It's December and that means it's time for candy canes, Christmas lights, and everybody and their brother to trot out their favorite albums of the year. Whether you write a blog post, a newspaper article or just on the walls of your padded cell, you've probably got a bunch of opinions (that are just like assholes) on who was made the best music this year, and boy-howdy if you don't want to make a contest out of it. Because music shouldn't just be to enjoy; it should be judged and cross-examined until it just ain't fun no more!
But hey, I'm not immune! Thing is, it's been over a year now since I worked at a hip little college radio station in Pittsburgh, so my intake of music hasn't been quite as voluminous as it once was. I have a list of plenty and more than a handful have to be cut to get it down to a manageable size, but without the vast amounts of music sifting through my hands as I used to have, I just don't feel right listing a Top 10 this year. It usually happens that half of my list is populated by weird, little obscure bands that I have been so fortunate to stumble upon during the course of the year, so instead of just pump the list full of other popular stuff you'll no doubt read all about in Rolling Stone or Spin, I've decided to cut it in half. Plus, maybe I'll actually get it all done before the month is out. Less work for me!
That being said, I'm now totally going to make myself a liar, because I have to give out no fewer than four honorable mentions before the list even begins. I debated just working these four albums into the list, but I don't know if they'd all have actually made it. So why choose them as my honorable mentions? Because it's been a good year in heavy music--a genre that doesn't get a whole lot of love on these countdowns in general. Combined, these four albums show a promising direction in the heaviest of heavies, and because of that, they shouldn't be ignored.
Honorable Mention #1
When I said heavy, I meant it; this isn't the crunchy guitars of Jack White's new project, The Dead Weather (though I did quite enjoy that disc, despite its absence on this year's list). If you've never heard of Providence, Rhode Island's spazzcore darlings, Lightning Bolt, go ahead and do yourself a favor and shoot yourself in the skull with a shotgun. Because that's the closest thing I can think of to approximate their music to. Or just pick up one of their half-dozen recordings. This year's Earthly Delights is a marked return to the styling of 2001's Ride the Skies, with production set firmly in the mid-range rather than with the brutalizing bass drive of the last two albums. It's not my favorite of their efforts (that would have to be 2005's Hypermagic Mountain), but the directions in which the duo experiments on this disc is worth a listen alone.
Lightning Bolt - Sound Guardians (live--and on a stage??)
Honorable Mention #2
Isis has been, and continues to be, one of the heaviest bands in existence. They don't need speed metal solos or black eyeshadow--they're just five guys from Boston who happen to make some of the most skull-crushing (and yet still elegantly melodic) music on the face of the earth. Led by Aaron Turner, one of the most prolific musicians/artists/producers in American post-rock and metal with his label Hydra Head and his armloads of varied projects, Isis' Wavering Radiant again shows why Turner and his gang are so widely respected. It's also a crowning example of what Turner has called "thinking man's metal" and music journalists have begun, since the release of Isis' 2002 release Oceanic, branding "post-metal" or "metalgaze." Yes, Isis has their own genre. They're kind of a big deal.
Isis - 20 Minutes/40 Years
Honorable Mention #3
Remember how I couldn't get over how awesome Aaron Turner is? Well, that's because he shows up on this little list twice this year. He wasn't satisfied to just record the best Isis album since In the Absence of Truth--he went right ahead and got together with Justin Broadrick of British experimental metal band Jesu and made an album that could probably break every bone in your body just by turning it on. Definitely more on the "noise" side of "noise rock," Greymachine is the very definition of the experimental metal that Turner and Broadrick are so famous for churning out. It's not an easy listen, but if you can appreciate what these two masters of the craft have brought forth, you are in for a real treat. Plus, "Vultures Descend" might just be the most simple-yet-utterly-bad-ass name for a song in the history of music.
Greymachine - Just Breathing
Honorable Mention #4
Hands-down my favorite album of the four of these, Russian Circles' Geneva is nothing like the beautiful, clean, peaceful Swiss city that it derives its name from. The Chicago trio's second album in as many years is their messiest, most ambient, distortion-driven they have recorded. I'd always been a fan of Russian Circles above many other post-rock bands for their ability to be painstakingly intricate in their musicianship, even live--but this new iteration is something that surprised me, and it's a direction I really like to see them headed. Perhaps it is the influence of relatively new bassist Brian Cook (ex-Botch, These Arms Are Snakes) being added to the mix. Either way, I'm definitely a fan. Now to see if they can pull off three albums in three years--I'm excited just to see where a new album after this might be headed. Don't make me wait too long, boys! (If only I had a dollar for every time I've said that.)
Russian Circles - Fathom