Noise comes in many forms: the howling whine of feedbacked guitars, the truckstop cassette hiss of a cheaply recorded session, the outerwordly hum and drone of keyboards pushed beyond capacity. It can come bathed in reverb or completely overloaded. Unhinged and in the red or hushed and spooky. We picked some of our favorite albums of 2008 that bring the noise in all kinds of ways. Let us know what some of your favorites were!
Black Time -Double Negative
If a band ever deserved to be on a label named In the Red, it would be Black Time. They smack listeners upside the head with almost ridiculous amounts of distortion and cave-dwelling reverb -- so much so that it can take a while to get to the snotty, witty garage-punk hiding with the din. (Read more)
Fuck Buttons - Street Horrrsing
Fuck Buttons' collage of brittle electronics, post-rock epics, and blistering noise recalls more than a few other bands -- they're capable of raging like Wolf Eyes, conjuring Aa's dead calm, echoing Mogwai's majesty and mining similar territory to tourmates like Stars of the Lid -- but they put these elements together in their own beautiful, and often unsettling, way. (Read more)
Grouper - Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill
On her third album, Grouper's Liz Harris creates a quiet, fuzzy and enveloping world of sound that wraps around you like a slowly building fog. Her delicate vocal harmonies and simple acoustic guitar playing taken on their own would be quite nice but covered in reverb and hiss somehow turn out completely magical. And almost more melancholy than you'd think possible.
Indian Jewelry - Free Gold!
Out of all of Indian Jewelryâ€™s albums, Free Gold! is actually the least noisy, but itâ€™s still got plenty of super-saturated distortion and hiss decorating its warped drone-pop. Instead of abrasive blasts of noise, the relatively subdued and often lulling textures here give the songs a woozy, hallucinatory feel, even when the drum machines stiffen and the guitars and keyboards turn jagged and atonal. Ranging from suffocating to cavernous, from jangly psych-rock to industrial-tinged rants, Free Gold! is surprisingly subtle and eclectic, showing that Indian Jewelry are finding ever more sophisticated ways to evolve their noise.
Love is All - A Hundred Things Keep Me Up at Night
Love Is All's second album, A Hundred Things Keep Me Up at Night, succeeds by doing two important things. First, they hew closely to the tinny and overloaded production of Nine Times That Same Song that worked so brilliantly, but introduce enough changes to keep the album from being a carbon copy. The production keeps the hissy clatter and the cavernous reverb, with Josephine Olausson's vocals distorted and fuzzy. The drums and bass are relatively free of noise though, which gives the record a punch and power the debut didn't have. (Read more)
No Age - Nouns
Nouns is an epic battle between melody and noise, between beauty and grunge, that gives the album a real sense of drama. Also adding to the sense that something is at stake on Nouns are the lyrics. There are no simple love songs here -- mostly twisted fragments of isolation and ruin with the (very) occasional bit of tender hope thrown in to keep you from throwing in the towel. In the final count, melody and beauty, fractured as they may be, win the day. (Read more)
Parts & Labor - Receivers
Parts & Labor may still be stuck with a "noise" tag for some time to come, but whatever the intent of the group, and having once again switched drummers, the band hits an astonishing new high on Receivers. It's not going too far to say that the group is one of the best exponents of the kind of epic turn underground rock & roll experienced in the '80s, but refracted through later prisms -- most notably, a strong willingness to engage with electronic options beyond feedback pedals. (Read more)
Ponytail - Ice Cream Spiritual!
The wild trill Molly Siegel lets loose at the beginning of "Beg Waves" lets listeners know that Ice Cream Spiritual! is unmistakably a Ponytail album, even if it's more neatly groomed than their debut was. Kamehameha introduced the band's highly concentrated, highly combustible noise-punk-pop in saturated outbursts; it sounded like someone threw a few mikes into the fray and then got out of the way of the band's blazing onslaughts. (Read more)
Sic Alps - U.S. EZ
Noisily experimental San Francisco duo Sic Alps graduate to the comparatively mainstream Siltbreeze label for their fifth album, and the album title is not as ironic as those who have heard its predecessors might think: it's not exactly easy listening, but this is by some distance the most immediately accessible album Sic Alps have so far released. (Read more)
Times New Viking - Rip It Off
Times New Viking have no time for subtle recording tricks like EQ, proper levels, or fidelity. No doubt their recording budget hovered around the low two figures with most of that going toward beverages. The resulting album is a 30-minute blast of over-driven organ, squawking guitars, rattling drums, and pushed-to-distortion vocals that sound painful when played loud, and like a far-off hum when played quietly. (Read more)
Vivian Girls - Vivian Girls
If you demand precision and timing from your pop music, you'll be aghast at the trio's lack of professionalism. But what Vivian Girls sacrifice in chops (oh, that ghastly term!), they gain back double in energy and immediacy. The sound of three people ripping through hooky tunes without regard for pleasantries and taste is one of the great joys of rock & roll..... (Read more)
Women - Women
Women sounds like it was recorded onto a cheap cassette found on a truck stop bathroom floor, and yet the melodic gifts the group possess are undeniable. Really, though, it puts listeners into a bind. If you are a noisenik, there might be too many tunes with hummable choruses. If you are a pop lover, the skronky waves of distorted guitar noise might be too much to handle. However, if you are the type of indie rocker who likes to have your pop delivered in a hissy, muffled bundle....(Read more)
Xela - In Bocca Al Lupo
"In bocca al lupo" ("in the wolf's mouth") is a traditional Italian phrase wishing someone luck in attempting a difficult undertaking or in the face of dire circumstances. It's also a fitting title for this album, which is among Xela's (aka John Twells) most ambitious, abstract, and yes, difficult music. In Bocca al Lupo is even darker and more conceptual than 2006's magnificent zombies-at-sea epic The Dead Sea: where that album was inspired by Italian horror movie soundtracks, In Bocca al Lupo began as part of an art installation about fear...(Read more)
Noise Playlist 2008
Black Time - "I'm Gonna Haunt You When I'm Gone"
Fuck Buttons - "Okay, Let's Talk About Magic"
Grouper - "When We Fall"
Indian Jewelry - "Walking on the Water"
Love is All - Wishing Well
No Age - "Teen Creeps"
Parts & Labor - "Prefix Free"
Ponytail - "Beg Waves"
Sic Alps - "Bathtime"
Times New Viking - "Times New Viking vs. Yo La Tengo"
Vivian Girls - "Such a Joke"
Women - "Cameras"
Xela - "In Misercordia"
Random noise blasts: