Archive for the ‘Esben & The Witch’ Category

Matthew Tomich’s Top 10 Albums of 2014

Saturday, December 27th, 2014

Life is Noise editor Matthew Tomich closes our best of 2014 series with his favourite records of the year.

10. DORVAL & DEVEREAUX – Dorval & Devereaux

Though the pulsating single ‘Heavy Hands’ is the standout track on this debut collaboration from White Ribbon and Samantha Glass, the 36 minutes of Dorval & Devereaux unfold like a painstakingly crafted hallucination. Ethereal in parts and unsettling others, these are synthetic textures for daydreams and night terrors. If the 90’s Playstation game LSD were to ever see a re-release, this record would make the perfect soundtrack.

9. TINARIWEN — Emmaar

Even though the songs are sung in their native tongue, Tinariwen’s epic desert blues transcends barriers of language and culture. It helps that the Malian band’s brand of rock — a label that does little justice to Tinariwen’s diverse and often spiritual aesthetic, but feels more appropriate than any other term in Western music criticism — bursts with flourishes of familiarity, from Hendrix to Dylan. Emmaar feels like a bridge between worlds, a fact best exemplified by its opening gambit ‘Toumast Tincha’, a riff-filled odyssey that’s equal parts intriguing and recognizable, grooving and introspective. Emmaar is the perfect soundtrack to journeys unknown.

8. ESBEN & THE WITCH — A New Nature

Esben & The Witch do not rush into things. While that leads to some meandering moment on the 14-minute ‘The Jungle’, it’s largely to the trio’s advantage, a record that feels equally consistent and diverse, as if each song is another side of the same story. It’s excellently paced, too, placing its longer, brooding numbers next to its more subdued meditations. The guitars shimmer and distress, while Rachel Davies delivers her most poignant performances on the penultimate ‘Blood Teachings’, where repetition morphs her utterances into mesmerising mantras of near-transcendent proportions.

7. EMMA RUTH RUNDLE — Some Heavy Ocean

Even at her own shows, I hear Emma Ruth Rundle’s fans compare her to Chelsea Wolfe. If they weren’t labelmates and the only two female frontwomen on Sargent House, maybe the conversation would be different. It certainly should be: beyond a fondness for reverb and a penchant for morose, film-noir vocal delivery, Some Heavy Ocean owes little to Wolfe’s recent output. Rundle – who also fronts shoegazing trio Marriages and played guitar in the now-defunct post-rock band Red Sparowes – is stripped bare on her debut solo record, the delayed guitars of her past exploits exchanged for a steel-stringed acoustic, occasional percussion and some synths to hint at the dark clouds ahead. Rundle’s voice strains as it soars in ‘Run Forever’ where the main refrain becomes more desperate and compelling with each repetition: “If we both get caught then we’ll run forever/if we both go down we’ll go down together.” But it’s on the closing track ‘Black Dog’ where Rundle shines, even if the song is brimming with darkness, one of the most lyrically and sonically compelling odes to depression.

6. HELMS ALEE — Sleepwalking Sailors

It’s hard to stand out with labelmates like Russian Circles and Chelsea Wolfe, but Helms Alee are perhaps the best representatives for the Sargent House aesthetic — punishing yet fragile, diverse yet distinct and relentlessly innovative. On Sleepwalking Sailors, the Seattle trio are forever oscillating between moods: ‘Tumuscence’ shifts in tone from boisterous to vulnerable to pensive over the course of a single verse, thanks in part to the shared duties that juxtaposes guitarist Ben Verellen’s animalistic call-to-arms with drummer Hozoji Matheson-Margullis introspective wail.

But it’s the riffs, rhythms and unexpected turns where Sleepwalking Sailors really shines. As good as this year has been for metal and its various offspring with standout releases from YOB, Earth, Pallbearer, Tombs and so many more, the highlight of this year in metal for me has to be the closing 60 seconds of ‘Heavy Worm Burden’ — a song that transforms from a sludge jam into heart-wrenching transcendence as the low end drops out in favour of wailing, bent guitar strings and sublime sermonizing. I challenge anyone to find a passage of recorded music from 2014 that’s more compelling.

5. DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979 — The Physical World

It’s hard to think of The Physical World as a comeback album because DFA1979 never really went away. They disbanded, certainly, but their first run was too short to comfortably fit them into the Reuniters Club – in 2006 when the dissolution became official, they were only five years and one album in. The Physical World came 3 years after the duo returned to the touring circuit and the break has served them well: while 2004’s You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine flirted with the thankfully-defunct nu rock revolution, DFA1979 sound like a new band on this new record – confident, bombastic and aggressive. It’s middle-heavy – ‘Crystal Ball’, ‘White is Red’ and ‘Trainwreck 1979? might be the duo’s strongest three songs in their brief catalogue — a catalogue that’s sure to expand if the strength of this record is anything to go by.

4. ICEAGE — Plowing Into the Field of Love

Elias Bender Rønnenfelt has one of the most compelling voices in rock music today. Though he flirts with overwrought delivery from time to time, almost every moment in Plowing Into the Field of Love brims with sincerity and intensity, from the playfulness of ‘The Lord’s Favorite’ to the chaos of ‘How Many’ and the desperation of ‘Forever’. It helps that he’s backed by a trio of excellent musicians and superbly crafted songs — the instrumentation on Plowing … are seem permanently off-kilter in the most deliberate way possible, resulting in a record that’s eminently listenable yet always challenging.

3. SHELLAC — Dude Incredible

If there were ever a argument for a band taking their time, it’s Dude Incredible. After more than 20 years, Shellac have not mellowed, but on this record the trio feel more comfortable and assured than they have in years. Dude Incredible forgoes the short-burst punk rock and meandering 9-minute opuses of past release’s in favour of an approach that’s entirely focused, refined and strangely obsessed with surveyors. Easily the best release of their career.

2. YOUNG WIDOWS — Easy Pain

Young Widows’ fourth record marries the subtlety and texture of 2011’s In and Out of Youth and Lightness with the angular explosiveness of their earlier work to masterful effect, running the gamut of noise rock and post-punk without settling into either aesthetic. Few band straddles the line of nuanced tension and apocalyptic paranoia better than this one, and tension is the Louisville trio’s best weapon: songs like ‘King Sol’ bubble with an uncomfortable tension before climaxing in cathartic release at the precise moment they need to. These are songs for bad trips and trephinations.

1. SUN KIL MOON — Benji

Though Mark Kozelek’s year has been marked by petty feuds and pettier insult songs, he was also responsible for one of the most moving and honest records of the year in Benji, an ode to the minutiae of contemporary life that spans from San Francisco to Ohio to Newtown and back. There’s as much darkness as there is light in Benji, though it’s more poignant moments are the most heart-wrenching like opening track ‘Carissa’, where Kozelek uses his guitar and voice to make sense of the accidental death of his cousin in and give her life poetry. Rarely does an album feel like it’s being written and played right in front of you, the stories unfolding in real time as Kozelek seemingly finds the words as he goes to narrate the lives of those around him. Worth countless repeat listens.