meets the bizarre. It’s probably more for experimental fans of Muslimgauze than, say, ethno-dance startups like Balkan Beat Box or Bedouin Soundclash (although the latter takes its name from a Badawi release). Exploratory listeners should certainly find something worth gleaning from these dozen tracks, however.

Clockcleaner - Babylon Rules

Some bands don’t want to be popular. Others go out of their way to be genuinely dislikable. The people from Clockcleaner rank among the latter. When they played in San Francisco recently, they cracked politically incorrect jokes and performed in total darkness, with only two blinding strobe lights — pointed directly into the audience’s eyes — to provide illumination as the trio pummeled skulls with such high-volume, echo-drenched treble frequencies that you heard things funny for a few hours afterward. Thankfully, the CD isn’t quite so painful. But it’s plenty damaged nonetheless, eight knifing cuts of antisocial dirge-rock that’ll have you reaching for your old Big Black, Pussy Galore, and Flipper LPs for side-by-side comparisons. Not many people stirring up this kind of ugly mess anymore. They used to call this genre “pigfuck.” I still like it — even if Clockcleaner would probably be happier if they made me vomit with revulsion instead.

Gogol Bordello - Super Taranta

Yeah, it’s another Gogol Bordello album that’s a lot like the last one. Yawn, right? Hell, nah! The Gogol formula — playing traditional Gypsy melodies at slam-thrash speeds — may no longer seem novel, but the band is as unchainable as ever. They defy anyone to stand still as charismatic shouter Eugene Hutz chides repressed dullards (“American Wedding”), attacks religious disciples (“Supertheory of Supereverything”), and hopes that everyone who doesn’t like the immortal Stooges “would go to fucking hell” (“Your Country”). How can you not embrace any album whose sole ballad is about one man’s lifetime love affair — with alcohol? My only problem with Super Taranta is that it gives me nearly uncontrollable urges to run to the nearest bottle of vodka. Curse these work duties!

The Horrors - Strange House

Let’s get it right out in the open: Strange House sounds a helluva lot like the Birthday Party. Maybe there’s a little Hives-y garage bambalam in there, too, but no one’s gotten this close to replicating the Wild Young Nick Cave Sound in a long, long time. (Not even Cave’s own back-to-roots Grinderman project sounds this much like a 21st-century reprise of “Release the Bats.”) A swaggering screamfest of blackened blues and spooked surf punk that’s soaked in horror-show organs, Strange House is what goths should have been doing for the past 15 years, if they’d ever get out of the damned discotheque and start playing deathrock music again. To be fully honest, I can’t abide the band members’ goofy-ass haircuts and overall poncey-Britboy fashion sense. But damn, this album is great!

Grinderman - Grinderman

Okay, okay, may not be Junkyard 2: The Return of King Ink, but Grinderman announces the revival of the libidinous, potentially-violent Nick Cave loverman that seemed to have vanished after the Bad Seeds’ Murder Ballads album. There’s even some self-depricating humor in tracks like the raunchy, feedback-spitting “No Pussy Blues” that makes these panting, drooling, nocturnal leg-humpers more physically compelling than anything Cave & Co. have done in years. We can only hope this wasn’t a one-off project. If I have to personally ship a boatload of Viagra to Cave’s British home to guarantee more of this rawness and ribaldry, I will.

Konono No. 1 - Congotronics

This album actually came out in 2004, but I just heard about it thanks to an Aquarius Records-penned review that was printed in the November ’07 debut issue of Western Addition Radio’s W.A.R. zine. In short, Konono No. 1 is a troupe of Congolese musicians who perform jubilant, tranced-out dance music on home-built and jury-rigged instruments. When the odd melodic klonk of metallic thumb-pianos is forced though fuzzy amplifiers and tinny old loudspeakers, the instrument sounds simultaneously ancient and futuristically alien, while the call-and-response megaphone vocals evoke everything from lo-fi dancehall toasters in Kingston ghettos to the warbling muezzin towers of Persia to, of course, a Congolese soukous street party. Meanwhile a gang of percussionists bangs on all manner of random noisemakers, generating a rhythmic churn that would make tribal-industrial icons like Crash Worship or Test Dept. jealous of the beat. Just how compelling is it? Consider Danish punk band The Ex, whose song “Theme from Konono” is not only inspired by the troupe, but also lifts riffs straight from Congotronics, transmuting the thumb-piano sound into electric guitar plinks. Very cool. Gentlemen, start your samplers! Released by the (ironically?) Belgian label Crammed Discs:

The Secretions - Faster Than the Speed of Drunk

Albums like this should be stickered with a warning: “This is the stupidest record you will ever love!”

Sacramento’s finest cretin-hopping pogo popsters certainly don’t try to be arty or pretentious, and songs like “Mom’s Fucked Up,” “Ramen and a 40,” or “Jerkin’ Off to You” won’t be scoring effusive raves from the hip college blogerati. But fuck all that — if the sun is out, the beer is cold, and the girls still aren’t falling in love with you (despite the fact you play in an infectious, Screeching Weasel-ish punk band), then the Secretions will be your best musical friends. And if you don’t agree, well, the Secretions have a song for that, too. It’s called “3 Chords and a Fuck You.” Nyah nyah nyah nyah!

Elliott Smith - New Moon

I suppose no Top 10 would be complete without throwing an indie-rock and/or hipster-folk album on the pile. (“C’mon, man ... all the other music critics are doin’ it....”) Primarily for already existent fans of the late troubadour, this two-disc collection of leftovers from Smith’s pre-Dreamworks era is more like the stark, close-to-the-bone nocturnal whispers of his early work than the inflated and Beatlesque pop ditties he wrote when the money was flush. What makes these songs so miraculous is the way Smith fills the empty gray spaces with tasteful guitar accents that are simple yet ingenious — rather than generic strum patterns, Smith plays melodic counterpoints to his vocal lines, the two components entwining and separating and then re-entwining again and again. You probably have to be an overly sensitive writer-type with insomnia problems and an addiction to cheap muscatel to really enter the headspace Smith lived in when penning these hushed what the hell does that say about me? Forget it, Dr. Freud. Just pass the bottle and press play. — John Graham

PS: Oh yeah, I’ve also been liking newish stuff from Two Ton Boa, Chrome Cranks, Adult., Cenotype, Lake of Dracula, The Bloody Hollies, Byla/Jarboe, Old Time Relijun, Tarentel, Clipd Beaks, Black Ice, Amon Tobin, etc. Check them out at “the” MySpace.

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Oscar Medina


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