Friday, December 2, 2011
1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Soundtrack -Skyrim (Main Theme): This is the soundtrack to my escape from the miserable shit world we live in. The Elder Scrolls games have played an oddly important role in the last eight or so years of my life. ES III: Morrowind provided invaluable distraction for me at a time when my entire brain was at war with itself; disconnecting from reality and wandering the world of Morrowind as my black elf archer (the one with the terrible haircut I didn’t realize I could change until it was too late) helped me ride out my worst bouts of depression, safely seeing me through to the other side of some pretty dark times. ES IV: Oblivion fulfilled a similar role in the subsequent years of my recovery, and many of my memories of my late cat Eva involve my sitting and playing Oblivion for hours on end while he slept in my lap, occasionally waking up to chew in my arms. The very first day I met the lovely Jamie Hamilton she overheard me having a conversation with a friend about how much I hated those fucking blighted Cliff Racers and joined right along in voicing her displeasure. I’m not going to lie, I swooned a little bit. So, naturally, the release of this year’s ES V: Skyrim, was a huge event for me (and Jamie). So this song- sang in the fucking language of dragons, foretelling the coming of Dovahkiin, the Dragonborn, destined to save Skyrim from Alduin, Bane of Kings - isn’t just awesome and epic, it is imbued with a lot more meaning than one would expect from a song in a video game. Dovahkiin, fah hin kogaan mu draal!
2. Death SS- Terror: Back in the late 70’s, some dudes in Italy decided to start a gloomy metal band and dress up as a vampire, a mummy, a werewolf and a grim reaper and only refer to themselves as The Vampire, The Mummy, The Werewolf, and The Death. The kicker? They were pretty good. The riffs in this song, especially during the chorus, get stuck in my head for days on end.
3. In Solitude - In The Darkness: When In Solitude took the stage at Maryland Death Fest last summer, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Could this group of rail-thin Swedish teenagers decked out in leather pants offer up anything that wasn’t rehashed, generic retro-metal? Well, when the first song kicked in and the singer--wearing a friggin’ fox pelt around his throat--came running out, they went on to play one of the best live sets I’ve seen this year. They manage a perfect balance of Iron Maiden meets Mercyful Fate without sounding derivative or insincere. Totally solid with two great records to prove it.
4. ZZ Top - Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers: I started working at a record store this past year, and I’ve come to enjoy throwing random records onto the turntable just out of curiosity. Totally glad I did that with this record. Growing up watching all the ridiculous ZZ Top videos, I never really looked past their beards, their sunglasses, the hot 80’s ladies they hung out with, or their sweet ride. Turns out they’re actually a really great band who play raw, infectious, hard-driving bar-room blues. I don’t drink beer and I rarely if ever raise hell, but if I did…you can be damn sure it’d be to this song.
5. Thin Lizzy - Chinatown: As far as pure rock ‘n’ roll goes, Thin Lizzy are by far my favorite band. Everything about them is just so spot on. I realized just this year, however, that I never ventured into their 80’s material. I guess maybe I was afraid that this infallible band would let me down. I was totally missing out--Chinatown is a great, great record. The band starts to pick up a slightly harder sound on this album, which works out pretty well. It was tough pinning down which song to go with, but this is probably the song I found myself singing the most often going about my daily life.
6. Dead Moon - Over the Edge: I came kind of late to the game on these guys, but I’m glad I eventually did. Rock ‘n’ roll stripped down to its most raw and sincere, played by people who are living it to the core. A lot of their material, most notably this song, makes me imagine the rebellious young protagonists of Springsteen songs as they escape their small town fates, go off, do a bunch of drugs, play in punk rock bands, and eventually discover they can’t run away from everything. I think I’ve listened to these guys daily for the past few months.
7. True Widow - Skull Eyes: True Widow is another band I listened to daily for months straight. Self-described as “stonegaze”, they pull some of the most complimentary elements from country-influenced stoner metal and shoegaze and fit them together seamlessly, with gloominess and melody awash in waves of warm distortion. I can’t listen to these guys without wanting to just shut my eyes and nod my head. I don’t keep up much on what’s happening in the music world, but I can’t imagine why these guys aren’t fucking huge.
8. Of the Wand and the Moon - The Lone Descent: This year saw the release of highly-anticipated new offerings from a few of my favorite bands. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the new one from Of the Wand and the Moon, and when I did I found something entirely unexpected. Without betraying it at all, the incomparable Kim Larsen continued to drift away from OTWATM’s early Death In June-influenced neofolk roots into something entirely unique and unmistakably his own. Each record has been more complex and layered than the last, but this time around, Larsen added a lush, heady pop sound, like the Beach Boys playing for some dryads and nymphs in a deep forest somewhere. Totally weird and absolutely right. Hail hail hail!
9. Jandek - Your Other Man: Sometime over this past year, everything aligned perfectly and I suddenly got Jandek; I went from merely being curious and fascinated to feeling a deep, ineffable connection, finding myself on several slow days at work staring out at the rain while lost in Jandek’s strange, bleak world. For those of you who aren’t familiar, an enigmatic individual who may or may not be named Sterling Smith has been self-releasing strange albums of bluesy, atonal music that is sometimes hard to call music under the name of Jandek since 1978. He rarely grants interviews and then never reveals any personal information; for years very little was known about him other than the address of the P.O. Box for his label, Corwood Industries. In 2004 Jandek shocked the world (well, maybe not the world, but a handful of devoted fans and curious onlookers) by playing some live shows. His live shows are a regular occurrence now, but he only hires session musicians, travels separately, and maintains an air of secrecy. I missed him twice this year; once in Philly and once in NY, and I really hope I get a chance to see him perform some time soon, even though I’m sure the show will make me feel really weird and uncomfortable. Anyway, the song I picked is a bit of a cop out, since it’s one that is actually kind of a song, but it is still one of my favorites.
10. Leviathan - Brought Up From the Bottom : Another new record from an absolute favorite, Leviathan’s True Traitor, True Whore is more angry, challenging and intensely personal than any of his other records to date. I’ve found this one harder to digest than his other releases, which has in turn made it a more rewarding experience. I’ve always felt that black metal should challenge you, make you uncomfortable, and repulse you almost as much as it attracts you; by those standards, this record accomplishes that goal readily.
11. Malukah - The Dragonborn Comes: You thought I was done with Skyrim? NOPE. I recently came across this rendition of a song you’ll often hear bards singing in the game. This lady makes a pretty great transition into a version of the main theme as well, and her skills at speaking Dragon are pretty admirable. Pretty nerdy, but I’m a grown-ass man, fuck it. This shit rules.
12. Za Frumi - Vrapogat: This is some more weird, nerdy shit that often lapses into the “is this actually music?” territory. Za Frumi have released several albums of this quasi-musical narrative stuff chronicling the adventures of a band of orcs and goblins as they go to war, encounter vampires, and fight amongst themselves over a toadstool or some shit. This track is mostly music, but at the three-minute mark the true beauty of Za Frumi kicks in: all the spoken words are in Orc. That’s right. These guys studied and added to the bastardized version of Tolkien’s Black Speech that is the Orc tongue, and tell the entire story in this made-up language. Brilliant. One night I found myself sitting in my basement painting action figures at 3am listening to this and was instantly glad I actually had a girlfriend, because otherwise I’d have a pretty sad, weird, lonely life.
Honorable Mentions: It was really hard narrowing this year's list down to just ten songs so I wanted to touch on a few other favorites:
-40 Watt Sun, The Inside Room: I would have definitely put a song off of this amazing record on my list, but held off since Sal and I already had 5 of the same bands and I know Ryann was planning on using them as well. New band from some of the fellas in one of my favorite bands of all fucking time, Warning.
-Alice Cooper, Love it to Death: Another record store find. I never realized that initially, Alice Cooper was the band, not just the guy, and they ruled.
-Midnight, Satanic Majesty: The highly anticipated full-length from the maniac practitioners of sleazy speed metal and black rock ’n’ roll. You can't stop steel.
-Ahulabram, Magonia: Black metal (?) that is also barely music, exclusively about recorded accounts of alien encounters.
-My Bloody Valentine, Loveless- Not a new record to me by any means, but this year marked its 20th anniversary. Brilliant.