14) “Cloud of Evil,” Blackout Beach. Carey Mercer is lost between genres. The praise for ‘avant-garde’ reinterpretation of pop music this year, 2009, has been universal. Dirty Projectors and Animal Collective continue to bask in the post-coital glow of descriptors like “innovation” and “difficulty” and “weird genius”. Fuck that. Mercer is twice as interesting, innovative and difficult as either of those two artists. He’s also twice as good — but difficult to classify. 2008’s Tears of the Valedictorian was a frenetic epic of an album that found catharsis in its song structure — most often by dropping all other instruments mid-song except Mercer’s terrific howls and a quick, pounding drumbeat. These emotional wails (“Bushels”, “Caravan Breakers”) were always precursors to an instrumental climax, formed by a wall of swirling, distorted guitars, pounding drums, and staccato keyboards. “Cloud of Evil” is the inverse, in terms of form, as the climax never comes but rather builds for three and a half minutes without repose. Instead of live drums, the background is electronic beats and heavily delayed guitars. The tension here is altered. Instead of when will the climax come (re: Tears), the question becomes: will it come at all?
The answer is, of course, yes and no. And that’s exactly what makes “Cloud of Evil” ‘avant-garde’ in a way AC or DP could never be. Their resolutions are merely disguised behind polyrhythm, guitar effects, and complicated harmonies. Mercer, that wild magician of a musician, takes the tension of the verse awaiting the chorus and makes it his song. So that when Mercer reaches “Cloud of Evil”s crescendo while crying “decelerate, decelerate,” we now know exactly what he means.
13) “Jake Leg,” Baroness. Like their competitors, namely the far-superior Mastodon, Baroness are helping heavy metal return to clear, clean, unprocessed vocals. It’s a turn, in our opinion, for the better. Screaming, like everything else, is best in moderation. It’s sort of unfortunate that we can now understand the lyrics, what with the over-the-top fantasy gibberish these bands favor (“Crawl past the soft / Spiraled sinewy teeth / ‘Soiled dove!’ steal the fruit of it’s jaws”).
Ignoring the lyrics, which if taken in the right mood are still a lot of fun, “Jake Leg” is a bruising four-minute metal anthem, with a terrific verse-chorus-verse-chorus sing along. The vocals are multi-tracked relentlessly, giving them a brute force unreachable by a single voice. Although we had to miss Baroness’ recent show in SF, we wouldn’t be surprised if the mosh pit also included a raging side-pocket of lustful metal fans hoisting their fists in the air and yelling the words at the top of their lungs. Such is the nature of the best metal these days — so catchy that even Metallica would be jealous. More on that later. [YouTube]
12) “Americon,” Slayer. Not a band comfortable with explicitly political songs, Slayer has stepped out of their comfort metal zone with “Americon”. Although the message feels six years or so off the mark (“it’s all about the motherfucking oil / regardless of the flag upon each soil”), formally speaking the song still rips. Double bass, guitar solos, shrieking vocals. Shit the drums are good. But come on, it’s Slayer. While the USA rips off other countries to become Americon, Slayer is so damn consistent they’re practically robotic. Hello, Slayertron. [YouTube]
11) “Lust for Life,” Girls. A gay little ditty with a title stolen from Iggy Pop (whose actual song was stolen by Jet), the steady bright guitar, harmonica, and clean bass runs underneath make this one of those ‘summer songs’ bloggers have been obsessing over this past year. Despite all the hype, this is the only song that still seems listenable. From the cheesy but memorable lyrics (“I wish I had a sun tan / I wish I had a beach house / I wish I had a pizza and a bottle of wine”) to the short and sweet structure — this song is the best soundtrack 2009 had to offer for those moment when everything just seems so damn crazy. For a song about insanity, it sure feels good to relax with some Girls.