Monday, December 26, 2011

SCQ's Top Twenty Albums of 2011

This year’s content has been brought to you by Weetabix. Add a variety of green teas with nearly identical packaging, and brown sugar. These constituted an early morning habit I would’ve crumbled without, a cycle of hedonism that didn’t necessarily bite the hand feeding it. They might seem like quaint contributors when compared to, say, the cheap 1.5 liter wine bottles that used to fuel Skeleton Crew Quarterly’s near-nightly content, but I reckon I’ll get better mileage out of this approach.

The sun is now setting on 2011, my most fruitful year (although a cursory view of SCQ’s monthly content will insist otherwise). I wrote music criticism for a handful of different websites, tried my hand at press-release writing and had some poetry published. As well, 2011 found me renew my commitment to SCQ and remember why I enjoy running this humble blog more than any staff or contributor position. As ever, I’m thankful to my readers and the wonderful PR friends who continue to surprise me.

The following twenty albums surmise this year of rejuvenation and, for that reason, has made compiling this year-end list the most enjoyable SCQ experience yet. Happy Holidays and enjoy!

~ Love SCQ

P.S. - I despise music videos so most of the clips below will feature mostly audio (which is, really, what we all are here for). Exceptions include a few instances where the visuals fit nicely or I had no choice but to accept the medium for what it is. A few audio streams appear where decent videos were impossible to find. Cheers.

20.) Skying - The Horrors (Top 20 Albums of 2011)


The Horrors
XL Records.

SCQ Rating: 82%

Up until Christmas, this here twentieth position was held for The Strokes’ Angles. That’s right – I’d worked up a pretty strong defense for the former it-band’s fourth LP and done my damnedest to point out how much of an improvement it is from 2006’s drawn-out First Impressions of Earth. So why does it read “The Horrors” next to SCQ’s #20 spot?

I’ve secretly been listening to Skying for the past six months at work. It began innocently enough out of curiosity, since I’d never heard Primary Colours or Strange House before, but quickly descended into an obsessive, albeit strangely time-and-place, habit. I’d unlock the store doors most mornings in July, August and, depending on my mood, start with either the buoyant ‘Changing the Rain’ or the hypnotic momentum of ‘Still Life’. For whatever reason, Skying lay at the center of a lengthy indecision: do I bring the record home or maintain my arm’s-length work-relationship with it? Should I bring its soothing new-wave ocean into the madness of my apartment, where wedding preparations were in full tilt, or keep it a snapshot of these quiet mornings at the hull? Until two days ago, I’d chosen the latter.

As familiar as I am with Angles’ arrow-sharp, pop experiments, The Strokes’ casual rhythms are helpless to rival the layered, crushing heaviness of Skying. Whether the British quintet are blurring the line between kraut-like percussion and sine waves on ‘Moving Further Away’ or giving languid ambient-rock a vicious kick in the teeth on ‘Endless Blue’, Skying showcases the Horrors’ expert precision at wielding sonic and emotional depths. By the time a massive tidal wave of searing noise and processed bass brings ‘Oceans Burning’, and the record at whole, to a blistering close, I wonder how I resisted its surge for so long.

19.) Dive - Tycho (Top 20 Albums of 2011)

Ghostly International.

Seeing as how I wrote about Dive just a week or so ago, I was tempted – sitting next to the glow of a Christmas tree and eating Rice Krispie squares – to simply rehash my praise for Tycho’s latest. But once ‘A Walk’’s weathered tones bubble up, I’m reminded that the last thing Dive needs is hyperbole. What mesmerized me so much about this record in the first place was how Hansen’s music seems to stand strong without any auteur-like shackles. These songs evoke their own thin-aired landscapes, their own unique daydreams; for me to carry on with comparisons to other electronic artists who’ve traveled this winning path already would be missing the point.

For those of you who feel better assured dipping into new music with some context however, I’ll say this: Scott Hansen’s 2004 debut Sunrise Projector was reissued three times before this year’s follow-up was completed, and that time was well-spent. Tycho’s hazy melodies and hey-day worthy break-beats carry an aura that drenches even the simplest of activities – like shoving one’s face with holiday cheer – in weightless beauty. An album better experienced than studied over.

18.) Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will - Mogwai (Top 20 Albums of 2011)

Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will / Earth Division EP
Sub Pop Records.

Whether or not Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will ever gets recognized as one the Scottish veterans’ best albums is for hindsight to decide, but there’s a certain satisfaction in recognizing that Mogwai’s seventh literally corrects every issue I had with 2008’s The Hawk Is Howling. The opulent variety at hand, which sees the band flex from fuzzed-out stompers (‘Rano Pano’) and shimmery balladry (‘Death Rays’) to Krautrock electro (‘Mexican Grand Prix’), and bolder production give Hardcore… a showy side that in every way trumps its sludgy predecessor.

Hardly a group to rest long on their laurels, Mogwai have already moved on with a brief EP of glitch and piano focused fare called Earth Division. Listening to the haunting, acoustic ‘Hound Of Winter’ and stately sprawl of ‘Does This Always Happen?’ in December – nearly a year after Hardcore… first dropped – has reaffirmed Mogwai’s importance to SCQ in 2011. These two releases present divergent ends of a band reinvigorated.

17.) City Of Refuge - Abigail Washburn (Top 20 Albums of 2011)

City Of Refuge

Abigail Washburn
Rounder Records.

SCQ Rating: 81%

Some records land on year-end lists strictly because of their embracing or effacing textbook rules, whereby they tailor their set of songs to a particular crowd. Other records cling to importance by eliciting the mood and memory of a certain time-period. Although Abigail Washburn arrived to SCQ’s pages a virtual stranger, her City Of Refuge full-length found its way to these year-end accolades through both its awe-inspired craft and the memories it evokes.

March had yet to soften when City Of Refuge began traveling with us on weekend house-hunting trips. Scouring the outskirts of Ottawa – through Russell, Carleton Place, Richmond, and Kemptville – Washburn’s bluegrass-inflected folk complimented every snow-covered plain. From ‘Chains’, which calls to mind a lush but rustic Fleetwood Mac, to the country gospel of ‘Devine Bell’, City Of Refuge runs a gamut of styles finely tuned by an all-star ensemble (including, among many others, the jazz-guitar great Bill Frisell).

Eventually we called off the hunt, realizing that life in a big old farmhouse, far away from civilization, might not be the wisest decision. And only when City Of Refuge floods through my speakers do I wonder if we were wrong.

16.) Kaputt - Destroyer (Top 20 Albums of 2011)

Merge Records.

Kaputt arrived on the scene in January with such aplomb, it was hard not to incite vague comparisons with Merriweather Post Pavilion. Just as focused in its left-turn from crunchy electric rock to synthesized textures, Kaputt seemed destined to win 2011 before it was thirty days out of the gate.

And there’s a good chance Destroyer pulled it off too, albeit on a slyer scale than the crushing dominance Animal Collective demonstrated in 2009; Kaputt grabbed a flurry of ecstatic reviews that climaxed with numerous year-end accolades and a shortlist nomination for the Polaris Prize. Indeed, Dan Bejar’s ninth record as Destroyer became a universal touchstone amongst indie enthusiasts, although the argument could easily be made that Kaputt was designed to be such. I mean, a precocious blend of Destroyer’s wit matched to atmospheric, Steely Dan-esque arrangements, all coated in an 80s sheen of sax and drum-machines? That level of pastiche seems tailor-made for 2011 and was quickly absorbed by a shoot-from-the-hip blogger community SCQ’s hesitant to readily associate with.

Manufactured or not, there was no denying Kaputt’s accomplishment or the prevailing oddity of Dan Bejar. It renewed my interest in Bejar’s songwriting for the first time since Destroyer’s Rubies in 2006 and gave me a rare horse to root for in the Polaris. Also, like Merriweather…, Kaputt was dangerously close to exhausting all of the sentiments and sonic trickery we considered fresh, in a way defining the strengths and flaws of the year that was.

15.) Ravedeath, 1972 - Tim Hecker (Top 20 Albums of 2011)

Ravedeath, 1972 / Dropped Pianos
Tim Hecker
Kranky Records.

(This blurb was first published on No Ripcord...)

It’s easy to see the favoritism playing out between consumers and entertainment technology these days. High-definition televisions and three-dimensional movie theatres have quickly become universal quality standards whereas, in the same breath, lousily ripped mp3s and torrents have become the musical norm. The record industry is in a state of collapse – sure, we all know that – but so is the value of music as art.

No album points this out as hypnotically as Ravedeath, 1972. Using a two-day church organ session as foundation, Tim Hecker took these twelve compositions to dust, disassembling their solemn appeal (available on the companion release Dropped Pianos) and battering them with serrated, digital fuzz. Despite such a minimal palette, what blossoms from Hecker’s decay is nothing short of earthshaking; a darkly persuasive tapestry of abused sounds rising for redemption.

Of course, all of the loose music-versus-culture theory stirred up by Hecker’s approach would mean nothing without his melodic spare parts assembling into something compelling. And luckily for us, Ravedeath, 1972’s conflicted heart is downright intoxicating.

14.) Looping State Of Mind - The Field (Top 20 Albums of 2011)

Looping State Of Mind

The Field
Kompakt Records.

SCQ Rating: 83%

From Here We Go Sublime first caught my ear in the spring of 2007, and I was hooked. I recall myself languishing in a suburb outside Halifax for two weeks, endlessly streaming top cuts like ‘A Paw In My Face’ and trying to track the disc down in downtown shoppes. By the time I finally found a copy, two months later in Toronto, and brought it home, the magic had evaporated – as though Axel Willner’s repetition bludgeoned the fragile hooks to oblivion.

Given that the Field’s core approach hasn’t deviated over the four years since that debut, it’s a bit bewildering to concede just how good Looping State Of Mind is. Sure, 2009’s Yesterday & Today found Willner expanding his songwriting, filling generous run-times with slow-building hooks that wouldn’t let go. But Looping State Of Mind goes several steps further, delivering Willner’s most accomplished set yet. The soundscapes vary in feel and texture but all are seductive, from ‘It’s Up There’’s chilly blur to ‘Then It’s White’’s aftermath of piano-led vocal-clips, and the beats on each track illustrate as much depth as they do tempo.

As with any Field album, patience proves a virtue as Looping State Of Mind continues Willner’s habit of placing a giant, repetitive zone-out into the sequencing (‘Arpeggiated Love’). It may not undergo any sudden shifts over its eleven-minutes, but it does intensify in a way that rewards the enduring listener. And for those of us who’ve stood by The Field throughout his beige-adorned trilogy, there’s little questioning that Looping State Of Mind has been a sixty-three minute revelation worth waiting for.

13.) Wit's End - Cass McCombs (Top 20 Albums of 2011)

Wit’s End
Cass McCombs
Domino Records.

Well I’d had a lot to drink; that should be mentioned forthright. We’d celebrated a friend’s birthday all afternoon and evening until only a late-night bus – the last one available – dropped me off about thirty minutes from my apartment. The usually hectic four lanes of St. Laurent stretched vacantly and the May breeze felt mild as Cass McCombs attuned my ears to his slow allure. A sound patient but rewarding, Wit’s End turned my half hour journey into an hour-long promenade which reveled the full sorrow of ‘Memory Stain’ as much as the tender romance of ‘The Lonely Doll’.

That walk wouldn’t have felt so majestic had I even half-liked Wit’s End beforehand. But I didn’t; on initial spins, this record seemed like a bore, with ‘County Line’ in particular sounding like some anemic AM Radio misfire from the 70s. But that’s precisely the track that wormed passed my skepticism while I sat inebriated on the bus; the quirks of its dated arrangement began to shape a bittersweet momentum and McCombs’ mournful vocals create this immensely fragile chorus. From there I was hooked.

Which brings me back to the beginning: I’d had a lot to drink and the languid, depressing Wit’s End should’ve been the last album on my iPod to sustain a late-night buzz. It’s slow – by god it’s slow – but McCombs’ ornate arrangements and distinctive vocals stand in sharp contrast to the shallow balladry of the average singer-songwriter. Wit’s End isn’t about stroking the catharsis that feels neglected at a given time; it’s about uncovering the emotions you’d forgotten that matter.

12.) The King Of Limbs - Radiohead (Top 20 Albums of 2011)

The King Of Limbs
Self-released/XL Records.

(This blurb was first published on No Ripcord...)

Radiohead told the world they were going to release The King Of Limbs on Saturday. For whatever reason, they set it free on Friday instead. That quibble of dates may read as insignificant but rest assured: in a musical climate fraught with leaks and the increasingly topical argument that full-length records are an antiquated format for pop art, Radiohead are worth waiting for. People attacked the band for being rich enough to afford the luxury of releasing their own music, for being reclusive amid the age of Twitter and for having only thirty-some minutes of music to show for four years away. I mean, the gall!

Admittedly I, like most fans, felt a tad slighted when hopes of a King Of Limbs II evaporated and the usual b-sides bundle was replaced with a slew of mostly forgettable remixes. But why were these people – myself included – sleuthing the digital avenues of fan-sites as though this shit was The Da Vinci Code? Because, despite its failure to reach for the grandeur of previous classics, The King Of Limbs remains a fascinating exercise in pattern-breaking; bizarrely sequenced, melodically brittle but ferociously rhythmic, and surprisingly humble. Although its reception revealed a bitter group of fair-weather fans looking to define and embellish the record’s flaws, the faithful remember that Radiohead made their legacy by defying expectations.

11.) The Wounded Beat - Mombi (Top 20 Albums of 2011)

The Wounded Beat
Own Records.

On the morning I left for Sauble Beach, my friend texted me some choice lyrics from Mombi’s ‘Cascade Cliffs’. By doing so he’d incepted my mind with the song’s aching undertow, which followed me over my hour-long wait at the bus station, another six hours as I traveled to Hamilton, and the time I spent wandering that city’s corridors waiting for my ride. Loud, open-window rock songs and laughter overtook our car trip but when we arrived to the coast, well after dark, ‘Cascade Cliffs’ returned to me.

A melancholic heart the size of The Wounded Beat is difficult to fully shake. It scales over the listener like a slate-grey cloud and cloaks us in thick ambient mists (‘Monsoon’, ‘The Misunderstanding’). Those impenetrable tracks armed in four-by-four beats offer a bittersweet contrast to Mombi’s more acoustic fare, with ‘Glowing Beatdown’ and ‘More Coal For the Miners and More Meals To Be Given Out’ encompassing the record’s vast plain of introspection. What stands on its own as a solid album is deepened greatly by well-known names guiding The Wounded Beat’s sound: Keith Kenniff (Helios) on production duties and Taylor Deupree, who mastered the disc. With such a crack team collaborating here, it’s no wonder even the lesser highlights on Mombi’s debut manage to cling to our memories so resolutely. A beautiful heartbreak of a record.

Mombi - The Wounded Beat

10.) Plays Thelma - Benoît Honoré Pioulard (Top 20 Albums of 2011)

Plays Thelma
Benoît Honoré Pioulard
Desire Path Records.

Returning to normalcy after my wedding had the vague air of coming back into consciousness after a severe panic attack; in the aftermath of all of the activity and sensory overload, one’s overtaken by a relief that elicits a short-lived serenity. Getting back to a regular routine after all of the wedding planning put me in a peaceful frame of mind that desired only restrained music.

With Plays Thelma, so began my post-classical autumn. Its MP3s were waiting when we pulled in from the airport and became my go-to record the following morning, basking in the morphing character of ‘Malick’ and ‘Calder’ as I passed changing foliage. Pioulard designed this mini-album as an imaginary place – “a lake within a haze” – and these compositions, often string-laden or tempered by found-sounds, succeed in mapping out a quaint territory for the mind to wander over and over. In the process, these songs thread together my favourite ambient piece of 2011 but, what’s more: Thelma became my sanctuary.

9.) Street Halo EP - Burial (Top 20 Albums of 2011)

Street Halo EP
Hyperdub Records.

People consumed this EP as a taster to some imminently announced Untrue successor that, so far, hasn’t come to be. While I agree with the notion that three tracks clocking in at a combined twenty-minutes can’t quell the anticipation for a full-length release, Street Halo EP comes damned close. Neither the title track nor ‘Stolen Dog’ ever strays from their dancefloor genes, instead building a terse mood beneath Burial’s gritty hooks. And sandwiched between these new dubstep classics lies the sensual ‘NYC’, which percolates the walls of a room with a rainy night ambience. There’s more than enough beauty in these three longer-than-average pieces to swim in.

Word has it that early 2012 will see Burial return with yet another new EP. Details are scarce at the moment but, if Street Halo is anything to base our hopes on, it looks to be another triumphant year for one of electronic music’s chief mysteries.

8.) All of It Was Mine - The Weather Station (Top 20 Albums of 2011)

All Of It Was Mine
The Weather Station
You’ve Changed Records.

August was turning over when All Of It Was Mine arrived in my mailbox. The evenings were finally cooling down and I’d welcomed it in to flutter the windowsill pages of the SCQ office. I was due to marry in a month – our apartment was piled with diagrams of tables, waiting envelopes, and empty formal wear – but Tamara Lindeman kept me calm. As I escaped into the office to listen to music by the glow of a faint lamp, it was relieving to hear Lindeman absorbing the silence of her open kitchen (on ‘Came So Easy’) or yearning for connection over telephone lines (‘Running Around Asking’). I was basking in solitude, hers and mine.

The first night I heard All Of It Was Mine, I probably played the whole thing through at least four times. It was easy, in part because the recording’s only half an hour long, but mostly on account of its comforting eloquence. Like an autumnal blanket or a bedroom corner one flocks to after hard days, All Of It Was Mine puts all of the daily wrestling we endure into serene perspective. “It was hard but I found my place,” Lindeman repeats over the crashing ‘Nobody’ and it’s a cathartic refrain she has truly earned.

7.) As High As the Highest Heavens... - True Widow (Top 20 Albums of 2011)

As High As the Highest Heavens and From the Center To the Circumference of the Earth
True Widow
Kemado Records.

On the eve of a trip to New Hampshire, I discovered True Widow’s new record streaming on NPR. Thanks to the Texas band’s PR, SCQ had As High As the Highest Heavens And From the Center To the Circumference Of the Earth downloaded in time for the early spring visit. Sometimes in life we find experiences that were meant to collide; listening to the bone-trembling low-end of True Widow among New Hampshire’s rocky, mountain-covered terrain was certainly one of those mergers.

Although originally sucked in by the ferocious feedback of ‘Jackal’, it was the trio’s melodic frays – existing on the edge of their heaviness – that kept bringing me back. At once chugging and harmonious, ‘Skull Eyes’ perhaps best represents the pop-like extreme of True Widow’s sound. What dominates the rest of the album are slow-core meditations expounded by sleepy boy/girl vocals and imaginative songwriting. ‘Blooden Horse’ encircles a more straightforward metal song masterfully, with crisp extended passages that feed the song’s deep lungs, whereas ‘NH’ (yeah – no shit) adds subtle production on its burdened chorus until it approaches redemptive glory. When it’s finally said and done, True Widow earn this record’s epic title. 

6.) Hysterical - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (Top 20 Albums of 2011)

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
V2 Records.

It’s a tremendous feeling when a band or artist you’ve stood behind for years truly surprises you. Throughout a given year, the average committed music-listener will anticipate five to ten releases from bands or artists that might crack their desert-island lists; I’m talking about the musicians you buy without having heard a lick of their new album – nay, the musicians you buy because you’ve refused yourself the opportunity to sample anything in advance.

From my pocket of personal favourite bands, 2011 revealed a few eagerly anticipated “deaf purchases”: Wilco, Dog Day, Ryan Adams, Matthew Good – artists I’ve followed since I was, by all accounts, a different human being. None of these artists landed on SCQ’s list, despite their name-power attempting to soften the bias in me. Among the top tier bands that did make 2011’s year-end grade is Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, whose Hysterical I awaited with fingers crossed. It wasn’t a fear of repeating Some Loud Thunder that concerned me – I, for one, thought that sophomore made the band’s catalog more interesting – it was a fear that the critical disappointment from that release might’ve driven CYHSY to be something they aren’t. Although the synth-y gloss could be acting as a defense mechanism, Hysterical presents that same band everyone loved in 2005 firing on all cylinders.

5.) I Found Your Faces of Montreal - You Are My Symphonic (Top 20 Albums of 2011)

I Found Your Faces Of Montreal
You Are My Symphonic

Montreal-based electronic artists really captured SCQ’s attention this year but one release stood out from the pack. A conceptual elegy to his island city. I Found Your Faces Of Montreal traces songwriter Vishal Kassie’s journey from his formative years in Toronto to his home in Quebec’s largest city. Instead of going the Sufjan Stevens’ route by using historical quirks for inspiration, Kassie ties his experiences in with the city’s culture and geography.

Emphasizing emotions over infrastructure is a wise move for Kassie, who crafts a more introspective record by instilling I Found Your Faces Of Montreal with so many relatable rites of passage. Like a travel notebook enduring constant change, You Are My Symphonic’s songs brim with dislocated passion; the sort that will shake some listeners but hearten those with the capacity for it. Expect this album to continue building steam into 2012. 

4.) Was I the Wave? - Miracle Fortress (Top 20 Albums of 2011)

Was I the Wave?
Miracle Fortress
Secret City Records.

(This blurb was first published in CMG...)

Even without its aqua-drenched cover-art or suggestive title, Was I the Wave? feels like a steep plunge. We linger briefly on the coastline of ‘Awe’ admiring its ripples but once the funky bass and thick, synth-y undertow of “Tracers” rises up, we’re swallowed into a forty-minute surge that consistently feels closer to twenty, where Miracle Fortress (Graham Van Pelt) commands addictive electro-pop choruses and understated sound-experiments at whim. They organize like the invisible gears of a tide, rolling back in out-of-focus segues one minute before crashing upon our laps as full-blown rave-ups the next. Over its peaks, Was I the Wave? escapes its colder currents and takes in some vitamin D, with “Everything Works” and “Miscalculations” basking in some upbeat, confessional pop hooks. By the time “Until” flutters to a close on sanguine guitar lines, we’re marooned somewhere between Van Pelt’s dancefloor and daydreams, trying to regulate our temperatures.

Watery metaphors aside, Was I the Wave?’s lake-fresh vibe was also backed by circumstantial elements – namely a lot of rain. Released amid a torrential downpour that hovered over Van Pelt’s Montreal on April 25th, Was I the Wave? perfectly sums up the reinvigorating promise of Spring; when April’s thaw uncovers matted greenery we nearly forgot and the desire to blare electro-pop anthems from an open-window overwhelms. This record can cure the woes of any climate.

3.) SMM: Context - Various (Top 20 Albums of 2011)

SMM: Context
Ghostly International

The very first compilation to land on SCQ’s Top Twenty of any given year fell into my hands purely by luck. The gifted composer Kyle Bobby Dunn, who released the gorgeously understated Ways Of Meaning in March, introduced me to the project headed up by Jeff Owens of Ghostly International, but I had no idea the effect it would have on my coming year.

When a longstanding streak of writer’s block ended this Spring and I began writing poetry again, SMM: Context extended its post-review shelf-life by worming its way into the background of those daily sessions. My gravitating towards the compilation began with Dunn’s ‘Runge’s Last Stand’, then expanded to Goldmund’s ‘Motion’ and Peter Broderick’s ‘Pause’ and Jacaszek’s ‘Elegia’. Overplaying those favourites always led to the accidental spins of surrounding tracks – like Manual’s ‘Three Parts’ and Rafael Anton Irisarri’s ‘Moments Descend On My Windowpane’ – which soon became irresistible mood pieces as well.

As seasons changed and my habit birthed the beginnings of a full-on manuscript, SMM: Context grew from a reliable tapestry of ambience, post-classical and electro-acoustic soundscapes into a one-of-a-kind project that saw each subgenre absorbed seamlessly into a greater whole. Despite the talent attached to SMM: Context, the roster never outshines the material submitted. Ghostly International completely outdid itself in 2011 and as if the plethora of excellent records they released of late weren’t proof enough, my anticipation for a second helping of SMM: Context – a compliation, for god’s sake – should say it all.  

2.) Ascension - Jesu (Top 20 Albums of 2011)

Caldoverde Records.

Hearing Jesu for the first time was revelatory, in large part because I’d never experienced a sound so brash yet seductive. Justin Broadrick’s studio approach to metal was certainly loud but his focus sought expansiveness instead of sheer volume. Giant webs of treated guitar bend around you, enticing any latent nostalgia or frustration bubbling underneath, and revealing emotions you hadn’t paid notice to.

Ascension, the long-awaited full-length follow-up to 2007’s Conqueror, makes its trade by exposing emotion. Every song but the closing title track sports not only a massive armor but the most delicate, melodic underbelly. Detuned acoustics feed drama through the blustery opener ‘Fools’, a yawning ambience offsets the heaviness of ‘Small Wonder’, and a disembodied choral adds to the awe-like intensity of ‘Birth Day’. Even with the inclusion of rocker ‘Sedatives’, Ascension remains super sludgy with long passages dedicated to Broadrick’s patient, earth-shuddering sadness. But like the best Jesu release (in my opinion, that’s Lifeline EP), that sadness comes equipped here with a palpable sense of liberation. Acquiring the taste for Jesu may be an uphill battle, but the rewards within the hour-long Ascension are worth fighting for.