Herewith, and hereupon, the tops of Warren’s pops. The first five have YouTube video links, because I felt like it.
Go buy ‘em, now. (And peace, brother Scott.)
1. Gallows – Grey Britain – When you’re younger, Churchill suggested, you are supposed to be a socialist, and then you become a conservative as you get older. Something like that. Musically, for me – at least this year – it’s been the reverse: I have been getting more and more hardcore in my tastes, more and more attracted to dark, bleak, pounding stuff. The quiet, Death-Cab-Coldplay shite favoured by many of my peers sort of makes me physically ill. Gallows, meanwhile, are the progeny of post-post-Churchillian Britain, and they have plenty to say about it. Loudly. Led by brothers Frank and Steph Carter, these kids – I’m old enough to be their father – grow more angry, and more exemplary, with each new record. Grey Britain is their exegesis on England, and it’s apparent that they don’t like what they see – but they can’t tear their eyes away, either. Sort of like getting old.
2. Pearl Jam – Backspacer – It’s probably not cool to be a punk, as I’ve admitted before, and to adore Pearl Jam. But I don’t give a fuck: I adore Pearl Jam. Musically, they follow fairly traditional rawk’n’role rhythms and structures and all that stuff; intellectually, spiritually, they are punks. For instance: they have taken on the music “industry” – from the big labels to the big ticketing conglomerates – in a way that few punk outfits ever could, or would. They have been activists – Hell, their web site has an entire ongoing, vibrant section devoted to political activism – and politically smart. That’s not to say they have won every battle – in fact, they’ve lost plenty, particularly with the music biz. But they keep trying, and therefore are the rock band that many, many punks (Ramones, Buzzcocks) look up to, and associate with. The first four songs onBackspacer kick ass so hard, and sound so fresh and new, you won’t even remember these guys have been doing this for twenty years. All Hail.
3. Tom Gabel – Heart Burns – If you follow this web site semi-regularly – and God knows why you ever would – you would know that I have a bit of an affinity for Floridian punks Against Me!, and their frontman, Tom Gabel. To me, and to my kids, Against Me! are without equal. Their passion and their intelligence and energy have always made them one of the best bands on the planet. But when Tom Gabel released a solo album at the very tail end of 2008, I – like not a few Against Me! fanatics – were simultaneously worried and unimpressed. A solo album? Jesus! Is this the end? Is Tom’s ego running rampant, something for which solo albums are a typical symptom? So I refused to even listen to it, for months. Typical. In a moment of weakness this Fall – I had quite a few – I decided to give Heart Burns a spin and, well, you know the rest. (Also typical.) It’s wonderful; it’s full of heart. Tom mainly wields his trusty acoustic throughout the proceedings, but it’s evident that his anger is undiminished by either the aforementioned ego/commercial success. It’s not an Against Me! Record, per se, but I can easily see some of these tunes being played with the rest of the guys. I hope they do, too, when they swing back up this way in March. Here’s ‘Anna Is A Stool Pigeon’ – a true story:
4. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz! – I was an early, early convert to the YYY cause. Guitar, drums, and a gorgeous lead songstress who drank too much? Sign me up! The fact that she was in a relationship with the Liars’ Angus Andrew, who I worship, made it even better. In concert, she was extraordinary. You couldn’t take your eyes off of her, because – as with all the great ones – you simply didn’t know what she would do next. Then she moved to L.A., and became seemingly more interested in fashion than music, and she broke up with Angus (about whom she wrote ‘Maps,’ possibly the greatest love song of the past decade, and maybe ever, and yes, she really does cry almost every time she sang it). Were the Yeah Yeah Yeahs about to be No No No more? It’s Blitz suggests otherwise. Polished but raucous, sophisticated but impish. She still has it.
5. The Cribs – Ignore the Ignorant Me, Bjorn von Flapjack III and Ras Pierre saw the brothers Jarman open for the Sex Pistols in London a couple years back, and they got lustily booed. They were loud, they were earnest, they did all the right things…but something was lacking. I felt badly for them. They seemed to disappear into the ether, getting in fights at parties but not much else. And then, a few months ago, along came the Smiths’ former lead genius, Johnny Marr, and everything Cribbish was utterly transformed. Marr, whilst a tad more senior than the Jarmans, gives their a sound a depth and context it clearly needed. And their ‘We Share the Same Skies’ is my favourite song of the year, too. Take it, Johnny:
6. Major Lazer – Guns Don’t Kill People…Lazers Do – Diplo – who should have come to your attention with last year’s Top Ranking, A Diplo Dub and the godlike-genius collaboration therein with Santigold – is behind this Jamaica-recorded waxing with Britain’s Switch. It is simultaeously hilarious, rude and inspired. A trip-hoppy Pet Sounds for the new age, it’s about a Jamaican commando who lost his arm in a secret zombie war in 1984. Personally, I don’t think records get any better than that.
7. NOFX – Coaster – Fat Mike and Co. are among the best satirists of America around; musically they are the best. I interviewed Mike at the back of his tour bus, a few months ago, and he told me about the new album, which he said would be a great one, and is. He also told me something else, for which I was sworn to secrecy. Let’s just say I have a whole new level of appreciation for Fat Mike’s stamina.
8. Deerhunter – Microcastle – Like Gabel’s waxing, this one didn’t come out until the very end of 2008, so I count it as a 2009 release. If you don’t know about Deerhunter, you should: led by the gigantic, gaunt Bradford Cox, Deerhunter is ambient, melodic, punky, and impossible to categorize. Both physically and figuratively, Cox towers above the proceedings: afflicted by Marfan Syndrome, he writes about sexuality, and illness, and loneliness, but never neglects to craft a poppy lick or two. It’s a caring, thoughtful record, with a bonus LP (Weird Era) thrown in for good measure.
9. Dinosaur Jr. – The Farm – I interviewed Junior’s Lou Barlow last year, before this one came out. I was skeptical, and said so: were the guys – who loathed each other for much of the band’s existence – simply attempting to cash in on the recent mania for alt-rock supergroup reunions? Barlow said no, the record was a good one, and that we’d like it. He was right: it is good, and you’ll like it, too. The highest pinnacle of lo fi, from the guys who practically invented the genre. Nice.
10. Rancid – Let the Dominoes Fall – None of us were sure that the ska-punk legends would ever get together again – they all seemed to be off on solo projects, Lars Frederiksen with The Bastards and his (sadly now defunct)XM Radio show, Tim Armstrong with the ska-and-dub-heavy work that culminated in A Poet’s Life. This new LP shows the California punk legends to be in fine form, and reminding all and sundry that Rancid remains greater than the sum of the Rancid parts.