Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ten albums I liked in 2009


I'm not a big fan of formal year end lists, but I always get talked into it. This time by Michael Byrne at City Paper, who let me write a blurb about number 2 on this list.

1. Subarachnoid Space - Eight Bells. From my Oregonian review: SubArachnoid Space soundtracks the superconscious, with all the breadth of wonderment and horror between sleep and wake and between Dali paintings and Cortazar stories.

2. Health - Get Color. My writeup for this album as number 10 on the City Paper's countdown: Los Angeles noisy dance-rock outfit HEALTH had its work cut out for it this year, after the quartet's 2007 debut was outdone by its 2008 remix album. So on Get Color, HEALTH stepped up and perfected its table-saw-like bass sound, round and bright electronic beeps, and high-range, airy vocals, applying precision to the use of each to make songs with a lot of character and a lot of space. Complex, tom-heavy drum beats maintain a ritualistic quality in this music, which has a sort of neon spirituality. The record is clean like a cult compound--an appropriate soundtrack for drug use, prayer, exercise, or murder.

3. Evangelista - Prince of Truth. From my Oregonian review: The vocal effects on "The Slayer," the first track on "Prince," change line by nightmarish line: "Am I here to watch over you?/Am I here to destroy you? ... Take the pennies from my eyes/I am so old that I am new." Rustic guitar sounds bubble up out of sweeping wind and feedback sounds and boil up into post rock. Two songs later, the relaxed vocal delivery on "I Lay There in Front of Me Covered in Ice" creates a rare shade of peace in the face of the song's broken structure, eerie production and lyrical imagery of death.

4. New York Rifles - Make a Wish. I chose this album for the Oregonian's Christmas Gift Guide: "Rails," the first number on the sophomore release from this Portland band, is probably the most rock 'n' roll track without a guitar on it released this year. It's a soulful, fast-paced spiritual that finds a swagger by the end. The magic, and the belted, high-pitched vocals, linger when the guitars fire up for prepunk songs about nefarious activities you can do in motels, making this record the perfect medicine for anyone on your list whose faith in the gospel of rock is in doubt. -- Jason Simms, Special to The Oregonian

5. Mr. Gnome - Heave Yer Skeleton. I didn't get a chance to write about this new album from one of my favorite bands, but this Cleveland duo--which is already one of the most full-sounding duos around--really expanded their sound here. I tagged them as Scout Niblett fronting System of a Down when I reviewed their last album for Spin, but it's more complicated now. They've brought in subtle elements of punk, country and even jazz. A lot of times when bands put in new influences it can be heavy handed. That is not at all the case here. Minor adjustments on this record really open up the sound nicely.

6. YOB - The Great Cessation. I didn't hear this album until way after it came out. By then it was really hyped. It's the only legit metal album I know of that was lauded by the New York Times this year. But it fully lived up to the hype. From my Oregonian preview of their Halloween show: The title track builds from whisperlike to thunderous while vocalist Mike Scheidt steadily unloads a poem describing the Zen-based idea of abandoning the self to understand the unmovable vastness of the universe and time. What could be scarier than a meditation on the torturous trivialities of your insignificant ego vibrating all of your bones in waves of sound?

7. Rodriguez - Cold Fact (reissue). My blog headline for the last six months has been a Rodriguez lyric. That should tell you something. He's probably my most listened to artist of 2009, and definitely my best discovery of the year. From my Oregonian review: It would not be hyperbole to compare Rodriguez's mysticism to the Doors, his grooves to Sly Stone and his storytelling and poetry to Dylan.

8. Dethklok - Dethalbum II. Much to the dismay of purists, this is the best-selling death metal album all time. More than a parody, it actually outsmarts the original and beats it at its own game. This album brings color and dimension to death metal like never before. It's kind of like how people are actually getting news now from the Daily Show, because it's so much more fun than actual news.

9. The Mars Volta - Octohedron. These crack-smoking geniuses finally recaptured some of the magic of their first EP and LP. Some.

10. Mastodon - Crack the Skye. Believe it or not, I am new to this band this year. I enjoy them, and found myself listening to this album more than I would have guessed considering it's not something I feel all that passionate about. It's more like I respect it. From my Oregonian review: Take "Ghost of Karelia," which is a maze of virtuosic melodies worthy of a Rush record, built on a slow, heavy sway, soothing in its restraint.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Last-second shopping, shooting with Shane Battier

Whoa, so Christmas Eve is tomorrow. Got some last-second shopping to do? Take some tips from my interview/English lesson with Shane Battier of the Houston Rockets about the term "buzzer beater." There's more info on how this video came together on the English, baby! blog.

Here are a couple of other notable sports interviews I did this year and neglected to post here.

* Sebastien Le Toux (at the time) of Seattle Sounders FC kicks a ball over my head to demonstrate "flick"!

* WNBA legend Ticha Penicheiro of the (now defunct) Sacramento Monarchs explains "the sky's the limit."