Sunday, 30 December 2007

The Music of 2007

That time of the year has come around again, where the calendar reaches it's end and we need to throw it away and buy a new one, where we have an excuse to get drunk and watch fireworks, and where we draw an arbitrary line in the sand as a period of time to reference events. What an eventful year this has been, we've gotten a new Prime Minister here in Australia and buried the coconut, Bush has become a lame duck as all focus is on the potential candidates for next years election (18 month election campaigns are a total waste), England bombed their Euro 2008 campaign while Pakistan was bombed by Islamic radicals, Australia won the world cup for the third time in the most farcical manner, Al Gore won a peace prize for his slideshow presentation (it was a pretty good slideshow, and he was way more deserving than Mother Theresa), and a heap of stuff more that I probably should be aware of.

In the end the year has left me with a sense of cautious optimism for the future. It's great to see the world coming together and working towards a global solution for tackling climate change, there has been a greater focus on the rights of the individual even in countries where Sharia law persists. No, it's not perfect, yes there is a lot of shit going down, Pakistan is extremely volatile right now, Afghanistan is going bad again while Iraq is still a shambles. But there is hope persisting. It will be interesting to see the impact of Blair's convoy to the Middle East, hoping we can see a Palestinian state in the next few years. But all of this is irrelevant to this blog, I just want to focus on the music of the year.

Top 10

10. Saul Williams - The Inevitable Rise And Liberation Of Niggy Tardust
I've covered the crux of this album in an earlier post. At the risk of repeating myself I'll recap why I believe this is one of the great albums from this year. Saul Williams is at his lyrical best, the production values are amazing, and apart from the Drum and Bass Reznoresque cover of Sunday Bloody Sunday the album really stands out as a classic. Turn it up and listen to how an Industrial god puts most rap producers to shame. Online is the future of album distribution, great to see quality releases like this embrace the format.
Best track: WTF!

9. Electric Wizard - Witchcult Today
A great album to chill the fuck out to. It rivals the sheer crunch that was Melvins - (A) Senile Animal, it's just unbelievably consistent and the album flows seamlessly from beginning to end. Slow grinding riffs are brilliantly layered between fitting drums and solid vocals. It's one of those albums that you can appreciate just as long as you sit down and hear the whole thing.
Best track: Satanic Rites of Drugula

8. The Icarus Line - Black Lives On The Golden Coast
This album took a while to grow on me, in the beginning I was lamenting Aaron North's exit from the band and saying "boo, not as good as Mono", but the more I listened the more I enjoyed the album for what it is. They've done something different and they have done it well. It's more melodic than anything they've released before but that is by no means a bad thing. the album itself is a nice variety, oscillating from intense to laid back compositions, though the only criticism I could muster is sometimes the need for vocals overshadows the rest of the music. Though the lyrics seem quite irrelevant at times and the vocals become another instrument in the bands. Overall a solid release, worth listening to over and over again.
Best track: Slayer

7. Dream Theater - Systematic Chaos
It's always good hearing technically proficient musicians working together, sometimes the precision gets in the way of the music quality, but not on this release. Dream Theater have gotten the balance right. The riff interchange between keyboard and guitar is seamless, reminds me a lot of UK's self-titled album. It's good to see a split track, In The Presence Of Enemies is both a fantastic opener and ender. This is a seminal prog-metal release, 78 minutes of everything that is great about the genre. I look forward to seeing some of these tracks live in a months time.
Best track: Prophets Of War

6. Rosetta - Wake / Lift
No this release is not The Galilean Satellites, the band has progressed their sound into something new. A much more Post-Rock release than their last, though it hasn't stopped this band from sounding as unique as they did 3 years ago. The music is so densely layered and the long winding compositions are so meticulously fine-tuned, it is a delight to sit back and just take in from beginning to end.
Best track: Wake

5. The Dillinger Escape Plan - Ire Works
I was hotly anticipating this album on the back of the quality of Miss Machine. Despite Chris Pennie defecting to C&C and Brian Bennoit taking a break due to a hand injury, they've come back and done something fantastic again. Greg Puciato has taken a much more expansive role with his vocals, there is actual singing on this release. The album itself is technically brilliant, the interplay between drums and guitar is as sublime as we've come to expect from DEP, and the song writing is more mature than ever. There are parts that are going to piss off the die-hard fans of Calculating Infinity but who cares? This is a wonderful album in it's own right, full of aggression, mathematical precision and sublime musicianship.
Best track: Dead As History

4. Dark Tranquillity - Fiction
This is just an incredibly balanced album, Dark Tranquillity have gotten the balance perfect. Melodic Death Metal at it's finest right here. The interlay between the keyboard and guitar as the melodic instrument is done seamlessly, the interlaced piano transforms the album from solid to fantastic, everything has just fallen into place. Even the lyrics are perfectly fitting for the chaos surrounding them, yet never are overbearing on the sound. The metal release of the year for sure, just listen to Icipher and see for yourselves.
Best track: The Mundane And The Magic

3. Battles - Mirrored
This was a very pleasant discovery of 2007, decided to check them out after they were added to next years Big Day Out line-up. While being a perfect example of avant-garde math-rock, most of all this is a fun album to listen to. The almost chipmunk like vocals fit beautifully over the music, elaborate compositions that you just want to dance poorly out of time to.
Best track: Tonto

2. Deerhunter - Cryptograms
A perfect mix of ambiance, post-punk and noise rock, Deerhunter have created an album truly worthy of being called a masterpiece. It captivates from the first few notes of the intro and leaves you wanting more when Heatherwood finishes. The composition is sublime, each track flows so well into the next and the mix of ambient pieces spacing out the more rock style pieces is done just perfectly. Each listen just begs me to start over again.
Best track: Heatherwood

1. Porcupine Tree - Fear Of A Blank Planet
What can I say? It's been a year of excellent prog releases. And
Porcupine Tree have made the best of all of them. One thing this album does above all others is the focus on songwriting, the intense tracks come from a perfect balance of lyrics and prog styling in a way only Steve Wilson can deliver. It's one of the best concept albums I've heard in years, it really captures the apathy that is the offshoot of modern technology and culture. Sometimes the music is a thing of beauty, the harmonies hit just convey the meaning so precisely. Since it's release in April, it's had the staying power to be played all year despite the stream of other great music out there. And the subsequent EP Nil Recurring completed and complemented this release so well. The best praise I can give it is it's better than In Absentia. Well done Porcupine Tree.
Best track: Anesthetize

Honourable Mentions
So many good albums came out this year, so this list will be a little longer than normal, but all these deserve mention in some form. No particular order to this.

* Riverside - Rapid Eye Movement
* Puscifer - V Is For Vagina
* Radiohead - In Rainbows
* Coheed & Cambria - No World For Tomorrow
* Alchemist - Tripsis
* Symphony X - Paradise Lost
* Clutch - Frome Beale Street To Oblivion
* Ministry - The Final Sucker
* The Ocean - Precambrian
* Minus The Bear - Planet Of Ice
* Unkle - War Stories
* Strung Out - Blackhawks Over Los Angeles
* Paradise Lost - In Requiem
* Down - Over The Under
* Queens Of The Stone Age - Era Vulgaris
* Rosetta & Balboa - Project Mercury
* Animal Collective - Strawberry Jam
* Nine Inch Nails - Year Zero
* Regurgitator - Love And Paranoia
* Arch Enemy - Rise Of The Tyrant
* Daysend - The Warning
* Skinny Puppy - Mythmaker
* 65daysofstatic - The Destruction Of Small Ideas

Just wanted to say a few more things. It's sad to see Ministry go out, been consistenly good for almost 2 decades, The Last Sucker was a fitting end to their recording career. Good to see NIN release something different and while it may not have pleased many hardcore fans, it's good to see Trent try something new. A Nick Oliveri-less QOTSA showed it could still rock, while Billy Corgan didn't quite match it for the Smashing Pumpkins reunion record. Baroness tried to copy Leviathan if it were mixed with a little Neurosis while The Ocean did a better job of staying on the forefront of what is great with modern metal. In terms of Australian music, Regurgitator released their most consistent album in a decade while Alchemist and Daysend showed that the metal scene here is alive and kicking. Radiohead captured the media's imagination with it's gimmicky fight against piracy while capturing Pitchfork's love of the band. Punk died a little more on the inside with Bad Religion's new release, though Strung Out did it's best to try something different. Marilyn Manson has faded into obscurity as his shock rock tactics grow weary and all musicians around him work on other material. And still no democracy in china...

Next year sure is shaping up to follow the spectacular. New Meshuggah, Opeth, Nevermore, The Mars Volta and Cog to name just a few I'm excited about, plus there is sure to be countless others and the second half of Year Zero. Something to look forward to in the new year I suppose.

The Gigs Of '07
2007 was my busiest year for live music ever, 12 live shows and 3 music festivals, it's left me worn out and my credit card maxed out. Still a lot of fun though.

Top 10 Sets
1. Nine Inch Nails (Hordern Pavilion, 16/09)
2. Tool (Sydney Entertainment Centre, 24/01)
3. Nine Inch Nails (Luna Park Big Top, 15/09)
4. Muse (Gold Coast Big Day Out, 21/01)
5. Slayer (Thebarton Theatre, 15/04)
6. The Cure (Sydney Entertainment Centre, 10/08)
7. Isis (The Metro, 03/02)
8. Bad Religion (Hordern Pavilion, 07/11)
9. Cog (Greenroom, 27/11)
10. These Arms Are Snakes (The Metro, 03/02)

Honourable mentions
* Kasabian (Gold Coast Big Day Out, 21/01)
* The Killers (Gold Coast Big Day Out, 21/01)
* NoFX (Manning Bar, 17/02)
* The Bronx (Greenroom, 28/02)
* Mastodon
(Thebarton Theatre, 15/04)
* Regular John (Come Together Festival, 10/06)
* Mammal
(Come Together Festival, 10/06)
* Shihad
(Come Together Festival, 10/06)
* Alchemist (Bar Broadway, 17/08)
* New Pants (Greenroom, 05/10)

Next year I already have 6 gigs lined up, including the prize scalps of Rage Against The Machine and Dream Theater. I've been waiting to see RATM since I was 14, so the teenager in me is going into overdrive. The Big Day Out line-up is great though I can foresee many clashes. And with Tool, Dillinger Escape Plan, and Coheed & Cambria all rumoured for tours within the next six months and a Rosetta tour in June (so stoked they are playing Canberra) I'm already excited about the prospects, maybe even a Helmet show to these parts as well. Though finances will keep me away from V Fest unfortunately, though Smashing Pumpkins, QOTSA & Air are tempting me more than an open bottle of fortified wine.

It's been a great few years for music, and there still are plenty of albums I didn't probably check out due to time. I look forward to the next twelve months and can only wait in wonder to see what the music world can offer me*. Happy new year!

*a legal equivalent to Oink

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