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Play it again

Our reviewers reprise the year’s best Noise

Bozeman’s The Touchers stitch together haunting, keen-edged tunes with cryptic, beautiful madness. The Underwater Fascist (Global Seepej Records) is a bedeviled ship on stormy seas. From the cowboy punk of “February 22nd 1975” to the neurotic tenderness of “The Mattress Song,” it embodies both heartbreak and defiance with delicate destructiveness. Though a brilliant gem in its own right, it’s also a potent remembrance of singer/songwriter Ben Spangler whose death this year constitutes enormous loss. (EF)

He’s bizarre, intriguing and highly infectious. Armed with just an iPod, a mess of analog equipment and his trippy green skull, Dan Deacon—think Richard Simmons on ecstasy—instantly brings a crowd to life with his quirky electronica. Spiderman of the Rings (Carpark) is a variegated mess of low-budget, dance party bliss, but it’s his shows, like June’s sweatfest at Higgins Hall, more than the album, that are fueling an underground buzz. (JS)

Vampire Weekend is a wicked tease—the musical equivalent of Jessica Alba in Into the Blue, or maybe worse. Because for nine minutes, or three songs, this ultra-hyped Big Apple quartet—The New York Times and Rolling Stone deemed them among the year’s best…without even hearing a full album—offers up some seriously infectious cross-genre party music worthy of the buzz. Their Vampire Weekend EP (self-released) is full of Afrobeat polyrhythms and punk-pop hooks, with occasional nods to ska and New Wave. Ever since the band hit the Badlander in July, I haven’t been able to kick tracks like “Oxford Comma” (nothing beats a song damning a punctuation mark) and “A-Punk” from my brain. (SB)

If you caught this doom metal trio’s July show at The Other Side, your eardrums are probably still recovering. Not surprisingly, High on Fire’s pummeling onstage theatrics translates well onto digital format with Death Is This Communion (Relapse Records), an epic ride into mammoth riffs, guttural bass and tight drum arrangements. Esteemed producer Jack Endino (Nirvana, Mudhoney) coaxed the album’s shifting dynamics into a sound that’s both immaculate and raw—Matt Pike’s vocals are upped in volume and each instrument is given room to be heard clearly and loudly, while the dirty, down-tuned guitar work of previous efforts remains intact. Simply the best metal album of the year. (ISO)

Glitch geeks, mop-topped rockers and introspective lyric hounds can each find something rewarding on the seventh LP from Minneapolis’ Cloud Cult. The most heavily ornamented of the bands’ offerings, The Meaning of 8 (Rebel Group) brings violin, flute and horns to their typical mix of electronica and power chords for an enveloping sound in service of weird, endearing and insightful songs. Put this album in your iPod at the peril of everything else in there. (JW)

Punk rock records are birthed every day from all corners of the world, but Blazing Hot Title Track (Tummy Rock) of Billings-based Noise Noise Noise is one of few with the diverse range, spitting wit and charismatic gall to burrow into your brain and set up shop. Nothing like good old-fashioned punk riffs wrapped in pop-edged snarls, battered by craggy drumming. “Missy” is like falling for the Ramones again, “New Day Shine” is unchained jubilance. (EF)

Any discussion of Martha Scanlan, the one-time Missoula resident turned Nashville starlet, should begin with her distinctly delicate vibrato. Reed thin and dangerously fragile, Scanlan’s voice is the perfect vehicle for her evocative lyrics of love and loss. That voice comes through best on her solo debut, The West Was Burning (Sugar Hill), with achingly spare tracks like “Up On The Divide.” Accompanied by nothing more than a six-string, she sings, “The grave on the hillside is long overgrown / Been 22 years since I gathered the stones / Twenty-two more years since I made her my bride / And the springtime’s a-coming up on the divide.” Backup musicianship from Levon and Amy Helm and producer Dirk Powell only add to a mix that’s vaguely reminiscent of Scanlan’s work with Reeltime Travelers, but an entirely more varied animal. (SB)
Since their first release in 1998, East Coast avant-garde hip-hoppers Dälek have proven to be years ahead of their underground peers by sticking with an ethos of fierce experimentation and relentless progression, both musically and lyrically. With Abandoned Language (Ipecac Records), they’ve set the bar a notch higher by incorporating dark, dynamically shifting timbres with their trademark biting lyricism and hard-hitting beats. (ISO)

The mad rock scientists of Madraso deliver the smackdown every which way. The Seattle band’s EP The Theme of Consequence (Pseudo Recordings) kicks the teeth out of most math rock recordings this year, the tone ranging—in just seven short tracks—from a smoldering compactness of embers to the hellbent wildness of a sweeping firestorm. (EF)

Listen to The Lonely H’s Hair (Control Group) and suddenly everything sonic about the 1970s is recalled—and in a double-hip, slick and cool mod sort of way. These four kids—they’re fresh off high school graduation—from Port Angeles, Wash., have created the missing soundtrack to Dazed and Confused, offering up youthful and nostalgic exuberance. And their recent Missoula show, just like this album, was an irresistable blend of snarling riffage, syrupy melodies and prog rock escapades that recall a seedier time. (JS)

Brian Whitson and the Night Wolves is the ultimate soundtrack for that moment when—like the perfect movie scene—you burn painful mementos of a stagnant life and hit the highway for unknown adventure. Spice Mountain, Sacred Heart (Boom Island) is both surefooted and yet teetering on the brink of breakdown. And anyone who yell-sings their way through songs with titles like “Anaconda Death Wound,” but still ends up with a romantic folk album is pretty genius. (EF)

It would seem too easy for Neil Young to just keep re-releasing the next Harvest. But being the adventurous artist that he is means chances will be taken and whims will be followed. High highs and low lows, Tonight’s the Night to Trans, one is never quite sure what to expect when old Neil presents his latest. In Chrome Dreams II (Reprise Records), Neil Young gives us the goods. He selectively turns the way back machine to the 1970s with “Beautiful Blue-Bird” (feels like Harvest), to the 1980s with “Ordinary People” (think Bluenotes) and to the 1990s with “Dirty Old Man” (smells like Ragged Glory). The gem of the album might be found in the 14-minute-plus “No Hidden Path” featuring Shakey himself turning it up to 11 on his electric guitar. It’s Neil’s best work in years. (AP)

RAQ won’t just leave you standing there. When visiting Missoula on a Tuesday night in March, the Burlington, Vt., quartet stirred up an outsized weeknight crowd with energetic jams and noodling improvisation. Ton These (Harmonized) adds another set of songs to the band’s playbook. Keyboardist Todd Stoops drives the band’s sound with punchy piano arrangements and crazy church lady organ chords spry enough to be live. (JW)

It’s dark, gloomy and chock full of dramatic romanticism, but Plague Park (Sub Pop), the debut from Montreal’s Handsome Furs, is full of elegance and mystique. The husband and wife team of Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade fame) and Alexei Perry deliver stripped-down tunes that at times are mostly depressing, but the bleak and sometimes creepily intimate feel of the album is its main allure: They make heartbreak, loneliness and hopelessness seem comforting. (JS)

Stacy Rock plays piano with energy and sincerity, accompanying her dexterity on the keys with passionate and playful alto vocals. Rock hails originally from near Fort Peck but has since taken her show on the road to New York City. For a stint there, Rock tickled the ivories at swank Midtown nightclub The Monkey Bar and her piano bar manners are all over One Way Home (self-released), an album that swaggers like Montana and swings like Manhattan. (JW)

Reviews by Erika Fredrickson, Jonathan Stumpf, Ira Sather-Olson, Al Pils, Jason Wiener and Skylar Browning.

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