This is not review. This is response. Quite a bit of extraordinary material in the last few months. Also, the debut of a completely subjective (and therefore arguably meaningless) rating system: 1-10, 10 being the highest, with 11 reserved, no decimals, and you'll never see anything below 8; the ratings 1-7 are reserved for everything that isn't written about here.
Neurosis :: Given to the Rising
(2007, Neurot Recordings)
Unconscious and pervasive veneration of this work will be its legacy. It will influence all who hear it, whether they know it or not. Similar to Tool's 10,000 Days, or Meshuggah's Catch Thirtythr33, I find myself listening to Given to the Rising on constant loop (iPod stats are consistent and alarming: 37 on the play count for each track; nothing else has touched my ears for the last week). Beginning to end, the scope of the album is cyclopean. I'll leave it to others to talk about the history of Neurosis (for they can do it better than I). Their use of quiet/massive is in ascension here, refined in a way that sends the mind voyaging, soaring over ancient battlefields on a distant planet. Each track, epic in length and always interesting, features some of the finest "set pieces" I have ever heard: the haunting ambient intros; the aching analog psychology of the title track's quiet passages, or the chilling throat-clenching vocal of Into The Wind which literally detonates 5:31 in. Album of the Year for 2007 - but not on this planet, sadly.
Skinny Puppy :: Mythmaker
(2007, Synthetic Symphony)
Following up the brilliance of their prior album (The Greater Wrong of the Right) was always going to be difficult; that said, Skinny Puppy delivers another sonic masterclass of structure and chaos with Mythmaker. The mix is superb, the complexity of the electronics is awe-inspiring, and the overall effect stays true to the new direction that Skinny Puppy are pioneering. Having returned from a very dark place, this music is vital and the lyrics are important. This is an album for the iTunes visualizer + headphone crowd; a work of endless discovery. The complexity may seem overpowering, but the result is a work that grows in stature with every listen.
Nine Inch Nails :: Year Zero
(2007, Nothing Records)
Dark (so dark), digital and the most electronic NIN work to date, Reznor seems to have taken cues from the pantheon of electro-gods (RDJ?) and rendered a grim message; it comes from the disturbing future that many of this country's drones are currently participating in ("drones" being those people who will never read these words, nor hear any of the music described herein). In This Twilight is simply one of the finest tracks NIN has ever recorded (positioned at #15 in the sequence of 16 tracks, it has the effect of propelling you into listening to the whole album once more, if only to get back to track 15). A call to action for those who consider themselves rational, Year Zero is the most important artistic statement of 2007, and perhaps the decade. 75% (possibly more) of Reznor's speculative tale is already with us. Though it feels like science fiction, it isn't. Just listen, and look around.
Githead :: Art Pop
I'm a hardcore Wire fanatic, so Colin Newman's (the vocalist for Wire) new band Githead is filling the void left by the fact that Wire can't be Wire for 365 days a year (though I get the distinct sense that something is gestating and thus looming on the Wire horizon). Art Pop is very much a progression from Githead's last outing Profile, and it is just as good. I find myself at a loss to describe this music, other than to say it is a sort of proto-pop, the well from which all pop music might have come, the aural fountain that was once hidden but which is now revealed. But this is artful, intricate, playful and decidedly thought-provoking. Which means it isn't pop music, right? I'm convinced that most of the lyrics have been cobbled together by an algorithm that pulls phrases out of the collective hive-mind of the Internet. Or it could just be Newman's penchant for exploring language ("I'm forgetting to remember / I'm remembering to forget"). Whatever Githead is, they have now proven themselves to be completely necessary.
Crushed :: My Machine
(2007, No Relief Records)
Crushed's new disc My Machine is a seemingly natural hybrid of Gothic subversion and the power of metal. While that may be hard to visualize, the guys in Crushed are perfectionists. You can sense it. They are musicians of the highest order, and it shows. With a massive following here in my home town, I admit to being slightly biased (you may recall guitarist/keyboardist Harry McCaleb's name in the acknowledgments section of my science fiction novel). Bias aside, Crushed have it. They know how to write music; they know how to craft a song. There is an infectious thread that runs from start to finish, warping, twisting and snaring you with hooks of rare power. What Kind of Love is the perfect track to begin the journey of My Machine; you'll spend a few listens getting to know this band, but then the album takes off; it possesses almost limitless replay value. If you've seen Crushed live, you'll appreciate the fact that Mike Clink's production captures Mark Lauer's stunning voice with absolute ease (Clink has worked with Guns N' Roses, Megadeth ,UFO... to name but .001% of his work).
Jesu :: Conqueror
(2007, Hydra Head)
Like the incomprehensible nano-matter of the Kalabi-Yau spaces of string theory, Justin Broadrick's latest Jesu album seems to inhabit one of the "higher dimensions" of the very fabric of the metal universe. While I have used the term meta-metal to describe this work, I only do so because of my fondness for Broadrick's past (namely, his band Godflesh). Think about this: there are people buying this album who may know nothing of Godflesh. For me, Broadrick's latest work is informed by his past; knowing where he's come from is what makes listening to Conqueror such a deep experience. Despite the lack of soaring emotional content that seemed to be a staple of the first two discs, this is still a work of resolute power and ethereal wandering.