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IN 2020 I WILL LISTEN TO YOUR ALBUM OF THE YEAR


Lamp, broken circa 1988
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HERE WE GO AGAIN. I'm starting early to give y'all time to look back and make sure, or maybe mess around and hear records you meant to get around to months ago.

Rules:

  1. First Come, First Serve.
  2. If you nominate two, I'll listen to zero.
  3. No guarantees that my review will be positive.
  4. If someone suggests your album I'll ask the both of you if you have another album you'd rather I review. First Come First Serve still applies.

One additional caveat: do not suggest "The Microphones in 2020" by The Microphones. It's one 45 minute song. It's lovely, and it's perfect, but, it's one 45 minute song. That's not going to be an interesting write up.

My personal album of the year came out on Valentine's Day, and it's been locked up all year: "What's Tonight To Eternity" by Cindy Lee. Any way I could describe it is undone by how well the blurb for it is written on the bandcamp page, which is why I linked to it. Nothing I've heard this year has hit me the same way this did and still does. That said, it's REALLY not for everyone. You will need to like R&B, classic pop ballads, and raw shrill improvised noise.

of course, that Avalanches record isn't out until december and so there's a good chance that'll be my album of the year because it's new Avalanches

Now! Proceed at your own pace and show me these records! I'll probably start writing reviews novemberish, and the cutoff date is New Year's Eve.

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Unless something drastic happens, this is gonna be it. 

Partly it is out of allegiance to and love of the band, but it is also really really really good too. Especially for their first new album in 30 years. I only wish that this song that they released on an EP beforehand was on it. 

My runner-up is probably this. 

which I also recommend you play, knowing your love of noise. 

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Hey bud! I’m gonna pick Fiona Apple - Fetch the Bolt Cutters

 

I was having a tiredness bad day when it came out. It was a surprise release, I woke up from my crabby nap to my friend texting me it came out. I’m a big big fan. I listened to the album 5 times that day. All in a row with nothing else in between. 

Edited by Octopus
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  • 4 weeks later...
  • 4 weeks later...

Hey, so, here's an update:  on halloween my sister got Covid. It's been fucking terrifying and hard to focus on, uh, anything critical thinking-wise. So I do intend to do this, but there's a little while before I'll be ready to do anything. It seems like things are on the mend but it's hard to tell with this fuckin thing. I'll keep you posted.

Edited by Lamp, broken circa 1988
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  • 3 weeks later...

i love this thread every year so i hope things are all in order for your return. best wishes to your sister. i even like it when you don't like records i like!

the Cindy Lee album was top 10 for me. really gorgeous songwriting. would have gone higher but noise interludes wear thin on me.

my #1 is All Hands Around The Moment by Richard Youngs and Raül Refree

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Hey! Thank y'all for the kind words! Here's an update!

The immediate news is that the next time I post in here, it'll be to review a record. As a result of how long this took, I'm gonna play a little fast and loose with how late I'll accept submissions, probably until some point in January.

As for my sister, she's one of the people with that Long Haul shit going on. It's not a terrible surprise to any of us, really. If bodies are machines, hers is a lemon. Of course this is how this would go. So, she's not better, but it's stopped getting worse.

Also to update my original post: while I think the new Avalanches record is delightful in a brand new way than they've ever been, I still say "What's Tonight To Eternity" is my #1. So there's that.

Edited by Lamp, broken circa 1988
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How do we feel about EPs? Because my top album of the year is The End of Everything by Noah Cyrus.

And while your sister isn't better, I'm really happy to hear that she's not getting any worse at least. My mother's body is a lemon too, so I can understand what you're going through. I'm terrified she'll get COVID eventually since she has multiple sclerosis.

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@Casey EPs are totally in play.

As you may expect, I know basically nothing about this band! A google reveals to me that they're from southern California, and they've been around since the 70s. It also invokes "power metal" in the descriptor on wikipedia and if I'm going to be honest it's one of my least favorite kinds of metal (blame my ex's blind guardian/iced earth collection), but the thread isn't "I judge whether or not I want to listen to your album of the year" so here we go!

Spoiler

There's a small part of me that's disappointed that guitars started after that noise at the start, because I was like "oh man let me get an all brass power metal album" for a second.

Alright! I'm into it! The jogging on roots sound still works for me sometimes and this is one of those times. I was expecting more traditional power metal vocals, but this stands right along the edge of black metal vocals to me? Like, I know he's not shrieking or whatever but there's an atonality to it that makes it sound like all that stuff and hey, grab me however you can. I don't mind. Also we've done this for enough time by now that I'm pretty sure I dont have to say this, but I'm pretty sure I'm not going to have anything to say about the lyrics for this record. This is really stable songcraft. Can't complain.

This intro guitar line is more the kind of stuff I'm expecting out of a power metal record. Oh man, if the vocals are like this the whole way through I'm probably gonna have a decent time. This is full on hypocritical but the chorale to provoke crowd response doesn't bother me here. The groove under the solo is good enough, and the solos so far are working for me because of one thing: Restraint. Like, we (the band and I) both understand this is a metal record. So these first solos have been middle-ish in pitch and sort of slow. I'm assuming by the end we're going to have at least one full on top of the neck hellstorm shred thing, but it will have earned it.

This is the single, isn't it? Anyways this singer is still great and it's carrying songs I'd find kind of dull otherwise I think. I don't have a lot to say about this one structurally. It's got simple goals and accomplishes them. I wonder if this being a genuine article Old Metal Band helps?

Ok the next song started and it's a ballad so while it takes it's time to be interesting I'm going to keep going on that last point. So on a discord I run, I've also been running a Best Of The 2010s thing for music and WOAH OK GET LOUD. Thank god it's not just gonna be quiet for the duration, and that the howling is back because the clean vocals weren't doing anything from me. Anyways during the Best of 2010s thing someone put up a Greta Van Fleet record and I fucking hated it, and I wonder if I'd find it as easy to loathe if they were like 40 somethings instead of 20 somethings? Is youth an audible quality in rock? Anyways this song got good so that's nice of them. See, this solo is higher in pitch than the others, because they're building to something! Man, albums can be such a cool art form because they allow for the development of ideas along several pieces, and SO FEW bands actually take advantage of that. It's so simple, too.

This intro is the first time I've noticed the bass playing, so I'm assuming this is the start of Side B on the vinyl release. We're going lower with the solo (admittedly, high licks through wah pedals is treacherous ground) because we're building back up. I'm having a good time with this record so far! Maybe the trick to making rock lyrics not make me want to hit something is to make the vocals double ostentatious to cover the ground left behind in anything being reasonable. Okay, third lick starts high and then retreats, and the song transitions into a more bridge-like version of the verse. This band is professionals, following formulas without wearing out the welcome of anything. This solo is one of the things this record's been building too, as it feels like the guitar is much more active all of a sudden, and it works really well. The only knock I'd have on this is that the broken glass noise at the end is maybe a little quiet? It's definitely meant to eat the accent there, but instead it feels like something breaking across the house from the song instead of glass getting smashed.

This is some music video-core metal right here. I can like visualize the haircuts shaking in the half fps twisting camera shots. This is not a negative, because man that's the environment this shit came up in. That's ideal to this sound. It's maybe the simplest song on here, but it does break the pace up from how fast the last song was. So of course, this is when they keep accelerating the range of the soloing, on the song I've found the least interesting. Fading out on the outro is an option I guess?

This has a similar speed to the last track, but it starts WAY more interestingly, first with a high pitched lick and then the vocals pushed further forward than they were last time- or at least further forward than I noticed last time. I just figured out why these vocals are working for me, outside of the black metal thing. My favorite metal album of all time (everyone get ready to get mad at me) is "Willpower" by Today Is The Day. The shrieking reminds me a lot of that record, and I'll honestly probably put it on after this. This is an ok song. I like it better than the last one.

YAY NO ENDING BALLAD! One day I'm afraid people are going to figure out how to game my rating system and just nominate their favorite record of the year that doesn't have an ending ballad. Regardless! I'm excited for this thing to explode at the end. The marching rhythm is working for me during the verses. The bass fills sneaking in during the bridges and choruses is a fun little twist on their sound. This first solo is good, but I feel pretty confident that it's a fake out and there's a bigger one coming. If you're reading this and knowing there's not, I bet that feels terrible, but we've not had a single moment of a guitar solo going while the vocalist screams. And then the song speeds up and I'm like bracing. The lick is building up aaaand we're off. Perfect. It's maybe done sooner than I'd like it to be, but they get credit for not fading out either, just letting the gong play them off.

= = =
That was a good time! Usually I'm against rote genre stuff but it feels different here. Maybe it's because they're the genuine article. Maybe it's because in the process of that Best of the 2010s thing I was talking about I listened to some real stinkers and so a record with any amount of long term vision throughout the duration is manna from heaven. Either way, a good time, and I could see how this would be the album of someone's year.

 

 

Edited by Lamp, broken circa 1988
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Thanx @Lamp, broken circa 1988! Yeah, Cirith are the real deal, been around since the '70s, put out four incredible albums, broke up for 30 YEARS and got back together and recorded this. Their style of metal is a very strange, special, and specific style that combines traditional metal with odd, doomy twists (not enough in this album for my taste, but hey) and those pterodactyl-type vocals of Tim Baker. He used to get even higher and I think the only song where he really nails that is at the end of "Stormbringer". Cirith don't have a lot of contemporaries that sound like them. Manilla Road is one, the slower stuff on the early Manowar records, Dark Quarterer from Italy... and I really can't think of anyone else right now. Mercyful Fate too? Anyway Cirith are one of my favorite bands and I'm just happy they released something again, especially in this worst of years. 

They're also noted for their lyrics about Michael Moorcock's writings, and using the art of Michael Whelan about Moorcock's Elric series on their albums. This is my favorite album of theirs and is probably an easy top ten metal record ever... unless you like Iced Earth and Blind Guardian too much 😉 

 

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  1. "Fetch The Bolt Cutters" by Fiona Apple
  2. "Forever Black" by Cirith Ungol

Ok so obviously I know Fiona Apple. On top of that, I really liked Idler Wheel a whole lot when that came out. At the same time, my instincts as a former music critic and my general age meant that when Pitchfork gave the new record a 10, I was going to hold off on listening to it for as long as possible, because I had no interest in engaging with any kind of discussion with the zeitgeist of "OH MY GOD A 10" music listeners. I listened to it two months ago and found it fine but overblown. Now I will listen to it with my full attention.

Spoiler

I assume we've talked about the piano thing in the past? In case I have, here's the short version: I find the instrument largely silly since it's one of few musical instruments that has no natural counterpart. I also find that 90% of piano players have fuckin brain worms. Fiona Apple is excepted from this latter group because of the heat in her lyrics and singing voice, and that covers the distance of how silly I find the piano. This is a good intro, is what I'm saying.

Now If I remember right, this record has a lot of showtunes vibes in the songwriting and this is refreshing me of that memory. The benefit is that Fiona's delivery helps make that feel less bad than that sounds on paper. The lyricism also works really well, even if it accidentally reminds me of a really sad time in my life that is such an impossible dart that it's not worth getting into.

This song is really neat! A lot of times when you make a title track it seems like the expectation is that it's the biggest point of the entire record. I've been guilty of that on most of my records. To take the key statement and slow it down and focus on it is a really interesting approach and I really enjoyed this song. That's why this is written in a past tense, because it wasn't until the outro that I thought to write anything at all.

This song is less interesting structurally to me. I can't put my finger on it. It might be the repition, that it feels like the most verse-chorus thing on here so far even though each record has had choruses so far. Maybe I see the work too much to disconnect? I spent the duration of the song trying to figure that out lol

This is a really good and powerful digression from the sound of the last track, where it disconnects almost wholly from pop structure and just builds towards the verses with a droning rhythm. It sounds like storming down a stair case and then stopping to turn around to yell, which the lyrics fit this image to a tee. All the instrument choice is really interesting too. This'll probably end up being my favorite song on here.

And we're back to the showtunes stuff. The performance on all this stuff is great, and the production of all of is outstanding. This just isn't a style that works for me.

When the songs go this direction I'm a lot more into them. It just feels more furious and disconnected from traditional song structures and that's in general my thing. I feel the lyrics really hard through my history of relationship abuse and that's about the most I want to say about that.

This is probably the best of the showtune-y songs on here, or at least the best to this point. The last time I listened to this it shook me for some reason that I don't remember and I really disliked it. That was then, and here in this listen I'm enjoying it. Probably same genre of "oops my abuse history" reaction formations. It didn't happen this time so I can't speak to it.

The pacing of this record is really helping. No song transition has felt jarring (the transition between the first two tracks was maybe a bit too cute?) and has moved nicely. At the same time I had to start this song like three times to really sink into it. The shifting structure despite it being very verse centric helps it feel unpredictable and surprising whenever something develops sonically. The tonality of this also fits the theme, where the rhythm section is POUNDING while all the melodic work is distant and wiggling, as though suspended in the air by a string. I'm smrart.

Sez here this was written for a soundtrack and I definitely feel that. It's the most pop sounding thing on here, which has it's place and I'm confident how it'll be followed. I really like the "Start it off" section because it subverts the soar, using the general principles of that development but making it a darker set of chords to make it more anxious and fearful than it usually sounds.

Yeah see this is what I mean by the followup. Couldn't get further away from the pop song than this. It feels frantic like recollection, which is somewhat what she's talking about in this song so that works out. I feel like I should leave talking about this song here because of how it stands on its own.

This is another one of the more fun pop songs on here. It has an R&B lilt to it in the swing of the rhythm section and the backing vocals. This is really immaculate songwriting here, and probably the song I'll return to most from this record.

And we're leaving on the tonal shift, and most importantly not an ending ballad! Which, for the record, Idler Wheel didn't end that way either, so Fiona Apple's on my side on this campaign of mine against the ending of ballad. There are so many more interesting feelings to leave someone with than deflating. And this leaves the record with real, palpable tension, an old car with a flat tire wheeling away from a setup.
= = =
A good time! Not the songwriting revolution critics ran to call it, but, hey. A good time. Now in one sense, this is an alarmingly hard choice between these two records so far. They have a lot of the same strengths- pacing, development, unorthodoxy amidst incredible technical performance, and ideal production. However, this is my ranking system, and in this process we've made clear how I feel about Rock Lyrics, so Fiona Apple gets the edge pretty much on that alone. It's otherwise a much tougher conversation to have than I ever would've expected.

 

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  • 3 months later...

Hi! I did not forget about this. I've just been busy and didn't want to post a single thing in here until I had a review done. And so here we are.

  1. "Fetch The Bolt Cutters" by Fiona Apple
  2. "Forever Black" by Cirith Ungol
  3. "All Hands Around The Moment" by Richard Youngs and Raül Refree

I know nothing about Richard Youngs or Raül Refree. Google searching Richard Youngs brings up him playing with Jandek. Raül Refree's first listing under his discography on wikipedia is a collaboration with Lee Ranaldo. I am now adequately prepared for what I am about to listen to.

Also this came out December 2019 but I went radio silent for months and opening up with "THIS DONT COUNT" is a dick move so I'll let this slide just this once.

Spoiler

 

A dizzying start, which is fun! I'm having trouble tracking the downbeat but everything sounds beautiful and clear. Structurally unpredictable harmony is REALLY hard. I have crass comparisons to make that come from the wake of post-rock and related songwriting that this is trafficking in. btw, brief aside about post-rock: all mogwai's kids ugly. Anyways, this is really really pretty and sophisticated, so it's hard for me to write about it because this is something I would need to listen to a LOT of times to pin down what's working about it. The mantra approach to the song title is fantastic, as someone who's spending a lot of time thinking about alternate ways around hooks that aren't verse-chorus structure. In a weird way, the vocals are kind of in the rhythm section since everything else structurally is free floating. Hell of a first impression.

Much more rhythmically basic, which is a good relief from how broad the motifs of the last track were. By the way, I can't find the lyrics transcribed anywhere so I'm not going to speak on the content of the record since I feel like I can't do it accurately. What I'll say is that so far, no lines have pulled me out of the song and the mood it's setting. The soloing and such that's happening under the basic song is well placed. It creates landmarks as the rest of the song passes by, so in repeated listens it wont sound like it'll drag or be too samey- the terrible fate of many a long song.

Also rhythmically basic, but brighter tonally. A less dismal key. This record is paced excellently so far. At the same time, this is the point where the lyricism is kind of taking me out of the mood. It feels like platitudes, talking about "people's appetite for silence" and offering ethereal advice. The song is still laid out in an interesting way, at least. I'm trying to focus on that here. The appearance of a drum is a welcome distraction, but it's not overweighing how much I find the repetition of the lyrics draining right now. There's something about the idea of positioning learning a language as a brave thing that bothers me but I'm running out of song so I can't quite put together why in time.

I was kind of hoping the ending would return to the formlessness of the intro, but on the other hand I don't understand to write one song like that first one so I don't know why I'd expect anyone else does. The engineering on the bass and low end on this whole record has been superb, as when it barges in, it's to signify something different is happening. Unfortunately the last track kind of took me out of the atmosphere and I'm struggling to return to it. It's a nice enough song, but I think the feelings of sadness and remorse I'm feeling are not being created by the song the way they expected to. This is also the first time that one of the instruments has felt more like it's just noodling than contributing, and it's sadly the bass guitar. It's sticking out in the ending in an unfavorable way. Fortunately it gets out of the way for the dismount, which... they fuck up by cutting on the low piano note like it's some kind of mic drop. Unfortunate.

= = =

Well the first half is really great! The second half is not bad but at it's lowest it's frustrating, and at its highest it's just ok. I will probably listen to the first song a few dozen times because I'm just enamored with it's construction. So that's something!

 

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