By Brian Turk
By Drew AIles
By Taylor Boylston
By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
Crime in Choir,Trumpery Metier (Gold Standard Labs). Prog rock is like that really geeky kid in class who's steadily and stealthily been kicking it with the badasses. You can have your chip off the ol' AC/DC block -- this San Francisco instrumental outfit would rather play around with a Rhodes piano and saxophones, landscaping albums in rich science fiction freakouts. A couple of Crime's members did time in At the Drive In, and as with their post-ATDI pals Mars Volta, there's no limit to the musical imagination on display here. Check your head to CiC's third full-length, this year's triumphant Trumpery Metier. Can you really do better than a title like "Land of the Sherry Wine and Spanish Horses"?
Comets on Fire, Avatar (Sub Pop). You know when a band just nails it? Then you know Comets' Avatar. The Bay Area's revered acid rockers feed back against what they've done before on this year's disc, taking a rag to the dirge dusting Ethan Miller's vocals so his grainy refrains scoot closer to your eardrums. Few acts can pull off such dynamite dynamics this thoughtfully -- thorny guitar hallelujahs and Echoplex excesses perch against melodies that float like feathers after the chicken coop's been destroyed.
Sic Alps, Pleasures and Treasures (Animal Disguise). This S.F. duo takes me back to listening to my parents' muffled discussions through the vents between our bedrooms. On disc, Sic Alps' vocals come at a slight remove, hovering half a dimension away from the rest of the recording. In their disembodied stage, the lyrics are haunting, ghostly moans on some tracks, drawling Royal Trux teasers on others. But on Pleasures and Treasures, everything from the human voice to a six-stringed instrument is a house of mirrors, distorting reality. Guitars buzz like assembly-line machinery or bloat into heavy sacks of feedback. And wait, was that a kazoo or just white noise run amok? Who miked the belabored breathing to make it sound like the view from the other side of a nitrous balloon? How can songs this creepy also sound sweet as lullabies (albeit for the mentally unstable)?
Psychic Paramount, Origins and Primitives Vol. 1 + 2 (No Quarter). Broken carburetor basslines. Bricks-in-a-spin-cycle beats. Psychic Paramount was a giant hit of acid-noise post-rock claustrophobia on its debut Gamelan Into the Mink Supernatural. But what followed is a subtle calming of the New York power-trio tempest. Origins and Primitives Vol. 1 + 2 compliments its predecessor's fierce gales with a focus on minimal repetition, tribal rhythms, and electro-acoustic experimentation. This is a more delicate smother, slowly draining resistance to float towards the Psychic abyss.
SunnO))) - Any live show: I'll admit I don't throw on the old SunnO))) disc when I'm heading out for a jog, or to pick up the pace at a house party (although I have found it pleasurably soundtracks a subway ride at rush hour). But still the group makes it into my '06 mix for the sheer physicality of its live performances. From the stage, these black-robed metal druids penetrate places earplugs cannot protect. The foggy bog drones deliver this power-ambient act to areas of your body you'd never otherwise know responded to music. Nerve endings in your mouth feel pinched, the back left corner of your skull gets violated, and that dormant kink in your joint is tickled as a phlegmy gurgle approximating vocals oozes out of this enjoyably punishing brew.
Danava, Danava (Kemado Records). Kemado Records' metal acts sure get the purists' boxer briefs in a bunch, don't they? Whaddya want anyway, more clean-cut slop that fits easily into ye olde Metallica/Judas Priest paradigm? I'm telling you, purity is as overrated as a $200 vintage Iron Maiden T-shirt. Let's embrace artists who get creative with the rock concoctions. This act from Portland takes its apprenticeship from Alice Cooper's theatrics, raids the Black Sabbath stash, and unleashes the eyeliner-occult on its self-titled opening salvo to the world. The first track on Danava, "By the Mark," spirals you through time, space, and the outer reaches of the glam/prog/metal spectrum.
Mammatus, Mammatus (Holy Mountain). A 22-minute rock song ain't gonna rocket you to the top of alternative radio. Then again, Mammatus exists in a stratosphere so far from the FM dial that you'd need satellite photos to read the numbers. Not every song on the Corralitos, California, group's four-song debut clocks in at the length of your average nightly news broadcast, but these guys named themselves after some heavy clouds for good reason. Your usual stoner metal influences show up in bong-bellied obesity on Mammatus -- early Ozzy and Lemmy setting the course for extended headbanging hypnotism -- but this trip takes a couple detours with Middle Eastern-ish freakouts and subliminal drones.