Pat Van Hulle - music director, WLUW-FM; MP Showster; intern, Billions Corporation
Here is my long-winded Top 10 list for the year. I doubt these are truly the“best” records of the year, but they sure are the ones that spent the most time in my CD player.
1. Liars- They Were Wrong So We Drowned / Mute
Undoubtedly my favorite record of the year. After shredding two of its members, Liars went to a cabin in the woods (I keep thinking of Evil Dead) and created this dense and dark masterpiece that totally turns its back on the dance punk scene that it was the most viable member of. These guys could have been the next Rapture, Faint, or Interpol, but they chose to follow their collective muse and create a beautiful, challenging, and ridiculously fun record. Strange dichotomies galore.
2. and 3. Isis- Panopticon / Ipecac and Mastodon- Leviathan / Relapse
Two of the best metal bands to form in recent memory return with two phenomenal metal albums. You don’t think metal can be a thoughtful and important music genre? Well you haven’t listened to these two amazing albums. While Isis focuses on lush, sprawling epics, Mastodon is a bit rougher combining equal parts King Crimson, Slayer, and early Metallica. I don’t care if you hate metal. Give these albums a listen.
4. No Doctors- ERP Saints / No Sides
So maybe their last few LP’s were recorded a bit too lo-fi for you. Well, ERP Saints
, which is an ode to East Rogers Park, the neighborhood the band called home for two years, is the band's first professionally recorded material and it shows. The band's blend ofBeefheart, metal, avant jazz, etc. is truly allowed to shine with the better production. “Future Awaken Widen,” the ten-minute epic (which was actually recorded in one magic take) which closes the EP, is one of the best rock songs ever written. I kid you not. Sadly the band has picked up and moved to SanFrancisco. Chicago, I don’t think you understand what you have lost.
5. Oneida- Secret Wars / Jagjaguar
One of Brooklyn’s finest returns with another great record. “Caesars Column” has to be one of the best songs of the year.
6. Califone- Heron King Blues / Thrill Jockey
I went most of the year without giving this gem its fair chance (I’m still stuck on Roomsound
). With the most superficial of analysis, Califone could come off as meandering dad rock, but in reality, Tim Rituli and company have always constructed adventurous and brilliant compositions. Heron King Blues
is no exception. I really love how the album seems so quiet, for the most part, but has this deep bubbling under of Beefheart that reveals itself after repeated listenings.
7. Battles- B EP / Dim Mak
A supergroup that is, in fact, super. Easily the best new band to release music this year, Battles is Ian from Don Cab, John Stanier from Helmut and Tomahawk, Tyondai Braxton, and David Konopka of Lynx. Their instrumental compositions have a math rock feel, but there really aren’t any crazy time signatures. The album is more based around rigid grooves that manage ebb and flow with a controlled intensity. Stanier is a machine when it comes to keeping a perfect drum beat.
8. Blonde Redhead- Misery is a Butterfly / 4AD
Blonde Redhead may have completely abandoned its Chicago ties by leaving Touch & Go and The Billions Corporation while also abandoning its proclivity to write some rocking songs, but that does not take away from the fact that Misery is a Butterfly
, which takes the band in a new subdued direction, is a great album. Many of the songs do not really differentiate themselves for each other, but I’ve never really gotten bored with it. Maybe it’s the strings provided by Eyvind Kang. Overall, this is just a classy fucking album. “Elephant Woman,” the title track, and “Pink Love” really stand out.
9. PJ Harvey- Uh Huh Her / Island
I’m a sucker for Miss Polly Jean. Heck, I even thoroughly enjoyed the very polished Stories from the City Stories from the Sea
. Uh Huh Her
takes her back to her earlier days and is probably her best album since Rid of Me
10. (tie) Ted Leo- Shake the Sheets / Lookout!
I don’t think I’ll ever tire of Ted Leo’s enthusiasm and incredible knack for writing extremely catchy music. I thought Bob Pollard was the one that was supposed to have all the pop hooks. The album is as catchy as ever, but Ted has been able to infuse even more intelligent social criticism into these songs.
10. (tie) Wilco- A Ghost is Born / Nonesuch
Its probably cheating to have two number 10’s, but I had to keep this album on my years-end list. The reviewsf or this album have been mixed. Some claim that it is too challenging and some complain that Tweedy’s Crazy Horse-like guitar solos become excessive and pull the album down to the level of lame bar rock. I love the guitar solos and I love most of the “challenging” aspects (sans the 10 minute “migraine in audioform” of track 10). It’s a really good album from a great band. I’ve had more lyrics and melodies from this album stuck in my head than any other this year.
Very Honorable Mentions:
David Thomas and the Two Pale Boys- 18 Monkeys on a Dead Man’s Chest / Smog Veil
It was such a shame that no one showed up to their show at the Empty Bottle. I swear people focus too much on the other Dave Thomas, purveyor of spicy chicken sandwiches. The Pale Boys also did a good job at messing with those Pixies songs on “Frank Black Francis.”
Bjork- Medulla / Elektra
Bjork teaming up with Mike Patton…what could possibly go wrong? I think some of the songs are among some of my Bjork favorites (“Where is the Line” and“Who is It?”) but overall, I find myself skipping a good chunk of these tracks just like I do on Vespertine
. Some of these tracks are not quite as engaging as previous albums. Post and Homogenic
are still her only two albums where I don’t want to hit the skip button.
Animal Collective- Sung Tongs / Fat Cat
Everyone should hear “Kids on Holiday” at least once. Great live band as well. They completely blew Black Dice off the stage.
Melvins/Lustmord – Pigs of the Roman Empire / Ipecac
Nice collaboration from the princes of sludge rock and Lustmord. 20 years going and still remaining relevant.
Mark Lannnegan – Bubblegum / Beggars
It’s a shame that people didn’t really pick up on this great solo album from former Screaming Trees and QOTSA member. Its far more rock than his previous solo efforts.
Sonic Youth- Sonic Nurse / Geffen
19 albums and still keeping people interested. That’s saying something.
Eisterzende Neubauten- Perpetuum Mobile / Mute
Aging industrialists getting quiet and contemplative. Very nice indeed.
Wolf Eyes- Burned Mind / Sub Pop
I was shocked to see that these Michigan noisesters were putting out an album on Sup Pop. Its their most accessable to date, but still nosier than most of what you heard this year. “Stabbed in theFace” has to be one of the best song titles of all year.
Tom Waits- Real Gone / Anti
Bringing back the guitar and dropping the piano helps make another great album from Mr. Waits. I hear he is touring the states this spring. Here’s to hoping.
Modest Mouse- Good News for People who Like Bad News / Epic
Brock deserves to have a platinum album. It’s better than those asssholes in Puddle of Mudd or Nickleback getting all the airplay. Iaasac’s lyrics are still pretty clever and the guitar lick of “Float On” is almost too catchy for its own good.
Neurosis- The Eye of Every Storm / Neurot
I’m always talking up Isis and Pelican, so I should give props to one of their biggest influences. After slipping a bit, Neurosis sounds as viable as ever.
Serial POP/UV Turks
Great music and sad that they do not get all that much attention. When they do get huge we can say we knew them back when.
Best songs from bands that I haven’t already mentioned:
"I Luv The Valley Oh!” by Xiu Xiu
I really used to hate this band, but this song, and most of the album Fabulous Muscles
is fantastic. I still don’t like their wimpy/whiny quiet songs, which are too over the top for my liking.
Magnetic Fields’ “I Thought You Were my Boyfriend” and “I Don’t Believe You.”
Things I’m concerned about (Besides 4 more years with that one guy):
I didn’t really discover any new music this year from bands that I had never heard of. Besides Battles (and that’s a stretch because I already know about Don Cab andTomahawk), all of the albums I really enjoyed this year were from artists and bands that I already know and love. I’ve listened to most of the big records of the year and they just didn’t do anything for me. Am I becoming old and jaded? Or do I just not yet understand the whole Arcade Fire thing?