Casey Rea found 2006 to be pretty dull, aside from these records.
Besting Boredom (Casey Rea)
2006 was a lot less catastrophic than the previous year, but likely more boring. Much of the music I heard in the preceding months has been palatable, if largely forgettable. Perhaps it’s a case of having too many choices and not enough time to spend with any particular album. Or maybe I’ve become desensitized by the rigors of criticism. Cry me a river, right? Nevertheless, there were a few standouts. The following are the releases I returned to the most frequently while awaiting Spiritus Mundi.
Kayo Dot — Dowsing Anemone With Copper Tongue (Robotic Empire)
I recently heard that KD lost a bunch of members. It probably doesn’t matter, as their music is largely the vision of guitarist/vocalist/composer Toby Driver. And what wicked sight he has. Each song on Dowsing unfurls like cold-blooded, Lovecraftian tendrils, with a kind of graceful malevolence not often found in the chug ’n’ pummel set. Although KD can be somewhat meandering, when it comes to enigmatic art-metal, they’re peerless.
Comets on Fire — Avatar (Sub Pop)
There are a lot of psych bands out there, and some of them should probably take more acid. These guys don’t need to. On earlier outings, COF's synapse-scrambling jams tended toward orgiastic squalls of fuzz. Here, they experiment with sun-baked ephemera, sounding like a grizzled cross between early Blue Oyster Cult and vintage Dead. Going up, or coming down, this shit treats you right.
John Phillips — John, the Wolfking of L.A. (Varese Sarabande)
1970 was a rough year for the ex-Papa, what with his all-consuming Adventures in Narcotica. Washed up, drug-dependent musicians are hardly rare in Los Angeles, but occasionally they manage to fart out great records. That’s pretty much the case here. Phillips channels his fading hippie optimism into flaky, country-rock tunes about his chief desires: cheap scag and easy women. The worst bits make you want to shake the brother sober. The best make you want to help him score.
Akira Ifukube — King Kong vs. Godzilla (La-La Land)
I watched plenty of Toho films in my youth, drawn not only to the scaly rubber suits, but also to the bizarre soundtracks, which ran the gamut from Japanese pop ballads to sci-fi sine waves. Yet I’d never heard this shit before. Oh, I’ve seen the movie — an embarrassing number of times, in fact. But the English-language version of KKvG didn’t use Ifukube’s work, relying instead on stock compositions deemed more palatable for American audiences. What were we missing? Well, there’s tribal chant, Bartok-esque orchestration and even marching band music. Perfect accompaniment to mega-scale destruction.
Espers — II (Drag City)
I used to not like Espers much, but II made me a believer. On previous outings, they sounded too derivative for my tastes. But somehow they’ve metamorphosed into an acoustic/prog chimera of remarkable strength. Freak-folk has no doubt passed its “consume by” date, but this is good music, irrespective of trend.
Gorgoroth — Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam (Regain)
Speaking of played out, what’s up with black metal? It seems like there are only two choices left to practitioners of the genre: forgo musicality in an all-consuming quest for the necro, or adopt flavors destined to piss off the pigment-deficient misanthropes living in their parents’ basement. I guess I’m a black metal moderate, if there can be such a thing. That’s why I’m so psyched on this Gorgoroth record. It’s totally pagan and evil, with guillotine guitars and cthonic howls. But it doesn’t sound like it was recorded in a grim and frostbitten broom closet, which is a major advancement.
Woven Hand — Mosaic (Sounds Familyre)
I usually shy away from artists who use songs to express their religious views. Actually, that’s not entirely true, as I’m perfectly fine with instrumental music inspired by spirituality. Just spare me the fucking testimonials. My personal belief is that the Judeo Three — Christianity, Islam and Judaism — are driving the world to the brink of a pre-arranged apocalypse. I consider myself a conscientious objector to faith-fueled art, with few exceptions (Arvö Pärt and the Soul Stirrers come to mind). To my surprise, I find David Eugene Edwards’ post-16 Horsepower work to be incredibly compelling. He’s as Christian as they come, with brooding, iron-handed tunes that are completely devotional. It’s not enough to convert me, but I’ll sit through the sermon.
Sunn 0)))/Boris — Altar (Southern Lord)
I’d been looking forward to this collaboration since it was announced, so I was somewhat wary of being disappointed. My fears were unjustified, as Altar is rather excellent. The nuevo-metal crowd received a lot of ink this year, with mentions in not just numerous hipster rags, but also the New York Times. Whatever. As expected, this record is loud, crushing and slow. But it’s also remarkably beautiful, with alt-country siren Jesse Sykes’ chilly vocals adding an unexpected lilt. Practically made my Halloween.
Loscil — Plume (Kranky)
I don’t listen to this album often, but I’m always rewarded when I do. Scott Morgan, a.k.a Loscil, creates expansive electro-acoustic music with a strong sense of direction. He’s really hit his mark with Plume, an album that provides icy ambient with a pulse. If you like cumulus overcast drone, but find Lustmord too oppressive, this should hit the spot.
White Magic — Dat Rosa Mel Apibus (Drag City)
I just got this record like, yesterday, so who knows if I’ll be as smitten in a few months time. For now, I think it’s remarkable. White Magic have always seemed like distant cousins to another Drag City act, Faun Fables. Both bands craft witchy tunes that contain their own haphazard logic. But where FF can be dizzyingly over the top, WM understand the difference between exploration and indulgence. The results, while still an acquired taste, are puckishly seductive.
By Casey Rae-Hunter