The Top 20 of 2010: Revisited

Posted in Features on July 14th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

I threatened to do this at the time and pretty much knew I was going to, but more than half a year has passed since I wrapped up the Top 20 of 2010, so I thought it was about time for an honest assessment of how these albums have held up for 2011. Just one or two sentences each. We’ll start with number 20 and work down to one:

20. Electric Wizard, Black Masses – The only reason this wasn’t higher on the list was because I got the album the week I started posting and its American release date wasn’t until January. It still rules, but I don’t listen to it nearly as much as I did at first.

19. Melvins, The Bride Screamed Murder – Couple killer tracks, but yeah, I don’t think I’ve put this on since I posted it as number 19.

18. Zoroaster, Matador – Ditto.

17. Triptykon, Eparistera Daimones – Dig it, but rarely in the mood.

16. Earthride, Something Wicked – Should listen to this again. Like, now.

15. The Wounded Kings, The Shadow Over Atlantis – Haven’t heard it in a while, but still looking forward to their new one.

14. Wovenhand, The Threshingfloor – This probably should have been higher on the list than it was, but there’s only so much room.

13. Dopefight, Buds – Rocks but hasn’t had much staying power.

12. Brant Bjork, Gods and Goddesses – Not what I reach for when I reach for Brant Bjork, but still a decent record.

11. The Brought Low, 3 – Should’ve cracked the top 10.

10. Kylesa, Spiral Shadow – Still in my CD wallet, but not played as often. Was great to see this material live on the Metalliance tour though.

9. Yawning Man, Nomadic Pursuits – My association for this one with the month last summer in Vermont is so strong I still can’t put it on and not think of that trip, which, at this point, just makes me kind of sad.

8. Asteroid, II – Yeah, I fucking love this album. That might just be a permanent thing.

7. Clamfight, Volume I – The sentiment factor here is high, and that fuels many drunken late-night listens.

6. Ufomammut, Eve – Until literally the day I posted it as number six, this was number one on my list. Still just as easily could have been. Brilliant.

5. Enslaved, Axioma Ethica Odini – Kind of fell off the radar, but still a killer back half. Heard “The Beacon” for the first time in forever last night and it killed.

4. Fatso Jetson, Archaic Volumes – Timeless. Not something I go to every day, but something I’ll check in on for years to come.

3. Hypnos 69, Legacy – I continue to not be worthy of this album. If there was a council for such things, they would come to my house and remove it from my possession.

2. Grinderman, Grinderman 2 – It should say something that I haven’t listened to this in six months, but I can still remember each track in my head just by seeing the name. Not sure what that says, but something, anyway.

1. Solace, A.D. – This is pretty much where this record belongs, since it’s probably what I’ll define the year by as far as music goes. “Oh, 2010? Yeah, that was the year Solace put out that killer record,” and so forth. Bittersweet in light of their breakup, but at least they went out with a bang.

There you have it: a fearless and searching moral inventory of last year’s highlight releases. Among the slew of honorable mentions from that list (there were plenty), I still rock the Astrosoniq and Quest for Fire discs on the regular, but the rest doesn’t get as much play as some of it deserves. Considering my steady review backlog, something’s got to really strike a nerve to get repeat listens these days, which some of those records did and some didn’t. Minimal regrets on how the list came out, though, which I guess could be worse.

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Top 20 of 2010: Wrap up, Honorable Mentions, Conclusions

Posted in Features on December 31st, 2010 by JJ Koczan

Well, here it is, New Year’s Eve, and we’re finished, as promised. Before we do anything else, let’s recap the full top 20:

1. Solace, A.D.
2. Grinderman, Grinderman 2
3. Hypnos 69, Legacy
4. Fatso Jetson, Archaic Volumes
5. Enslaved, Axioma Ethica Odini
6. Ufomammut, Eve
7. Clamfight, Volume I
8. Asteroid, II
9. Yawning Man, Nomadic Pursuits
10. Kylesa, Spiral Shadow
11. The Brought Low, Third Record
12. Brant Bjork, Gods and Goddesses
13. Dopefight, Buds
14. Wovenhand, The Threshingfloor
15. The Wounded Kings, The Shadow Over Atlantis
16. Earthride, Something Wicked
17. Triptykon, Eparistera Daimones
18. Zoroaster, Matador
19. Melvins, The Bride Screamed Murder
20. Electric Wizard, Black Masses

Apparently everybody saw the number one pick coming. Congratulations. I certainly didn’t. Given a mood change, just about any of the top seven picks was ahead of the others. What it really came down to was what I listened to most.

Disappointment at my own predictability aside, the only business left with the top 20 of 2010 is the honorable mentions. If you heard the last podcast, a lot of them are in there (and a lot more to come in the second part of that this weekend), but I think they’re worth an extra mention here as well:

2010 Honorable Mentions:
Apostle of Solitude
Aquilonian/Sollubi
Arc of Ascent
Astrosoniq
Black Rainbows
Cathedral
Conan
Crippled Black Phoenix
The Devil’s Blood
Les Discrets
Droids Attack
Elliott’s Keep
The Giraffes
Gozu
Herba Mate
High on Fire
Hooded Menace
Humo del Cairo
The Kings of Frog Island
Man’s Gin
Negura Bunget
Quest for Fire
Ramesses
Red Giant
Samsara Blues Experiment
Sasquatch
Slough Feg
Swans
Void Generator
Wino

There. 30 should do it. I kept a running list all year long, and it’s amazing to me how much music there was to enjoy. Even among the honorable mentions, with records like Gozu‘s Locust Season or Samsara Blues Experiment‘s Long-Distance Trip, there were a few really great debuts from bands who have the potential to shape the heavy underground in the years to come. I never understand people who bitch that there’s nothing good out there. Open your fucking ears. I just listed 50 records and bands who released awesome albums in 2010. That’s almost one a week! In fact, here’s two more:

Cough
Karma to Burn

Now the list has an album to represent every single week of this year. If you heard none of this stuff, you could take the entirety of 2011 and discover new, interesting, and killer sounds. Of course, then you’d be a year behind, but you get my point. There are amazing and creative things happening around us all the time. It is a beautiful sight to witness.

Well, that’s it. I’m all listed out. Before I start pathetically keeping track of the New Year’s albums, I want to say thank you as always for your support, reading and comments through this month’s countdown. I know it got drudging there for a bit (how many ways are there to say, “Gosh, I sure did like this album?”), but we made it all the way to number one, and if no one had been paying attention, I can almost certainly guarantee I wouldn’t have bothered. So yeah, much appreciated. Here’s to a killer 2011.

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Top 20 of 2010: Five Albums I Didn’t Hear that Might Have Made the List

Posted in Features on December 29th, 2010 by JJ Koczan

Look, I did the best I could, but there was no way I was going to hear everything that came out in 2010. I thought, before I reveal The Obelisk‘s #1 album of 2010, it would be prudent to mention some of the records that might have affected the list one way or the other had I heard them in time. Kind of a procedural thing on my part, but here’s an alphabetical list of five:

Agalloch, Marrow of the Spirit

Electric Wizard, Black Masses

Grand Magus, Hammer of the North

Sahg, III

Suma, Ashes

Now, you might recall the Electric Wizard was actually number 20, the first post I did that started the countdown. Well, as I said then, I included in the last spot just because I knew it should be on the list but didn’t know where, and with the ensuing month I’ve had to spend with the album, I can tell you it would be higher than it currently is. So maybe it didn’t get counted the way it would have if I’d heard it more. Hence it’s listed here.

I actually own copies of Suma and Agalloch. The former I bought and the latter is a promo waiting to be reviewed, but I still haven’t had the chance to listen to either, and it’s been little more than the threat of import prices and/or the Euro-to-dollar exchange rate and the drive to buy other things instead that’s kept me from picking up either the Grand Magus or the Sahg records.

But I know I’ve enjoyed the past work of both bands, as well as Suma and Agalloch — both of whose new albums are amazing, from what I’m told, and both of which I’m looking forward to hearing — and I thought it worthwhile to consider the possibility that they might have played into the top 20 if I’d had the chance to hear them. Maybe I’ll feel fancy one of these days and drop some cash for Sahg and Grand Magus too, but definitely not before 2011 kicks off, so for now, here they are. Mentioned honorably.

#1 revealed tomorrow.

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Top 20 of 2010 #2: Grinderman, Grinderman 2

Posted in Features on December 28th, 2010 by JJ Koczan

Even now, as my ears (for what feels like the first time) hear the ultra-low-mixed acoustic guitar that lets me at last make sense of centerpiece track “What I Know,” I feel like Grinderman 2 has been outrunning me for about four months straight. Since I first got the album — Grinderman‘s second, if it needs to be said — in August, I’ve been infected by it. It’s one of those records, man. Every song is a classic. The Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds side-project has simply kicked my ass. I didn’t see it coming.

The sleezy poetry of “Kitchenette” and the devastating crashes of “When My Baby Comes.” The unhinged cacophony of “Evil” and the groove-guitar paradise of “Bellringer Blues.” Grinderman 2 skirts between genres on a track-by-track basis, has a one-song stand with all of them, and then moves immediately to the next. Fucking “Worm Tamer?” Cheeseball innuendo never sounded so good.

I know I never reviewed it, and the only mention Grinderman ever got on this site was a Frydee video post, but Grinderman 2 has been a constant. Days and nights when I’ve finished listening to whatever needed to be reviewed, this is the album I’ve reached for the most, the album I’ve tried to absorb the most, the album to which I’ve done the most shotgun-riding drunken sing-alongs. And always, something new. And always, genius. When I die, bury me in this.

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Top 20 of 2010 #3: Hypnos 69, Legacy

Posted in Features on December 27th, 2010 by JJ Koczan

I don’t want to say I was prepared to be let down by Hypnos 69‘s maybe-final LP, Legacy, when it was released earlier this year on Elektrohasch Schallplatten, but basically I was. Nothing against the Belgian classic proggers, but in my mind, an album of the same quality as 2006’s The Eclectic Measure just wasn’t a fair expectation to put on a band. I mean, The Eclectic Measure was a landmark, a thing of beauty. A once-in-a-career achievement.

Spoiler alert for anyone who doesn’t yet know: They did it. Legacy is a better album than The Eclectic Measure. It’s more developed in every way — guitarist/vocalist Steve Houtmeyers proving to be as talented a singer as he is a songwriter and a soloist — and although even as I gushed all over the record in my review, I wasn’t sure if the songs therein would prove as memorable as those from The Eclectic Measure, Legacy has proven strong in this regard as well. I’m just as likely to hum a flute part as I am to sing a lyric. The blend of elements on a track like the 18-plus-minute closer “The Great Work” is nothing short of majestic.

It’s not that they’re genre-less, or not completely aware of the context in which they’re making music. It’s simply that Hypnos 69 are in a class of their own. Legacy is a staggering collection of songs. There are days when I feel like I’m too tired to listen to it because I won’t have the energy to fully enjoy the experience, but my own worthiness aside, the growing and morphing appeal of Legacy‘s rich melodies and complex arrangements only means that the pleasure in listening is going to increase with age. One of the year’s best and then some.

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Top 20 of 2010 #4: Fatso Jetson, Archaic Volumes

Posted in Features on December 24th, 2010 by JJ Koczan

I didn’t realize it until just now, but Archaic Volumes was also my number four album for the top half of 2010. Sheer coincidence, but it should say something about the quality of Fatso Jetson‘s latest work that it has held its position while other albums have fallen out of favor or gotten shelved. The core trio of guitarist/vocalist Mario Lalli (also Yawning Man), bassist Larry Lalli and drummer Tony Tornay, joined on Archaic Volumes by saxophonist Vince Meghrouni, crafted probably the year’s most solid rock album. In every move it made, it was assured, mature and blindingly confident, and like a guy who says he can walk sideways up a wall and then does it, all of Fatso Jetson‘s showiness was backed by chops.

As the year has worn on and my appreciation for Fatso Jetson‘s Archaic Volumes has transcended the honeymoon period one often has with killer records, I’ve sat and admired each single performance on the album. The two Lallis, Tornay and even Meghrouni all delivered in a huge way on these songs, be it the sax-soaked instrumental “Here Lies Boomer’s Panic” or the underrated desert vibes of “Back Road Tar,” and the resulting total listening experience was stronger still. It was a striking balance of hard-fought talent and creative songwriting.

I’ve said before that I knew going into Archaic Volumes that I would like it. That was no mystery. The album still took me by surprise, however, in that I didn’t know I would dig it as much as I did, and moreover, that I would return to it as much as I have throughout the rest of the year. But the more I hear these songs and the more familiar I become with the turns Fatso Jetson makes — as from the aggressive gutter punk of “Garbage Man” (a The Cramps cover) to the soothingly psychedelic closer “Monoxide Dreams” — the better I want to know them. Even with as much time as I’ve spent hearing these Archaic Volumes, I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface.

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Top 20 of 2010 #5: Enslaved, Axioma Ethica Odini

Posted in Features on December 23rd, 2010 by JJ Koczan

Sometimes this album is so beautiful it hurts. The melodic breaks, the interplay between Herbrand Larsen‘s and Grutle Kjellson‘s vocals, the keyboard flourishes, the pounding heaviness of it. I know there are a couple really amazing progressive black metal bands out there — Deathspell Omega and Blut Aus Nord come to mind — but for me, nothing tops Enslaved, and Axioma Ethica Odini might be the bravest album they’ve made in their 20-year career.

You could sit for a week and parse every second and still not manage to capture it. I remember the first time I listened, I was just so happy it didn’t follow a similar production course to that of 2008’s Vertebrae, but it wasn’t until I really dug into Axioma Ethica Odini that the scope of the thing became clear. The first half of the record is your pretty typical Enslaved material — still better than, oh, everything else in its genre — but Side B’s prog overload really pushed Axioma Ethica Odini into the upper echelon of 2010 releases for me. It’s another one of those albums I just can’t seem to leave home.

Even listening to it now to write this, I’m distracted by the fucking brilliance of the album (among other things). The chorus of “Lightening” gives me a chill up my spine every time, and even a song like “Singular,” which I didn’t fully appreciate when I reviewed the record, has grown on me to the point where I’ll put Axioma Ethica Odini away for a day or so, then stop and say to myself, “Why the hell am I not listening to Enslaved?” And you know what the answer is? The answer is I put on Enslaved. Constantly.

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Top 20 of 2010 #6: Ufomammut, Eve

Posted in Features on December 22nd, 2010 by JJ Koczan

We’re getting into serious “don’t leave home without it” territory now. I didn’t realize it at the time I put the list together, but every album in my top 10 is on my person at virtually all times. With the top 20 stuff, some of it I had to take off the shelf at home to write about, but Kylesa, Yawning Man, Asteroid, Clamfight? These are records I haven’t been willing to part with since I got them, and the same goes for the crushing single-song (five-track) opus Eve by Italian ├╝ber-doomers Ufomammut.

In fact, not only is Eve in the CD wallet that comes with me just about everywhere I go, but it’s in perhaps the most venerated of positions therein, right next to YOB‘s The Unreal Never Lived. Yes, I organize my CD wallet in such a manner, and yes, Eve is that fucking good. Several incarnations of this list had it as number one, and really, it could just as easily be there as here or anywhere in between given my mood that day. Eve demolished my ears unlike anything else in 2010. It was amazing.

The trio, who double as the visual arts collective Malleus and triple as the Supernatural Cat label (home to Lento and now OvO as well as Ufomammut) are without question one of the finest acts in doom the world over. They have mastered the art of hypnosis via riff, and going by Eve, it feels like their creativity is boundless. I heard a lot of albums this year — just look at the reviews category. Know that I mean it when I say Eve was a landmark whose appeal will last longer than 2010. I said at the time I reviewed it that I felt lucky to be alive when music like this is being made, and I absolutely still feel that way every time I listen to Ufomammut. Eve is a masterpiece.

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