Words by Andrew Lampela
Andrew Lampela was an employee and eventual co-owner of the 40-year old institution, Haffa’s Records in Athens, Ohio, just outside of the dark woods from which Skeletonwitch emerged. Over his years there he has played in a number of bands ranging from rock to noise to metal and has taken his lifelong knowledge of music into contributing to a number of publications. He writes the periodic Ears of Decay metal column.
Hum – Inlet (Earth Analog)
Hum surprise-dropped a stunner, their first in twenty two years, and yep, it is absolutely the shit. Hum maybe didn’t invent ethereally heavy space rock, but they surely perfected it. Densely produced, stacked start to finish with monster riffs, this album is as amazing blaring in the car as it is ripped with headphones on. Haven’t stopped listening since it dropped, and not likely to for the foreseeable future.
Water Liars – Roll On (Constant Stranger)
Roll On sat on the shelves for five years before the band surprise dropped it earlier this year, and it really makes you think about how many great albums have slipped through the cracks over the years. Roll On finds the band swinging for the rock and roll fences, from the Byrds-ian opener “Cheap Rent”, through the title track, one of the best short stories you’re likely to hear this or any year, to the rollicking “California’s Gonna Die”, and winding down with “Darkest Road”, a timeless bit of late-night AM radio rock and roll gospel. Pretty glad these dudes exist.
Lau Nau + Matti Bye – Signals (Time Released Sound)
The arc of Laura Naukkarinen’s discography is astounding. Her early, noiser albums are some of my favorite things ever, but she has truly flourished with her recent soundscape-oriented material. While I absolutely loved this year’s Själö as well, Signals is just plain mesmerizing. She has found the perfect musical partner in Swedish composer Matti Bye, and for the last few years the two have been releasing some amazing music. Signals is one of their finest. Atmospheric, repetitive piano and electronics wash together perfectly, creating an incredibly immersive listen.
Olivia Belli – Mater (Memory) / River Path (1631 Recordings)
I got quite a bit of mileage out of the excellent solo piano River Path, but I’ve been crushing the slightly weirder Mater since it dropped in May. Still in the classical vein, Mater adds atonal drones, strings, and a more adventurous sonic direction. Quite a bit of my musical listening went to albums that helped talk me down from this crazy world we’re all in, and these two have been pretty constant. I enjoy the bulk of her catalog, but these are two of Belli’s finest.
Luke Stewart Exposure Quintet – self-titled (Astral Spirit)
As much as I enjoy the Irreversible Entanglement album, Luke Stewart’s turn as a group leader melted my brain. Long form free jazz ensembles aren’t for everyone, I get that, but if they are and you haven’t checked this out, you are in for a massive treat. A modernized take on the spiritual free sound of 60s/70s with a modern Chicago scene edge, this is living, breathing music and I get something new out of it every listen. There are no slouches on this album, but Avreeayl Ra gets a little extra from me, goddamn. Incredible stuff.
Emma Ruth Rundle + Thou – May Our Chambers Be Full (Sacred Bones)
I’ve said it for years, Emma Ruth Rundle can do no wrong. Here, she teams up with sludge workhorses Thou for thirty six minutes of heavy, atmospheric yet somehow still dense goodness. It’s difficult to describe exactly what this sounds like, as there are almost grunge-like histrionics to some of these riffs (I’m looking at you, “Monolith”), but opener “Killing Floor” and the awesome one-two punch of “Ancestral Recall” into “Magickal Cost” are some of the heaviest songs I’ve heard this year. Here’s hoping this isn’t just a one-off!
Kohti Tuhoa – Ihmisen Kasvot (La Vida Es Un Mus)
I was lucky enough to stumble on this Finnish ripper earlier this year, and it is glorious. I lost the path and have been pretty out of touch with this world lately, but this is my kind of hardcore. Fast as shit, rough sounding, crusty but catchy…this is perfection, seventeen blazingly awesome minutes of perfection.
Shiner – Schadenfreude (Two Black Eyes)
Another space rock reunion? Sign me up. The long, long, long awaited follow-up to the awesomeness that is The Egg, Schadenfreude is also pretty darn awesome, full of Mid-West post-rock propulsion and dense sheets of shimmering noise. It takes a few listens, but these songs are full of great hooks. Those hooks just happen to be five times longer that most others. This is extremely good shit.
This should be higher up on this list, considering how many times I listened to this album, but then Steph had to talk out loud and ruin it. Still, this album was the big rock record I needed these past few months and I can’t remember an album I listened to start to finish multiple times a day. The songs are concise, they avoid most of my personal Deftones cliche moments, and it’s not fucking Gore. “Ceremony”, “Urantia” and the title track are some of the best songs the band has ever written. I’m very aware there is no middle ground with this band, but this is a solid album that plays on all the bands strengths, which unfortunately doesn’t include not saying dumb shit in interviews.
Jeff Tweedy – How To Write One Song (Dutton/Penguin) / Wilco – Summer Teeth reissue (Reprise)
Man, Tweedy’s new book nailed me. Much like his first, it’s a great book. Timed to coincide with a big ass reissue of the last Wilco record I actively gave a shit about. That’s not to say I’ve given it much thought in the last, oh, fifteen years, but couple a Summer Teeth deep dive with Tweedy’s heart-felt enthusiasm regarding songwriting slash life and color me a sucker. This has been a weird year, and if you’d have told me at the beginning I’d be deep in the Wilco catalog, I’d have imploded laughing, but here we are. I still think about parts of this book daily, and while I still don’t like every song, I like quite a few more these days. I guess I’m sorry to everyone I was a dick to about Wilco while running the record store. I guess.