The Best of 2015

Man, 2015 was an absolutely fantastic year.  Holly and I got to do some traveling, going to Portland (OR) and Salt Lake City to see concerts, doing some record shopping in Ireland and Paris, and of course attending our seventh consecutive Iceland Airwaves Music Festival.  We went to shows with friends, listened to new music, and discovered new bands.  So with all that in mind, here’s a recap of Life in the Vinyl Lane’s musical year.

Top 5 New Releases in 2015

1.  Halleluwah – Halleluwah
2.  Lífsins Þungu Spor – Dulvitund
3.  .A:A. Mix. 1 – Alexandra Atnif
4.  II – Albino Father
5.  Grey Tickles, Black Pressure – John Grant

halleluwahcd

A lot of great music came out in 2014, and I had a hard time whittling down my initial list of a dozen albums to pick the Top 5.  In fact I thought I had my list ready to go until I played Lífsins Þungu Spor for the first time about two weeks ago, and it actually bumped another album off of the list.  I was confident in my choice of Halleluwah for the top spot because I’ve been playing their debut (not available on vinyl at this time) a ton, and it’s actually the second time they’ve made my year end best of list, with their 10″ K2R (which stylistically is miles away from Halleluwah) held down the #4 spot on my 2012 list.  Dulvitund, Alexandra Atnif, and Albino Father were all performers I encountered for the first time in 2015, and John Grant rounds it out with his second appearance on one of my Top 5 New Releases lists.

I’m particularly happy with this list because, unintentionally, all the performers fall into different genres.  Halleluwah brings a sort of old school popular music sound, something that reminds me of an updated version of Edith Piaf; Dulvitund is electro darkwave; Alexandra Atnif creates some edgy experimental industrial beats; Albin Father is the second coming of garage psych rock; and of course John Grant is John Grant in all of his loquacious brilliance.  There’s something for just about everyone on that list.

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands/Performers

1.  Alexandra Atnif (US/Romania)
2.  No Stayer (US)
3.  Captain Moonlight (Ireland)
4.  SGNLS (US)
5.  Kælan Mikla (Iceland)

atnifconstableflavour

This was a super-tough list for me this year.  The first two choices were easy.  We discovered Atnif this summer when we picked up one of her split tapes at Amoeba down in Los Angeles, and acquired two more of her cassettes over the course of the year.  She’s super talented and isn’t afraid to experiment with some very severe sounds.  No Stayer also came to me via a cassette (Rogue) when my friends over at Philadelphia’s Sit & Spin Records sent it my way.  I was down with their style of hard rock/metal, but then sort of forgot about them for a bit before re-discovering them on my iPod a few weeks back, and I’ve pretty much been listening to them every day since.  Captain Moonlight’s working class, Irish-issues-themed hip hop was a refreshing return of hip hop to being social protest music.  I enjoyed SGNLs synth punk enough to pick up two of their records this year, SGNLS and II (not to be confused by the Albino Father album of the same name).  Kælan Mikla was sort of a darkwave dark horse on this list, because they don’t currently have any physical releases (though they do have a track on Iceland Whatever, Vol. 1), but I was very impressed by their live show at Airwaves and can’t stop thinking about them.

Top 5 Vinyl Purchases

1.  Philly’s Dopest Shit, Vol. 1 – Various
2.  Lengi Lifi – HAM
3.  Hype! Boxed Set – Various
4.  W.C. Monster – Bootlegs
5.  Great White Wonder – Les Rallizes Denudes

suicidebongphillysdopest

OK, I’m cheating a bit here, because my top choice is a cassette, and my #2 pick is a CD.  But both of those were important additions for me this year.  Philly’s Dopest Shit turned me on to a ton of great bands like No Stayer, SGNLS, Ruby Buff, and Spent Flesh.  Lengi Lifi is a very difficult to find, CD-only HAM live album and was the last one I needed to complete the HAM discography.  The Hype! Boxed Set was an opportunity for me to reconnect with some great Sub Pop 7″ records and exorcise those demons that still haunt me after selling my Sub Pop singles 20 years ago.  W.C. Monster is a collectible Icelandic thrash record, while the Great White Wonder box set is just a flat-out psych noise trip from Japan’s Les Rallizes Denudes.

Top 5 Live Shows

1.  The Kills – Roseland Theatre, Portland OR
2.  Bubbi & DIMMA – NASA, Reykjavik
3.  Bo Ningen – KEX Hostel, Reykjavik
4.  The Sonics – Easy Street Records, Seattle
5.  Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Pioneer Park, Salt Lake City UT

thekillslive

This is the second consecutive year that The Kills (right) have taken the top spot in my Top 5 Live Shows, and I kind of feel like any year that I see them live, they’ll probably be my number one pick – they’re quite simply that damn good.  At Airwaves the combination of Bubbi Morthens and DIMMA was a perfect blend of old school punk rock and new school technical metal, while Bo Ningen played the most insane, high energy set of crazy that I’ve ever seen.  Easy Street Records crammed 200 people into their shop for show benefitting KEXP radio, and The Sonics played along with a veritable who’s who of Seattle rockers, including Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder.  And BRMC… well, they’d been at the top of my list of bands I wanted to see for years and years, and this summer we were able to use some airline points to basically get down to Salt Lake City for free to see them live, and they were outstanding.

This was probably the toughest list for me to put together, because we saw so many great shows this year.  Agent Fresco, Hot Chip, Thievery Corporation, Steel Panther, HAM, Halleluwah… there were just so many awesome performances to choose from.  But the five that made the final cut all had something special about them that took them to that next level and made them more memorable.

Top 5 Favorite Places to Buy Records

North America
1.  Easy Street, Seattle
2.  Silver Platters, Seattle
3.  Diabolical, Salt Lake City
4.  Fingerprints, Long Beach (CA)
5.  Amoeba, Los Angeles

The Rest of the World
1.  Lucky Records, Reykjavik
2.  Reykjavik Record Shop, Reykjavik
3.  Bell, Book & Candle, Galway (Ireland)
4.  Syncrophone, Paris
5.  All City, Dublin

luckyorangebox

Easy Street and Silver Platters are my regular local haunts, so it will be hard for them to ever get knocked out of the top spots.  The same is true for Lucky and Reykjavik Record Shop – any year that we make it to Reykjavik, these two are likely to be at the top of list.  One thing that all these places have in common is that they’re very supportive of their local scenes, and that’s important to me because when I travel I like to look for local music.  Plus they had some cool and knowledgeable people, people who are obviously passionate about music.

Top 5 Music Books

1.  Girl in a Band:  A Memoir, by Kim Gordon
2.  Lexicon Devil: The Fast Times and Short Life of Darby Crash and the Germs, by Brendan Mullen
3.  For Whom the Cowbell Tolls: 25 Years of Paul’s Boutique, by Dan LeRoy
4.  The Truth of Revolution, Brother: The Philosophies of Punk, by Robin Ryde, Lisa Sofianos, and Charlie Waterhouse
5.  Crate Digger: An Obsession With Punk Records, by Bob Suren

girlinaband

I probably read about 15-20 music books in 2015, and the above were easily the best of the bunch.  And of these five, Kim Gordon’s was by far the most compelling, probably more so as the story of an artist’s life and struggles than for anything specifically related to Sonic Youth.  Truth be told, I’ve never owned a Sonic Youth album, and I couldn’t name single one of their songs if I tried (I may have to give up my music blogging card for that admission, but whatever), so I wasn’t particularly predisposed to feel any particular way about Girl in a Band.  The Truth of Revolution, Brother is a pretty unique project, one that I sponsored via Kickstarter.  Part of the appeal was that a couple of OG Icelandic punks were interviewed in it, specifically Einar Örn Benediktsson and Jón Gnarr.  It was an interesting take on punk philosophy, which resonated even more so after hearing Einar Örn talk for a few minutes prior to a Ghostigital show about what being a punk means to him.

 

This year Holly asked if she could contribute a few lists of her own, and it seemed like a great idea to me since her perspective is often quite different from mine.  So with minimal commentary, here are some of her top musical picks for 2015.

Top 5 New Releases in 2015 (Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane)

1.  Dodge and Burn – The Dead Weather
2.  FFS – FFS
3.  Born Under Saturn – Django Django
4.  Adjust to the Light – Fufanu
5.  “Inside Paul’s Boutique”

We didn’t have any albums in common in our Top 5 lists, and in fact she only had one album I’ve even written about on hers!  Number five is an outlier – it’s the roughly 12 hour incredible show that KEXP radio did in which they deconstructed all of Paul’s Boutique, literally playing in full every single song sampled by the Beastie Boys on that album, in the order they appeared on it.  It’s epic.  Don’t believe us?  Check it out for yourself HERE.

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands/Performers (Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane)

1.  East India Youth (UK)
2.  Islam Chipsy (Egypt)
3.  russian.girls (Iceland)
4.  Alexandra Atnif (US/Romania)
5.  Operators (US/Canada)

Again, not much overlap between the his-and-hers lists, only Alexandra Atnif.  That being said, all four of the other bands here made it to my initial list as well, they just ultimately didn’t crack my personal Top 5.

Top 5 Live Shows (Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane)

1.  The Kills – Roseland Theatre, Portland OR
2.  Thievery Corporation – Showbox Sodo, Seattle
3.  Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Pioneer Park, Salt Lake City UT
4.  East India Youth – NASA, Reykjavik
5.  Bubbi & DIMMA – NASA, Reykjavik

We actually have quite a bit of overlap her, and both Thievery Corporation and East India Youth made to to my short list.  There were just so many good shows in 2015.

 

So there you have it, ladies and gents.  Another fantastic year is almost in the books, and I can’t wait to see what 2016 has in store for us.  And since we’ve already purchased our tickets for Iceland Airwaves 2016 and to see Devil Makes Three at Red Rocks in Colorado in May, I suspect it’s going to be pretty excellent.

“Suicide Bong Mix Tape – Philly’s Dopest Shit, Vol. 1” (2015)

suicidebongphillysdopestA few weeks back I binge listened to a bunch of cool metal and punk tapes I got in the mail from Philadelphia’s Sit & Spin records, THE place in Philly to get your metal and punk itch scratched.  Ironically the one tape that didn’t make that post was the one that originally let me to contact Sit & Spin in the first place – the new comp tape from the Suicide Bong label subtitled Philly’s Dopest Shit, Vol. 1.  I had put it aside because I figured it was going to be a bit more work than the other tapes given that it features 44 different bands, making at least a little note-taking essential.

Well, I just gave it a listen.  And I have to say, the tape is indeed as advertised – this is some dope shit!  Much of the music falls within the various punk/metal subgenres, but there’s some different stuff on here as well like “Stay Asleep” by Night Windows, a groovy shoegazeish number that somehow managers to not sound out of place.  But the meat and potatoes is in the more aggressive stuff – there are some raging bands out there in Philly.

While I’m not going to take the time to go through this thing for you song by song, I did want to share my own personal “Top 5 Songs from Philly’s Dopest Shit, Vol. 1,” so away we go!

  • SGNLS – “Someone Else Is Here” :  So remember how I said the more aggro stuff was the meat and potatoes?  Well, the best song on this comp is actually more of a  sped up early 80s style synth-wave number.  And it’s awesome.  Trippy synths on meth.  Killer.  I WILL be looking for more songs by SGNLS.
  • Janelle – “Bed of Lies” :  Huh, well this isn’t on the fast side either, though it does have a certain weight to it.  Heavy shoegaze vibe, sort of early 80s darkwave, and like SGNLS synths are a big part of the sound.  This has a great groove to it.
  • The Magnificent Shithawks of Greater Northern America – “Kill the Rat” :  In case you were starting to scratch your head and try to figure out why the first two picks off what I described as a punk/metal comp were neither punk nor metal, I bring you The Magnificent Shithawks of Greatern Northern America.  They would like to open up a hardcore assault on your ears and remind you to Kill the rat / Shoot the fucking snitch.  They do throw in a touch of bizarro electro feedback right in the middle of this act of sonic battery, but make no mistake – this is 1:25 of hardcore coming right at you.
  • No Stayer – “Stand On Your Own” :  I previously wrote about No Stayer’s tape No Remorse, and they’re probably my favorite Philly band right now.  “Stand On Your Own” also appeared on that EP, and it’s a fast hard rock train coming right at you.  The guitars are like Ted Nugent back when he was making cool music, with vocals reminiscent of Lemmy from Motörhead.
  • The Dirty Cut – “The Biggest Loser” :  Hardcore.  The way it was meant to be.

Though not noted anywhere on the tape or packaging, Suicide Bong Mix Tape – Philly’s Dopest Shit, Vol. 1 is a limited cassette only release of 400 copies.  The label still has it listed for sale on its website HERE… and for just $4.  Four dollars!  Hell, the shipping will cost you as much as the tape, but even then it’s well worth it with 44 bands and a download card.  You might be able to get copies from Sit & Spin as well.  So go get your damn credit card and order it already!

Metal and Hardcore (Tapes) from Philly

I know that it’s easy to talk a lot of crap about Facebook as being a wasteland of baby, cat, and food photos.  But it’s also a great way to stay in contact with your favorite bands, and even your favorite record stores.  I still “like” stores from all over the world that I’ve visited, and even though in most cases I’m highly unlikely to ever visit them again, every now and again doing so pays dividends.

Last summer I spent some time out in New Jersey visiting a friend and we made a day trip into Philadelphia, my home town.  While we didn’t visit my old neighborhood (which didn’t sound like it would be particularly advisable, unless we kept the car moving and the windows rolled up), we saw the sights, saw the Liberty Bell, and had cheesesteaks at Geno’s.  And we hit up some record stores, including a great little metal and punk shop called Sit & Spin Records.  The other day the folks over at Sit & Spin posted about the new Philly punk comp tape being released by the Suicide Bong label that sounded cool, so I emailed and asked about getting a copy and if they had any other Philly tapes for me to check out.  Which is how I came to find a box on my doorstep yesterday with not one, not two, not three… but seven tapes.  All for less than $30.  This is where FB is good – it’s good for the indie record shop, and it’s good for the random music fan who would otherwise never get their hands on this music (at least not on physical media).

So let’s take a look at what was in that box, shall we?

Toska – EP I

toska

This six-song EP by Toska is some serious hardcore, with a noticeable metal influence.  The opening track, “Pound of Flesh,” hit me right between the eyes and sounded like an old school Black Sabbath LP played at 78 rpm.  It comes at you fast, and it comes at you hard; it’s heavy, it’s growly, it’s agro.  In the finest punk tradition EP I is very much a political album, a social commentary about the ills of the modern world – consumerism, the grind of working for the man, and the pure desperation of life.  It’s heavy stuff and Toska bring it at you with both barrels.  You can listen to the whole thing for free HERE and download the whole thing for just three bucks.  The cassette, if you can find it, is apparently limited to 50 copies per Toska’s Bandcamp page, though the tapes themselves aren’t numbered nor do they mention the limited nature of the release.  Good stuff.

Xatatax – Demo 2014

xatatax

OK, Xatatax aren’t from Philly, they’re from Boston, but the kind folks at Sit & Spin thought I might dig them so sent along the band’s Demo 2014 tape.  And I’m really, really, really glad they did.  Because this is radical.  Xatatax’s Facebook page describes their genre as “very fast//very slow,” and that’s actually pretty accurate.  The opening song “Isaiah 14:14” is a perfect example, with the opening two minutes slow and heavy and sludgy before exploding into overdrive and attacking your ears with some power vocals and guitars.  All five songs on this album combine slow and fast parts, but regardless of the speed one common element remains:  pure mass.  If I laid on the floor and put this cassette on my chest, I probably wouldn’t be able to breathe because it’s so… damn… heavy.  The cassette is limited to 60 hand numbered copies, but you can check out Demo 2014 for free HERE, and even download the whole damn thing for $1.  That’s right.  Five heavy duty metal monsters for a buck.  Do it.  Do it now.

Repellers – The Coming Storm

repellerscomingstorm

Crust.  Straight up crust.

Recorded a bit low, there’s a lot of emphasis on the bass to power the music forward like runaway train.  And this isn’t a clean-burning, environmentally friendly bullet train; this one has a coal-burning locomotive barreling down the tracks and blowing thick black smoke.  Vocally The Coming Storm is on the deep growly end of the spectrum, adding additional oppressiveness to the already powerful music.  The pace is both quick and heavy, each of the five songs a burst of rage, the whole thing coming in at under 13 minutes.  “Withering” is my favorite with its outstanding, driving guitar riffs, though the super heavy “The Ghost” is a close second, a more doomy number that’s like the soundtrack to a nightmare.  The Coming Storm grew on me as it progressed – I think there was an initial shock factor that I had to get over before I was able to settle down and groove on it, so I’ll definitely be playing it a few more times.  Like the previous bands discussed, the Repellers too have a Bandcamp page where you can listen to (and buy) the entire album HERE.

Haldol – Demo 2014

haldol

Originally from Nashville, the three-piece Haldol now calls Philly home.  Haldol are certainly punk rock in their approach, but this is on the darker, gothier (is that a word?) side of things, more like sped up post-punk.  The recording itself is a bit muddy – it was recorded at The Slow Club in West Philadelphia which, as near as I can tell, is actually some dude’s house.  It sounds like it could very well be a live recording, though if not it may as well be because you get the sense that there’s no post-production work on the tracks – it’s raw, the way it was meant to be heard.  I’m particularly partial to “Time’s Not on Our Side,” the most Warsaw-like track on the tape.  Demo 2014 is short at three songs and less than 10 minutes, and of course you can check out the whole thing online HERE and maybe kick the guys a few bucks if you like it.  I’m not sure how many of the tapes were made, but my guess is not a lot.

No Stayer – Rogue

nostayerrogue

Oh hell yeah!  Hell.  Yeah.  Now this is what I’m talking’ about!  This is in your face, driving hard rock ‘n’ roll, coming at you like a nitrous oxide burnin’ muscle car, all heavy riffs and power.  Songs about living life on your own terms, chicks, and riding free.  Mick’s vocals sound two-pack-a-day raspy and his guitar shreds out some sped up, blues-rock-influenced energy.  “Ride Free” is an classic hard rock/metal driver, the kind of thing that if you played it while driving (or god forbid riding…) you’d probably look down and realize you were doing about 90 mph.  Flip this puppy over and it just gets better and better.  Mick is flat out barking vocals at me on “Inferno Road,” almost mocking me for my stupid white collar job and sensible car, making me think that some tallboys and Jack might be a very good idea.  It’s just relentless.  And like the others, available to listen to online for goddamn free right HERE.  The cassette release just came out this year on Suicide Bong in a  limited edition (the cassette itself is numbered) of 100.  But seriously, even if you can’t get the tape, go download this right now for five bucks, spend the other five on beer, and see what the night brings (note that I will not post your bail, sorry).

Spent Flesh – Slave Hymns

spentfleshslavehymns

There’s hardcore, and then there’s hardcore.  This is the latter.

At eight songs and less than 14 minutes, don’t blink or you’ll miss Slave Hymns.  Spent Flesh isn’t here to screw around – they’re in, they hit it, and they’re out.  It’s blindingly fast, aggressive… and then done.  “Cruel Sundial” is the winner here, possibly out of sheer weirdness that channels sort of Persian vibes crossed with like a hardcore Butthole Surfers kind of thing, though honorable mention for the pure punk rock intensity of “This City,” which is surprisingly melodic for being SO INSANELY FAST.  This is another release on the Suicide Bong label, with the cassettes limited to 100 numbered copies and the entire thing available to stream online HERE.

 

You can literally go right out there and check out all of these bands for free, right now… and if you wanted to buy all of their downloads you’d be out less than $20 (some are “name your price”).  That’s a lot of great music, and awfully cheap.  If you’re only going to check out two bands though, I recommend No Stayer and Xatatax, both of who play some killer hard rock/metal.  The scene in Philly is obviously filled with a lot of talented bands, because in all honesty I liked every single one of these tapes – and I still haven’t listened to the 40+ song Suicide Bong comp tape, which is what started this whole thing.  So get out there, get connected, and get some new music!  Oh, and make sure to check out Sit & Spin Records.  Tell ’em Life in the Vinyl Lane sent you.