A New Year, A New Year of Music

Last year I kind of let my eMusic download posts dwindle into simple lists of albums. I’m going to try to be a bit more disciplined about posting descriptions of what I’ve grabbed this year. I’ll still post the lists immediately when I download, but I will make a better effort towards going back and revising the posts after I’ve given the music a real listen.

Imagine Raise-era Swervedriver’s arrangements with Ladytron’s vocals and you have only the barest hint of what Autodrone sounds like. This is an album with serious bite.

In August of last year I raved about the self-titled album by the Bill Laswell and Justin Broadrick project called The Blood of Heroes. This is the remix album, and it’s every bit as good as the source material. Sometimes remixes bear no resemblance to their source songs, but on this album every single track is recognizable, yet utterly unique from it’s source.

As far as I know, prior to the release of Guitar Hero II, Jordan was only ever performed live. It’s a pretty cool song, but you don’t really understand the sheer technical prowess of the Bucketed One until you see this video of him playing Jordan, interspersed with (I think) Post Office Buddy:

Jordan’s played entirely without strumming - just hammer-ons and a kill-switch. Think about that - it means he’s playing the negative space with his right hand. It makes my brain hurt just thinking about it.

Sweet early 90s indie pop from Ireland. Folk-infused in the way the first Cranberries album was, but, unlike the Cranberries’ debut, with the listener held at arm’s length. There’s a bit of a Lloyd Cole feel in here too.

Last month I grabbed the incredible moody and atmospheric Three Fact Fader, by Engineers. (I know, I never posted a review - briefly, it’s a wonderful album that feels as much like a tribute to early Ride as Malory’s Not Here, Not Now feels like a tribute to Slowdive.) This month, I downloaded the follow-up, In Praise of More, which truly sounds like the band is finding their identity. It still bears the hallmarks of shoegaze - gorgeous shimmering walls of guitar and effects with gentle harmonized vocals that are nearly lost in the mix, but the sum of the parts is something gentle and comforting. It’s a musical blanket - it wraps around you and keeps you warm.

Grouper is Portland singer-songwriter Liz Harris. I’m getting conflicting information out of Discogs.com and Allmusic.com, so I’m not sure if this is Grouper’s third or fifth album. Regardless, of the three I have, it’s probably my favourite. Beautiful dreamy vocals floating above gentle guitar and keyboards all awash in reverb, it’s sweet, atmospheric, haunting, and, at times, terrifying. I hear something new every time I play it, it’s an incredibly rewarding listen.

I’m positive that Highspire are deliberately derivative of late 80s / early 90s shoegaze and dream pop, and that’s why I love them. Their first album was a mixed bag - a couple of really excellent songs but mostly forgettable. Seven years later they’re back with Aquatic, a consistently excellent tribute to the music of my youth.

Catch a Match … is one of my favourite LPD songs, and I’d have grabbed that lone track if not for my musical OCD. See, I’m a completist - I can’t stand to have portions of albums. That said, the 18 other tracks on this 2 disc set are wonderful. Trippy, crazy, druggy messes that take you to remote galaxies. It’s a long way, as the Dots say, to Andromeda, and there’s no better music for the trip.

This was eMusic’s #33 album of 2010, and was described as “Shoe gaze by way of the Pet Shop Boys”, a description too intriguing to resist. The description is a deft way of describing the shift in the band’s sound, but it does little to describe the album, which sounds like synth pop songs arranged in a more traditional rock manner. A most pleasant surprise.

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