YearEnders: Marc Scarano, File Under: Rock

I bought most of these records at Pure Pop. Thanks for being my favorite independent record store! – Marc

Off! – First Four EPs (Vice)
This is hands-down the best thing I have heard all year. Keith Morris was the first (and in my mind, the best) singer for Black Flag and he has recaptured the vibe of the Nervous Breakdown era with his band of fellow L.A. punk luminaries. The raw power and brevity of this record is startling. Got a half hour? You can listen to the whole thing twice. Morris was always kind of funny, but now he’s just pissed off (“Now I’m Pissed”, “F**k People”, “Full of S**t”) and alienated (“I Don’t Belong”, “Black Thoughts”, “Darkness”). It makes me want to steal a skateboard and a can of spray paint and just go to town. I can’t stop listening to it. I don’t want to, either.

Spoon – Transference (Merge)
Spoon is one of those bands that I love to love. I have been following them from the beginning, and with one exception (Girls Can Tell) I have enjoyed each record more than the one before it. Each release manages to be different than the last while still retaining its intrinsic Spoon-ness. Instead of one-upping the production after Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, they went the other direction with Transference and stripped it down to its core elements: Britt Daniels’ raspy voice, time signature-guru Jim Eno’s brilliant drumming, and those spare, counterpoint guitar lines.

Black Mountain – Wilderness Heart (Jagjaguwar)
I liked their last record and I like this one even more. It has less free-form jamming and more power chord crunching. It reminds me a lot of Zeppelin; the keyboard lick in opening track “The Hair Song” sounds like it was lifted straight from “Kashmir”. There is a lot of interesting duality going on: electric/acoustic guitars, guitar/organ, and male/female vocals. Maybe one too many acoustic songs, but that’s just splitting hairs.

The Sword – Warp Riders (Kemado)
That Texas heat must have finally gotten to The Sword. Everything about the new record is warmer than their first two- the production, the songs, the vocals, even the cover art. The guitars are panned and dripping with reverb, the Orange amps crackle with overdrive, and the cymbals decay across the breaks. The songs are more diverse than previous efforts; the long intros and guitar harmonies are still there, but some of the bludgeoning, repetitious riffs have been replaced with a 70s hard rock vibe, and the tempos are slowed down a bit. Come for the Metallica, stay for the Sabbath.

Monster Magnet – Mastermind (Napalm)
It’s funny how I used to crank up the treble on my stereo when I was a kid. C’mon, you know you did it too. It hurts my ears to listen to music like that now. Besides, there’s so much more going on in the lower frequencies of rock. I was thinking about that while listening to this record. It has a big, fat bass sound that stands out on nearly every track, rivaling the guitars for dominance and giving the album coherence. Maybe they rely a little too much on the familiar (but still awesome) stoner rock chord patterns, but not in a derivative way. It has all the qualities I’ve come to expect from a MM record: comic book sensibilities, the flaming Bull God and sludgy, hard rock riffage played with pride and abandon by the great Ed Mundell.

Brant Bjork – Gods and Goddesses (Low Desert Punk)
The Secret History of Stoner Rock, Chapter 1: Brant Bjork, former drummer for Kyuss, Fu Manchu, and Mondo Generator. Now he’s a master of the Stratocaster and putting out records on his own label. He still knows his way around a hard rock riff but has trimmed the fuzz off the top to expose the melody and groove.

The Vaselines – Sex with an X (Sub Pop)
Picks right up where this Scottish duo left off years ago: short, catchy songs with tongue-in-cheek lyrics about sex, religion, and other topics for uplifting gormandizers. They’re like nursery rhymes for adults, so simple and direct with lots of repeating words (“Duran, Duran, Duran, Duran”, and “mouth to mouth to mouth to mouth”). I also hear flourishes of Americana in the mix, adding some color to their punk palette.

Superchunk – Majesty Shredding (Merge)
I think this is Superchunk’s best record to date, the crown jewel in a storied career. If they broke up tomorrow they’d be going out on top. But let’s hope that doesn’t happen, because this record proves that they still have something to say.

Retribution Gospel Choir – 2 (Sub Pop)
RGC caught my attention when they opened for The Meat Puppets at Higher Ground and really gave the headliners a run for their money. This record is full of moody, atmospheric songs with washes of guitar fury and upper-register emo vocals. Some of them start softly and build into a psychedelic tempest, and others rage like a full-blown cyclone right out of the gate.

Girl Talk – “All Day” (Illegal Art)
In case of party, break glass. Mash-ups were an interesting novelty at first but got stale pretty quickly. You know something has lost its cultural relevance when it starts showing up in tv commercials. But Girl Talk revived my interest by taking it to the obvious next level: by mashing up the mash-ups. This new set is relentless and exhilarating. I can’t help but smile every time I hear Ludacris going “get out the way bitch, get out the way” in between Ozzy singing “War Pigs”.

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