The Thomas Top Five: 3/28/16
Our Editor-in-Chief listens to upwards of 50 albums per week, so why not let him share the five, presented alphabetically by artist, he thinks are the best for you to hear on this week’s installment of the Thomas Top Five?
…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead – SOURCE TAGS & CODES
Genre: Indie Rock, Post-Hardcore
Favorite Tracks: “It Was There That I Saw You,” “Another Morning Stoner,” “How Near How Far,” “Relative Ways”
Ah, yes, one of the mythical Pitchfork 10.0s. Let’s not delve into the complex relationship anyone who participates in the music blogosphere has with Conde Nast’s new beau; all you need to know is that while perhaps slightly over exaggerated, Pitchfork is pretty much spot-on with this one. In a delicious crux between noise rock, the more math-y side of post-hardcore, and even some proto-emo leanings (c’mon, you gotta admit “It Was There That I Saw You” could’ve snuck in on a Sunny Day Real Estate effort), …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead consistently manages to establish themselves as more mature and talented than their vomit-inducing band name. Textured without being overtly pretentious and angular, Dionysian without being sappy or deserving of an eye roll, symphonic without ever towing the line of being cheesy, SOURCE TAGS & CODES is in many ways one of the last truly impressive hardcore outings. The micro-references and influences can go on ad infinitum; your best bet is to listen and fill in your own, as this is a record that feels comfortably familiar and entirely unique for every second of its runtime.
Bruce Springsteen – BORN IN THE U.S.A
Genre: Pop Rock, Heartland Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Born in the U.S.A.,” “I’m on Fire,” “No Surrender,” “Dancing in the Dark”
Crossfader’s music editor would like to make it painfully clear that the selection of BORN IN THE U.S.A in the Thomas Top Five this week is entirely the decision of our esteemed editor-in-chief and in no way reflects the tastes of the music editor himself.
Boy, howdy, how far the mighty have fallen. Alright, stay with me here folks; I too was a Springsteen naysayer for 22 years of my life. Here’s the thing: I truthfully cannot imagine anything more American than this album, with all of the unsavory and embarrassing elements that that word may imply. My God, just listen to the schmaltzy, cock-swinging, beer-guzzling bravado of this thing! It’s downright inspiring! This is the soundtrack to every Midwestern 4th of July barbeque, every pickup truck along Interstate 8, every (as our Music Editor likes to put) Hobby Lobby checkout line in this great nation of the US and A. And you know what? That’s what makes this thing worthwhile, as those things are what constitute more American culture than those on the coasts tend to be willing to recognize. Why can’t you and your high-falutin’ preconceptions of artistic integrity kick back and relax? Every song on here perfectly marries The Boss’ foghorn-like baritone with the most upbeat and aggressively catchy interpretation of the 80s the E Street Band could muster, contributing to track after track of rump-shaking, finger-wagging bliss. And Jesus Christ, have you heard “Born in the U.S.A.” and “Dancing in the Dark”??? The former marries the most triumphant snare hit I’ve ever heard with one of the most rousing synthesizer melodies ever crafted, while the latter acts as a motorik drive through the existential dearth of middle-class New Jersey. Sakes almighty, I’m half-mast just thinking about it.
Burning Spear – MARCUS GARVEY
Genre: Roots Reggae
Favorite Tracks: “Marcus Garvey,” “Slavery Days,” “Old Marcus Garvey,” “Jordan River”
Trust me, wayward traveller, I too want to puke every time I hear some collegiate white male namedrop Bob Marley’s LEGEND like it’s nobody’s business. However, as it’s been my delight to find out, reggae offers much more than the umpteenth time through “One Love,” and MARCUS GARVEY is the perfect example of such. Reggae inescapably carries the external auditory aesthetics of relaxation due to its locked-in guitar rhythms, meandering horns, heavy bass guitar licks, and repetitive, looping drums, but Burning Spear stands out for their more aggressive take on expressing pleas for social justice through lyricism. Nearly approaching something that can be considered acerbic and acrid, beneath the lulling soundscape lays a scathing attack on colonialism and the systematic institutions of racism and prejudice. However, when presented through such an endlessly accessible melody as “Slavery Days,” you realize that perhaps this is the best kind of protest music, that which can be assimilated and processed without any solidified notion that you’re doing so.
James Ferraro – MARBLE SURF
Genre: Ambient, Hypnagogic Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Memory Theater”
Whether you know him from the genre-defining vaporwave outing FAR SIDE VIRTUAL, LIVE AT PRIMAVERA SOUND, perhaps the definitive live electronic album, or his challenging, warped Los Angeles R&B on 2016’s SKID ROW, James Ferraro is easily one of the most essential voices in modern music, and not just on the ambient side of things. Although taking a dive into his staggeringly extensive discography is a must for anyone who fashions themselves a fan of music, MARBLE SURF easily belongs in the highlight reel. A hearkening back to the innumerable and indiscriminate New Age meditation cassettes of yesteryear, MARBLE SURF features the requisite Heavenly choirs, bells, and sounds of nature, but all filtered through a nostalgic, dream-like haze of tape-related hiss and filtered lo-fi atmosphere. The result is something as hypnotizing as it is comforting, cherry-picking the most ethereal moments of ambient bliss and extending them into a never-ending horizon of optimal pleasure. Consider this the most meditative of showers, removing all that is impure and unsavory in your life and leaving a brighter, better person in its stead.
The Peter Brötzmann Octet – MACHINE GUN
Genre: European Free Jazz
Favorite Tracks: “Machine Gun,” “Responsible”
Not for the faint of heart, MACHINE GUN is jazz as you’ve never heard it before. Taking the chaos and tension inherent to free jazz and turning it up to 11, Brötzmann and company raise the most unholy of cacophonies for well over an hour, sounding like technically proficient jazz Hellcats unleashed on unsuspecting prey. An entirely anachronous release, MACHINE GUN sounds as powerful and overwhelming in 2016 as it did 48 years previously, and it can only be imagined how shocking it must have been without nearly five decades of noise musicians preceding it. Like the weapon of war it takes its name from, this is eight madmen warping the history of jazz into something antagonistic and fundamentally violent, assaulting all who oppose them and riding triumphant into the distance without any hope of peer or competitor. Heavier than many metal releases and easily lapping large swathes of the most raucous and discordant noise, MACHINE GUN is a formidable challenge, but one that is absolutely worth unpacking for more adventurous listeners.