JHubner73 Presents : Favorite Soundtracks of 2017

Over the last few years the film score has become very important to me. It was always there, even from a little kid getting goosebumps thanks to John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Danny Elfman, and Ennio Morricone, the film score was making its mark on me whether I realized it or not. But just within the last few years I’ve started going back to old horror soundtracks and then new ones and saw such a vast and overwhelmingly beautiful musical world where I could get lost in. Whether it was a progressive rock band, a guy with a synthesizer, or a full orchestra, these composers and musicians not only made the film they were scoring that much better but many stand on their own as impeccable musical art that begs to be played both in context and out of context of the films they were made for.

Not only has it been a great year of music from some of my favorite artists and bands, it’s been a pretty stellar year for film scores and soundtracks. Two of my favorites in a really long time came out this year(well, I bought them this year anyways.) So some of these may not have been released in 2017, but they did come into my possession in 2017. Whether they be reissues or I just happened to stumble upon them finally, these are soundtracks that came into my life this year and I’m very thankful for that.


10. The Void by Jeremy Gillespie and Brian Wiacek and Various Artists

I think Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie’s The Void was one of the biggest horror film surprises for me this year. It was a low budget, mostly practical effects-filled occult-heavy hard doom flick that in all regards shouldn’t have worked but it did. It did because these guys were pulling from the likes of Clive Barker, HP Lovecraft, John Carpenter, and even Ridley Scott(definitely some Alien love here.) They hit the mood just right, both stylistically, visually, and aurally. The sound design was perfect and the NIN-meets-Ennio Morricone-meets-John Cage soundtrack was a huge part in giving this little, freaky horror film the push it needed into future cult classic territory.

9. Suspiria by Goblin

I know, I know, why didn’t I own this already? It’s an absolute stone cold classic, right? It’s the score to Dario Argento’s masterpiece, right? It’s fucking Goblin, right? Well, while I am quite aware of how great this album is(as well as the film, ya dingus) I never got around to picking up a copy. I’d see OG pressings here and there but never dropped the cash for one or for any of the reissues. Then Death Waltz/Mondo announced they were putting out a reissue at Beyond Fest. I was sweating and panting as I looked at its majestic beauty online. Of course I wasn’t going to be at Beyond Fest so I missed out. But alas, they were selling a limited amount on their webstore so not all hope was lost. Then the goddamn thing sold in like a minute. Good for Mondo, not so good for Johnny Midwest(that’s me.) Fear not, readers. Mondo threw a couple in LIght In The Attic’s direction and I was able to get a copy thanks to my local brick and mortar. I spun it twice last night and it was amazing. And look at that album art by Randy Ortiz. Absolutely amazing.

8. The Thing by Ennio Morricone

I have to admit that the score to John Carpenter’s The Thing was the last thing I noticed about it. This movie scarred me when I saw it as a kid. The kennel scene still burns brightly in my cerebral cortex as one of the most disturbing childhood movie memories(besides Leonard Part 6 of course.) Going back to The Thing as an adult I’m still enthralled with the effects and the Agatha Christie via Sergio Leone via Invasion of the Body Snatchers cinema gumbo Carpenter offered up, but Morricone’s score is a new highlight for me. There’s so much nuance and quiet dread in there that never made its mark before when I was still a pre-teen. Thanks to Waxwork Records I was able to snag a copy of their reissue, complete with absolutely stunning artwork by Justin Erickson of Phantom City Creative. It’s such an underrated masterpiece.

7. Christine by John Carpenter

Another Carpenter classic that far exceeded Stephen King’s source material, this film oozed Carpenter’s stylized camera work and dread-filled synth work. The movie was a fun 80s gem and Keith Gordon’s scene-chewing performance was worth the price of admission alone. I hadn’t really thought much about the movie for quite a few years, until this year when it was announced Varese Sarabande was reissuing the soundtrack. Of course I picked it up on blue-colored vinyl and was immediately taken aback by just how good it was. It sort of feels like an outlier in the Carpenter/Howarth canon. It’s more subtle and quiet than previous work. It sounds darker and more minimalistic than what came before(and after, really.) When I put it on this year I was instantly reminded of the more recent work of Zombi’s Steve Moore. His The Guest S/T owes a big debt to Christine. At least that’s what my ears hear.

6. Before The Flood by Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Mogwai, and Gustavo Santaolalla

A soundtrack to a documentary that I really should watch but I just haven’t gotten to it yet. Still, I knew I’d want it with the Reznor/Ross team and Mogwai both contributing. It’s a 3LP set worth of compositions and incidental music for the Leonard DiCaprio-produced doc about climate change. It was directed by actor Fisher Stevens and the score is subtle but moving. Everyone here works well together to make a well-blended collection of pieces that I’m sure help push the narrative along quite nicely in the film. I can say it’s a great listen. Despite the length, it runs along nicely and it holds up to Mogwai and the Reznor/Ross team’s best.

5. Mayhem by Steve Moore

Steve Moore continues to push his film scoring work to bigger heights. His score to 2015s The Mind’s Eye was an impeccable collection of moody synth and this year’s Mayhem is no different. Well, actually it is. Moore has pushed his film music into newer territory with Mayhem, bringing in 80s techno rhythms at times and pushed into more of a pop-centric vibe. It works incredibly well, and I think establishes Moore as one the premier indie film composers working today.

4. Hyper Light Drifter by Disasterpeace

Hyper Light Drifter is a soundtrack to a video game I’ve never played, but that’s okay. You know why? Because the masterful score by Disasterpeace is really all I need. It’s a 4LP behemoth and it’s a sensory overload in the vein of his excellent work on Fez. He works within the realm of chiptune which adds both a child-like wonder and overwhelming nostalgia to everything he does. With the sound of early 80s all over this, you feel like your back in the neon decade watching Saturday morning cartoons and playing on your Commodore 64. But Rich Vreeland isn’t just some nostalgia guy. The work he creates is very serious and can evoke emotions just like someone working with the full symphony. Hyper Light Drifter might just be his masterpiece.

3. Blade Runner 2049 by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch

I know I’ll get a lot of flack for saying this, but I was a hell of a lot more hyped about seeing Denis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins'(his cinematography was as integral as the direction) Blade Runner 2049 than I was Rian Johnson’s Star Wars : The Last Jedi this year. Maybe it was the 37 years in-between, the mystique of the project, or the stellar group involved in bringing that world back to life, but the idea of heading back to that dystopic future seemed like a fitting way to close out 2017(after seeing the newest trailers for The Last Jedi I’m officially at peak hype level now.)

Besides the actors, writers, director, and DP, I was extremely thrilled to hear that Villeneuve also had his composing collaborator Johann Johannsson signed on to score the film. As October got closer and closer the story had changed a bit. It was reported Johannsson was going to share scoring duties with heavyweight Hans Zimmer. While I wasn’t too disappointed, I had hoped Zimmer was going to leave his over-the-top style from the Nolan, Miller, and Snyder films at the studio door, in lieu of something a little darker and more restrained.

Well by now you know that Johannsson was completely off the project by the end of it all and Zimmer took the reigns, with help from Benjamin Wallfisch. What started out as disappointing news and a general bummer turned 180 degrees once I heard the score for the first time. Zimmer and Wallfisch created a moody, melancholy, and spatial musical world for Officer K, Deckard, and Luv to come alive in. There are no huge blasts of over-the-top drama. Hans Zimmer pays tribute lovingly to Vangelis’ original and perfect score while still adding a more modern, darker feel. A post-modern dystopian symphony to get lost in.

2. The Girl With All The Gifts by Cristobal Tapia De Veer

Another cinematic treat this year was The Girl With All The Gifts. A different take on the virus apocalypse that was part 28 Days Later and part road movie, but with a precocious teen at the center. Besides the unique take on a well used story, the score by Cristobal Tapia De Veer was an absolute brilliant outing. Part electronic, part voice, but all so one of a kind. There’s something very alien about the use of voice and rhythm throughout, giving the whole thing a very ghostly feel. Part Mica Levi and part OPN, but very much its own beast. An absolute gem.

And now, my favorite score of the year:

Arrival by Johann Johannsson

Arrival is one of a handful of recent science fiction films that I think have retooled the genre and have breathed new life into the science fiction world. It wasn’t concerned with reeling in teenagers or people that need things spelled out for them. It took adult themes, complex storylines, and incredible visuals and created a truly emotional, thought-provoking film. So much of that was pushed forward by Johann Johannsson’s thoughtful and intricate score. He uses an orchestra like one may use a synthesizer. It’s not a conventional score, but it’s filled with so many eerie dynamics that you can’t help but get pulled into the world it makes. It’s like Steve Reich wrote a symphony for whales, with it to be played underwater. It’s mysterious, spatial, and at so many points absolutely beautiful. This is easily one of the most compelling film scores I’ve heard in years.

Last night as I played this for the umpteenth time my son says to me “This part in the movie I cried. It was so sad.” He was referring to the end where Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight” played. If you’re familiar with the film and scene you’ll understand my son’s reaction to the piece and the scene. I cried, too. Richter’s piece plays like bookends for Johannsson’s overall score. They both work together flawlessly, which is why this is my absolute favorite score of the year(at least within the year I bought it, that is.)

There were lots of great soundtracks that I picked up this year. Here’s a few others you should check out if you haven’t(especially that Hellraiser. Damn):

Hellraiser by Christopher Young(reissue)

Southbound by The Gifted

Atomic Blonde by Various Artists

Baby Driver by Various Artists

Watchdogs by Brian Reitzell

Twin Peaks : Fire Walk With Me by Angelo Badalamenti

You’re Next by Various Artists

The Streets Run Red by Timothy Fife and David Ellesmere

Forbidden World by Susan Justin


So the big lists are out of the way. I’ve still got a couple end of year posts I’m going to share. Keep checking back. And go pick up some albums, guys and gals!

Working Class Gyro

Yesterday was the 37th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder, and today is the 37th anniversary of when I found out about John Lennon’s murder. I was 7 years old and in the kitchen of my mom and dad’s house. We had a tiny black and white TV that sat on top of the refrigerator for those mornings and nights when we wanted to watch Good Morning America and M.A.S.H. reruns while we fed our faces. On that morning I remember seeing Paul McCartney being interviewed by the GMA crew and seeing the face of a man that usually looked kind of sad anyways seem both sad and completely at a loss for words. I was young, but I was well aware of John Lennon. I had been given the gift of parents with good taste in music, so since I could remember I was hearing John Lennon sing “A Day In The Life”, “Dear Prudence”, “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”, “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite”, and “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey”.

Of course, those were off Beatles albums.

I loved Lennon and McCartney, but I always gravitated more to John Lennon. He seemed to have the more biting humor, seemed to have more fun, and he reminded me more of people that I would’ve known in my life than Paul McCartney. Plus, I just loved his voice. Like a good old tube amp, when he pushed his voice it got gritty and harsh while still having plenty of soul. As I grew up I fixated on Lennon. His solo albums were a big influence on me. I felt like as he got older he became a guy looking for answers to the psychological trauma inflicted on him when he was a kid. Dad left him, mom left him, mom came back into his life only to be taken away again by being hit by a bus. How do you not get screwed up by that? There was just a lot of real heartache and emotional fuckery that bled into his solo work, and early on unfortunately into his relationship with his first wife and his relationship with his son Julian. It’s been well documented how much of an asshole Lennon was to his first wife, and that he all but ignored his first son. In the early days of the Lennon/Ono relationship there was a lot of self-involvement and publicity stunting that may have had good intentions at its core but just ended up being more like performance art gone awry. As a dad, I see how he treated Julian and it’s infuriating to me. It seems to be this period of acting out on Lennon’s part. It’s not an excuse for his behavior. I’m just stating my opinion. John Lennon was a complex, damaged man that whether he liked it or not affected more lives than he ever could’ve imagined.

But this isn’t an indictment on the man. This is about something completely different. It’s about gyros. And George Clinton.

In 1995 I was living in an apartment with my girlfriend. We’d made the plunge into the world of apartment renting and were digging it. She was working 2nd shift while I was on days. One week night while she was working my friend Chad asked me if I wanted to head to the mall and grab a bite to eat. I said sure because I was bored and my laundry was caught up. We hit up the National Record Mart, which was a chain record store at Glenbrook Mall and I picked up Working Class Hero : A Tribute To John Lennon. I was still very much a fan of Lennon and this tribute seemed to have quite a few bands I was into at the time so I took a chance on it. Before we left Fort Wayne my friend Chad suggested eating at King Gyro before we headed home. I’d never eaten at King Gyro before, but as to not disappoint my pal I said sure. I found the gyro decent enough and the conversation on the way back home pleasant. I got home and put the CD in the stereo and proceeded to listen to old timers and up and comers alike pay tribute to John Lennon. I was enjoying it, but there was a feeling that something wasn’t right as bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Toad The Wet Sprocket, Collective Soul, and Sponge did their best interpretations of Lennon classics. About halfway thru the disc I shut if off as I couldn’t concentrate with the loud, abrupt growls and whines coming from my gut. A sickly sweat formed on my forehead as the rest of my body went to a pasty, clammy texture that was like sweating warm cooking oil out of my pores.

King Gyros revenge.

I was sick for the next 12 hours. The initial few hours were the worst with gyro exiting my body from both ends. My girlfriend got home and gave me a wet rag to drape over my green forehead. Small offerings, such as ice chips, stale saltines, and empty prayers were appreciated but did little to qualm the typhoon of stomach acid that ripped and roared in my innards. By morning I’d been emptied out and tossed to the side like an empty tube of Crest, twisted and squeezed for every last drop.

It took nearly three days to fully recover from that Greek tragedy, and I’ve only eaten at one other King Gyros since that day(it was in a post-Cure concert hangover stupor…this was also not a good choice.) Besides my bowels and my tattered and violated soul, the other big victim here was Working Class Hero: A Tribute To John Lennon. Due to the circumstances surrounding the initial listen of that album, I just couldn’t get myself to go back to that CD and listen to it again. Every time I thought of George Clinton doing “Mind Games” or Collective Soul covering “Jealous Guy” I could feel the sweat begin to form above my upper lip and I could hear the ghostly sounds of my abdomen as it screamed “Eeeeeaahhhhh!” and “Reeeeeeaaauuuhhhh!” on that pained evening in 1995. That tribute CD sat in my CD tower for the next 22 years, waiting for me to make my way back to it(with Tums in hand.)

So yesterday with the anniversary of John Lennon’s death on my mind I made my way downstairs and pulled out that tribute disc, despite the gastro-intestinal PTSD involved with it. Most of the morning I sat at my desk and listened to this album that paid tribute to a guy that changed and rewired so many hearts and minds in less than a 20 year span. For the most part, it’s still a solid spin.

The highlights first:

Candlebox covers “Steel and Glass” to great effect. I was never a fan of them when they were the alternative rock flavor of the month back in the early 90s, but here they show they’re capable of taking on John Lennon’s Walls and Bridges sleeper.

Screaming Trees’ taking on “Working Class Hero” seems like the most perfect coming together since chocolate and peanut butter, or chicken tenders and honey mustard. Mark Lanegan seething out the line “You’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see” is your moment of zen today.

Scott Weiland’s Magnificent Bastards do justice to “How Do You Sleep”. Here’s a spot where Weiland was very much on his game and he delivers the venomous lyrics with vigor.

The Flaming Lips’ “Nobody Told Me” is near perfect. It’s ramshackle, noisy, and has the feeling of being pasted together with spit and mildew, but that’s the beauty of it. Coyne and company doing what they do best.

Cheap Trick hadn’t sounded this good in years when they tackled Lennon’s “Cold Turkey”. They sound like a bunch of young punks fresh out of the Midwest with something to prove.

A band I dug in the mid-90s was Super 8. They were pretty much here and gone, but they left a couple good records and this amazing cover of “Well Well Well”.

I don’t know why, but Collective Soul’s cover of “Jealous Guy” is just about perfect. They didn’t try to “make it their own” as much as just do it justice. It’s a simple and earnest rendition and I love it.

Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Grow Old With Me” is just a plain beautiful cover. She makes the song her own while still allowing Lennon’s spirit to live on.

The not-so highlights:

Pretty much everything else. Either the rest tried too hard to make it their own, or kept it so close to the original that it was kind of like “what’s the point?”, or it just kind of sucked(I’m looking at your RHCP.)

I think there were more cheers than jeers, which makes this compilation well worth checking out(Gyros be damned.)

Even after 22 years and with half the artists on this tribute not existing anymore or gone from the public eye for two decades, it’s a great collection of covers. It is interesting looking at this playlist and seeing that so many of these bands are truly “of the times.” Super 8, Candlebox, Toad The Wet Sprocket, Collective Soul, Mad Season, Sponge and Blues Traveler were all these big bands from like 1993 to 1996 then they disappeared into the ether of alternative rock limbo. Here’s a testament to their love of John Lennon, and to the fact that they did indeed exist I guess. Though I think any local fair would be a testament to that, as I bet a few of them are playing fairs pretty regularly nowadays.

A working class gyro is something to be.


Much thanks to Bruce over at Vinyl Connection for inviting me to participate in his tribute to the Various Artists collections we’ve all indulged in over the years. Without them, where would K-Tel Records be today?

 

Espectrostatic : Silhouette

Alex Cuervo’s Espectrostatic project is a horror-vibed collection of heavy synth songs that also dabble in mid-90s electro-alternative pop music. Don’t let that last bit scare you away if what you’re looking for is dark, moody, heady electronic music that could easily soundtrack a fever dream. Espectrostatic has that in spades. But if you let your mind drift a bit while listening to their Burning Witches Records debut titled Silhouette, you may find yourself connecting to bands like Garbage, Massive Attack, Sneaker Pimps, and Portishead as well John Carpenter, Goblin, Antoni Maiovvi, and the Phantasm S/T.

Now just because the dark lords have made their way back to the nether world since October is two months behind us now doesn’t mean you can’t lock into some dark vibes still. What do you think Krampus listens to as he’s throwing naughty toddlers in his bag for later gnashing and such? If he’s the evil Santa I hope he’s listening to Epectrostatic’s Silhouette. “The Corridor” feels like classic B-movie goodness, pushed along by electronic percussion, ghostly synths, and an almost Nightmare On Elm Street feel. This one is classic Wes Craven all the way. Cuervo knows his horror vibes and he demonstrates that beautifully on this opening track. “The Day We Were Captured” has a real Geoff Barrow/Ben Salisbury feel. It puts me in mind of their work in Ex_Machina. It’s a lovely piece. “Dead End City” sounds like Eels mixing things up with Bauhaus. It’s both fun and maniacal at the same time. “Silhouette” has that 90s alternative vibe in the drum and heavy bass. All this song needs is Shirley Manson singing over it and it could be that great Garbage song that never was. “Ghost Rocket” reminds me of Slasher Film Festival Strategy. It has the queasy 80s vibes all the way. “The Delirium of Negation” sounds like slowly falling thru time. It’s dark and melodic. “Pa-ral-y-sis” puts me in mind of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ film work, but more Gothic and less robotic. “The Weeping Willows” ends the album on a big note with what sounds like strings and keys blending into tension-filled suspense. You can almost see end credits rolling as this plays.

Espectrostatic’s Silhouette is another great record to add to the pile of 2017. Alex Cuervo has made a darkly-fueled record to put on and enjoy in the witching hour while enjoying a glass of red wine, or while contemplating that sound you heard in the basement. Either way, your best bet is to fill the glass back up and hit play on Silhouette again. Forget that sound you heard. Those things never go well.

7.7 out of 10

 

The Soft Moon’s “Burn”

Luis Vasquez, aka The Soft Moon, has a new album coming out in February. It’s called Criminal and what I’ve heard of it tells me that it could be one of my favorite records of 2018. Each album he puts out becomes both more accessible and harsher. From the first self-titled record which felt almost like an instrumental record at times to Zeros in 2012, Vasquez went into more of an early NIN direction. He mixes South American percussive vibes with dark industrial sensibility. He pushes the envelope when it comes to his sound and the visual aspect of both the album art and his live presentation.

His last album, the excellent Deeper in 2015, Vasquez seemed to have had a breakthrough with his sound. He made a very personal record, giving Deeper a more singer/songwriter feel.

Instead of a guy with an acoustic guitar it was a guy with a synthesizer and industrial beats.

Criminal, The Soft Moon’s first album with Sacred Bones(having released with Captured Tracks for the past few years) sounds like a perfect meshing of everything that came before. The first two singles, “Burn” and “It Kills” are primo darkwave/industrial. Sweaty, dense, propulsive and caffeinated like a late night coffee session in a lousy diner after an evening of slam dancing in an underground club.

Check the songs out below and look for this one in February of 2018 on Sacred Bones Records(home of John Carpenter, yo!) I already preordered the special edition vinyl cause that’s what I do.

 

Jhubner73 Presents : Favorite Albums of 2017

It seems we’ve come to the end of another year. I’m not gonna lie, it’s been a rough one. Between mass shootings, political insanity, and a cavernous divide that seems to just keep widening between people that at one time would never allow ideological differences get between them personally, I’m feeling psychically, mentally, and physically beat down. Fortunately for me(and maybe you, too), it’s been a really great year for music in my world. There have been some great records dropped from the ether to help me get through these complicated times. They’ve allowed me moments of solace and escape. At times they’ve recharged my brain and spirit and have even given me glimpses of hope that despite the topsy-turvy, Bizarro world we’re currently in that we all may find a place of peace to get back to and maybe find some middle ground.

At the very least, we can throw on a record, grab a couple beers, and hash this shit out.

I don’t know how you fared this year musically, but for me it’s been a pretty amazing year. So amazing that putting this list together has been a hard one. There are a couple truly standout records to my ears, but as a whole I’ve loved so many albums with equal vigor. So as my mom used to say, “Well shit or get off the pot.” I’m gettin’, ma. I’m gettin’!

 

25. Delia Gonzalez : Horse Follows Darkness

DFA artist Delia Gonzalez makes warm, bubbly synth music while honing artistic, dance floor leanings. According to Gonzalez, the record is ” a modern electronic soundtrack for the Revisionist Western film genre.” It’s sort of like Suzanne Ciani making the score to McCabe and Mrs. Miller. A unique take on modern electronic music.

 

24. Blanck Mass : World Eater

How can you not like a band called Fuck Buttons? I mean, the guys that decided to go with that name have to be alright dudes. Benjamin John Power is one half of Fuck Buttons, and when he’s not making grating noise in that outfit he’s making grating noise as Blanck Mass. World Eater is his most accessible record to date, mixing techno, noise, and even hints of electro pop. Dig into this.

 

23. Primus : The Desaturating Seven

Primus continues to do that Primus thing on The Desaturating Seven, which is to mix up King Crimson, Frank Zappa, and R. Crumb into a musical stew that may smell kind of weird but once you get a taste you’ll keep coming back for more.

 

22. LCD Soundsystem : American Dream

If you’re going to retire your band and even go so far as to have a goodbye show at Madison Square Garden and then decide a couple years later that you want to get the band back together you better make damn sure that your welcome back album is damn good. James Murphy knew he’d get some slack for pulling a stunt like that, but American Dream isn’t just okay. It’s primo LCD Soundsystem. Welcome back, indeed.

 

21. Spoon : Hot Thoughts

Spoon, more than any band that came up in the early aughts in that coveted and revered time in indie rock, have continued to evolve and hone their sound. They still have that pop edge to them, but seem to be taking their songs in a more dance-infused territory. Hot Thoughts is an all-out pop record that feels like it could be their breakthrough mainstream album. Whether that will be the case or not only time will tell, but one thing is for sure which is this Texas band can write one hell of a groove.

 

20. John Carpenter : Movie Themes: 1974-1998

I love seeing John Carpenter find a new artistic outlet. Not that making music is new to him, but for so long he seemed to be the jaded, non-working auteur that would pretty much sell any rights off to whomever as long as he got his share. Ever since he started making records with his son and God son that creative fire seems to be stoked in him once again. Movie Themes: 1974-1998 sees Carpenter revisiting some of his most famous and even not-so famous film scores and reimagining with new ears and instruments. The results are pretty amazing.

 

19. Astral TV : Chrystal Shores

There’s an overwhelming warmth and vastness that emanates from Astral TV’s Chrystal Shores. Their name alone evokes space and time, and their sound only lives up to those lofty images. It’s new age music for the modern psychedelic age. Synths and crystalline guitars weave and mesh together beautifully to create a soundtrack for existential pondering.

 

18. Beach Fossils : Somersault

Beach Fossils started out creating dusty, 4AD-leaning pop songs that felt perfect for long car rides and romantic navel-gazing while looking out on some nondescript sunset. They could’ve continued to make lo-fi records like that and kept a core group of reminiscing guys and gals happy. Instead, they took some time and retooled their sound and expanded their songs sonically and made a great indie pop record. Long car rides and romantic navel-gazing are still welcomed, but not required.

 

17. Billow Observatory : II: Plains/Patterns

Billow Observatory work not only in these new age sounds, but they also work in vast open spaces that allow those sounds to expand and retract with each successive listen. Their first album was this monolithic expanse of distant synths and guitar that allowed you to get lost inside for however long you allowed yourself. On their new album II: Plains/Patterns, those cavernous spaces still exist but feel warmer and there seems to be more light allowed in. It’s like a shoegaze band was sucked into a black hole and what emerges on the other side is something wholly new and exquisite.

 

16. Moon Duo : Occult Architecture Vol. 2

Moon Duo have always dabbled in the darkness, creating a space-out, psychedelic boogie that is equal parts ZZ Top and Suicide. On their part 2 of the Occult Architecture series they’ve decided to let some light in. It’s an eye and ear-opening listen, with the band looking on the lighter side to stunning effect.

 

15. Carlton Melton : Hidden Lights

Hidden Lights is an appetizer for what’s to come from Carlton Melton in 2018. As far as appetizers go, it’s an absolute delight. Mind-expanding psych and heady drones that keep you pondering and reaching for answers to the bigger questions.

 

14. Com Truise : Iteration

By far the best Com Truise to date. Seth Haley has whittled down the hard techno vibes of earlier Com Truise records and made a tight, melody-driven album. Iteration is the perfect late night drive soundtrack.

 

13. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile : Lotta Sea Lice

The low key vibes of Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile coming together on a collaborative record seems like something that would be mentioned to a friend in a beer-soaked evening as a great idea, but an idea that would probably never happen. Well that idea turned to reality and let me tell you it’s one hell of a record. Hooky pop slung by two of the great songwriters working today. This record is a joy to spin.

 

12. Protomartyr : Relatives In Descent

Protomartyr is like this street-level,  back alley version of The National. There’s something darkly gallant about their poetic and often melodic post-punk songs. Each record has gotten both clearer and obtuse. Relatives In Descent doesn’t quite perfect or one-up their last record The Agent Intellect more than it keeps that angst in motion. That’s not a bad thing in my book.

 

11. Ulrich Schnauss & Jonas Munk : Passage

Another beauty of a record from Azure Vista, this time masters of ambient textures and hazy vibes Ulrich Schnauss and Jonas Munk. Passage is near perfect electronic and ambient music. It’s an exquisite mix of both artists’ solo work, reaching back into Munk’s work in Manual. If you’re looking for good vibes look no further than Passage.

 

10. Tangerine Dream : Quantum Gate

I think Tangerine Dream’s Quantum Gate has been one of the biggest surprises of the year for me. Not that I didn’t think it would be good, but I had no idea it would be this good. When Edgar Froese passed away at the beginning of 2015 I couldn’t imagine the band continuing on at all, but Ulrich Schnauss, Thorsten Quaeschning, and Hoshiko Yamane are keeping the Komische master’s memory and spirit alive and well on the first post-Froese Tangerine Dream record of original material. This is primo TD, but with a more modern take.

 

9. METZ : Strange Peace

Over the course of three albums the Canadian trio METZ have lashed our ears and brains with jagged, distortion-fueled songs that sound battered together more than constructed. Sawtooth tracks bolted together like razor-sharp sheet metal and held together with psychic trauma. After 2015s II it felt like they guys hit a turning point: do they go in more of a pop direction or continue digging a hole to Hell with their instruments. The answer is the excellent Strange Peace, a record that somehow gets louder and more abrasive while also shoving pop hooks in our ears at the same time. The guys had been making music that sounded like it was produced by Steve Albini, so METZ decided this time around to head to Chicago and let the man work his magic in person. As far as rock and roll records go these days, this is one of my favorites.

 

8. Videodrones : Nattens Haevn

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of the El Paraiso record label. It’s weird to be a fan of a label, as opposed to bands. But listen, when a label touches on all your musical loves(psych rock, ambient, jazz fusion, acoustic new age, monster guitar riffage, synth/drum freakouts, heavy synth, and generally soundtracks to blow your mind to) becoming a fan of a label is pretty easy. Especially when the label is run by the guys that are making a big portion of all the psyche-melting music.

Videodrones is a two-piece synth freak noise outfit that consists of Causa Sui drummer and main graphic design guy Jakob Skott and synth master/horror hound and Laserblast member Kristoffer Ovesen. 2016s Mondo Ferox was a hazy mix of bubbly synth sound cues, like something you’d hear on an old b-horror movie you’d find on an mildew-y VHS tape in the basement. On this year’s Natten Haeven the guys expanded the sonic palate to more song-constructed music. Less music cues and more arty, expressionistic sound excursions. They still retain that nauseous horror vibe, but it feels more like improvisational freakouts and less like a lost film score. It’s a record I listened to for weeks at a time. Brilliant stuff.

 

7. Pentagram Home Video : The Satanic Path

One of the best musical excursions into the occult you’ll find this year is Pentagram Home Video’s The Satanic Path. On his 2016 Death Waltz release Who’s Out There, this dark musical entity made minimalistic, quaalude-affected satanic techno. It was a slowed-down dance music that was equal parts horror cues and trashy late night dance club come-ons. The Satanic Path goes less for minimal techno and heads right for the jugular. It’s at times a low profile beat accompanied by a pulsating synth and at other times its like Skinny Puppy or Throbbing Gristle soundtracking Rosemary’s Baby. There really is nothing else like Pentagram Home Video out there now. Hail PHV.

 

6. The War On Drugs : A Deeper Understanding

Adam Granduciel has become this sort of hero for the musical outcasts. From Slave Ambient to his newest record as The War On Drugs called A Deeper Understanding, the Philadelphia-by-way-of-Massachusetts singer/songwriter has gone from prodigious auteur shut-in to playing Sunday morning talk shows. Musically it’s not a surprise at all, as Granduciel takes ambient, hazy art rock leanings and mixes them with 80s pop radio sounds to make a very likeable and hummable creation. Despite leaving his indie label for Atlantic Records, Granduciel still seems to be the quirky, uncomfortable rock and roll musician he was 6 years ago. He still suffers panic attacks and heaping amounts of insecurity, but he makes up for it in the sun-bleached songs he makes. A Deeper Understanding is his most accessible, upbeat record to date. He may have left some of those sonic oddities at the studio door that made Lost In The Dream one of my favorite albums in recent years, but A Deeper Understanding still soars above most of what passes for music.

 

5. Causa Sui : Vibraciones Doradas

Causa Sui dropped this mini-album just a couple weeks ago, right under the 2017 wire. It may be a mini-album, but it sounds like a behemoth. Huge riffs, mammoth drumming, slinky bass lines, and ethereal keys all swirl together like a psychedelic confection. Vibraciones Doradas are summer riffs scattered in vast, autumn walks that lead to winter’s desolation. Five tracks of meaty guitar riffs that lead into hazy moments of sonic reflection, only to veer right back into the eye of the storm. The band have also found this sonic sweet spot to where the ferocity of their live performance translates to their studio work now. These songs have a “live wire” feel to them; buzzing and airy like a downed electrical line in the street whipping and flailing about. You can feel those riffs and rhythm section as they pour their way thru the speakers. The Danes do it once again.

 

4. Quaeschning & Schnauss : Synthwaves

Thorsten Quaeschning and Ulrich Schnauss have had a pretty good year. Not only are they two-thirds of Tangerine Dream and released the excellent Quantum Gate, but they collaborated on their own and released the exquisite Synthwaves. In-between TD work, these two would retire to another music studio and work on songs that would end up on this excellent LP. Their TD mentor Edgar Froese does live within the synth lines on a few of these tracks, but Quaeschning & Schnauss make this Azure Vista debut very much their own. Anyone a fan of heavy synth music, Komische, Krautrock, and the Berlin School of Music are doing themselves a disservice by not owning this record. It’s a lush, transcendent musical masterpiece.

 

3. Timothy Fife : Black Carbon

Black Carbon is one of those records that I find it hard to quit listening to. It puts me in such a very specific headspace. There’s a darkness Fife paints on these three tracks that tends to just envelope you and take you along for the ride. Timothy Fife’s work in Victims, as well as his various film scores stretches nicely over the heavy synth landscape from early 70s Komische to more industrial, harsher sound of the 80s and 90s. You need only sit thru the excellent album opener “Sydney At Night” to realize you’re listening to a master of his craft. I was excited for this release from the moment I knew it was coming and I wasn’t disappointed. My expectations were pretty much met and then annihilated.

 

2. Oneohtrix Point Never : Good Time S/T

Daniel Lopatin makes music in a language all his own. It’s this alien dialect that locks in somewhere between ancient drones and kinetic, galactic techno. His music teeters between ambient calm and complete chaos nearly every second, which is why I love his work so much. There is absolutely nothing predictable about it. Oneohtrix Point Never’s musical world seems like a perfect fit for the cinematic world, and within the confines of the Safdie Brothers’ Good Time Lopatin has scored it to reflect the harsh city landscapes of New York while still retaining this very real and emotional center.

This soundtrack feels just as much like the next OPN studio album is it does a score, which is why it’s on my favorite albums list as opposed to my favorite soundtrack list. Lopatin pulled out all the stops on 2015s Garden of Delete, and Good Time feels like this pared-down, street-level version of that record. It wavers in the air at times, it grooves other times, all the while painting a picture of kinetic movement. It would be a gross misjudgement to leave this record as just a film score. It’s much more than that.

 

And number one,

Maine : V

Michel Dupay, aka Maine, works in the analog world in order to make the delicate and Gothic music he creates. V brings to mind visions of cobblestoned streets, vast ocean views, and an air of doomed romanticism in its subtle beats, warm analog synths, and melancholy melodies. It’s a record that possessed me to keep playing it and with each spin I’d find more to love about it. I think if Leonard Cohen had found himself obsessed with pre-1982 synths his compositions would sound a lot like Dupay’s work here. The songs on V evoke in me the same feelings I got the first time I heard tracks like “If It Be Your Will” and “Everybody Knows”. Maine goes for more of a human, ground-level approach to his electronic compositions as opposed to free-floating in space and looking existential dread right in the eye. V is more concerned with long walks in the winter, contemplating love and loss in a quiet seaside pub, and finding a place to fit in right here. This record deals with the micro, not necessarily the macro. I think Dupay’s subte approach is what keeps me coming back to this one. The darkness here is not a supernatural one, and it’s a darkness that promises some light just around the corner.

 

Honorable Mentions(I really dug these records, too. Honest I did.)

White Hills : Stop Mute Defeat

Real Estate : In Mind

Bell Witch : Mirror Reaper

Beaches : Second of Spring

Auburn Lull : Hypha

Godspeed You! Black Emperor : Luciferian Towers

Grizzly Bear : Painted Ruins

Papir : V

Mogwai : Every Country’s Sun

Mythic Sunship : Land Between Rivers

Big Brave : Ardor

Moon Duo : Occult Architecture Vol.1

Jay Som : Everybody Works

Wojciech Golczewski : The Signal

Alvvays : Antisocialites

Slowdive : Slowdive

Run The Jewels : RTJ3

Queens of the Stone Age : Villains

St. Vincent : Masseduction

Kendrick Lamar : DAMN

Cloud Nothings : Life Without Sound

Antoni Maiovvi : Cuckoo

Black Cube Marriage : Astral Cube

Pentagram Home Video : Library Studies

Jeff Tweedy : Together At Last


There you go, my top 50 albums of the year(well, 25 listed in order with another 25 sort of randomly displayed for you to go “Jesus, do you do anything else?” The answer is no.) It was a great year for music. Thanks for the distraction everyone. It was greatly appreciated. Thank you for your service to mankind.

Up next, my favorite film scores that I picked up in 2017. There are some doozies, guys and gals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forty-Four

Today I turn 44 years old. I don’t feel much different from 43. Some days I feel like I’m 26. Other days I feel like I should be retired and taking chondroitin with my prune juice and egg whites in the morning. Tomorrow I’ll probably feel feeble and in my 80s because I worked in the yard today.

So it goes.

I’ve got no complaints about aging another year. Maybe if it could slow down a bit, I’d like that. I’m getting grayer and more sore quicker than I like. My kids aren’t so small anymore, either. Nap time, trips to the Children’s Museum, and that crazed look of glee on Christmas Eve have faded to quiet indifference and sleeping past 9am on Christmas morning(I’m okay with that  part.) Time, it’s a fickle beast. Jane can’t stop this crazy thing we call life. It keeps moving whether you’re ready or not.

Every birthday makes that all the more clearer.

I remember as a kid on birthdays I’d have at least one set of grandparents show up for cake and awkward glances as I’d run around the house in Superman Underoos(c’mon grandpa, you’ve never seen a 16-year old boy run around the house in just his underwear. You were a free mason for God’s sake.) I remember my 7th birthday party and the neighbor girl came over with her mom and I hid behind my mom for the first hour. I guess that was my first taste of dealing with the opposite sex. Birthdays were a learning ground for so many things. My 12th birthday party was the best. Me and 4 of my best friends went to Pizza Hut and then came back to my house where they all spent the night. We stayed up watching lousy horror movies and playing with GI Joe figures and Transformers. I think three of us stayed up till close to 4am that night.

My 21st birthday I bought my first new vehicle, a 1994 Nissan pick-up. My parents and older brother drove me to Fort Wayne to pick it up. My brother drove home with me and afterwards we went to the Ye Old Pub in North Webster and ate fried fish and I had my first official “of age” beer, which was a Michelob on draft. Two years later I spent my 23rd birthday in our new home. We’d only been in the house for less than a week so it still had that “empty, we’re new to this homeowner thing” feel. I’d gotten the flu and spent the day between my bed newly minting the toilet.

I have lots of birthday memories. Most of them good. Maybe a couple not so good. But the one thru-line is that you better enjoy ’em as they come because one day you’re hiding behind your mom as she lights the candles on your Boba Fett birthday cake while a confused 8-year old girl looks on, and the next you’re sitting on the couch, newly minted a ripe old 44-years of age typing on the couch as your wife of 21 years and your 12-year old son are in the kitchen making you a pineapple upside down cake.

To another year of learning and loving. To another year of figuring out the difference between relief and joy. To another year of enjoying these days as they come. As they slap you right in the kisser.

 

Chemical Elements : March On, Comrade Ready New Album ‘Our Peaceful Atoms’

March On, Comrade are a hell of a band. They’ve been a band since 2015 when indie pop band Ordinary Van disbanded, but a few of the members decided to keep things going. Ryan Holquist, Charles P. Davis, and Chris Leonard started up March On, Comrade with John Ptak and Ben Robinson. They cut a great self-titled album in 2016, and then at the beginning of this year they played the Sums & Differences show with a 12 piece chamber orchestra. They recorded that concert and released it a month later.

In a relatively short amount of time they’ve achieved quite a lot.

But what do they sound like? They travel in post-rock terrain, but they embellish with crystalline pop hooks. Imagine This Will Destroy You, Sigur Ros, Auburn Lull, and the studio curiosity of Brian Wilson all rolled into one comfortable blanket of noise. It’s dense enough for the headiest of space cadets but there’s an air of romanticism that reels in even the casual channel surfer.

The guys took some time over the spring and summer and wrote and recorded their new album, titled Our Peaceful Atoms. They don’t retool their sound more than they hone it in on all the buzzing beauty and pop confections that they’ve created and culled over the last two years. March On, Comrade have made a lean and precise 6-song album that will go well with both existential pondering alone in the dark, and as a background score to conversations and beers.

I spoke to Charlie and Ryan about the Sums & Differences show, the new album, how it came together, and what we have to look forward to in 2018.


J. Hubner: The last time we spoke March On, Comrade were gearing up for the Sums & Differences show at Artslab. For those that don’t know, this was the March On, Comrade with a 12-piece chamber orchestra show. How did the performance end up? Were you all happy with how it turned out? Is it something March On, Comrade would consider doing again?

Charlie Davis: It turned out great! It actually surpassed my expectations. I expected us to have a good turnout but we were the only band on the bill and it was more expensive than a typical local show so for it to actually sell out in advance was amazing. We got terrific feedback on it. I think we’d like to do something like that again but we also don’t just want to do the same show twice so it is a matter of finding the time to come up with a way to do something similar but unique.

Ryan Holquist: It was very rewarding.  It came together really well, and it’s flattering how well-received it was.  We quietly snuck the audio onto Spotify and Bandcamp.  The only down side of the experience is that we set the bar pretty high for ourselves, and now every time we play we want to have an orchestra and video projection.  We didn’t want to record the exact same arrangements, but we were happy to have the same string quartet and percussionist on the new album.  Sums & Differences definitely changed our compositional style, and you can hear those elements a lot more on Our Peaceful Atoms.

J. Hubner: So with “performing live with a chamber orchestra” marked off the band’s bucket list, you guys headed back into writing mode and we are now getting ready for the brand new March On, Comrade album Our Peaceful Atoms. How did the album come together? Where did the band record the record?

Charlie Davis: We had started working on a lot of new song ideas around the time of the Sums and Differences show, and that show really gave us a lot of inspiration moving forward. We wrapped up songwriting in early summer and started recording around July and August. We recorded drums at the rehearsal space of our friend Jon Ross, which sadly just burnt down. The rest was done at our own home studios, primarily John Ptak’s and my own.

Ryan Holquist: A couple of the songs basically finished writing themselves as they were recorded.  We committed to leaving a certain amount of space and replaced some more standard guitar/drums/keyboard parts with other instruments and atmospheric sounds, such as accordion, kalimba, electronic percussion, and effected samples.  We also gave a lot of leeway and freedom to Robert Cheek, who mixed the album.  There’s a huge benefit to having outside ears involved in some capacity, and we knew we could trust Robert’s decisions based on his aesthetic and resume (Band of Horses, Tera Melos, Doombird, By Sunlight).

J. Hubner: Four of the six tracks on Our Peaceful Atoms were performed live for the Sums and Differences performance. Do they differ, if any, from those first live renditions? How long have those tracks been around? Do “Path” and “Lost” go back as well or are those newer songs?

Charlie Davis: Of the new songs we played at Sums and Differences, only one had been played at multiple shows before that so the others were definitely in infancy and have had some tweaks done to them since. Doing that show really showed us how well the orchestral arrangements filled them out, so doing them in a way that would leave room for those elements to be recorded was something we made a conscious decision about. “Path” is one we’ve been working on for awhile and has been played out a couple of times now, while “Lost” has never been played live and is the newest song.

Ryan Holquist: A recording puts things under a microscope, so there’s less need to fill things in with extra strums and drum fills.  A couple of the songs are pretty close to the live arrangements (“Westlake” and “Terra”), but even some of the others we’ve played live have an intentionally different vibe on the album.

Photo by Jen Hancock

 

J. Hubner: Stylistically you guys still balance nicely between post-rock and dream pop. I’m hearing a lot more Auburn Lull than say, This Will Destroy You, especially with the vocals. Maybe neither of them play into the sound (could just be my old dude ears), but you guys have done a great job on Our Peaceful Atoms of creating these expansive songs while still giving them a very modern and inviting lean. You seem to be having the cake and eating it too while offering a slice to everyone else.

Going into this record, what were you guys wanting to achieve this time around? What were some influences and inspirations?

Charlie Davis: I don’t know that we set out to achieve anything specifically but we all wanted to push on the boundaries of the last record and see if we could do something different. We weren’t looking for a genre shift or anything like that, but we didn’t want to make songs that would be confused for anything on the last album. I think we accomplished that. These new songs seem to fit into our live show perfectly but if you listen to the two albums they have some very clear differences.

Ryan Holquist:  I think we’ll always have a desire to keep certain post-rock elements, but we’re not so committed to that genre that we want to ignore appealing melodies or pop-oriented song structures.

J. Hubner:  If you can, could you dissect the creative process with the track “Path”? I’m hearing a lot of electronic flourishes in this tune. How did this track come together? What were some of the artistic inspirations behind the song?

Charlie Davis: Ben was doing some work with a new sampler and came up with this really ear-grabbing beat that sounded like something heavy trudging along. He made a demo that he sent to us that had that beat along with some keys and other electronic elements. We all loved it right away and were actually able to finish that song very quickly. Any band at some point can start to feel a little formulaic in their songwriting and having something that started from a more electronic standpoint was very inspiring and allowed everything else to come about very naturally.

Ryan Holquist: Ben came into the band after most of the songs on the first EP had been written, so he was largely trying to squeeze into the gaps and create atmosphere.  “Path” is a great example of how his contributions have morphed our sound, as is the presence of a lot more piano and prominenet synth parts.  Ben’s chord progression and electro twiddlies from the OP1 made us all think outside our usual boxes for ways to contribute, which bled into our parts and overall approach to some of the other songs.  It’s also pretty obvious that at least a couple of us really love the Valtari album by Sigur Rós…

J. Hubner: “Westlake” reminds me of The Beach Boys. To my ears, Smile is one of the most complex pop albums ever made. “Westlake” has moments that put me in mind of the song “Surf’s Up”. You guys pull off both progressive rock leanings while still making this a beautifully spaced-out pop song. Besnard Lakes do that very well, too. How does pop music play into the writing process in March On, Comrade?

Charlie Davis: We all listen to it in some form or another so I’m sure it finds it’s place in our music. There are a few parts of that song that Ryan would tell you are essentially Genesis tributes, so maybe we get some influence from the pop of other eras as well. Most pop music nowadays is very computer oriented in terms of the songwriting process as well as the instrumentation and arrangements. This album definitely has a larger emphasis on electronic elements that could be found in a lot of pop music while still sounding like a rock band.

Ryan Holquist: Beach Boys, interesting! I wrote most of “Westlake,” and I don’t know that I had any particular vibe in mind for it.  When Robert was mixing it, he warned me that he was going for full-on Fleetwood Mac.  I think I’m the only band member who would count himself as a particular fan of progressive rock, and as Charlie mentioned, I ended up with a subconscious nod to Steve Hackett (Genesis) in my guitar part.  I suppose it’s fair to say that on “Westlake” in particular, we played pop-oriented harmonic content and groove, in a progressive rock arc, with enough space and ambience to qualify as post-rock.

J. Hubner: On December 8th March On, Comrade will be having a CD release show at the Brass Rail. Can you give us some details on that show? Who’s playing with you guys? What sort of merch will be available? Will minds be expanded?

Charlie Davis: We just completed the line-up recently, and we’ll be playing with our friends in Trichotomous Hippopotamus and The Be Colony. We’ve played with both bands before and they’re both amazing bands with their own unique sounds. We’ll be selling whatever is left of our t-shirts, old EP, and of course we’ll have copies of the new album. Since most of the new songs have either not been played live much, or never, we’re hoping everyone will really enjoy them and maybe get some mind expansion from them.

Ryan Holquist: To give you an idea of how much minds will be expanded, Our Peaceful Atoms will be born on the same date as Diego Rivera, Nicki Minaj, Sinead O’Connor, and Ann Coulter.

J. Hubner: Are there any other shows on the books for March On, Comrade you can tell us about?

Charlie Davis: We have a couple other shows on the books at this point. We didn’t get to play out much this last year due to our own scheduling conflicts so I’m hoping we can be a bit more consistent in 2018. Our next show after this will be on January 20 and is a benefit show for a good friend of ours who is trying to raise money for her and her husband to adopt and we have some great bands in store for that one as well.

J. Hubner: We’ve almost put another year behind us. 2017 has been kind of a dumpster fire to say the least, with a few moments of beauty scattered here and there. What do we have to look forward to in 2018?

Ryan Holquist: If we would have known when we first started playing together in 2015 that there would be so much talk about ties to Russia, we might have reconsidered our name!  We are proud to have had no part in the dumpster fire of 2017.

Charlie Davis: It was a very intense year to say the least. I’m hoping it will be an exciting year for Fort Wayne music. I’m sure the veteran bands will continue to put out great music and there are always new bands getting started that amaze us with their creativity. As for March On, Comrade, we have no plans of stopping anytime soon so I’m looking forward to working on new songs, playing shows, and seeing what the five of us can continue to come up with going forward.


Don’t forget to get out to the Brass Rail on December 8th for March On, Comrade’s CD release show for Our Peaceful Atoms. They’ll be playing with Trichotomous Hippopotamus and The Be Colony. And be sure to grab a copy of the CD. If you can’t make it or you are weird about physical media, then just go to https://marchoncomrade.bandcamp.com/album/our-peaceful-atoms and download it on December 8th.