We open Part 11 of our Honorable Mentions with a couple albums that topped the writer’s list but didn’t even make it into the Top 20 group list2 and a few others.3 We may post a Part 2. Even a Part 3. It may be today, tomorrow or a year from now. This is how we operate.
Bask Ramble Beyond
Calling Bask stoner metal is like referring to quantum physics as math. It is merely the foundation and does little to prepare you for the journey about to unfold. American Hollow, Bask’s debut, was a thrilling slice of southern rock flavored retro-stoner sludge (which included the gorgeous Band of Horses-esque (but better) “Endless Summer”, a career highlight for most bands) but Ramble Beyond is a different beast entirely.
When I listen to this album, I smell campfires and sugar maples. I see cascading waterfalls and barely-there hiking trails covered in pine needles and the orange, red, and brown hues of decaying deciduous leaves. I imagine the limitless expanse of starry skies and space-fueled dreams coupled with the down-to-earth concerns of foraging for your meals in a wide-awake, unforgiving wilderness. My only companion is a hearty horse of a Siberian husky named Buck and, no, I’m sorry boy but I can’t give you any of my rapidly depleting rations. You’re on your own tonight but tomorrow we will hunt.
The production is rich and soulful, deep and penetrating. It is an essential component in contributing to this album’s strong sense of place. In short, it does these masterful compositions justice. As is (or should be) the case with riff-heavy music that is also melodic and spacious, the rhythm section does most of the heavy lifting by providing the foundational launch pad that encourages these riffs to take flight. And take flight they do. The guitars crunch, thrash, and groove – except when they’re redirecting shards of refracted light to create gorgeously oxygen-deficient atmospherics, like setting up camp on a mountain peak in the warm glow of dusk after a hard-fought early fall day.
Metal, post-rock, southern rock, indie, blues…whatever. This is the finest example of (truly) American rock n’ roll that you will find in 2017. In a perfect world, Bask would be stars. Ramble Beyond is an instant classic; a chest-swelling and inspiring (and inspired) masterpiece. This isn’t a perfect world but Bask have created one for us to inhabit, if only for 40 minutes at a time.
Ben Frost The Centre Cannot Hold
This album has the only cover I can’t look at. Seriously, it fucks my eyes up. That border between the Klein blue and white that cuts through the centre literally fizzes as your eyes try to pull focus. Migraine inducing would be one term, but given the title of the record and the impishness of its creator that was most certainly the intention.
Despite considering myself a fan and rating his third album By The Throat as one of my favourites this century, I wasn’t exactly salivating at the prospect of another Ben Frost record. On album number four Aurora he dropped the ball and in my opinion let the concept override the music. Aurora saw Frost make a genuine attempt to evoke the hadron collider in purely sonic terms. The record was almost defiantly maximalist and upon it’s release, seemingly beloved by Pitchforklets and Quietusarians everywhere. I found it a chore. The desire to push every sound into the red meant Aurora was flat and inert. A stillborn science experiment. The coiled tension which sweated from every pore of By The Throat, where waves of guitar distortion snapped and snarled like a pack of wolves, was entirely absent here. Post Aurora saw Frost mainly fiddling around with competent but undistinguished soundtracks and opera; now in the Antlers household I’m afraid opera will only ever be as welcome as a cheese grater to my genitals…..that is, not very.
The genesis of The Centre Cannot Hold was an improvisation session conducted over several days and recorded at Steve Albini’s Electric Audio studio. The phrase ‘righting of the ship’ implies a certain stability that The Centre Cannot Hold simply does not represent, but it is appropriate when applied to Frost’s muse. Freed of any lofty notions of bolting art to science, Frost stopped over-thinking the concept and transmitted sound straight from the heart. As a result his music once again became visceral, vital and alive. His boiling mass of distortion and harmony is the result of editing being treated as a contact sport. The kind or record made by a guy who gets credits on other bands records for creating ‘fire sounds’. The kind of noise that if it were a malevolent spirit it’d crawl up your ass in the middle of the night just to squeeze your pancreas.
And yet The Centre Cannot Hold is also a curiously life affirming record. Upon first glance that title implies our current spiral into darker times, but it also serves to remind that nothing is static. Even stupidity and intolerance are subject to erosion. The stuttering penultimate track ‘All That You Love Will Be Eviscerated’ embodies this perfectly as delicate keyboard refrains are continually run aground on jagged static, only to mutate and rise again, smothering those barbed peaks.
I realise I haven’t really described the sound of the album at all. In truth I can’t. Not because it’s some outside paradigm stuff that bears no relation to anything previously created…it isn’t. Rather it’s like me trying to describe quantum mechanics; it takes a better qualified person than myself to describe this dense, dynamic matrix of noise. I will however say that after Front 242, Ben Frost live is the loudest gig I’ve ever been to. Unlike the Belgian trio I could actually determine which songs he was playing.
The Menzingers After the Party
Bad Catholics hooked me. But Your Wild Years kept me. This was the album of my summer.
Black Antlers and Frye really went to town on their write ups. I wanted to keep mine succinct but it looked pretty depressing under the others. It really gave the impression that this album is less than. It is not!
I think one more paragraph oughta do the trick. This album combines elements of rock and roll to create Rock and Roll music. Nothing flashy just some solid hooks, choruses and bridges. Think of the one in San Francisco perhaps our nation’s most famous bridge.
Susanne Sundfør Music for People in Trouble
I would describe Susanne Sundfør’s Music For People In Trouble as a winter album first and foremost. Not that that was Sundfør’s intention, I’m sure, it was just the first impression I had. ‘Oooh, this is a good winter album!’.
I was tempted to describe it as ‘Hygge’, a scandanavian way of winter coziness. The gentle nylon string and pedal steel in the opening track would lend to this interpretation. But it doesn’t stay there. There are other aspects to winter, colder ones. And they are explored along with the classical guitar and piano, with the addition of various sounds I’m frankly having trouble identifying.