Part 14 of a 20 part rundown of my favourite tracks of 2015
I wrote about these guys briefly in Wanton Miscellany #2, saying that their record Further Out was so unassuming it had almost passed me by. It took some time but it eventually worked it’s way to being one of my favourites of 2015. I changed my mind again after that – fickle beast that I am – possibly due to an unforeseen period of relative serenity and borderline happiness. It became a bit like a perennially bummed out friend – sure you love them but when you’re on top of the world it can feel like a drag to spend time in their company. With friends you’ll do so all the same (unless you’re a really shitty friend) but records are easy to ignore. They just sit there until you need them next.
Before I knew it I was back to being slumped in an office chair with nothing but an endless sea of tedium around me and a window full of gray sky in lieu of any kind of view. It felt good to welcome Further Out back into my life then. Doyle Martin’s voice sounds oddly comforting when you’re down – it’s like having the lazy, drawled moan of depression itself serenading you. Whether the lyrics are angry or sad, sarcastic or earnest they’re all delivered in the same pitch. It brings to mind a Jets to Brazil line from one of my all time favourite songs: “some make exhaustion a mode of expression.” In Outta Spite the line, “Assign meaning to your ritual..” manages to sound like both a decent piece of self-help advice and a biting indictment of the pointlessness of your routine, particularly when it drifts through your headphones at the precise moment you drop your work bag in the same spot you do every day. 5pm, near enough on the dot. Kettle on, start dinner. Disintegrate into daydream and muscle memory like sugar in water. “..and slay any beast.” Yeah, sure.
Oh, and that guitar tone. You could take a bath in that fuzz and come out cleansed.
Part 13 of a 20 part rundown of my favourite tracks of 2015
My biggest regret of 2015 was having to give up 2 tickets to finally, finally catch the Mountain Goats live in Bristol in November. I bought the tickets 6 months in advance. Everything was planned. I’d waited so long to get the chance to bellow along with John Darnielle, and then..
Still, at least I got another fine album to listen to Beat the Champ might not be his best ever record but it was packed with highlights, great choruses, memorable one-liners. It’s up there with some of his best despite being an album entirely about wrestling of all things. Darnielle manages to find the human drama in things – Heel Turn 2 is sung from the point of view of a babyface tired of not being on top and, as the title suggests, turning heel. There aren’t many songwriters who can turn that into something that sounds deeply personal – I imagine there are legions of fans singing,“Throw my better self overboard/shoot him when he comes up for air/become unhinged/get revenge/I don’t wanna die in here,” as if it was written for them and them alone. I wouldn’t know of course. Sigh.
It almost feels trite at this point to say that Darnielle is one of the best songwriters of his generation. But in case you don’t already know that – he is. he really is. See for yourself – you owe it to yourself to find out just how good he is.
Part 12 of a 20 part rundown of my favourite tracks of 2015
Every Passing Hour doesn’t feel like a night time song but thanks to a couple of occasions I’ve listened to it in the dark I can’t help but think of night when I’m listening to it. The first time I was walking to the train station for the first train to London on a work trip, passing by more students taking the post-revelry walk home than people starting their day like me. The other time I was heading home for Christmas by megabus to save a few pounds, trundling through the cold streets with my head rested against the window. When I listen to Every Passing Hour I see streetlights smeared across the black sky by sleep-addled eyes and think about the pair of frustrated guys trying to convince their utterly hooned friend that yes he could walk if he’d just get his drunk ass up off the pavement.
It’s funny how these things memories attached to songs. Every Passing Hour sounds like it deserves a more bucolic scene, but hey. That’s city life for you. Helios, aka Keith Kenniff, suffered for me in being one of those artists who seem to capture exactly what they’re going for so well on a relatively early release that no matter the quality of what followed I wasn’t all that interested. I convinced myself Eingya was all the Helios I’d ever need. But I gave every new record a listen to reaffirm my faith in that records unassailable Heliosness.
Every Passing Hour, and the rest of parent album Yume, changed that. This song might be the single most beautiful thing he’s released. I’m not sure if it’s a new creative peak or whether I’ve just found myself in a place where I’m more open to Kenniff’s work but either way this is a truly breathtaking piece, starting in unassumingly melancholy ambience and building to a mini-masterpiece of longing that made nondescript sleepy Welsh streets hum with meaning on cold winter mornings.
Part 11 of a 20 part rundown of my favourite tracks of 2015
JR Robinson is a surprisingly popular man for one with such…unusual obsessions. He’s been releasing singular, uncompromising music under the Wrekmeister Harmonies moniker since 2009 and in that time he’s drafted in a veritable who’s who in alternative and avant garde heavy music to flesh out his compositions. This record alone features members of The Body, Indian, Einstürzende Neubauten, Yakuza and Marrisa Nadler. For starters. All of whom presumably chose not to put down the phone after Robinson invited them to feature on a piece inspired by legendary composer/murderous bastard Don Carlo Gesualdo and/or the crimes and death of priest and serial child molester Father John Geoghan. He must have quite a way with words.
Robinson’s continuing fascination with those responsible for heinous crimes (Then It All Came Down is a piece inspired by a Truman Copete essay on an associate of Charles Manson, Bobby Beausoleil) seems to be fertile ground for compositions that are at once achingly beautiful and unflinchingly harrowing. The two here as well as Then It All.. follow similar patterns – starting in some kind of fractured, corroded beauty and steadily sinking into doom/metal laced depravity, like Lucifer falling from grace. Night of Your Ascension begins with Nadler singing in choral fashion, some of the most gorgeous, yet unsettling, sounds Wrekmeister Harmonies have put to tape yet. From there everything gradually goes to hell, culminating in a contorted metal nightmare, all disembodied screams and unholy chants. It’s magnificent – if Night.. had come out a little earlier in 2015 it would have been right up there in my year best of list. As it is I’m still digesting it.
The video at the top is an interesting piece (featuring a very dusty David Yow running a bout for reasons unclear) but the edit doesn’t even come close to doing the full piece justice. I include the full thing below and implore everyone to listen to all 5 parts. I’m not choosing any one for this list – it’s a piece that needs to be heard in its entirety.
Part 10 of a 20 part rundown of my favourite tracks of 2015
Crime is the track everyone who talks about Bad Guys talks about. When it came to picking a track for this I kinda wanted to give some love to Zoltan: Snake Hunter or Reaper for a change. But this is my 20 tracks of 2015. I’d be lying to all of you. Could I look myself in the mirror after such brazen deceit? Could I sleep at night knowing the rightful Bad Guys song was sitting left off of this hallowed playlist?
No. I couldn’t. It would be wrong.
Crime is the gruffly spoken word tale of a boy who wants a Tonka truck and is forced to resort to desperate measures to get one. It’s funny and it rocks. People usually dismiss music with an overtly comedic bent as not being worthy of genuine praise, as if getting a laugh negates everything else about it. But the key difference between musical comedy and music that just happens to be comedic is what happens when the joke stops being funny. I’m not sure when it comes to Crime as yelling, “you should have bought me the truck you fuck!” hasn’t stopped being amusing to me. I suspect it never will.
But even if it did I’m pretty sure it would still be a good song. Without the comedy the chugging guitars at the start might not work but as they grow increasingly more intense, with phased riffs oscillating wildly in a manner reminiscent of Fucked Up, it becomes something of what the kids colloquially call “a banger.” Or at least they did last I checked. Alright I admit it: I’ve no idea.
Part 9 of a 20 part rundown of my favourite tracks of 2015
I finally caught Elder back in June at The Full Moon in Cardiff. When they took the stage I was slightly disturbed to discover they all look about 12 years old. I may just be getting old and suffering the gig going persons version of, “ooh Mavis aren’t the policemen getting younger?” but it threw me to see such fresh faced youngsters tearing a room in two so effortlessly. It was brilliant, once I’d gotten over a brief moment of staring down my own mortality. I guess this is just how stuff goes as you get older. You have to spent a few more moments thinking, “shit, I’m gonna die someday and I still haven’t got around to curing cancer. Best get to the bar before it gets busy.”
I digress. When listening to Lore I wondered how a 3 piece would bring all it’s multi-tracked majesty to the stage intact. Yet the seemed to sacrifice nothing. Pretty much the whole record was played in it’s labyrinthine glory. Minds were blown. Which cemented my view that these boys are something special. They already had something unusual in stoner/doom circles – three records which sound very different from each other but which all worked in their own right. If you were to make a “Sim Stoner Band”
game playing it would basically just involve tweaking the Sabbath/Kyuss/Blue Cheer/Blue Oyster Cult sliders
until satisfied, locking them down and pressing the ‘acoustic guitar’ button every now and again when you get bored. But Elder seem restless, determined to push forward.
I still think I prefer Dead Roots Stirring to Lore, but then my preferences tend to lean towards filth over precision. Whilst Dead Roots boasted long tracks they didn’t feel as crafted as tracks like Legend, where every note feels deliberate. It lasts 12 minutes and nothing feels extraneous. They manage to be technical without being needlessly showy, complicated without feeling like it’s for the sake of being complicated. It’s the kind of sound I usually have a natural aversion for but in Elder’s hands the honest-to-god Rock Epic actually sounds interesting and vital again. They made a convert out of this skeptic, and all while looking barely old enough to drink. Incredible.
Part 8 of a 20 part rundown of my favourite tracks of 2015
Bell Witch had me at having a band name that sounds like a boss from Dark Souls. Then they had me again at that record cover – such a beautifully painted scene of collapse it made me think again of Dark Souls. This says more about me and my Dark Souls problem than it does about Bell Witch.
But they had me a third time when I heard the fantastically miserably titled Suffocation, A Drowning: II – Somniloquy (The Distance Of Forever). And that time it had nothing to do with my obsession with From Software’s franchise
There isn’t much light in Bell Witch’s crawling paced doom. Four Phantoms is a claustrophobically bleak record for the most part – its 4 tracks aren’t short on monumental heft and power, but there’s little to contrast it with. Suffocation, A Drowning II – Somniloquy (The Distance of Forever) is the proverbial crack that the light gets in through. At 22 minutes it plays out like a folk ballad in slow motion – the duo drafted in a vocalist, Erik Moggridge, who has the lilt of a folk singer at times. The drums crash like falling trees and the Dylan Desmond’s 6-string bass howls like the wind while the tale of the titular drowning is told.
As you can imagine of a 22 minute lament for this watery demise it demands some commitment from the listener. Through the bastardised choral passages, the gutteral screaming, the melodies that switch from eerie to earthy, melancholy to malevolent, it’s a long and draining trip. Funeral doom is a sub-genre rife with bombastic melodrama but Bell Witch manage to capture the essence of that term perfectly – the doom is more than catered for in the ceaseless crunching guitar chords left to drift and reverberate whilst the tone is never less than masterfully elegiac. When they scream it sounds less like the act of men wanting to make horrible noises and more like an act of grief.
The idea of a concept record about 4 hideous and grotesque deaths being replayed for all eternity, an earthly vision of hell, sounds like something cooked up as a joke by pissed up metalheads trying to outdo one another on the none-more-miserable stakes. Which, to be honest, would be fine by me – but what set Bell Witch apart is that they treated such a grim concept with respect and created an album about death so harrowing that it’s almost, at it’s best, life affirming.