January 3, 2009: The Monosyllabic Year in Music 2008

We Versus The Shark, “Practical Animals”: Any band that resurrects the sweet-and-sour, perpetually-on-the-verge-of-falling-apart 90s-math-rock anthemics of the likes of The Dismemberment Plan, Shudder To Think, and Chavez is going to be all right with me. (In fact, they formed out of a collective involvement in a D-Plan fansite, and they cover Shudder’s “X-French Tee Shirt” on the kickass covers album they did this year.) Now if only they would tour the west coast once in a while…

Black Taj, “Fresh Air Traverse”: Former Polvo dudes fully indulge their boogie-rock jones and conjure the spirit of Steppenwolf and Hendrix without resorting to trendy psych-freak-folk tropes (beards, skinny denim, drugs). (There’s no youtube for “Fresh Air Traverse”, so here’s one for “Cold Comfort” instead:)

Meneguar, “We Own We Sell”: Initially a bunch of post-Fugazi latecomer also-rans (albeit with better hook/melody instincts than most), this year’s The In Hour sunk Meneguar deep into the lo-fi murk until they emerged somewhere in Ariel Pink’s loopy psych-pop neighborhood.

Earth, “Hung From The Moon”: It took Dylan Carlson over ten years to figure out that the only way to follow up the ambient-metal touchstone Earth 2 was to rid himself of that album’s defining sonic characteristic: distortion. With the volume still redlined and a full band locked into the vibe, the resulting music seems even more monolithic and resinated than before.

Autistic Daughters, “Gin Over Sour Milk”: If I write the words “cinematic jazz-inflected post-rock” many people’s knees will immediately jerk in the direction of 1998 and the swamp of post-Tortoise dub-groove wankery. Thank god then that Autistic Daughters hail from a more avant-minimalist school, where brushes and upright bass form a very spare foundation for floating chords and scratchy tape loops. And the “cinematic” part comes not from being all easy-listening groove instrumentals but rather from sounding like a J-horror film, all unbearable simmering tension, dark empty space, and the occasional jolt of feedback being scraped across a(n also very dark and empty) blackboard.

Women, “Black Rice”: I love how unassuming this song is, how the drowsy, bleary-eyed verse lurches into the gently shimmering chorus, and then the bridge, where the British Invasion inflections burst forth like a rainbow from a prism of reverb.

Little Teeth, “Japanese Candy”: Little Teeth’s childhood nightmares and gender confusion are pages ripped right out of Kurt Cobain’s notebooks, but even Kurt didn’t possess a voice like Dannie Murrie’s, a frighteningly feral growl/shriek that— at least for the first part of “Japanese Candy”— seems to be intent on sounding as gnarled and ugly as possible. But then in the second verse, where the melody gets pushed up a full octave, what was an ugly duckling suddenly transforms into a ten-story-tall titanium-clad mecha in the shape of an ugly duckling, turning the merely nerve-jangling into something spine-tinglingly operatic.

Young Widows, “Old Skin”: A throwback to the days where words like “pigfuck” and “Amphetamine Reptile” might have meant something to the average indie-rock fan, where “something” refers to the kind of misanthropic gutter aggression that turns visceral low-end judder and searing guitar distortion into an aural curbstomp. See also Unsane, Hammerhead, Cop Shoot Cop, etc. etc.

Zazen Boys, “Weekend”: I have much more to write about Zazen Boys and their newest album, which is still tragically available for sale in the U.S. (and probably everywhere else outside of Japan), so for the sake of space I’ll just point you to the video below, which melds a typically Japanese deadpan goofiness with bionically unstoppable Prince-funk.

Max Tundra, “Which Song”: It’s Go West’s “King of Wishful Thinking” and the old Entertainment Tonight theme song put through an ancient MIDI blender by a bloke who doesn’t leave his bedroom much. By which I mean the only way it could be more 80’s awesome is if it was wearing a belted Hypercolor T-shirt.

Born Ruffians, “Hummingbird”: Because sometimes all you want to do is jump up and down and run around in circles on the front lawn.

Maus Haus, “Radio Dials Die”: One of the Bay Area’s best new bands picks up where the first couple of Enon albums left off, with sinuous melodies, squelching whirring keyboards, shuffling drums, and thoroughly insidious catchiness.

We Is Shore Dedicated, “Tinderstix and Russian River”: Another Bay Area band, this one a subtle mix of Americana twang and Eastern European melody, topped off with the wry, dark ruminations and occasional, accidentally poetic linguistic missteps of a gentleman for whom English is not his first language– but given some of the things he sings about, I’d rather not correct him, because god knows what shady things he did back in the motherland. (Nothing available on youtube by them either, so here’s their myspace page for more info.)

The Mountain Goats, “Autoclave”: Heretic Pride is the culmination of a journey that began when John Darnielle first stepped into a real recording studio for their first 4AD album; thanks to the addition of drummer Jon Wurster to the lineup, the Mountain Goats finally sound like a real band. And although Heretic Pride lacks the overarching lyrical themes of previous Goats albums, it leaves room for perfect pop singles like this one.

The Dodos, “Fools”: Insider pro-tip: anyone referring to “African ewe drumming” when discussing the Dodos is a hack. It’s simple enough to google “African ewe drumming” or search for youtube clips, compare that to the Dodos, and realize that the two drumming styles are nothing alike. Just taking their press kit’s word for it is the hallmark of a true sucker. Just because Meric (the guitarist) took a class on it in college doesn’t mean Logan (the drummer) is doing anything remotely like it.

Anyway. Just had to get that off my chest. You’d think that the fact that two guys, one with an acoustic guitar and the other with half a drum kit, can rock harder sitting down than most bands twice their size can standing up, would be enough of an angle for music blog scribes.