Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Top 50-ish Records of 2010 (#11-#20)

We're getting soooo close... Not long to wait, at all. But here are the "Next 10" for 2010. Previous posts in the Top 50 series are:
#'s 21-30, #'s 31-40, and #'s 41-50.

#11. Ancestral Star - Barn Owl

Ancestral Star
"Visions in Dust" from Ancestral Star (2010)
"Light from the Mesa" from Ancestral Star (2010)

Genre - Peyote-Vision Morricone-Drone
Official/Myspace -
Location - San Francisco, CA

Review - Dusted Magazine
Download - Amazon, iTunes
Purchase - Thrill Jockey Records, Forced Exposure

I can understand how some people might not get the guitar drone thing, might find it boring. For example, having moved from Robedoor (#18 below) to Barn Owl, I'm ready to try again with Earth (drone icons who I've previous failed to get into). Regardless, this is a complete well-formed album - an artistic statement! There's a theme, with consistency of tone, but quite a lot of variation. It works just as well sliding into the background as it does for close listening.

The theme appears to be an overnight sojourn in a desert (of the mind?), starting at "Sundown" and ending with "Light from the Mesa." The consistent tone comes from spare, reverbed guitar figures with varying levels of intensity and accompaniment. Sometimes there's feedback, sometimes ghostly wordless vocals, sometimes drums or maybe some cello... It seems the tones get deeper and darker, maybe quieter, towards the middle - then rise up again towards the end. The title track is the epic centerpiece, but for the most part each song comes in a digestible size (especially for drone). Maybe I'm just reading too much into it. Sweet gatefold cover though!

12. Trinity - Harvestman
Hawkwind Triad - Harvestman/US Christmas/Minsk

Hawkwind Triad
"Don't Play with Water / Dead Flowers" from Trinity (2010)
"Master of the Universe" by US Christmas, from Hawkwind Triad (2010)
"Children of the Sun" by Minsk, from Hawkwind Triad (2010)

Genre - Stoner Psych-Drone Soundtrack / Space Rock Covers
Label -
Myspace -
Location(s) - ID / NC / IL

Review - Metal Review
Download - Trinity, Hawkwind Triad
Purchase - Blue Collar Distro

The Trinity CD is a limited-edition release of a Harvestman soundtrack for an Italian horror film. Some of the music had been on the Harvestman debut album Lashing the Rye (#2, Drone/Ambient 2005), but most is newly released. Exactly what you expect - atmospheric psych treatments with post-metallic folk and some synth ambience. Which is something I'm way into…

Hawkwind (#4, 1973) demand tribute from their minions. And happily, they have been getting some these last few years. This one's done in a fairly unique manner: 1 full-length, 3 artists, with a few songs each (rather than the usual 1 track per). So... US Christmas - very nice! They're the most true to the original, but moreso. Harvestman - good, but I would have gone instrumental... Not completely sold on the vocal style. Minsk - not as great as I would expect a self-styled "psychedelic metal" band. They seem especially good at intro's and coda's, but the least of the three for me.

13. Turn On, Tune In, Fuck Off!! LP - Dragontears

Turn on Tune in Fuck Off!!
"Two Tongue Talk" from Turn On, Tune In, Fuck Off!! (2010)
"No Salvation" from Turn On, Tune In, Fuck Off!! (2010)
"Astral Flash/Space Fuck" from Turn On, Tune In, Fuck Off!! bonus 7"(2010)

Genre - the Psychedelic Old-School
Official/Myspace -
Location - Copenhagen, Denmark

Review - Pop Matters
Download - Amazon, iTunes
Purchase - All That Is Heavy [LP / CD]

Quite a change here on the final album from Dragontears (#2, 2008). Side A edges closer back to Baby Woodrose territory, rocking more garage-psych than the previous records. You got your grooves, your choruses, backing vocals, straight-up guitar solos, the whole deal! Fortunately that's their day job - so it's good tunes, good fun. "My Friend" is a very nice and mellow acoustic number… also a surprise. Side B goes back to the well of Dragontears - drawn-out, multi-layered psychedelic guitar sprawl, with different facets submerging and bubbling up. "William" is the epic, in Danish, and apparently about Danish artist Wiliam Skotte Olsen. Haven't found the lyrics to translate yet, but It's A Trap (Scando music journal) called them "strong and well-written." [Found them! Let's see if this translation works...] The final LP track "Mennesketvilling" is also in Danish. The internet translates the title as "Human Twins." Also droning, it has ghostly background vocals and a dark vibe.

Bonus 7" is bonus! "Astral Flash" almost qualifies as the title track of the album, even though it's not on the album and doesn't share the same name. Still, the album title is the only lyrics, and the only place it's used throughout (at least in English). Both sides are different than most anything on the actual record – more like charging deep-psychedelic Hawkwind space-rock. Maybe the middle ground between the garage and the drone that splits the LP??

14. Horns of Ammon - Linus Pauling Quartet
split-7" with ST 37 - Linus Pauling Quartet

Horns of Ammon
"Lost It All" from Horns of Ammon (2010)
"Monster / Lactating Purple" from ST 37 split-7" (2010)

Genre - Heavy-Duty Space-Psych
Official -
Myspace -
Blog -
Even Wikipedia - New!! LP4 entry
Location - Houston, TX

Review - Nonalignment Pact
Download - Amazon, iTunes
Purchase - CD Baby (also for Download)

A Linus album will generally find its way into my highest ranks. Horns of Ammon seems kind of a palate-cleanser though, before the expected-in-2011 Bag of Hammers. These are mostly older tunes, a couple were already released as demo's on the Songs from the Cretaceous career-retrospective CDr (#2, Repertoire Release 2005). There's also the recent "Monster" side from this year's split 7" with ST-37, plus the super-ltd. epic jam "HAWG!!" (co-#7, 2007). Plus a couple that I only know from live shows, but only one that I don't remember ever hearing at all: "Lost It All." It's nice to have these on a full CD release, but not a game-changer. Hopefully, they're saving that for next year (2xLP?). The split 7" is terrific, though! LP4's "Monster" is more garage-y and 'punk' than anything I can remember them playing, and ST-37's cover of Helios Creed's "Lactating Purple" is brain-melting.

#15. Set Phazer to Stun - The Time & Space Machine
plus the bonus CD
"Set Phazer to Stun" 12" - The Time & Space Machine

Set Phazer to Stun
"Mushroom Family" from Set Phazer to Stun (2010)
"Children of the Sun / Zeitghost" from Set Phazer to Stun (2010)

Genre - Electronic Psych-Rock Mix-Up
Official -
Myspace -
Location - London, UK

Review - Line of Best Fit
Download - Amazon, iTunes
Purchase - Turntable Lab [LP / CD]

Like #14 above, this one could have gone higher if not for some recycling. This full-length includes both the "Children of the Sun/Zeitghost" single and all 3 from the You Are The One EP (co-#6's, 2009). Most of my thoughts are linked via the title above – but YouTube now has the gnarly cover of Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush" - featuring "For What It's Worth," and female vox... and saxophone! The Rough Trade Set Phazer bonus disc and #1 set of Free Internet Mixes were awesome, as detailed in the "bonus CD" link above... Uh, I also got the 12" single of the title track! A-side is an extended mix by Richard Norris himself, and there's 2 others - one an "electro-disco" remix from Bottin. Also, Volume Three mini-LP was released 12/20 and is in transit. I'm very confident!

16. What Once Was... Liber I - Blut Aus Nord

What Once Was... Liber I
"Chapter 5" from What Once Was... Liber I (2010)
First 8½ minutes from What Once Was... Liber I (2010)

Genre - Epic Industrial Black Metal
Official/Myspace -
Location - Mondeville, Calvados, Basse-Normandie, France

Review - Metal Review
Download - Ltd. Ed. vinyl-only, so probably not...
Purchase - Eitrin Editions

Blut Aus Nord put out the Best Non-Top 10 Metal Album of 2009. Though What Once Was... Liber I isn't the all-destroying monolith of modern Black Metal that Memoria Vetusta II: Dialogue with the Stars was, I don't think that's the intent here. Last year's double-album loomed over every horizon with atmospheric heaviness. This EP pummels and punches, relenting only for a quick breath here and there, better to gather strength and pummel harder. If the jackhammer drumming stops, it's either because the song is ending or for a short guitar break before kicking back in again. Heavy-duty, man, but I don't find it getting repetitive in the least. "Liber I" would be Latin/Roman for "Book One," and some have called the untitled tracks "Chapters 1-8." Maybe, so I fully expect a Liber II...

17. Wilderness Heart - Black Mountain

Wilderness Heart
"Old Fangs" from Wilderness Heart (2010)
"The Hair Song" from Wilderness Heart (2010)

Genre - Rock Music
Official -
Myspace -
Location - Vancouver, BC

Review - Pitchfork
Download - Amazon, iTunes
Purchase - Jagjaguwar (also for Download)

A Black Mountain song was due to kick of the inaugural Astral Headspace podcast - which never got launched - because they were my #10 Discovery of 2008. In The Future (2008) is still a Top 10 record for me, although there are a couple of songs that drag, or drag on too long. Wilderness Heart doesn't have the peaks and valleys of awesomeness, I find it more consistent overall. I think there are a few more low-key, acoustic type songs, but it still has a few all-out rockers like "Old Fangs" and "Let Spirits Ride." And mid-tempo numbers like "The Hair Song" and the title track. Solid rock album!

18. Pacific Drift 7" - Robedoor

Pacific Drift
"Exploited" from Pacific Drift 7" (2010)
"Radiant Command" from Burners (2010)

Genre - Ecstatic Drone
Official/Myspace -
Location - Los Angeles, CA

Review - Foxy Digitalis
Download - Amazon, iTunes
Purchase - Forced Exposure, Insound

Whew! A few singles and EP's – even less writing needed from me... For some subconscious reason, I have only bought 7" releases since Robedoor's shift away from full-on drone. I have been filling in some older releases - the two downloads mentioned in that link, plus Unsummoning (2006) and Endlessly Blazing (2008) - good stuff! But so far, no Raiders (2009) or Burners (2010) for me. The Pagan Drugs 7" single was good and gave me hope for those albums, but the 3-song Pacific Drift 7" is even better. The title track meanders in a haze, noisy but subdued underneath a progression of clear tones, building but never gathering too much momentum. "Exploited" almost has a riff, but is more spare and jittery than the usual thick layers of sound. And "Blanked Out" is more of an actual song - what of I imagine the last two records contain. Pretty cool, with a veering, keening guitar lope... All three songs could have gone longer, but the bite-sized approach is okay for the almost-extinct 7" EP format.

19. Black Tar Prophecies, Vol. 4 EP - Grails
Black Tar Prophecies, Vol's 1, 2, & 3 re-issue - Grails

BTP v.4
"Self-Hypnosis" from Black Tar Prophecies, Vol. 4 (2010)
"Black Tar Frequencies" from Black Tar Prophecies, Vol's 1, 2, & 3 (2006, 2010)

Genre - Tibetan Crime Jazz
Official -
Myspace -
Location - Portland, OR

Review - Roadburn
Download - n/a
Purchase - Pamlico Sound, Forced Exposure

Ahhh, Grails (#6 Discovery of 2008, and shoulda been higher). The new BTP EP was a little disappointing, I must admit. "I Want A New Drug" is 2½ minutes of introductory tape-manipulation blur and screwed "Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen" - fine. "Self-Hypnosis" is quality Grails. Then around 2½ minutes of polite piano mood... I'm not sure I'd want it expanded, but it does seem slight. "New Drug II" is about 2½ minutes of more low-grade tape-noise and found-sound chopped-up Chapter-and-Verse spoken-word. Okay... The piano returns for "Up All Night," which has more heft than the other mood piece, but is not really where I'm hoping Grails is heading. So, yeah, I much prefer the re-issue of Vol's 1, 2, & 3 (2006) which I was just about to buy when a new LP edition was announced. The BTP series might not be the place to start with Grails, but the first three are packed with goodness. The new one works as a "Self-Hypnosis" maxi-single, like with bonus tracks.

20. Sky Burial 12" - Nadja

Sky Burial
"SUN1jaguar" from Under the Jaguar Sun (2009)

Genre - Ambient Shoegaze Drone Metal
Official -
Myspace -
Location - Berlin / Toronto

Review - ThetaPlane blog
Download - n/a
Purchase - Boomkat

I still haven't explored much more from Nadja (#16, Next 10 Metal 2009), so everything's new and good to me. Two looong tunes - metal/drone, o'course. The first one "Jaguar" (18:59 per vinyl rip) builds slowly, layering on chiming bell-tones, multiple guitars and noise, while the bass keeps chugging below. Eventually, all the trademarked Nadja elements are in effect. The second, title track (19:05) starts off with more going on. Feedbacks and drum-machine have started by the 2-minute mark - and by the end, guitars are shredding and the rhythm is being looped and delayed. Quality zone-outs!

LP4 HoA gatefold

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