Top-whatever best-of-whatever-year lists as a general concept kind of bug me, but certain people bug me for mine. I don’t like to put one together until the year is really over, because you never know, someone might release an album on December 31 that blows your mind. A lot of writers would just put it on next year’s list. I’d be interested in discovering the optimum date near the end of the year to release an album that it would establish a presence on two different years’ lists. Also, there’s more music coming out than people can really keep up with. At the end of every year I find myself with a long list of “meant to check out but didn’t” and “listened to once, thought it sounded rad, then never got around to a second listen.”

I’ve assembled a long playlist of stuff that came out in 2011 and also lined up some links to stuff I can only get at in streaming form right now. I’m listening to it and writing a little bit about each here. By the end I hope to have a top ten decided on. It may take several days.

Joe Jack Talcum & The Powders / Samuel Locke Ward & The Boo-Hoos Just Add Tears split LP Joe Jack’s palpable sense of longing and Sam’s raging punk sarcasm turn out to be great foils for each other. Both frontmen share much of the same band on this record as on their recent tours together, The Powders being a kind of reconfigured Boo-Hoos rhythm section with Sam on keyboards, and both wrote some amazing songs for this release. The album was performed and recorded pretty much live-in-the-studio to keep it raw like Sam likes it. Wistful melancholy and sardonic fun whipped into a parfait.

Mutwawa Mayan Mutations cassette/download EP – An intriguing stew of hypnotic, pseudo-ethnic/cultish electronic beats and other synth tomfoolery.

Elder Dead Roots Stirring – Elder grow to head and shoulders above the stoner-rock pack. An album made up entirely of long epic tracks that always jam but are never merely “jammy.” Nailing the sweet spot where rock can be compositionally ambitious without being pompously pretentious. Fuzz meets melody perfectly. I could listen to stuff like this all day.

Ed Gray The Old Bending River – Tom Waits and Jason Molina snowed-in together in a remote farmhouse with fuzzboxes.

You Are Home – a tour through musical landscapes of astonishing, delightfully weird, sometimes maddeningly repetitious Neu-age beauty, that ends with a sucker-punch to the balls.

Graveyard Hisingen Blues – These Swedes basically seem to be operating in the spirit of everything cool about early Led Zeppelin, and/or a more gritty-blues version of Witchcraft. It’s damn good. It’s interesting how this kind of throwback bluesy heavy rock basically has two separate scenes that are into rarely-overlapping sets of bands that nonetheless bear a lot of common sonic ground, the dividing line seeming to be somewhere in the areas of the headcount of the band, the tightness of their playing, and how much mystical, fantasy, or occult shit is in their lyrics. Particular corners of the metal scene made a lot of noise about this album, and well deserved, but ye indie-rockers who dig on such as Pack A.D., The Black Keys, or the venerable ol’ Stripes would be well advised to check it out too. Also gets bonus points in the cover art category.

Het Droste Effect s/t EP – Fuzzy space-rock instrumentals with hooks ‘n’ concepts ‘n’ shit.

I never know how to deal with these situations where someone I barely knew but didn’t like very much dies and an outpouring of sincere sympathy emits from tons of people I like and/or respect who apparently liked them quite a bit. I didn’t know this dude and the only interaction I had with his band Woods Of Ypres left a sour taste. Maybe he was a super nice guy and just the rest of his band were dicks. Fetal Pig got booked to play a show with them at Vaudeville Mews, before which I’d never heard them. I downloaded their new album to get a feel for what we were in for and determined that it was a really well-done album, a bit overlong but full of really catchy songs, very radio and major-label ready, but I failed to see what was “black metal” or “doom metal” about it as stylistically it mostly sounded to me like the same old whiny petulant post-grunge Active Rock crap, but all that really only meant that it just wasn’t my kind of thing because the songs definitely were catchy and there were some pretty decent riffs too and I know tons of dudes who would have loved it and I really got the sense from listening to it that this band was right on the verge of a big-time breakthrough. Then they came and played the show and were totally unfriendly, completely ignored everybody and buried their faces in their laptops the whole time, started their ridiculously short set by announcing to to all in attendance “all right let’s get this shit over with!” and just generally acted like they were oh so put out to have to be playing this shitty gig for this small crowd in this redneck town. Then afterwards they put out a mean-spirited tour-diary video on YouTube bagging on my city and the bands that opened for them. Real fucking classy, Anyway, the founding mastermind of the band (and only original member, I believe) died a couple days ago at age 31 in some kind of accident. So that’s news. Rest in peace, guy I saw once; if there’s a life after this one I hope you’re happier in it and find better people to associate with there.

All 9 volumes of the Contact Compilation are out now, including the long-delayed all-collaborations volume 5. Head over to Hal McGee’s bandcamp page to check them out.

thunder bunny cover

Lovers of the old-school shoegaze wall-of-sound, psychedelic vibes and sunny major-key melodies bathed in fuzzed-out guitars and reverb, rejoice: we have Thunder Bunny. The band consisting mainly of New Jersey’s Christopher Padula released this EP earlier this year through Ames’s Workerbee Records.

Opener “paint a golden stick” sports an especially charming lead guitar line right out of the gate. Four tracks, three of them easy-tempo noise-pop gems driven by woozy drums, a thick mystery-inducing haze of fuzz guitar and shamanic tambourines in the reverby temple of the cult of sound. Of course the third track will be the instrumental. “headless” slightly resembles an excerpt from one of those improvisation tracks Amon Düül II put on Yeti or Tanz der Lemminge after getting rolling with a classic octavey bass ride of the kind favored by Wooden Shjips.

“(when you’re here)” ends the disc on a high note, reminiscent of middle-era Flaming Lips or classic Mercury Rev, in both the vocal melody and the floaty acoustic bit that reminds me of the verses of “Snorry Mouth,” introducing the song and recurring between the lush, sexy verses. And speaking of sexy, check out the video:

Sorry if it seems like I haven’t posted here much. If you want more, I share a lot of stuff on the Centipede Farm Facebook page. I’ve got a bunch of stuff that’s come my way this year that I’d like to write about before the year’s out, but then I was in the same position last year and didn’t manage to touch on near all of it. We’ll just let it come out as it can.

Peopling is R.Gonzales, who introduced himself to me over e-mail as a “noise-rock musician.” But don’t think noise-rock as in any of the followers of Sonic Youth or AmRep. This is closer to the stuff I’ve been digging into of late that’s filed under simply noise, but Peopling hammers that noise into rough rock shapes. This 6 track EP starts out upbeat with “Come Home Eccentric”, which opens with a loop of distorted outer-space radio-static noise that’s joined by a two-note synth bass line, loose punky drumming, and a heavily distorted taunting vocal. While it’s the most “rock” track of the bunch, the remainder of the disc follows much of the tone it sets. Hypersonic feedback, malformed power electronics, and heavily overloaded 4-track circuits swarm around sparse drums and electronic rhythms, loops of distorted metal-machine noise, some minimal distorted guitar, and even more heavily distorted vocals. Have I mentioned a lot of it is really distorted? It can be a disorienting assault, but also strangely mellow, almost folky in an optical illusion kind of way. A welcome respite from the noise comes with the acoustic guitar intro of “Summer Such And Such” before distorted elements begin creeping back in; there are also some melodies, of a sort, popping out at points.

Overall, Peopling comes off a little bit like a much harsher, yet somehow mellower, version of No Age — similarly oriented around stripped-down rock frameworks, but rhythmically laid-back, yet with many of the levels cranked to beyond the red. It’s a worthwhile concept taking the sonics of pure electro-noise and giving them a bare-bones level of rhythm and structure, a field ripe for further exploration and a possible remedy to the sometimes problematic tendency of noise music towards faceless interchangeability. Get it in digital form from Bandcamp or contact thepeopling at gmail to inquire about a CD copy.

Neon Lushell by way of (o)+HERS? Yes please, I’ll take it. A meeting of two formidable forces in sonic squalor: (o)+thers take tracks from Neon Lushell’s upcoming Modern Purveyors Of Filth And Degradation CD and give them the kind of noised-out, screwed-up, slowed-down treatment they’re known for applying to truckloads of well-known rock and pop tunes or anything else they can get their hands on. The result is a denser and more beat-oriented stew than the relatively minimalist originals, yet every bit as freaky and filthy. Stream below, buy a disc or download for free here.

cop bar cover

It’s a dangerous proposition for someone who’s made their name outside heavy music circles to come out and say “I’m going to do a metal thing now,” especially with the sudden rise in hipster attention on metal of late and the backlash that engenders. But Iowa City’s renowned spazzy singer-songwriter Samuel Locke-Ward is the type of artist who would do something like Cop Bar not out of naivete or dilletantism but out of a mix of restless creative energy and fearlessness. Besides, metal kinda suits Sam in a way: his songs have always walked in dark places even when they’ve been presented in gentle folky arrangements. Furthermore, in his more intense moments as a performer, his voice has been known to lapse into a kind of strangled growl that in retrospect does have a bit of grindcore in it. He’s a longtime fan of the heavy stuff, besides.

Cop Bar is not quite the typical grindcore or hardcore band, though. It wouldn’t be like Sam to do anything the normal or typical way. I’m pretty sure there’s no other band this metallic sounding that would open an album with a guest appearance via voice-mail by R. Stevie Moore. Alongside the averaging-one-minute songs, chugging crust riffs, and blastbeats, No Justice Just Law bears the unmistakeable Samuel Locke-Ward stamp in its lyrical themes, multiple-personality-disorder vocal role-playing, screwball sense of humor, and basement 4-track production, all combining to make this a take on brutality that you most likely haven’t heard before. Sam’s brother-in-law Andy is along on drums, a fellow named Brando is on guitar, and there is no bass, and they take to hammering home these tunes with an appealing bluntness.

If I had any quibble it would be with the closing track “Jesus Saves” as it’s chorus is basically a direct rephrasing of that of “Save The Daughter” from Sam’s solo debut, the self-released CD-R EP Harness The Power Of Lightening, and recycles a lyrical trope that he’s pretty much beaten to death by ths point; indeed, Sam’s jabs at Christianity are starting to get a bit hackneyed and predictable to someone who’s followed his career since the beginning. But this is probably not going to be a problem for most, especially if this is your introduction to Sam’s unique brand of madness. So order up this cassette for $3 right now at Sam’s web site and bang your fucking head.

Yep. Already. Better get to work listening.

Also, just released today, this collaboration between Hal McGee and Kris Gruda:

neon lushell cover

Cheezy as it may be, I’d kinda hoped Workerbee Records would have this thing out in time for Halloween. This is great creep-out music so it would have been seasonally appropriate.

Neon Lushell is a duo of Ira Rat and Switchblade Cheetah lead singer and poet Brian Pitt. Ira backs up Pitt’s disturbing imagery with fittingly disturbing sounds, a mix of bad-trip-hop and cold ambient nausea that smells like a dank old basement with bloodstained granite walls.

Pitt’s performances are phoned-in — literally: he submits his vocal tracks via voice-mail from Tallahassee, Florida. Ira edits these into the final creations in Ames, Iowa, making the most of the distant, disconnected feel with which this process endows Pitt’s varied contributions of aggressive rapping, distracted crooning, madman raving, spoken-word storytelling, and stream-of-consciousness.

Although “Leave Me Alone” and “Sammy’s Rap” build their dark atmospheres around groovy beats, the rest of the album is rhythmically impressionistic, a series of mixtures of floating processed sounds that blur the distinctions between “real” instruments and abstract synthesized ones, even when something recognizable as, say, a mandolin or an acoustic guitar appears, and stubbornly refuse to completely cohere, leaving the listener helplessly adrift. “Everybody Died, I Survived” backs a dreamlike ghost story about a shipwreck with throbbing electronic bass sounds that will threaten to blow your speakers. Various Workerbee figures make guest appearances, including Thunder Bunny on “Grave Bells,” where an wince-worthy abrasive metallic scrape grows to dominate the mix.

Even if you’re already into the experimental/noise music milieu, Modern Purveyors of Filth and Degradation probably sounds like nothing else in your collection, and is likely to be one of the more unsettling sonic trips you will take.

NOTE: the following bandcamp player is for a 5-song advance promo version of the album; the full enchilada is expected to come out on CD like Real Soon Now. Get in contact with Ed and see about pre-ordering.