July 16, 2008

This Year Proving Good for Your Ears

By Jason Bracelin

It's like Christmas in July, and Santa's here to pour a little sugar (and arsenic) in your ears.

With the year half over, it's time to take stock of the best of albums of '08 thus far.

Here are my current favorites:

The Gutter Twins, "Saturnalia": A mix of bourbon and, well, lots more bourbon, this pairing of the dead-voiced Mark Lanegan and the whiskeyed come-ons of Greg Dulli is like a pox on sobriety. Two of rock's best, most distinctive vocalists hiss and moan at one another over a bed of serpentine electronics and ominous beats, resulting in the best album of the year to play after midnight, when the skies are as dark as these dudes' dispositions.

Torche, "Meanderthal": The best thing about these hard-to- define, stoner pop thunderbolts? They leave us blathering music critic types at a loss for words. Just do the math: The Beatles + U2 + Sleep + Goatsnake = A total must-have.

Lil Wayne, "Tha Carter III": Weezy takes aim at both Al Sharpton and your grandma on this ceaselessly nasty, gun clacking opus. Seriously, who else would pop a cap in gam gam but this curled-lip MC, who is unhinged in all the best ways here, mapping out the topography of the id with one elastic-voiced rhyme after the next.

Boris, "Smile": Pretty much a continuation of last year's equally essential "Pink," the latest from this Japanese power trio spans everything from pop campfire tunes to amp-devouring guitar freakouts to blood-freezing psychedelia. The premier air guitar album of '08.

Sam Phillips, "Don't Do Anything": An equally biting and beatific divorce album that pulls the shades on marital bliss. "Everything used to make me smile, and then you went away," Phillips sings early on this sad waltz of a disc, where touches of mournful fiddle and banjo blanket her wizened voice like a funeral shroud.

Nachtmystium, "Assassins: Black Meddle Pt. 1": Its title is an explicit reference to Pink Floyd's classic study in texture, atmosphere and paranoia, 1971's "Meddle," and the latest from this Chicago avant metal troupe reflects as much, with tense, foreboding clouds of charred synth, lots of stereo panning and tortured shrieks from the abyss. This is what happens when Pink goes black.

Opeth, "Watershed": Another metal band that wants to be Pink Floyd - and Jethro Tull and Deep Purple and King Crimson and Death. The breadth of this album is hard to overstate: From stately balladry to ornate prog rock to blasting death dirges, this is heavy metal in Cinemascope.

Portishead, "Third": Singer Beth Gibbons always sounds like she's just seen a ghost, her voice quavering over deep, roiling bass lines and shadowy electronics. On their first disc in 11 years, Portishead's pulse-slowing codeine pop is as difficult and arduous as love itself - Gibbons' perpetual muse - and just as worth it in the end.

Jason Bracelin's "Sounding Off" column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 702-383-0476 or e-mail him at [email protected] reviewjournal.com.

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