MY TUNES: Our Favorite Albums Of Right Now

lcd_soundsystem_this_is_happening.jpgLCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening (2010 DFA/Virgin)

Now that the decade of the 00’s is a closed set let me eulogize the collapse of the pop music industry. Reports at the decade’s start were that the music business would collapse and with 2010, seeing profits halved, tells us that’s what we’re hearing.  It is the uncomfortable sound of history coming to a close, a decade without a new genre being born.  Oh, there’s still some artful grab-baggery and musical slicing and dicing but the production of a number one hit pop hit from 2000 sounds depressingly similar to a hit from today.  I feel like the younger generation has let me down by not creating a new genre that makes me put my fingers in my ears and yell, “This isn’t music!” Still the new LCD Soundsystem was something that triggered an old-fashioned last century urge in me: the desire not to download, not to borrow-and-burn, but to actually head down to the still-thriving record store in my neighborhood to buy a shining new cardboard and plastic CD to bring home.  Does This Is Happening fly in the face of this dead history?  Heck no, its as derivative as the rest of the decade, mixing bits and pieces of New Order, Bowie, The Cars and a million other eighties one-shot bands.  But James Murphy makes me love it, and I hate him for it.  I want to say he’s running a bit low of gas on his third foray into the synth-pop junkpile but paging through the tracks I can’t find a weak tune to focus my gun-sight on and I’m forced into the conclusion that he’s a pupil who has bested his masters.  And geez, that “I Can Change” tune has me hitting “repeat” like a pre-teen girl playing Justin Bieber.  The future is dead and LCD Soundsystem is one of the few things I like about it. — DAN BUSKIRK

townes-van-zandt_quarte.jpgTOWNES VAN ZANDT- Live At The Old Quarter, Houston, Texas

I’ve given the requisite attention to Townes Van Zandt’s best buds — Steve Earle, Guy Clark, and so on — but I’ve been lax about the man himself, probably because of the pervasive opinion that his studio-recorded wares are uneven and sometimes unrepresentative. I’ve only got the patience for so many safaris. But I turned 39 this week, and as that milestone approached I found myself doing what Balding White Dudes do: Digging around for a classic singer-songwriter album, something subtle and complicated, a thing I would’ve avoided when my testosterone levels were a slightly higher. Van Zandt seemed like the obvious choice, and all signs pointed to “Live At The Old Quarter, Houston, Texas,” a 27-song album recorded in 1973, released first in 1977 and reissued several times, most recently by Fat Possum. And now I’m afraid to listen to any other Van Zandt record, for fear of spoiling the pure image that this one leaves: a man with a guitar in a small and hushed room, singing to people who already revere his sure-handed picking and not-too-twangy voice. You can hear his intelligence, his sense of craft, his ability to be weird and poetic without being far-out. The standards (“To Live Is To Fly,” “If I Needed You,” etc.) are here, crisp and rich. And all of it  — I’m partial to the raggedly cinematic “Two Girls” and the singularly great take on “Cocaine Blues” — sounds as if Van Zandt was never destined to crumble into depression over the next two decades, dying in 1997 as a hero only to some. But yeah, nothing so whole ever lasts forever. — JOE WARMINSKY

behemoth_-_evangelion_artwork.jpgBEHEMOTH — Evangelion (Nuclear Blast)

I ignored Poland’s Behemoth for a long time because their high gloss hybrid of black and death metal stunk to me of Hott Topic falseness. So I was surprised to find metal purists on message boards praising the band’s most recent album, Evangelion, as a must-hear contender for 2009 album of the year.  With this album the band seems to have finally hit on a formula that works not just with the kids at the mall.  The songs are epic yet maintain their ripping intensity from start to finish.  The riffs and guitar tone are reminiscent of Nile, the death metal band that has now written no less than six albums entirely about ancient Egypt, a shtick that wore thin for me by 1999, but there is a diversity of style here that in my opinion makes Behemoth the far more interesting band.  Still problematic for me is the band’s image, as you’ll see in the band’s video for the track “Ov Fire and the Void,” linked below.  They are not only still rocking some pretty ridiculous corpse paint but also have inadvisably incorporated rave-era JNCO fat pants into their look, which brings them a step too close to Juggalo for comfort.  If you can make it to the end of the video you’ll be treated to a cameo by a local celebrity, as the Hot Dead Chick gives birth to and then offers up in sacrifice to the band the soulless, black eyed baby from the Spring Garden bridge mural. — JEFF DEENEY

Tupac_Best_Of.jpgTUPAC SHAKUR – Personal Mixtape

There are two things I must always do before I feel like I’m officially back in Los Angles: Eat a carne asada taco from a taco truck and go cruisin’, LA style. You know how cruisin’ in LA goes- you saw Ice Cube do it in Boyz in the Hood (before he was diaper changing).  You roll your windows down and turn the stereo bass up. You hang your elbow out the window, and slouch low in your seat. Real low.  It’s customary to play something very Californian- like Sublime, X, or maybe even The Beach Boys (depending on your tastes). But to me, nothing says LA like 2Pac.  And nothing makes me feel more like a native Los Angelino  than pumping my speakers to classics like “To Live and Die in LA,” “I Wonder Why They Call You Bitch,” and “I Get Around” while cruising down Venice Blvd during sunset.  It’s not just because 2Pac wore a bandana with nothing over his greased up, shirtless six pack (can’t get more east LA than that) but because in LA, 2Pac was the voice of, no-  the messiah of- gangster rap just when gangster rap was making its way into the crevices of our culture.  Back then, lyrics meant something, and 2pac was one of the first (and the second to last) commercial gangster rapper to have something poignant to say. Coming back home after being away for 2 years, it’s only natural that I’d get sentimental for the music of my hometown. Recently, 2Pac’s best of album has been a requisite of sorts for me. It’s how I can tell I’m finally home. — EVA LIAO

highonfirecover.jpgHIGH ON FIRE – Snakes For The Divine

High on Fire’s newest album, Snakes for the Divine (check the sweet Frazetta-style cover art — yeeeeah, snakes and naked chicks mother fuckers!!!)  is what metal aught to sound like in 2010.  It has all the right classic metal references — Motorhead, Sabbath, Celtic Frost, Venom, Slayer — layered with the drug friendly thickness of tone that stoners love and the punk rawness that will let you love them even if you thought metal was lame back in the day.  Frost Hammer (you can’t reference metal gods Celtic Frost and their predecessor incarnation Hell Hammer any more directly than that) is a nasty, nasty chunk of war metal that comes riding in  on a red eyed steed and splits your skull with a +4 battle axe.  It’s the must hear track on this metal album of the year front-runner. — JEFF DEENEY

Dead_Weather_sea_of_cowards.jpgDEAD WEATHER – Sea of Cowards (Third Man)

Yup, Jack White’s gone and made another album that doesn’t involve Meg.  Damn him to hell.  Fortunately, his bros Dean, Jack and The Kills’ Allison Mosshart make pretty good musical companions themselves.  Favoring deadly distorted rhythms over melody, it’s a wild, raw-sounding journey.  Sometimes the songs run together into a big thudding black-leather mess, but still, what do want, Noah and The Whale?  It’s back breakingly riffy, and exactly the type of thing you’re going to want to mosh to this summer, that is, if any of Mr. White’s ever came to Philly.  And, on the subject of Mr. White, listening to this album really makes you wonder exactly how much control he has over the group, in particular guitarist Dean Fertita.  Every single solo has that signature Jack White squeal and crisp guitar fuzz.  It sounds absolutely brilliant, but makes you wonder what kind of effects Dean might be wanting to use instead.  Also think about this: if Jack White just turned out three years’ worth of aggressive Dead Weather bludgeonings, think of all the genius melodies he’s thought of in that time, destined for the next Stripes record. Well, at least we can hope.  In the meantime, this gestation process sounds pretty darned good itself. — JAMIE DAVIS

soundsoflib-1024x1024.pngSounds of Liberation – Sounds of Liberation (Dogtown 1972/Porter 2010)

A few years back the Eremite label released a disc from the Philadelphia vibraphonist Khan Jamal’s Creative Arts Ensemble titled Drum Dance To the Motherland. Pressed in a small run in 1972 on Dogtown label, the record, recorded live in West Philly’s Catacombs Club, sounded like nothing else. Psychedelic, dub-like electric Miles influenced music that throbbed and exploded in unpredictable ways, Jamal’s weirdo masterpiece was truly one of the great audiological unearthings of the decade. Turns out that Dogtown was legendary Philly saxophonist Byard Lancaster’s label, and among the handful of releases they pressed was Sounds of Liberation, a band that features the majority of the Creative Ensemble’s line-up joined by the soulful horn of Lancaster himself. The Sounds of Liberation has a front-line featuring Jamal’s vibraphone, Byard’s fluid sax and the guitar of Monette Sudler joined by a bassist (Billy Mils) and three percussionists (Omar Hill, Rashid Salim and Dwight James). The music they make includes afro-centric grooves, free jazz freak-outs and super-charged R&B work-outs, which can stretch out to side-long length or be delivered in two and a half minute bursts.  Most of this band can still be found making music in Philly and this formerly impossible-to-find disc lets you know why old-timers have always spoken their names in hushed reverence. — DAN BUSKIRK


sleep_-holy-mountain.jpgSLEEP – Holy Mountain

Back in 1993 I read a review of Sleep’s album Holy Mountain written by White Zombie’s guitar player, Jay Yuenger, in Guitar World magazine. Jay panned the album, complaining that it was a total Black Sabbath rip off. Right then I knew Sleep would rule for two reasons:

1) Black Sabbath is the greatest band of all time and

2) White Zombie fucking sucks

Guess what? I was right, and Jay Yuenger was wrong. Sleep went on to be the foundational slab an entire generation of highed-up, Sabbath worshipping drug metallers built on and the band’s guitar player Matt Pike continues his quest to conquer the universe with an arsenal of cranked amps today in High on Fire. Jay Yuenger probably pumps gas for a living on Long Island or some shit. — JEFF DEENEY

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