Holy shit. Is it just me, or was September bursting at the seams with good music? From predictably great stuff to overwhelmingly pleasant surprises, it really felt like this month had it all. For the first time, ten felt like too small a number; there was just too damn much great stuff that I wanted to include here. But you know, I am a professional guy-who-sits-at-his-computer-and-rants-about-music, and as such, I finally whittled this week’s list down to the article’s namesake. So let’s get on with it, shall we?
Bad Religion – The Day That the Earth Stalled
It’s so nice to hear an almost thirty-year-old band kick this much ass. Stalled kicks off the band’s latest with a fucking kick and a half, with Greg Gaffin sounding as youthful and energetic as he ever has (arguably even more than their somewhat sluggish late 90s period). This thing is incredibly aggressive and catchy as hell, armed with great vocal patterns and killer riffs that make the minute and a half fly by waayy too quickly.
Weezer – Ruling Me
For all the Weezer fans who kept the faith throughout this past decade, who ignored how shitty Make Believe was (Perfect Situation withstanding), who gave credit to the band for experimenting with the Red album, who resisted irritation with the persona taken on Raditude (like “hey, white people rapping! That’s funny!”), and who didn’t even throw their arms up in the air and declare “to HELL with it!” when they found out that yes, the new album’s cover is a god damn close-up of some TV actor’s face: this is their reward. While Hurley is (thankfully) nowhere near as reliant on a scant handful of good songs as its predecessors, with as good as this song is, I don’t think even the most cynical Weezer fan would mind. The harmonizing vocals in the chorus are just plain brilliant, and the chugging guitar is somehow reminiscent of both old and new Weezer, without alienating either camp. This is easily the best song they’ve done in a long, long time.
Deerhunter – Desire Lines
When your main hook is more than just a little reminiscent of a song as great as Arcade Fire’s Rebellion (Lies), it’s going to be a hell of a struggle to make yours really sound like your own. “No problem,” said Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox and Lockett Pundt, before crafting this ethereal, addicting, and flat out wonderful track. Like the rest of Halcyon Digest, Desire Lines sees a startling accessibility to the band’s take on psychedelia, even with the way the guitars ramble on and on to close things out. Despite being nearly seven minutes in length, this track never feels meandering or boring, and the smooth, relaxed chorus could well end up one of the year’s most memorable.
The Birthday Massacre – Shallow Grave
Dropping a bit of the creepy atmospherics this time around, goth rockers The Birthday Massacre display a startling grasp on anthemic choruses on their latest album, Pins and Needles, with Shallow Grave being a shining example. The new wave-sounding synths, loud guitars, and of course the lovely Chibi’s vocals all go together very well, with a fun dance beat and ear worm melodies to boot. They sound the closest they ever have to pop music here, and it works far better than one might have thought.
Enslaved – The Beacon
For a while it was looking like Watain’s Lawless Darkness might clinch the best black metal album of the year title, but the ridiculously consistent Enslaved and their latest, Axioma Ethica Odini, have come along and snatched it without breaking a sweat. The band’s excellent musicianship is in top form here, finding them moving so briskly through The Beacon‘s different sections that even the bits that should feel jarring (stomping riffage stopping on a dime to accommodate mid-tempo chanting, for example) come across as completely natural. Anyone who’s looking to get into black metal should definitely check this album out.
Swans – You Fucking People Make Me Sick
For me, Michael Gira reviving Swans out of nowhere rivals Hurley as the best unexpected bonus of the year. Fourteen years after their last album, the band picks up right where they left off, with Gira delivering his special brand of misanthropy in typically forward thinking ways. A song with this sort of title might make you expect a loud, raging sound, but Sick takes a different approach entirely, really getting under your skin with its quiet intensity and creepiness. Devendra Banhart’s guest vocals are unexpectedly effective, but what really clinches it is the second half, with the dirty sounding piano and brass; the discordant notes the ragged instruments hit are unsettling to the point of making your skin crawl.
Interpol – Always Malaise (The Man I Am)
I’ll make no apologies for gushing over this song a second time – it really is that good. In fact, I like it even more now than I did when I reviewed the album! Malaise pulls off such a gloomy, dramatic build-up that you can’t help but be in awe of it; Carlos D.’s arrangements are absolutely impeccable, with how the piano and progressing horns lead into that climax, and the drums and guitars kick in just underneath Paul Banks’ murmured lyrics. Incredibly powerful stuff, underlined even more by its abrupt ending.
Blonde Redhead – Oslo
Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino has always had a highly seductive vocal, but on Oslo she really takes it to a new level. The XX, Brazilian Girls, Portishead, this song trumps them all just in how loomingly sexual it feels, with her breathy voice over stuttering electronics, lightly shimmering guitars, and varied percussion. This one is going to dirty up many, many minds.
Das Racist – You Can Sell Anything
From the depraved creative minds that brought us Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell comes some more clever, self deprecating, good humored hip-hop. Diplo’s bare-boned production shows once again that all you need for a good beat is a catchy melody, while Himanshu Suri and Victor Vazquez absolutely kill it with their funny and astonishingly intelligent flows. At first glance, particularly with the Pizza Hut song from earlier this year, it’s easy to write these guys off as a novelty act. However, a much deserved closer look would show just how talented they really are.
Grinderman – Palaces of Montezuma
Only Nick Cave could sing about JFK’s spinal cord and make it sound romantic. Really though, everything about this song just clicks perfectly – from Cave’s always-poetic lyrics to the gorgeous vocal harmonizing, the band hasn’t sounded better than they do here. The added polish to Grinderman’s second album gives moments like this a slight Bad Seeds flavor, but it Montezuma still sounds like the quartet’s own unique brand of garage rock. Endearing, rousing, and assuaging all at once.