Five albums you should pick up

…because I did. And we all know I’m a touchstone of greatness.

1) LEATHERFACE– Mush

A band I had absolutely no clue existed until about 3 weeks ago is yet another in a long line of bands I was completely unfamiliar with who have an extensive history. The band plays endearingly sloppy pop-punk with vocals from a dude who sounds like a slightly more melancholy Lemmy Kilmister… well, in the case of Lemmy, “at all” would be more than usual. It sounds exactly like if the aforementioned Lemmy fronted Alkaline Trio with all of their music being written by Bob Mould. The best thing about this band is that I don’t feel silly listening to it.

The worst part about getting old (aside from physical aging, weight gain, mounting debt, being more susceptible to sickness, society’s disturbing obsession with getting married by a certain age… alright, maybe it’s not the worst thing) is discovering bands that you didn’t when you were younger, and then finding out that there was a small window of time where they were alright to connect with. Braid’s The Age of Octeen is a perfect example. I got into their semi-brilliant swan song Frame and Canvas my senior year of college, and liked it quite a bit; the album felt mature enough that I wouldn’t have to walk by a gaggle of Braid fans at the mall, but it felt vibrant enough that I wouldn’t feel like I was curling up with a Norah Jones album and a cup of English Breakfast, mourning the loss of my youth and waiting for the icy high-five of Death. Needless to say, it was a perfect album for that time and place. But the Age of Octeen I got two years later, and I missed the point of it entirely. I didn’t dislike it, but it was too deeply rooted in, well, being octeen, if you will. Even though I hated being a teenager, I completely allowed myself to be marketed to as one, and had a collection of music rich with (often manufactured) youth rebellion. I can look back on it fondly now, but that’s because it was mine in that time and place. Age of Octeen wasn’t mine then, and it didn’t make sense to me as an adult. Leatherface don’t get that sort of reaction.

They’re essentially what someone who initially liked the palpable nature of pop-punk would return to after listening to a shitload of other music first. Every song is driven by a straightforward punk beat and accented by simple guitar work, though occasionally peppered by some interesting post-punk chords. Every song on Mush is ridiculously anthemic, even if you can’t understand what musta-gargled-glass-and-turpentine-at-one-point singer Frankie Stubbs is saying. The album, it could be argued, is just one song done over and over, slightly different each time to give the allusion of variance. The thing is, that song is a great song, and I have no issue listening to it over and over, which is why the record has been in almost constant rotation since I acquired it.

2) Isis-Oceanic

The buzz on Isis, if you’re like me and spent almost all of your free time at your office job reading as much as you could on them, is that their 2002 fucking masterpiece Oceanic is widely considered their classic, while Panopticon, their 2004 followup, is underrated and, in fact, much better. The problem with this is, of course, that I haven’t read an article talking about Panopticon where it’s spoken of as inferior to Oceanic, thus making Oceanic their underrated classic while Panopticon is too ballyhooed for its own good. Make sense? Of course not.

While the band started off as what Neurosis riffs would sound like after 2 or 3 stomachs worth of digestion from a cow and have (as of their last album, 2006’s In the Absence of Truth) wound up playing all your favorite Tool songs, just in different keys and with their own words attached, their three “middle” records– Celestial, Oceanic, and Panopticon— are a lush middle ground of the former’s slow-burning heaviness and the latter’s outer space melodicism. Oceanic is the most fully realized of this philosophy: while there’s no doubt the record’s not gut-punchingly heavy at times, the band pack the songs full of simple-but-moving consonance. The album’s two standout tracks– the sparse and subtle “Weight” and “Hym”, Oceanic‘s last song that manages to outdo the rest– show Isis hitting their stride. This is a direction the band could have kept going in for 2 or 3 more records and I would have enjoyed each. But being the better-evolved human beings they are, they went in a different direction for their next record, and while I do like Panopticon, I think it spends too much of its time meandering, trying to find the creamy center they kept biting into all through Oceanic: heaviness with a subtle, lush, simple base.

3 & 4) Fugazi– In on the Killtaker/Red Medicine

While aging hipsters will insist to you that Fugazi peaked right around 1990, when their nimble full length Repeater came out, I argue that the band was just getting started. The aforementioned aging hipsters ignored Fugazi right after their departure of a full length Steady Diet of Nothing came out. That album was Fugazi’s first fully-realized album as opposed to another collection of preachy anthems that lose their luster right around the time you turn 23. While that album isn’t necessarily perfect, the two records that followed it– In on the Killtaker and Red Medicine— are pretty damn close.

The reason I mention these two records together is that they are mirror images of eachother. Killtaker is a ballsy rock album chock full of fucking RIFFS with occasional emotional flourishes while Red Medicine is an emotional album that’s noisy as well as tuneful with a ballsy fucking RIFF thrown in every once and a while for good measure. They compliment eachother perfectly, and also perfectly illustrate the best parts of Fugazi: stop-start arrangements, using noise as a compositional technique in more of a workingman’s fashion than a pretentiousman’s one, and the overall insistence of the music. People often state that the last thing is why they don’t like Fugazi; the music is too insistent and in-your-face to be enjoyable and not feel like you’re being preached to. But while Ian Mackaye’s hardcore brethren often used preachiness and insistence because they wanted their music to be important, Fugazi sound insistent because their music IS important. They tread the same fine line Bruce Springsteen and early U2 do: they don’t employ irony to make their music easier to swallow, so therefore their music is stuffed to the seams with earnestness. And while earnestness is used by everyone from Matchbox Twenty to Nickelback to hide the fact that they’re shallow, boring human beings that should be marketing reps instead of musicians, someone making an earnest point is sometimes making the best point. And the best point is not always benefited by gratuitous helpings of irony. This, for me, is why Fugazi will always kick the shit out of Pavement.

5) Nachtmystium-Worldfall

The two years between Nachtmystium’s last full length, Instinct:Decay, and their new releases (the Worldfall EP and their full length Assassins, coming out in June) have felt like a decade, partially because Blake Judd, Nachtmystium’s central dude, was just starting to get to a very interesting point. “A Seed for Suffering”, the first proper song on Instinct:Decay, felt like a thrown gauntlet. The last third of the song is a wall of psychedelic guitars, all looping around a typical (but not stock) black metal riff. In a world as narrow as the one of black metal, it was akin to handing out rugs on which to pray toward Mecca in a Jewish deli on the Gaza strip. And while the rest of the songs on the album were good, none of them matched “A Seed for Suffering”.

Worldfall picks up where Instinct left off, if not for all too briefly. The EP’s five tracks (including 2 covers: a Death in June song radically reworked and a throwaway Goatsnake dirge) all hint at brave new ground just waiting to be tread upon. But being that it’s an EP and EPs rarely rival full lengths (notable exceptions: Dillinger Escape Plan’s Irony is a Dead Scene, Misery Index’s Dissent, Jesu’s Silver and, duh, Mission of Burma’s Signals, Calls and Marches), it’s thrown-together nature is forgiven. Though the pieces seemingly thrown together are remarkable: the title track is an ominously beautiful wall of reverb-soaked guitars, raspy whispering and chant-like vocals; “Depravity” is black metal-by-numbers, but channeled through the Nachtmystium-ator, so it’s twisted to shed light on new heaviness; “Solitary Voyage” is a reworked early song, illustrating how truly unexceptional the band used to be and how (arguably) important the band is now. That’s the thing with Nachtmystium: they began as a prolific and extremely bland lo-fi black metal band and, seemingly from nowhere, wriggled their way out of the pigeonhole to daringly stare into the face of what they were reared upon. They never feel like a band that hates black metal and is therefore destroying it, but are trying to show what they can do with the limited resources black metal offers. Plus they realize what most bands in the genre do not: all of black metal’s forefathers made the best “true” records already, and remaking a Darkthrone record over and over isn’t adding anything to anything. Darkthrone have made more than enough records as it is.

So yeah, get on that. I’m also listening to a lot of Crosby, Stills, and Nash. I don’t know if I’m ready to work my way over to …and Young yet.

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One Response to “Five albums you should pick up”

  1. brakefortoads Says:

    “Icy high-five of death.” THAT will be my new tattoo.

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