Noisy, individualistic, navel-gazing or just plain unfriendly: some music won't just fail to please a crowd, it will revel in its ability to alienate. Here's the best of the stuff that demands you're willing to peel your ears back, grab your headphones for, and acknowledge that, yes: you don't have anybody to share this with.
The first of Neptune's twenty odd albums to gain anything like wide release--up until now, it's been on a "buy it from them" deal--shows the band actually becoming, well, a band. For those of you who don't know, Neptune is most well-known for being the outgrowth of a sculpture project started around 14 years ago, wherein the members (they're a power trio, I guess you might say) built their own instruments. From whatever, anything would do. Unlike previous Neptune releases, Gong Lake ends up sounding pretty similar to something that regular old instruments--the kind they sell at Guitar Center--would create. But "sounding pretty similar" is still a pretty far cry from "sounding like Jack Johnson." Little of what made Neptune an offbeat noise and rock project has been abandoned, it's just been refined--and while this isn't the most contemporary of projects on this list, it serves pretty well as a quick drop in the lake of what the lighter sound of noise has to offer.
The rules for "abrasive" doesn't mean "abrasive noise rock" and "avant-garde jazz" only, it can also include gruff old Mark E. Smith and his ever-changing backup band made out of his future ex-wives and ex-friends. After a year that saw Smith release a song that could make it onto the soundtrack for a car commercial as well as team up with Mouse On Mars and make his best album since the early 90's, it's back to the old sludgy, belligerent bellowing fellow that we've come to...well, not love, but tolerate. Neither as good as last years populist Fall album nor as experimental as the Mouse On Mars project, but still worth a spin all the same, Imperial Wax Solvent is the sound of a group trying to figure out if they're interested in a new crop of fans. Expect to hear the results in early 2009--or, if Smith's recent behavior is any indication, sometime next Thursday.
Returning to his "official" band after spending the last few years toying with his schedule of inspiration/cover compilations, Ken Vandermark and company show why they remain the best American jazz group that nobody cares about with Beat Reader, where Ken made the curious (and ultimately successful) decision to forgo more tenor saxophone and make one of the best albums of the group's career. Although noise and avant-garde freaks still label the Vandermark 5 as "populist" jazz, it's an absurd term to apply: free-jazz in 2008? That's about as popular as syphilis. Just because they don't have a twenty minute piece of atonal screaming bookending the album doesn't make these guys the future opening band for Jimmy Fallon. (That would be the Roots.)
For those Sonic Youth fans concerned they may have missed another new Sonic Nurse or Rather Ripped, rest your weary haunches: this is one of those SYR releases, the ones that come in a paper case that you don't care about. It also was only available on vinyl or digital format. Hearkening back to earlier releases in the series (this was the 7th of 8), Sonic Youth takes on no guests here--it's just them, instruments, and a heap of improvisation. Unlike the previous volume--composed for a Stan Brakhage festival--J' Accuse Ted Hughes consists of one live piece recorded at All Tomorrow's Parties and one studio jam session. Both, as with all SYR releases, are strictly experimental works. And while live experimental work is usually not the stronger point of this kind of stuff--it helps to have someone to control the levels, at least--"J' Accuse" is actually a pretty effective piece. The real stand out is "Agnes B Musique," however--ably assisted by former member Jim O'Rourke, it ends up pointing in the direction that future SYR releases--and maybe even standard Sonic Youth albums--might do well to take cues from.
Well, if Wolf Eyes aren't going to get it together to drop another classic on our ass, at least we'll always have Hair Police. After seven years of touring and dropping a good four to five releases a year, Certainty of Swarms could be excused if it had shown up and sounded a little tired. Thankfully, it doesn't--and while it'll need some of the populist blurbing that gave Wolf Eyes the push that put them into the public consciousness, it'll be a reward to anyone who finds it. Unrelenting noise, coming straight out of psychedelia and Lexington, Kentucky, Swarms is what it sounds like if you took AC/DC, broke their hands, and made them beat the shit out of their instruments while they screamed in pain. In a year where everybody danced at the edge of anger while trying to maintain hope that something better was around the corner, the Hair Police displayed what it sounds like when the crazies took over. In the annals of this type of sound, it's difficult to agree on the classics--but after Swarms dropped, everybody knew who to point to when it came time to claim the titans.
Although Australians apparently believe that Turning Dragon sounds like the Dust Brothers, the reality is that the album sounds a lot more like what happens when somebody like Chris Clark lets all his obsessions take over. Whereas the Dust Brothers seem content to get wasted and come up with a sort of "we're punk rock" take on David Holmes style sound-tracking, Clark is more into what the machine--the computer, the buzzsaw, the synthesizer--can produce. Less personal and more confrontational then previous works, it's also a piece that had less time in the cooker--2006's Body Riddle and 2003's Throttle Furniture took three years for him to allow them out the door. It's clear that what was left behind wasn't that integral though--Turning Dragon is a far more immediate work, and--if there was ever anything resembling an audience for this kind of stuff--the seven minute "For Wolves Crew" is definitely one of the best things to come from a tired electronic genre in 2008.
Hey, it's drone/noise rock supergroup Religious Knives, made up of members of Mouthus and Double Leopards! What
you got for us today? Could it be pipe organs? A female vocalist who
sounds like The Velvet Underground's Nico, but a little better? Solid.
While team-ups in the noise/drone scene aren't uncommon, it's rare to
see one turn out as nice as this was, to the point where one actually
sort of wishes that Mouthus and Double Leopards just shut down so this
project can be the sole focus. An album that's far more listenable
than they may have intended, a surprisingly personal take on their
obsessions, and a kind-of-sort-of single in "It's Brooklyn After Dark"
that, if it was only a little bit shorter, might even find it's way
into the public consciousness. C'mon ladies and gentleman of Religious
Knives: drone for us. Drone like you've never droned before.
-Tucker Stone, 2008