December 31, 2017

HCTF's best of 2017 (5-1)

HCTF's annual list of the 20 albums that will be in regular rotation for many years to come. The long list of memorable releases boasted about 50 albums. Tough decisions were made narrowing it down. As per usual it's a mixed bag of genres: rock in its various incarnations (garage, hard, post, prog), avant-garde, jazz, pop, folk, funk. Also of note: four live albums made the cut.

Today: countdown from number 5 to 1.

Please keep in mind to shop at your local record store, buy directly from the artist, attend live shows. And shut the fuck up while the band is playing.

5 Anna Coogan: The Lonely Cry of Space and Time

Opera meets indie rock. And they lived happily ever after.

She reaches for the sky in the title track, inspired by the recent discovery of gravitational waves, and Meteor, and comes down to earth for Burn for You, Collateral and Wedding Vow. Anna Coogan is a singer's singer, making it seem so easy and effortless. Whether you like Kate Bush or Margo Timmins (or both), they are no competition for this woman who earns a living working as a vocal coach and limnologist.

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4 Last Builders Of Empire: Άͅδης | Hades

The ancient Greeks version of Hell as a source of inspiration for a high-brow concept album.

As a set piece Άͅδης | Hades can be enjoyed as an example of ambitious ambient post-rock minimalism. By inviting three guest players even the bleak Τάρταρος | Further Below Than Heaven Above is softened a bit - if Hell sounds like this, it isn't so bad after all. Charon of course is smack in the middle of the five tracks, taking the recently deceased to their designated destinations across the river Styx. And while according Greek mythology the heavenly Elysian Fields and the rather plain Asphodel Meadows were also options, the Peabody, MA based quartet only set the Tartaros to music. Gloom and eternal damnation are far more interesting as a source for inspiration than being rewarded for being heroic, virtuous and righteous, or just plain boring.

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3 Low Society: Sanctified

Husband and wife Americans teamed up with a Belgian rhythm for a shot of healthy screaming blues that you can dance to.

Blues is a timeless genre. Low Society honours the tradition with renditions by bookending Sanctified covers of Angel From Montgomery and I'd Rather Go Blind, but it's their own stuff that really rips. Mandy Lemons Nikides'vocals sounded pretty damn good on their previous albums, but she turned it up just a notch just to make sure. Sturgis Nikides can make his guitar wail like a banshee or purr like a kitten, alternating between riffing and delicate picking. The neo-juke joint title track and the NOLA-vibe of Here Comes The Flood are sure to make waves in roots music circles. Guitar geeks and jazz buffs should start with Nina, a touching tribute to the great jazz singer and Sturgis Nikides' lifelong obsession with Jimmy Page's White Summer rolled into one. Sanctified is a tender scorcher and their best album to date.

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2 The Fierce & The Dead: Field Recordings (live)

England's finest smart loud music band captured in concert.

The Fierce & The Dead always like to explore different moods within a composition, shaking things up and slowing down. Opening with two oldies, In Your Face and Ark they cover new ground with Dancing Robots, a hybrid of guitarist Matt Stevens's solo output and "Red" era King Crimson, with drummer Stuart Marshall making good use of his cymbals. Bass player Kev Feazy is the guide during another new one, Verbose, sounding like John Entwistle letting rip during a prog metal workout. They bring the set o a close with the pastoral Palm Trees and guitarists Steve Cleaton and Stevens setting up a conversation during 666...6.

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1 Tunabunny: PCP Presents Alice In Wonderland Jr.

Athens, GA remains the undisputed capital for adventurous indie bands. And this quartet is way ahead of the competition.

Mary Jane Hassell, Scott Creney, Brigette Adair Herron and Jesse Stinnard opened all the drawers of their eclectic music collection, made a huge pile and applied the good old mix-and-match method to come up with unexpected combinations, true-and-tried familiar bits of indie rock, a whiff free jazz, funk bass and much. much more. PCP Presents Alice In Wonderland Jr. is a maze set to music, leaving it up to the listeners to find their way out - Nevermind The Cobblestones though. Their is an Oracle whose prediction model is capable of detecting lethal ailments, something nasty could be hiding in those Blackwater Homes, an actress is playing a dead girl in The Rest Of Us, and quite a few drug references (Dream Sugar, Pitocin Enduction Hour) augment the alternate universe atmosphere.

It all makes sense after awhile, although having a working knowledge of surrealism, underground music and cut-up techniques will definitely come in handy. Like the book this album that can be enjoyed on many levels and it's open to various interpretations. None of them is 100% correct in the end, except that PCP Presents Alice In Wonderland Jr. is the magnum opus of a band at the top of their game.

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