Bestbots: Staff Audio Picks 2006!
by Beatbots Staff
MoHa! – Raus Aus Stavanger
Rune Grammofon (January 6)
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This early twenty-something Norwegian guitar & drum duo plays the most amazing, energized, and damaged improvised free rock music I’ve ever heard. Think if Lightning Bolt played a contemporary European free jazz version of Battles with an electric guitar (picked / bowed) and a contact mic’ed drum set, at times run through Supercollider sound synthesis software on a Mac laptop. On Raus Aus Stavanger, MoHa! explore an aggressive and open sonic landscape, while maintaining a sound that is astonishingly cohesive and undeniably signature. From tight, throbbing rhythmic exchanges (opener "A2") to far out, electric, minimal conversations ("B2") to doomy, sprawling walls of feedback ("C8") and most everything you can imagine in between. Listening to this album significantly changed the way that I think about music, opening up new realms of aural understanding for me. The fact that this album was recorded live, with no overdubs, is pretty mind-blowing. I had a rare opportunity to catch MoHa! at two of their (dozen or so) US performances this year, both in the span of one week, and they melted my face off. – Justin Blemly

The Ladies – They Mean Us
Temporary Residence Limited (February 21)
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Supergroup: it's a critical joygasm-turned-buzzword, a musical dream-team of two or more principle members whose separate works have achieved either critical or popular success. Queens of the Stone Age, Cream, and Velvet Revolver? Check. The Raconteurs? Check. Freebass? Um, sure, why not. The… the Ladies…? Whoah there, hold yer horses! Just because you’ve got Rob Crow and Zach Hill teaming up for some math-rock duo de force doesn't mean that you’ve got one of those "supergroup" thingies in the works. No, no, no—getting these two gents to collaborate just means that you’re guaranteed some really good music, nothing more. Yup, just some really, really good music, music that would combine the mellow vocal ambience of Pinback with the spastic stop-start riffs and blazing percussion of Hella. Hell, their debut album might even feature dense, watery chords and a flurry of quick-change rhythms that could give Damon Che a run for his money. It could even go so far as to be abrasive at one end and hauntingly beautiful at the other—see "Black Metal in the Hour of Starbucks" and "So Much for the Fourth Wall," respectively. But all that's just pipe-dreaming, kid. Get your head outta the clouds. – Tom Korp

The Loved Ones – Keep Your Heart
Fat Wreck Chords (February 21)
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My music-consuming habits have changed greatly; I’ve gone from pouring $50-$100/month into indie/punk/hardcore shows/CDs to becoming an infrequent bargain-bin-raider who hardly hears anything new. That’s why I pick Keep Your Heart by The Loved Ones as best album of the year. On one level, the band is a supergroup of my old, beloved mid-Atlantic punks: two Trial by Fire members, The Curse’s frontman, guitarist from Paint it Black; one even roadied for Kid Dynamite. But it’s not just the CV - they employ the young-at-heart attitude of punk and older-to-know-better outlook of being, well… over 25. For all the context, many of these songs have a timeless feel (if not quality). Some could’ve been by any rock band since Eisenhower. Open chords, lyrics about frustration. The bridge of “Please Be Here,” evokes the soul of mid-1960’s rock; the first seconds of “Sickening” are “Be My Baby.” This band adds hardcore economy: short songs, short disc. I’m not sure the band can repeat success. One of the best tracks (“Benson and Hedges”) is recycled from The Curse’s catalog; another track ("100K") is also on their 2003 s/t EP. Producer Brian McTernan deserves huge credit, too. But this all proves that The Loved Ones pulled out all the stops for a great ex-punk—er, great rock album. – CJ

Bruce Springsteen – We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions
Sony (April 25)
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In We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, Bruce Springsteen has cobbled together a group of songs that, when sung aloud in the context of the global disaster that is the Bush Administration, are almost revelatory. Most of the songs had become relics, relegated to children's compilation CDs, background music, idle whistling. Their energy is resurrected in Springsteen's hands, and now, again, they're powerful weapons. At once, We Shall Overcome is communal, religious, fun, tender, fierce, sad, and joyous, a wonderful mess of banjo, slap bass, steel pedal guitar, pipe organ, tuba, and a pair of violins. "John Henry," with its driving banjo and working-class promulgations; the Irish anti-war tune “Mrs. McGrath”; and the title track—perhaps the quintessential hymn of bondage and oppression—a swelling, stirring, ultimately hopeful spiritual, are a few of the record's high notes. While the emotional weight of the album is almost too much to digest in a single sitting, it's important to listen, at least once, from beginning to end. – Patrick Vail

Matmos – The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of the Beast
Matador (May 9)
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Matmos has crafted ten paeans to oft-overlooked innovators and dreamers, creating a quirky, stunningly symbolic album with the unlikeliest of collected sounds. Listening to The Rose is a guessing game as you try to figure out from whence each squelch, clatter and boom originated. Yet without knowing the beats and flotsam may be a chopped-up ass slap, a Theremin triggered by snails slithering over glass, or a cow uterus played ala a bagpipe, the album is delightful on the whole, and at times, downright danceable. In addition to the accomplished musicianship of electronic music's wittiest whip-smart practitioners, the fitting symbolic sound choices will surely have you smitten. Displaying a campy and somewhat depraved genius for subtle odes, from gun bursts and clackety printing presses on "Rag for William Burroughs" to cigarette-singed flesh on "Germ Burns for Darby Crash", Matmos offers enough tantalizing curiosities to provoke listeners to learn more about the namesakes of each track. And one can easily do so by checking out their online notes for each track, hosted on their official site. Despite the seemingly disconnected choices of muse, though queerness is a theme, the album is remarkably cohesive and the songs nestle together without friction. – Raven Baker

The Twilight Singers - Powder Burns
One Little Indian (May 16)
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In yet another year featuring a new, critic-drool-saturated Hold Steady album, it's all too easy to forget that Greg Dulli, former frontman of 90s indie juggernaut The Afghan Whigs, is still the undisputed champion of smoke-stained, alcohol-drowned sleazeball rock. Partially recorded in post-Katrina New Orleans, and written as Dulli was emerging from a "complete fog of everyday drug abuse," Powder Burns is the sound of a man wrestling with emotional demons that have become unwanted roommates. The Big Easy's physical reconstruction serves as a light metaphor for Dulli's own spiritual reconstruction. But the album operates just as all great rock albums should--vaguely, with plenty of room for listeners to attach their own shades of meaning. "Bonnie Brae," the album's standout track, is an address to someone who is still standing at the precipice of utter addiction: "there's been a rapture, so i can never see you anymore...not saying it's easy," Dulli croons, and he could be addressing a bag of dope or a love gone wrong. "Forty Dollars" artfully cribs lyrics from the Beatles--it comes off as a lonely drunken homage when Dulli mutters "love is all you need and all you need is love," then belts out "she loves you--yeah, yeah, yeah!" All in all, a glorious and (gulp) addictive ode to the redemptive power of rock. - J. Bowers

Toumani Diabate's Symmetric Orchestra - Boulevard De L'Independance
World Circuit / Nonesuch (July 6)
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Toumani Diabate lives and plays old traditions. But, that doesn't mean he can't modernize these traditions. Born in Mali into the Griot tradition of West African oral historians, Diabate truly honors the past without the confines of myopic vision. His 2006 release, Boulevard De L'Independence, both makes the old modern and the modern old. Electric basses, guitars, and drum set seamlessly share space with balafon's, djembe's, and ngoni's. Diabate maintains his cultural legacy through song as a virtuoso of the kora - a 21 stringed harp like instrument. The Symmetric Orchestra is filled with a complete sound played with absolute confidence and resolve. Every note, rhythm, and pulse expresses this resolve, and the reverence for their tradition. But, their music is much more than solid timing. It conveys a sense of freedom sometimes forgotten amid so many modern comforts. Toumani Diabate is already a living legend of the kora. This album showcases not only his talent as a musician and composer, but also imparts joy and wisdom. - Scott Enriquez

Vetiver – To Find Me Gone
Dicristina Stair Builders (July 23)
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The seventh year of the new millennium wasn’t exactly bursting at the seams with great, or even notable, records. There were, however, a small handful of solid releases amidst the metric ton of mediocrity. Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s The Letting Go and Califone’s Roots & Crowns are both fantastic, but let’s be honest—neither really snuck up on anybody. San Francisco-based Vetiver, however, are unknown to most, but their second full-length, To Find Me Gone, might just be the one record released in 2006 that is an absolute must-hear. The band has made a few changes since their self-titled 2004 release—the most notable being that co-songwriter/vocalist Devendra Banhart takes a back seat to group leader Andy Cabic. Although die-hard Banhart fans may initially feel slighted, Cabic more than legitimizes the shift by gluing together just under 54 minutes of truly beautiful music. From spaced-out opener, "Been So Long," which has donned several different faces in the group's short tenure (See: Between EP), to my personal favorite, "I Know No Pardon," Cabic and company do everything right. The arrangements are sparse, but the listener never feels anything but deep and wonderfully inescapable warmth. Somewhat fittingly, the record's weakest link is a song co-penned by Banhart, "Down at El Rio." But you won't even have to worry about skipping it, as it's the last track. – Bob Keal

Exit Clov – Respond, Respond
Livewire (September 13)
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The lyrics cover communism, war, and starving artisthood, but the music is blissfully poppy. In this six-track EP, twins Emily and Susan Hsu harmonize about the uniquely Washingtonian situation of trying to forge a creative life in a space so hyperaware of politics. “Moving Gaza” shouts out Ris Paul Ric and the Metro, while “Communist BBQ” and “Violent Berries” reference socialist leaders and wartime apathy. Google the lyrics to catch every detail in the Hsus’ alternate reality, where, among other things, Israel lost the ’82 offensive in Lebanon. Exit Clov wants to be Metric—and with their dreamy synth, violins, and pulsing beats, they’re close. But the band has dizzying versatility, from the otherworldly, girly-high monotone in “MK Ultra” to a swirling anthem to the pun-happy “Communist BBQ.” They’re really Sarge, backed by Q and Not U. By the time the Hsus start chanting “Brainwashington!” it’s clear that 1) smart girl pop isn’t dead, and 2) I’m still from the best music city around. – Christie Church
Posted by: Beatbots Staff

Features (December 29th, 2006)