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Having once been a relatively enthusiastic proponent of the end-of-year ‘best of’ list, a few years ago I stopped putting these together in favour of just creating an aural review of releases I particularly liked in the form of a CD compilation. I suppose I rejected the idea of trying to rank the year’s releases, to come up with the ‘best album’ of that particular year, as this was forcing me to evaluate the music on a critical/intellectual level that doesn’t work for me – for me music is about feeling; from wanting to bang my head or creep myself out, from getting goosebumps of euphoria to twinges of melancholy… But I suppose it is sacrilege for a music-related blog to come to the end of a year and not attempt some sort of round-up, so rather than create a ranked list justified by socio-political contexts or clever meta-musical references, these are the records (in no particular order) and live performances that have rocked / droned / folked up / brokebeat / hiphopped my world in 2007, that have made me feel



Top 25 Albums of 2007


NarcoAgent Top 25 Albums of 2007

from top, l-r:

Magnolia Electric Co : “Sojourner” boxset (Secretly Canadian)

PJ Harvey : “White Chalk” (Island)

Angels Of Light : “We Are Him” (Young God)

Low : “Drums And Guns” (Sub Pop)

Liars : “Liars” (Mute)

Mammal : “Lonesome Drifter” (Animal Disguise)

Grinderman : “Grinderman” (Mute)

Boris with Michio Kurihara : “Rainbow” (Pedal/Drag City)

El-P : “I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead” (Definitive Jux)

Vic Chesnutt : “North Star Deserter” (Constellation)

Nina Nastasia & Jim White : “You Follow Me” (Fat Cat)

Om : “Pilgrimage” (Southern Lord)

Scout Niblett : “This Fool Can Die Now” (Too Pure)

Shellac : “Excellent Italian Greyhound” (Touch & Go)

Epic45 : “May Your Heart Be The Map” (Make Mine Music)

Magik Markers : “Boss” (Ecstatic Peace!)

MIA : “Kala” (XL)

Sigur Rós : “Hvarf-Heim” (EMI)

Stars Of The Lid : “And The Refinement Of Their Decline” (Kranky)

Jesu : “Conqueror” (HydraHead/Daymare)

Alela Diane : “The Pirate’s Gospel” (Holocene/Names/Fargo)

Six Organs Of Admittance : “Shelter From The Ash” (Drag City)

Bracken : “We Know About The Need” (Anticon)

Future Of The Left : “Curses” (Too Pure)

Earth : “Hibernaculum” (Southern Lord)




Top 5 EPs/Singles of 2007


NarcoAgent Top 5 EPs of 2007

l-r:

Efterklang : “Under Giant Trees” (Leaf)

Zonderhoof : “Zonderhoof” EP (Sound Devastation)

Joanna Newsom : “Joanna Newsom & The Ys Street Band” EP (Drag City)

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy : “Ask Forgiveness” EP (Drag City/Domino)

Jesu : “Sundown / Sunrise” EP (Aurora Borealis/Daymare)

 



Top 10 Gigs of 2007


NarcoAgent Top 10 Gigs of 2007

Future Of The Left + Infants @ The Luminaire, London (10 March 2007)

Josh T Pearson @ ATP festival, Minehead (27 April 2007)

Nick Cave / Grinderman @ ATP festival, Minehead (28 April 2007)

Dirty Three @ ATP festival, Minehead (29 April 2007)

Scout Niblett @ Bush Hall, London (21 May 2007)

Isis + Boris @ Koko, London (02 July 2007)

Liars @ Madame Jo Jo’s, London (03 July 2007)

Six Organs Of Admittance @ Paradiso (bovenzaal), Amsterdam (12 August 2007)

Sonic Youth do “Daydream Nation” @ The Roundhouse, London (30 August 2007)

Jesu @ Paradiso (bovenzaal), Amsterdam (05 December 2007)


Correctly guess which picture was taken at which gig and I will send you a copy of my “Best of 2007” 2CD compilation (once I’ve pulled my finger out of my ass and actually made the thing). Use the contact form on the Disclaimer page to submit your ‘entry’.



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And so I finally get myself up-to-date… I’ve heard some great new music over the past couple of months – Mammal (Big Black ketamine blues!), two new Six Organs Of Admittance releases, Jesu‘s fully-formed “Pale Sketches“, finally tracking down the 2-disc Japanese issue of Sunn O))) & Boris‘s “Altar” collaboration, and finding myself liking Sigur Rós‘s “Hvarf-Heim” a lot more than I felt inclined to – but here are the albums that particularly tickled my fancy in November & December:



November – Magik Markers : “Boss” (Ecstatic Peace!)

The first inkling I got of Magik Markers‘ potential power was on seeing Elisa Ambrogio doing her axe-wielding schoolmistress thing as part of Six Organs Of Admittance, spewing sheets of noise over Ben Chasny’s intricate guitar lines. While I at first wondered whether she could actually play, I was soon bowled over by her instinctive and natural style, effortlessly building towering walls of sound. “Axis Mundi” kicks things off with just such a piece of tortured guitar, the feedback looping into Pete Nolan’s driving beat – a better opening to an album I haven’t heard in a while. Elisa then sets the writhing sexual tone of many of these songs with the downright dirty: “I left my stink like a mink’s dead gland / All over your mouth, all over your hand“, her words bringing “the blood and violence of religion and nature” to this “Night Of The Hunter“-referencing love song.

Magic Markers - Boss

I’ve heard “Boss” referred to as sounding like Sonic Youth, probably due to Lee Ranaldo’s presence (he produces and adds his inimitable guitar to a few tracks) and its release on Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace! label – and sure “Body Rot” has Sonic Youth all over it, sounding like “Catholic Block” with Elisa channeling Kim Gordon – but for the rest this is uniquely-created guitar music that challenges as much as it rocks. I’ve got the impression that there are those that feel Magic Markers have sold themselves out by making a ‘commercial’ album, that they’ve reined in what makes them special (they are an apparently formidable live experience, with numerous limited CD-R releases trying to capture this exhilarating & obliterating freeform noise assault), but to these ears (still not having heard – or seen – any of their other work) this is one of the year’s best rock releases, with sufficient bouts of barely-controlled guitar noise juxtaposed with the brittle piano of “Empty Bottles” and ethereal pluckings of “Bad Dream/Hartford’s Best Suite”.

“Last Of The Lemach Line” slithers along like the blue snake in the Garden Of Eden, sucking you into that place where sex, religion and violence meet, Elisa doing Patti-Smith-at-the-pulpit before she turns cracked torch singer on “Empty Bottles”, multi-instrumentalist Nolan’s piano glowing with a wabi-sabi beauty.
“Four/The Ballad Of Harry Angstrom” and album closer “Circle” lazily recycle “Lemach Line”‘s vocal melody but work as further showcases for Ambrogio’s primal rhymes and Calvinist/Crowley-esque intonations, with the gentle “Bad Dream/Hartford’s Beat Suite” providing a melancholic interlude with its musings on death and severed thumbs.

Magik Markers have apparently released some 30 recordings over CD-Rs, cassettes and the occasional ‘proper’ factory-pressed slab of vinyl or CD, relentlessly documenting their evolution. If “Boss” showcases their current maturation into a beast near the top of rock’s food chain, now it is time for me to excitedly delve into the Magik Markers pre-history and wallow in their primal soup



December – Alela Diane : “The Pirate’s Gospel” (Holoscene Music)

It was during a Michael Gira show at Paradiso when between songs he pointed to the pretty girl standing in front of me and asked: “Are you Alela Diane?”, and on receiving a shy nod confidently predicted to the audience that she would “be a star”. This certainly piqued my interest, coming from the man who ‘discovered’ Devendra Banhart and introduced me to the amazing Low by way of a glowing recommendation in one of his open letters. It was not a week later that I chanced upon Dutch TV show “Vrije Geluiden” to see Ms Diane performing three of her songs live in the studio, and capitivating they certainly were. It has taken me a while to track down her album “The Pirate’s Gospel” in which time it has popped up on many “Best of 2007” lists, most notably scoring the #1 spot on Rough Trade‘s end of year list. This album was actually first released in 2004 in a handmade edition of 650, Alela herself “sewing lace and paper bags for the case, drawing golden ships, lettering ink, and burning each CD”, before Holoscene Music approached her to release a resequenced version in the US in late 2006 and in Europe & Australia in 2007.

Alela Diane - The Pirate’s Gospel

Sharing her Nevada City hometown with friend Joanna Newsom, there is a certain similarity with “The Milk-Eyed Mender” in that this album feels like the work of rare talent (like Alasdair Roberts too), taking centuries of folk music and creating something that is fresh, natural and interesting while still being authentically rooted in the tradition. The meditative songs are about loneliness, wanderlust, (broken) family, religion, displacement and heartache, and have that timeless quality about them instrinsic to all folk musics. “The Rifle” could soundtrack an elegaic Western, “The Pirate’s Gospel” is a sea-chanty for the landlocked Nevada mountains, and “Foreign Tongue” a stark lament on being alone in a foreign place, written when she embarked on a “journey of solitude” in Europe. The rest of the album weaves in elements of gospel and blues along with the trance-like folk picking, all intertwined in her strong sometimes haunting voice. The bonus tracks on the European release, “Heavy Walls” and “Gipsy Eyes” are well worth inclusion, so seek it out from Names via Rough Trade or Fargo.


Here is album track “The Rifle” recorded for a Daytrotter Session at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas (March 2007).


Alela Diane – The Rifle (Daytrotter Session)



Thanks to the fine folks at Daytrotter. Check out Daytrotter Sessions from Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Marissa Nadler, Castanets, Nina NastasiaOkkervil River and many more. See here for another Alela Diane live session on MOKB/SIRIUS radio.



A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
Things have been deathly quiet in NarcoAgentland the past two months or so, largely as a result of me having continued to straddle two countries* whilst I go in search of free love . Normal service will hopefully be resumed soon, but for the moment I’d like to travel back in time to the weekend of 11/12 August, which ushered in my first live music experience(s) in Amsterdam.

First up, it was a chance encounter of seven-piece all-female country/folk band Oops-a-Daisies , who performed an unplugged set outdoors at the Blauwe Theehuis in Vondelpark on the Saturday afternoon. Although they dismiss themselves as a ‘novelty band’, Oops-a-Daisies played an enjoyable set of country & bluegrass standards, very "Flowers In The Wildwood ". Then that evening it was to Subbacultcha @ Bitterzoet to catch the energetic Check 1-2 headlining a benefit gig to raise funds following an accident that destroyed their van and much of their equipment. Venerable Dutch indiepoppers Bettie Serveert were also on the bill, but we arrived too late to see them. Bitterzoet is located just around the corner from my new home so hopefully there’ll plenty of good stuff to see there in the future!

On to Sunday, and the ‘main course’: before my arrival in Holland I’d clocked that Six Organs Of Admittance would be playing at Paradiso ‘s small bovenzaal at the very sedate time of 4pm, and so had earmarked this as being my inaugural Amsterdam gig.
Paradiso is a large converted church, close to Amsterdam’s ‘party square’ of Leidseplein, and the upstairs bovenzaal (upper hall) proves to be an excellent live room: intimate size, great sound, stage raised to a good height, and replete with stained-glass windows. The support band Jean Parlette (from the northern Dutch province of Friesland ) impresses – a Friesian Tunng , with their warm vocals and glitchy folk (or as described on their website : ‘huis-tuin-en-keuken-elektronica’) – but I’m impatient for Six Organs’ Ben Chasny to take the stage (move over Albini, Broadrick, Sparhawk, Falco et al , the NarcoAgent has a new guitar hero…).

When Chasny does appear, he is accompanied by a primly-dressed woman, hair tied-up in school-marm fashion – this (as it turns out, enchanting) young lady is Elisa Ambrogio of Magik Markers , and if I’d known anything about Magik Markers beforehand I might’ve been prepared for what follows a couple of songs into the set…
The first song is Chasny solo, his impressive guitar playing conjuring up the sound of several guitars and a bass, not just a lone instrument. Ambrogio fiddles with her amp then stands watching impassively, guitar in hand, before joining in for the second song. As soon as she hits her first power chord she becomes a woman possessed, bashing out swathes of noise to a confounded audience who no doubt expected something more wallflower-esque in the folk venacular.

Six Organs Of Admittance live @ Paradiso (12-08-2007)

Although much of the Six Organs output appears superficially to be delicately fingerpicked folk songs, there is an undercurrent of noise and drone to most of Chasny’s work (check "Black Wall" from "The Sun Awakens " as an example), and tonight he and Elisa get to explore that to the full. Together they transform "Hum A Silent Prayer " (on record near-acapella, albeit with an ominous drone hovering in the far distance) into a frightening psych-rock dirge. The rest of the set fits perfectly with the Chasny/Ambrogio duelling guitars dynamic – songs like "Home" and "Sum Of All Heaven" having their drone-drenched innards turned inside out to compelling effect, with Elisa giving form & meaning to the phrase "letting your hair down". She and Chasny seem perfectly in sync, and the sight of them fronting up to each other, straining as they wrench beautiful noise from their instruments, is an exhilarating one.

Six Organs Of Admittance live @ Paradiso (12-08-2007)

All this sturm-und-drang noise-und-drone is sharply contrasted with moments of fragile beauty, like "Words For Two" and "All You’ve Left" where Chasny’s expressive voice and amazing playing cause some sort of reaction in me which could only be described as spiritual in nature (it may be in part the setting, my first proper gig in my new home, the smell of sense-heightening substances on the air… but this Six Organs experience brings tears to my eyes). In Buddhist doctrine the six organs of admittance are the five senses plus the soul. Chasny’s take on this is that the sixth organ is not the soul, but rather the active imagination that accesses the ‘mundus imaginalis ‘ (coined by Henry Corbin ), "that place where visions and prophetic dreams exist between the corporeal world and the world of the spirits."

Six Organs Of Admittance live @ Paradiso (12-08-2007)

Halfway through the set Chasny offers up a new song from forthcoming album "Shelter From The Ash" (out 20 November on Drag City ), which as the name suggests is more darkly apocalyptic than his previous work (too much time spent hanging with David Tibet no doubt, although to give Tibet his due there’s no escaping the fact that we are all fucked! :). The set ends with a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s "That’s Alright", here transformed into alternating passages of delicate vocals and wigged-out guitar noise in keeping with what has gone before (I used to have a childhood crush on Stevie Nicks but Elisa Ambrogio can now step in – what’s not to love about a woman who can wield a guitar with such twinset venom?). Definite contender for gig of the year (Bruno Banani – who was one hell of a lot more prompt in getting his review up – concurs ).

 

Here is a ‘live on air’ version of "Thousand Birds" from the "Gold Leaf Branches " compilation on Digitalis .

 

Six Organs Of Admittance – Thousand Birds (live on air)

 

Recent Six Organs Of Admittance recordings can be sourced directly from Drag City . Older Six Organs recordings are available on the Holy Mountain label, where you can listen to some sound clips.

 

PS: check out the "cookbook" section of the Six Organs Of Admittance website for some interesting recipes – I particularly like this one from Chasny for "Butterfly Wing Cakes":

  • 1 cup Flour
  • 2 cups Redwood Forest Mud
  • 8 Black Butterfly Wings for garnishing
  • 3/4 cup Brown Sugar
  • 1/2 cup Water from a Broken Well
  • 1 Tibetan Horn
  • 2 Eagle’s Eggs
  • Skull of Cattle
  •  

    Mix mud and flour together. Give 3 blows on Tibetan Horn. Loud like the shrill of a dying crustacean. Pour in Well Water. Mix. Smash something that bothers you. Proceed to mix eggs and sugar in. Mix well. One long blast from Tibetan Horn. Loud like Thunder through a Marshall. Talk to Skull. Tell it you are not scared in the least of Death. Pour into cupcake pan. Cook until done. Garnish with Black Butterfly Wings.

     

     

    * this reminds me of a quaint expression used by Afrikaner South Africans to describe their English-speaking countrymen: soutpiel (literally "salt cock"). The soutpiel has one foot in South Africa and one foot still in England, with his cock dangling in the salty sea…

     

     

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