Oh No Man, I Haven’t Got The Time Time

A friend of mine died this week, too young, and too soon. He was a music nerd, cultural commentator and technology geek par excellence, and will be missed by many — in both virtual and real world spaces. He was a private soul in his personal life, so I’ll not mention his name here at this sensitive time out of respect for him and his loved ones, but I do want to publicly note his passing, and celebrate his life for those who come here and knew him. (Edit: With time having passed, I link his obituary here).

We met in virtual space in early 1993 in the CompuServe RockNet Forum. He later launched and managed a series of online communities and websites under variations of the “Xnet2” moniker that survive to this day, with about ten folks from around the world having been connected in one way or another pretty continuously from ’93 to now. Others have also joined along the way. The community currently resides in a private group on Facebook, so when I left that social media platform, I ceased being actively engaged with them on a regular basis. I had assumed that, as has happened in the past, the group would eventually reconstitute somewhere else so that I could jump back in, but that’s apparently not to be at this point, alas.

My friend and I likely exchanged hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of written words over the years, both within the group and in private. He was always a good sounding board for me, and I tried to be the same for him. We only met in person a few times, relatively early in our relationship, when people were still figuring out what online friendships and virtual social networks were all about, so that “RLCOs” (real life conferences) seemed to be required events to cement those bonds. These days, I think most digital citizens understand those aren’t necessary, even though they’re fun when they happen. We saw Pere Ubu together once with other friends from virtual and real world spaces. That was a very good day.

My friend shared my penchant for seemingly pointless surrealist games, and was willing to create time-consuming silly things just because it was fun to do so. He and I and others in the group romped and stomped in little self-contained worlds in a variety of amusing (to us) ways and places over the years. One example: if you remember my “What Would Don and Walt Do?” page (offering random life tips from Steely Dan lyrics), I hatched the concept, but it was his programming skill that made it actually work. There was also an interactive dungeon. And a tree house. And other similarly goofy things.

We both later wrote and published novels: he inspired a character in mine, and I inspired a character in his. He recorded a great album, and I gladly wrote a press kit for it. He hosted and helped me design and maintain a variety of personal and work websites over the years, including early versions of this one. There was always lots of creative energy in the spaces between us. And some friction, I have to admit, as is to be expected over a 22-year relationship between two strong-willed, highly cerebral, opinionated, and sometimes touchy individuals. I’m glad and thankful that our last communications were positive ones. I just wish that there had been more such missives lately, but with all of the moves in my own life over the past year, I was unfortunately not the best correspondent.

The Xnet2 group that my friend organized and sustained did have a public face at some points in its history. Most people came to that portal via word of mouth from current members. Very occasionally, outsiders would join us cold, if the following “invite” on the ’90s version of the Xnet2 website didn’t scare them away:

This is the XNet2 antiSocial club.

XNet2 is dead. Long live XNet2.

If you’re interested, send an e-mail to [redacted] with “info xnet2” in the body of the message.

If you’re still interested after you do that, send e-mail to [redacted] with “subscribe xnet2” or “subscribe xnet2-digest” in the body of the message.

You’ll get the hairy eyeball from all of us if you do, so make sure you know what you’re doing, please and thanks.

Oh, yeah. It’s a community. Really. We don’t want a whole ton of people moving in. Just you. Maybe.

The SnotNet Collective

If that enticed you enough to investigate further, there was an Xnet2 Charter and an Xnet2 FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) List, both of which were randomly generated in real time from snippets and fragments that members of the group could create and save as the spirit moved us. The FAQ List grew to contain about 1,200 mostly absurd entries before SpamBots overwhelmed it and it was abandoned. I have the full list, and reading through it provides a wonderful remembrance of the creative and fun spirit of the group and the person who built and sustained it.

So in honor and memory of my friend and creative foil, I picked my Top Ten Xnet2 FAQ’s and I share them with you below. He wrote some, I wrote some, other people wrote some, and some we just stole. They make no sense, and yet they make all the sense in the world, depending on the lens through which you view them. Life’s like that, right?

#648 (5/18/2000):

Yes yes yes, it was a very, very interesting episode in Xnet2’s history: a crime drama with both philosophical and psychological overtones. During Japan’s 12th Century, a music critic and a programmer relate conflicting stories to a young woman known as “The Mistress of Light” as the group takes shelter in the Tricycles of Love. The different tales revolve around a trucker who has attacked a couple wandering through the woods, tying the husband up and forcing himself on the wife. The husband was found dead in the forest by the music critic, but what actually happened between these people is inconclusive. The trucker, the wife, the husband (through an Australian medium), and the music critic all present different and irreconcilable versions of the events in question to the authorities. The music critic and programmer are disturbed by the absence of an objective truth, but the young woman seems not to care. The three find an abandoned baby inside the Tricycles of Love, and the young woman steals some of the items left with the child and leaves. The programmer fears for the baby’s safety, but the music critic states he already has several children and offers to care for this one as well. Weird, huh???

#738 (12/14/2000):

Was the fire in a transformer box, the round garbage can looking thing with a couple of insulators and wires leading in and out? Did it drip anything cool on the ground? Did the neighbor’s cats lick it up and turn into Wizard of Oz flying monkeys before they died screaming?

#465 (10/8/1999):

Bambino fui merino, Bambino fui un puta.
Bambino fui asi asi, Bambino fui prosciutto.
Bambino pecorino, Bambino molto gnocchi.
Bambino-bino-bino fui un roll e roll e rochi.
— “Rock and Roll Genoese” by Xtobal Colon, 1492

#1004 (7/6/2004):

Employee X is a 52-year-old accountant and holds an MS in Accounting. He started working in New York City restaurants in 1992 and continues to enjoy the torture of restaurant employment. As a result of his restaurant experience, he is familiar with virtually every aspect of restaurant operations, as well having gained an insight into the minds of its owners, staff, customers and vendors. More importantly, Employee X’s dubious past gave him an inside peek into the brains of the freeloaders, ass-lickers/kickers and ecstasy club kids that have come to define a certain segment of the restaurant industry. Employee X chooses to hide behind a pseudonym out of an overwhelming respect for the Slavic mafia.

#147 (8/8/1998):

Mistuh Whatever is here tonight. He gonna git down tonight brother. He gonna git wid it.

#80 (7/8/1998):

It’s all in your head. We spent years trying to get it all out, but not the merest portion would come forth, no matter how we drilled.

#46 (1/6/1998):

Intuition just bein’ logic you ain’t quite figured out.

# 715 (9/17/2000):

Once upon a time there was this list, see? Almost like a regular internet mailing list, only . . . not. No real subject, no real raison d’etre, if ya know what I mean, just a bunch of folks who kinda sorta knew each other (“friends”) suddenly roped together into a chain gang, or a reality tv show, out in a still-unsettled frontier corner of cyberspace, where the people were a little . . . off, all of em, in their way. “Quirky.” “Eccentric.” A real esprit de corps, tho, if ya get my drift. Possessed of a sense of *PURPOSE*, but no idea [thankst gawd] what that purpose might be. Anyhoo, that list blowed up and reassembled itself a few times, one too many times, and the final blow-up was way nasty. All the folks were sitting in their booths, chowing down on Big Macs and Pronto Pups and soy burgers and sate and parathas, smirkin’ and snarlin’ and sneerin’, when all of a sudden a coupla heads exploded, just like that, squirting hair, teeth and eyeballs, and special sauces of various flavors [no vegemite, tho!] in a zillion directions, all on the plate glass window out by the jungle gym, on the uniform of the manager (whose own head had, not coincidentally, been one of the ones that exploded), on a few particularly surly customers (the Gary Glitter dude, in particular, got blown across the room and wound up in a barrel of peanut saus, and was ejected from the joint looking like a headless tub of goo who’d, uh, had an accident). Some of the folks who were there headed for the hills, some of em re-grouped and moved to Brighton, where they amuse themselves to this day sitting on benches, playing skittles and cribbage, occasionally staging three-legged races and such. And we, many of us, wound up here.

#311 (1/16/1999):

They are tuned into fighting and procreation, and as long as you ain’t humping along on your belly going bbrrrrup bbbrrrrup bbbrrrrruuuup they ignore you.

#49 (1/6/1998):

Whatever this is, this is NOT art.

The Dinner

Alma rose at dawn to make the biscuits,
kneading lard into the baker’s flour,
rolling sheets and cutting discs for baking;
it took her just a bit more than an hour.

At which point, Alma turned to make the stuffing:
sausage, cornbread, broth and butter, nuts.
She pulled the neck and gizzard from the turkey,
(which, with the heart, she thought the sweetest cuts).

She filled the bird and stitched it tight for roasting,
then with a jar of cloves, she dressed the ham,
and pressed the honey from the comb she’d purchased,
to sweeten up her famous candied yams.

While collards stewed in bacon fat and bullion,
Alma snapped the beans and okra too,
then shucked the corn, (the Silver Queen she favored),
which, paired with shrimp, went in her Frogmore Stew.

By sunset, Alma’s work had been completed,
the family blessed their meal on bended knees.
An awkward silence followed, ‘til her son said
“How come there ain’t no Stouffer’s Mac an’ Cheese?”

*****

A poem I wrote in 2010, resuscitated on this day of feasting and thanks. It has an autobiographical slant: when my sister and I were young, Thanksgiving dinner at my grandparents’ house always featured a family-sized tray of Stouffer’s Macaroni and Cheese, which pleased us more than any of the “from scratch” things Grannies would make for us. It was such a food talisman for us that on the evening of our father’s funeral, as we struggled to find something to provide comfort, we made a tray of Stouffer’s and sat on the kitchen floor and ate the whole damned thing ourselves. Nothing else as comfortable as that.

These days, our Special Smith Family Thanksgiving Food Tradition is a sweeter one: Marcia’s Pumpkin Praline Pie, which combines the best features of both standard pumpkin and pecan pies in one deluxe pile of unmitigated goodness and joy. Om nom nom nom nom!! Katelin and my mother are in Chicago with Marcia and I for the holiday, and we’re currently in that digestive hiatus period between the main meal and the big wonderful pie-shaped food narcotic event to come. The Kool Whip is thawing . . . soon, oh soon!

We all have many things for which to be thankful, most especially the opportunity to spend time together as an extended three-generation family in our wonderful new home in Chicago. Here’s hoping that the holiday has delivered goodness to you and yours as well.

 

Shumëllojshmëri

1. Rosie the orange point Javanese cat joined our family in July 2004. She had some personality quirks, and a complex relationship with our other cat (The Bumble) but has been a sweet member of the household all these years. On Wednesday, she had rapid onset kidney failure and left us. She will be missed.

The Bumble will not have to share her toys with Rosie anymore.

The Bumble will not have to share her toys with Rosie anymore. Farewell Nervous Orange Kitty!

2. Marcia, our friend Kelli and I attended a wonderful concert by the Anat Cohen Quartet on Thursday night. A spot on review from The Tribune‘s Howard Reich here. If you are not familiar with her work, I highly recommend you check out Cohen’s latest album, Luminosa, from which her set list was drawn. The cross pollination of Brazilian musical motifs, Cohen’s Israeli upbringing and current Brooklyn music scene sensibilities makes for an intoxicating mix.

3. On our way back from the Cohen concert, as we tooled southward on Lake Shore Drive, Marcia and I were treated by a shockingly large and bright fireball dropping from the sky. It was at the back end of Leonid Meteor Shower season, so I’d expect to see a few streaks and flashes across the empty sky over Lake Michigan, but nothing this dramatic. It reminded us a family vacation at Acadia National Park when Katelin was little. We went to an evening educational program after dark, and the docent at one point in his talk about the stars raised his hands over his head and reminded us how the ancients looked up at the same sky we did. As if on command, the largest bolide I’ve ever seen rocketed across the sky, disintegrating with an audience boom. After a moment of stunned silence, our presenter received what I suspect was the biggest round of applause he’s ever gotten for that talk.

4. My current “Serial Monogam-E” home (the one place on the web where I most frequently interact in real time with other people) is the Fall Online Forum, where a quirky international collection of music nerds and culture geeks gather to share their affections (most of the time) for Mark E. Smith’s timeless group, The Fall. The gang is currently deep into The Fall Cup, parsing all 502 songs in the group’s catalog down to a single champion, in the same tournament format that I use for a lot of writing projects here. We are currently on the cusp of boiling a Final 32 down into a Sweet Sixteen, and the whole shebang should wind up in mid-December. If you’re a fan of the group, I heartily endorse joining the Forum and helping us make the big Cup decision for the first time since 2007’s tournament. And even if you’re not passionate about The Fall, the Forum is a delightful and deep treasure trove of cultural arcana, with pretty much something for everything, especially nerds like me who like lists, polls and strongly held opinions about way too many topics. See you there?

5. Having completed my 2015 Album Of The Year Tournament, the next musical tradition in our household is the annual resetting of playlists in the family iTunes account, which combines play data from six iPods used by various of us in different places and times. It’s always interesting (to me, at least) to see how our listening habits overlap to create a mix of most-played songs that are eclectic, to say the least. Looking at the table now, the Top Ten includes a soundtrack song sung by a famous actor, a classic jazz number from 1951, some old school reggae, African music, and anthemic rock from one of the world’s biggest groups. It will be interesting to see how much it tweaks out in the next couple of weeks before I reset it all, clearing the decks to tap other components of our 10,000+ song collection on the computer.

Best Albums of 2015 (Summary)

Note: My 24th annual summary listing of the 20 best albums of the year was developed via a six-part analytical tournament involving 32 contending albums. Complete narrative related to this final listing is accessible via the following links:

Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart FivePart SixSummary

TOP TWENTY ALBUMS OF 2015:

20. Vulkano, Iridescence

19. Ought, Sun Coming Down

18. Sleater-Kinney, No Cities To Love

17. Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit

16. Gangrene, You Disgust Me

15. Rudresh Mahanthappa, Bird Calls

14. Bring Me The Horizon, That’s The Spirit

13. Wire, Wire

12.  Shriekback, Without Real String or Fish

11. Kate Pierson, Guitars and Microphones

10. Bop English, Constant Bop

9. Sleaford Mods, Key Markets

8. Thighpaulsandra, The Golden Communion

7. Hey Colossus, Radio Static High

6. The Fall, Sub-Lingual Tablet

5. Girlpool, Before The World Was Big

4. Ezra Furman, Perpetual Motion People

3. Clutch, Psychic Warfare

2. Napalm Death, Apex Predator — Easy Meat

Album Of The Year: David Gilmour, Rattle That Lock

DAVID_GILMOUR_Rattle_That_Lock_t1000

2015 Album Of The Year Tournament (Part Six)

Note: My final summary listing of the 20 best albums of 2015 was developed via a six-part analytical tournament involving 32 contending albums. Complete narrative related to this final listing is accessible via the following links:

Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart FivePart SixSummary

Okay, friends and followers (and random surfers): today’s the day that I finish the 2015 Album Of The Year Tournament and select the album that I consider to be the best musical thing I’ve heard in the past 12 months. In the prior installments of this tournament (linked above), I boiled 32 original contending discs down to a tight, tested Final Four, as follows:

Clutch, Psychic Warfare

Ezra Furman, Perpetual Motion People

David Gilmour, Rattle That Lock

Napalm Death, Apex Predator — Easy Meat

As I always do in Final Fours for these sorts of writing projects, I am shifting from a straight single elimination process to a round robin format to select the winner. Each of the four finalists will be pitted head-to-head against the other three records, with two points available in each of the six mini-tourneys: winner gets two, loser gets zero, and ties provide one point to each. The record with the most posts in the round robin will be named the Album of the Year for 2015. If I end up with a tie between albums, I will do a sudden death song-by-song analysis to pick the better of the two. If I’m still tied at that point, then it comes down to a gut decision, as happened in the most lengthy (and widely read) contest of this variety, March Of The Mellotrons. Otherwise, though, this process has always resulted in a clear winner. Let’s hope that’s the case here.

Are you ready? Here we go . . .

Clutch, Psychic Warfare vs Ezra Furman, Perpetual Motion People: Both albums are returns to high-level form after dips in quality curve, with Ezra Furman bouncing back a bit more strongly from a bit of a lower low point, in large part because of the emergence of his new band, The Boy-Friends. Furman’s album is far more personal and confessional than Clutch’s, though one of Psychic Warfare‘s best moments, “Our Lady Of Electric Light,” finds singer-lyricist Neil Fallon delving into the dark spots of his soul a bit more than he usually does. That song and “Son Of Virginia” are fine, career-high examples of an under-appreciated facet of the Clutch experience: slow-building rock anthems that grab you gently at first, then shake you hard once they get going great guns. I’d rate “Son Of Virginia” as one of the best tracks in a long career filled with great songs, a worthy album closer to a truly song disc, start to finish. As I ponder these two discs, it ultimately comes down to a matter of how I listen to them: as good as Ezra’s disc is, there are some tracks I’ve come to skip on occasion when they pop up in the earphones (being able to track and see this phenomena over time is a nice facet of using iPod data), while I never skipped through a single track, ever, on Psychic Warfare this year. That pushes it over the top in this particular contest. Decision: Clutch, 2 points; Ezra Furman, 0 points.

Clutch, Psychic Warfare vs David Gilmour, Rattle That Lock: David Gilmour’s album provides all the expected, and wonderful, guitar and vocal moments that I love and expect from one of my favorite singers and string-benders, and he deploys his great musical assets on a collection of warm and engaging songs. Textures range from the nearly ambient stillness of “5 AM” through the jazzy “The Girl In The Yellow Dress” to the crunchy anthemic R&B strut of “Rattle That Lock.” It works well as a collection of songs played on their own, and as a cohesively flowing singular creative entity. Clutch’s collection of songs are loosely bound thematically via a Philip K. Dick inspired narrative about how events and appearances are not always what they seem to be, but the resonance of the words and story-telling on Psychic Warfare is a little bit more arch and observational than the more heart-based narratives crafted by Gilmour and his novelist wife, Polly Samson. As noted in earlier rounds, I consider an album of this quality from David Gilmour to be something on an event, since he’s never been terribly prolific in his solo output. I’m going to give Gilmour the edge here on that front, happy as I am to have him back in regular rotation on my musical boxes. Decision: David Gilmour, 2 points; Clutch, 0 points.

Clutch, Psychic Warfare vs Napalm Death, Apex Predator — Easy Meat: It’s always something of a challenge to rate extreme music like Napalm Death against more accessible fare, like all three of the other albums in this Final Four Round Robin. I typically default not to comparing such cross-genre competitions directly to each other, since points of common reference are few, but rather assess each as an achievement within its own sonic sphere. Viewed through that lens, Napalm Death score a bit more highly in this contest: Apex Predator — Easy Meat is easily the best extreme metal album I’ve heard this year (and in many recent years, actually), and its experimental approaches to sonic variety within a genre that’s often regrettably monochrome is admirable. Psychic Warfare is clearly a strong disc, but it’s not mining any new musical lodes through its engaging rock and roll gallop. I’ve written before that extreme metal is an acquired taste, and that before people develop it, they tend to think that it all sounds the same. Having spent lots of listening hours over many, many years exploring the harder, darker sides of music, I can tell you this: Apex Predator — Easy Meat does not sound quite like anything else released in 2015, and it’s a special record accordingly, worthy of both available points in this particular contest. Decision: Napalm Death, 2 points; Clutch, 0 points.

Ezra Furman, Perpetual Motion People vs David Gilmour, Rattle That Lock: These two discs both win props and kudos for exploring a variety of sonic textures and song styles, keeping listeners on their toes as the two singers lead their bands through their paces. Both albums are also emotionally rich, tackling some tough topics in their lyrics, while deftly balancing the darkness with moments of sweetness and light. At bottom line for me, the veteran gravitas that Gilmour brings to Rattle That Lock trumps the earnest youthful enthusiasm that Furman offers on Perpetual Motion People, perhaps because as a parent and a gentleman of a certain age, the themes of family, loss and love resonate a bit more clearly with me. On a similar front, I also appreciate the fact that Rattle That Lock is a collaboration between Gilmour and his wife, despite the barbs that get tossed his way for trading the lyrical acerbicism of long-time collaborator Roger Waters for Polly Samson’s gentler, more abstract and less political observations. The love between the lines shines through, and I like that a lot. Decision: David Gilmour, 2 points; Ezra Furman, 0 points.

Ezra Furman, Perpetual Motion People vs Napalm Death, Apex Predator — Easy Meat: In the same ways that Napalm Death’s achievement within their musical field trumped Clutch’s achievement in theirs, I’ve got to apply a similar lens here when assessing two radically different approaches to music making, and judge Napalm Death’s accomplishment to be superior to Ezra Furman’s. Apex Predator — Easy Meat sits as the crowning achievement in a trilogy of socially aware, sonically adventurous records, and both of its predecessors ranked highly in my year end reports at the time of their releases. If long-time guitarist Mitch Harris’ leave of absence ends up being permanent, then this record will mark the end of an important musical era for a group that I count among my all-time favorites. It’s got a lot more heft in this contest accordingly, as charming and likable as young Ezra’s best album to date may be. Furman’s future may be brighter than Napalm’s, but right here, right now, the noisy monster carries the contest. Decision: Napalm Death, 2 points; Ezra Furman, 0 points.

David Gilmour, Rattle That Lock vs Napalm Death, Apex Predator — Easy Meat

Well, eyeballing the numbers above, it actually all comes down to this contest for the title of 2015 Album Of The Year, with Napalm Death and David Gilmour having earned four points each, to Clutch’s two and Ezra Furman’s zero. I’ve been sitting here at the computer for quite some time, staring at the screen thinking, then getting up and doing other things, then coming back and staring some more, because this is probably the hardest pairing I’ve faced in this tournament in terms of the quality of the music at hand, how to assess achievement in radically different genres, what I wish to publicly communicate by naming an album of the year, and how these albums impact me on an intellectual and emotional basis. David Gilmour’s album is important to me as a new high-quality entry by a non-prolific artist into a much-loved canon. It’s an easily shareable album, comfortable for friends and family members alike. As rarely as I listen to commercial radio, I’ve already heard Rattle That Lock‘s title tracks a few times on the air, so assume it’s winning listeners on a popular front, too. Napalm Death are far more prolific than Gilmour, and I find it awe-inspiring that they are releasing some of their very best music so deeply into their very busy career. Apex Predator — Easy Meat was the first 2015 release I acquired this year, and I’ve kept most of its songs on my gym, car and commuting iPods throughout the year, so it’s easily my most listened record of the year. Of course, among the 100 or so most played albums in our household, it’s the one with the least spins on the Family iPod, since its appeals aren’t universal, by a long shot, for folks with finite patience for such harsh, intense music. And I know that such sentiments extend well beyond the walls of my home, so that naming Apex Predator — Easy Meat as my album of the year would feel somewhat reductive in terms of what I hope to achieve by publicly sharing lists like these: nobody who’s not already versed in such music would likely read this report and make a decision to buy their first Napalm Death album. Citing David Gilmour’s new disc, on the other hand, might sway a skeptical Pink Floyd fan, or might make somebody who heard “Rattle That Lock” (the song) on the radio decide to investigate Rattle That Lock (the album) further. I have felt like David Gilmour’s album is important to me this year due to the scarcity of his output, is emotionally resonant as a creative endeavor, and is musically warm and inviting, almost diametrically opposed to off-putting engine blasts crafted by Napalm Death. And as I wrap this thing up, I find myself wanting to share and celebrate the warmth and beauty of Rattle That Lock a (little bit) more than I want to share and celebrate the caustic bile and fury of Apex Predator — Easy Meat. Thus . . . Decision: David Gilmour, 2 points; Napalm Death, 0 points.

And that gives us a winner . . . ladies and gentlemen, please allow me to introduce:

David Gilmour’s Rattle That Lock is my 2015 Album Of The Year

It feels good and right to type that, as the gut seems to agree with the brain — which isn’t always the case. Hopefully it feels right (or at least definsible) to you too, if you’ve been following along with this exercise in thinking out loud, while typing. Thanks for your time, either way.

I’ll leave this to sit in its current format for a couple of days, then will consolidate all of the elements into a single article for posterity’s (and search engine’s) sake. That’s always a satisfying step at the end of these sorts of contests. I will also note that next year will mark the 25th consecutive year that I’ve named an Album Of The Year in public spaces. Here’s hoping that it might be an easier process for me in 2016!

2015 Album Of The Year Tournament (Part Five)

Note: My final summary listing of the 20 best albums of 2015 was developed via a six-part analytical tournament involving 32 contending albums. Complete narrative related to this final listing is accessible via the following links:

Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart FivePart SixSummary

I’ve got an hour of downtime this afternoon between the closing of the exhibition floor and the evening’s receptions at my conference in Pittsburgh, so with only four contests to document this round, I’m going to give it a quick stab to move us along in the tournament. I had originally envisioned this tournament taking a while longer, but I guess I should know from experience that once it gets lodged in my head, I tend to want to get it back out and on the written page as quickly as I can. Since the Final Four are handled as a single round, this is the penultimate report before I select my 2015 Album Of The Year. Exciting!

The links at the top of the page will take you to the prior installments if you’re jumping in late and want to see how we got from the original 32 albums to the eight I will review today. Preambles dispatched, let’s get critiquing!

Thighpaulsandra, The Golden Communion vs Napalm Death, Apex Predator — Easy Meat: The two most challenging records remaining in contention get a head-to-head death match here that guarantees something at the disturbing end of the spectrum is going to be competing in the Final Four Round Robin. As noted in early installments, former Spiritualized and COIL keyboardist Thighpaulsandra’s The Golden Communion is a sprawling two-hour beast, filled with long, slow-developing songs that were nearly a decade in development. It’s a truly ambitious project that incorporates a variety of sounds and stylings ranging from edgy ambient all the way over to metallic riff-mongering, and its lyrical concerns are as edgy as its instrumental settings. Napalm Death’s Apex Predator — Easy Meat is a career highlight for the esteemed fathers of grindcore, and it’s filled with all of the strong sociopolitical ruminations that fans would expect from this most dogmatic of metal bands. Neither of these albums wins a lot of spins on the family iPod, but they’re headphone favorites for me during my commutes and workouts. In picking between them, I come down to the matters of density and familiarity: there are a few cuts on The Golden Communion that I tend to skip (it’s hard to often make the mental commitment to a 24-minute long song), while I play Apex Predator all the way through regularly, and have been doing so for much longer since it was an early 2015 release. Grind on, Barney, Danny, Shane and Mitch. You’re going to the Final Four. Winner: Napalm Death, Apex Predator — Easy Meat.

The Fall, Sub-Lingual Tablet vs David Gilmour, Rattle That Lock: The Fall emerged in those heady post-punk days after the Sex Pistols, Damned, Clash and other English fathers of the genre demonstrated to their young British brethren that high gloss and technical chops were not required to make a compelling musical racket. The punks tended to be socially and musically reactionary, and one of the things they were rebelling against was the cultural hegemony of group’s like David Gilmour’s Pink Floyd. In a 2012 article in The Quietus, Fall front man Mark E. Smith summed up the general sentiment of the era with typical MES concision: “Pink Floyd? Crap!” Of course, as much as I love The Fall, I don’t agree with MES’s assessment, and Gilmour’s voice and guitar are among my favorite elements of one of my favorite band’s music. I’m on the record as naming Gilmour, Robert Fripp and Paul Leary as my high holy trinity of lead guitar players, each fascinating and distinctive in their own special ways. Rattle That Lock does not disappoint on this front, filled as it is with choice solos deployed atop an interesting combo platter of musical styles. Gilmour’s songwriting (often with his wife, novelist Polly Samson, handling the lyrics) is also strong here, and the overall impact of his fourth solo album is warm, emotional, engaging and uplifting. He’s a slow worker when it comes to his recorded output, so there’s no telling when we’ll hear from him again — while The Fall tend to be clockwork prolific, offering their fandom an album or so each year. Sub-Lingual Tablet is one of their finest offerings in some time, and I enjoy it very much, but as a sheer musical accomplishment of note and merit, Rattle That Lock is the stronger and, dare I say it, more important record. Winner: David Gilmour, Rattle That Lock.

Girlpool, Before The World Was Big vs Ezra Furman, Perpetual Motion People: This is a tough contest for me between worthy albums by a pair of impressive young artists. Before I decided to take a tournament approach to my 2015 Album Of The Year report, I had both of these records in my mental file cabinet as possible contenders for the top of the pile, so they both likely could have been in the top four if they didn’t have the misfortune of meeting here. Both records are quirky and engaging in both their songwriting and performances, and both feature fun, observational songwriting about a variety of personal and inter-personal matters of the heart and soul. Girlpool are making their long-playing debut here, while Ezra Furman is deeper into his career, and making a much appreciated return to band format with these recordings. Ultimately, it’s the band that edges Ezra ahead of Girlpool for me, as they provide a higher degree of variety and texture than the somewhat monochrome voice-guitar-bass sound of Before The World Was Big. I think Girlpool have an impressive career ahead of them, and if they’re fortunate, a few albums in they will reach the degree of mature confidence that Ezra Furman exudes on Perpetual Motion People. I love their first forays into recording, and I look forward to following along to see where it takes them — but in the right here, right now, Ezra Furman and The Boy-Friends carry the current contest. Winner: Ezra Furman, Perpetual Motion People.

Clutch, Psychic Warfare vs Hey Colossus, Radio Static High: This here’s a battle of heavy bands making massive guitar-based noises in service to huge songs, so there’s a lot of bigness to go around. I’ve been listening to Clutch actively for nearly 20 years now, and know that they’re absolute titans of the stage, delivering one of the most compelling blends of guitar-bass-drum-voice noise that I’ve ever experienced in a concert setting. Hey Colossus are new to me in 2015, but I’m eager to explore their back catalog, as Radio Static High has been a real eye-opener and ear-pummeler for me since I first discovered and spun it. It’s hard to hit as hard as they do, and even harder to capture that energy and heft in the recording studio. Unfortunately for them, though, Clutch are probably one of the tiny numbers of bands capable of doing each of those things just a tiny bit better, and on Psychic Warfare, they have the extra benefit of a one of their greatest collection of songs working on their behalf, so in this battle of the behemoths, age and treacherous rock fury carry the day over youth and exuberant riff-mastery. (Edit: They’re not as young as I thought they were . . . but yet still exuberant, and quite possibly not treacherous). The Winner: Clutch, Psychic Warfare.

And with that contest done, I now proudly present our Final Four for the 2015 Album Of The Year Title:

Clutch, Psychic Warfare

Ezra Furman, Perpetual Motion People

David Gilmour, Rattle That Lock

Napalm Death, Apex Predator — Easy Meat

A reminder that for my Final Fours in these sorts of writing projects, I will shift to a round robin format to select the winner. Each of the four finalists will be pitted head-to-head against the other three records, with two points available in each mini-tourney: winner gets two, loser gets zero, and ties provide one point to each. The record with the most posts in the round robin will be named the Album of the Year for 2015.If I end up with a tie between albums, I will do a sudden death song-by-song analysis to pick the better of the two. If I’m still tied at that point, then, hell, I’ll just pick something.

One more post and we’re done! I’m not sure how the next couple of days will go work-wise, but if I can get ‘er done, then I’ll get ‘er done!