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December 23, 2008 |

By TK Burton | Music | December 23, 2008 |

BrighterThanCreationsDark.jpgDrive-By Truckers: Brighter Than Creation’s Dark
[New West Records]

The Drive-By Truckers released their 8th album in January of this year, Brighter than Creation’s Dark, and I’ll be damned if I’ve heard a better new release since. I’m not necessarily saying that there weren’t better albums released this year, since I tend to spend any extra cash I have on beer and beer ingredients instead of new music.

As I read other reviews of this album, everyone had a concern about Jason Isbell leaving the band and how it would it affect this effort from the band. Bitch, please. I liked Jason’s songs, but people forget that Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley weren’t sitting around with their thumbs up their asses waiting for him to come along and save them. Add to the fact that they made John Neff, their pedal steel guitar player a permanent member and have him play third guitar on some songs as well as adding Shonna Tucker into the songwriting mix, and it’s like a whole new incarnation of the band.

I might have mentioned this before, but the great thing about the Drive-By Truckers is you could have 10 different fans of the band in a room, and each one of them would have a different favorite song on the album. This is probably the best compliment you could give any band. Say that about the Vampire Weekend album.

Patterson seems to get better as he continues to write. On other albums, I felt that he maybe stuck too much to one theme, writing two or three songs on the same subject when one would have sufficed. He has two songs on here about the war, “That Man I Shot” and “The Home Front”, and each has a different point of view. Stylistically, the music of the songs is also different, so he gets away with it this time. “That Man I Shot” being the stronger of the two. In fact, I could have probably done without “The Home Front.”

My other favorites on this album by Mr. Hood include “The Righteous Path” which is almost a Springsteen tune, and “The Opening Act”, which is almost Zen-like in it’s lyrics. Just do your job, and enjoy it because life on the road can be fleeting.

Shonna’s songs are all right. They pale, as you would expect, against the veteran songwriting of Hood and Cooley, but I do enjoy “I’m Sorry, Huston.” Based on an actual encounter with a man named Huston, the lyrics are about a man (I’m not making this up) looking to buy a horse. However, the lyrics, “You ain’t givin’ up on lookin’ for your thing/even if you probably should/I’m sorry Huston, I ain’t got what you need/but I promise you I’d help you if I could” could mean anything. The personal meaning along with Shonna’s voice and the song’s groove make it one of my favorites.

“The Home Front” + “A Ghost to Most”

Cooley has really blown up on this album. “A Ghost to Most” is probably my second favorite all-time Cooley song and “Checkout Time in Vegas” belongs on everyone’s Music for Hangovers playlist. It’s heavy lyrically, but never gets rockin’. It’s got a swell pedal steel part, and any song that starts out, “Bloody nose/empty pockets/a rental car with a trunk full of guns” should probably warrant your attention. “Lisa’s Birthday” is probably the best country song Nashville hasn’t put out in the past 15 years. I dare anyone to go into a local country bar with one of those jukeboxes you can download music on, and select a Garth Brooks song, a Toby Keith song, and this one to see what kind of reaction it gets. It will be the most country song those people have heard in years.

HLLLYHCoverWeb.jpgThe Mae Shi: HLLLYH
[Team Shi]

While it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint the definitive album of any given year, this manic six-piece’s third release was the most surprisingly affecting and therefore memorable release of the year for me. It’s equal parts heartfelt and haphazard, refined and raw, and caught me completely off guard not only on headphones, but particularly in a live setting, in what was certainly the best performance I witnessed in 2008. Moments like these, in a small bar on a mediocre Monday night, on the verge of deciding to go home to fall asleep watching Conan instead of waiting another ten minutes for the drunken local openers to finish up so the main act could follow, are what stick with you for the rest of the year.

There I am, fiddling with my keys as if I were about to head toward the car, when suddenly an average-looking fellow armed with a cordless guitar starts strumming softly just a few feet from my table toward the back of the venue. It was a stirring second of my life I don’t think I’ll ever forget. The others at my table chatted away as five other figures emerged from around corners and on top of tables vocalizing a wordless harmony light in the air. I motioned to my friends that I think they’re starting, though the stage was still pitch black and empty. Suddenly the man disturbingly close to us opened his mouth and belted along with the shadows interspersed throughout the half-filled club: “I want almost everything / and I want almost everything / and I get almost anything I want!” One attempted to climb a wall, scratching it as if he were determined to knock it all down, another sprinted to the drum kit to crash along the cymbals with a smiling furor.

“Run to Your Grave”

That whole heart fluttering thing that happens only in romance novels? Yeah, that’s the only way I can describe the feeling I had for the subsequent 40-50 minutes that followed that instant. The songs from HILLYH flooded through the room with a youthful rampage of joy and aching, and for every day after that July evening, The Mae Shi kept me from ever having another mediocre Monday evening again. Mental images from how that set began, the bed sheet they donated to the crowd to utilize like an elementary school parachute in gym class, and the genuine passion and unquantifiable energy these guys put into churning out these tunes like the end of the world was coming made sure I would never forget the band, their music, or that night.

And it wasn’t just the aforementioned gorgeous choral slow-burn “I Get (Almost) Everything I Want” that I kept coming back to after that concert. Every single song has something completely unique about it without ever switching genres, styles, or lacking overall cohesion. This is rip-roaring pop music with a snotty and celebratory aesthetic that also isn’t afraid of rocking the fuck out. Where the title track “Hillyh” yips and growls over driving distortion at a breakneck pace, “Book of Numbers” skitters over a plastic beat with melodica and a systematic sing-along about death and destruction. They cover the gamut, from piercing and scuzzy to soft and pretty, but always with their sweetly infectious brand of agitated saturnalia.

Start with the steadied hand clap crowd-pleaser “Run to Your Grave” or the electronically discombobulated “Young Marks” to get the most immediate tremendous aural pleasure, then stay for the psychologically imbalanced “The Melody” (which cleverly listens to its own call to “stop the melody” and falls apart after the second chorus, only to be revived after some delightful guitar chirps and computer bleeps). These three songs alone make that Monday night the most satisfying decision I’ve made in recent years. Getting to relive that experience with this touchstone album of bubble-gum ruffian fervor makes HILLYH a personal favorite of 2008 for me, and I hope anyone that gives it a chance would get even a fraction of what I got from it.
—Chris Polley

fuck-buttons-street-horrrsing.jpgFuck Buttons: Street Horrrsing
[Atp Recordings]
Ignore the silly band name, the stupid album title, and the questionable album art: Fuck Buttons’ Street Horrrsing is the most exciting debut album of the year as well as my personal pick for best album of 2008. It’s true that those of you not keen on the experimental/post-rock scene might find the record unpalatable, but you probably shouldn’t. Though forged with techniques and ideals which skew fully toward esoteric left-field experimentation, Street Horrrsing is actually pretty accessible, balancing pop immediacy with intellectual sonic engagement to create something that might be the soundtrack of the future.

And, actually, sound might not be the best way to describe Street Horrrsing, an album clearly structured on texture and feeling. This is music to drone on while you’re in the bathtub or maybe watching the sun go nova; it’s too insistent to just inhabit the background, but too spacious to occupy the fore. The opening track “Sweet Love For Planet Earth” opens with minutes of beautiful keyboard tinkles before slamming you with dissonant guitar chugs and ear-bleeding vocals made unintelligible by reverb. It’s like if Shellac and Yo La Tengo had a baby which was then adopted by Mogwai. And I dig that.

“Sweet Love for Planet Earth”

The mix of abrasive noise and melodic distraction was, I’m told, a result of experimentation - Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power formed the band in 2004 with the intention of making brutalizing drone rock, but began to tinker with more forgiving sounds and melodies thereafter, resulting in a sonic landscape that hovers between ambient and savage rocking. Listening to Street Horrrsing I feel compelled to headbang even as I’m lulled into a daze by the music’s repetition; patience here is mated with power, and many of the tracks comfort you with waves of guitar wash as atavistic tribal yelps engage the foreground.

It’s never easy to mix the experimentation that pushes the artist with the harmonies that most gratify the listener, but that’s exactly what has happened here. In six tracks over fifty minutes, Fuck Buttons mediate between the Heaven of pleasing melodies and comforting drone and the Hell of abrasive screaming and jangling noise. If this sounds like a mixture of good and bad music, it isn’t — the two sounds compliment one another like any good dialectic, resulting in an album you can loop as satisfying background noise or engage directly and exclusively. That’s a balance I’m not sure many post-rock bands have been able to strike so excitingly in years.
Phillip Stephens

Pajiba Music

The Year In Review, Day 3
/ Pajiba Music Writers & The Eloquents

Music | December 23, 2008 |

TK Burton is the Editorial Director. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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