Just about any year he releases an album, David Eugene Edwards puts himself in contention for the most interesting, inventive music of the year. It's what he does -- there is no one like him, not even within the lilliputian subgenre of Gothic Americana, and certainly no one who flirts with the indie rock mainstream the way he does.
But this year was special. Refactory Obdurate is some of his best work ever, and after a career like his, that's saying something. It's his probably his heaviest and darkest album - we haven't heard guitars roar like this since Secret South, and both 'Salome' and 'Obdurate Obscura' are haunting even compared to his back catalog. It's also his most hook-filled and accessible, probably. These are some catchy tunes. Terrifying, sure, but eminently hummable. The rhythm section gives the songs a punch they lacked on his earlier albums, and Edward's voice has only grown in power of the years -- here he whispers, sings, and barks like Michael Jira. Every track here is at least very, very good, from the straightforward 'My Good Shepherd'* to the atmospheric 'El-Bow' to the metal riffs of 'Hiss'. And the best tracks - 'Salome,' 'Obdurate Obscura', 'Corsicana Clip' - are transcendent.
I should have perhaps posted this earlier, in advent, because to me this is advent music. It's full of eschatological dread and hope, not unlike the words of Jesus himself. If you can follow half of the biblical allusions - to martyrdom ('only one man stood up for Stephen'), the crucifixion ('if you release this man, you are no friend to caesar') - you can get an event better sense of the depth here. This is a sinister, beautiful, sacred album.
And so it beats out a lot of other great music from other great musicians (Swans, Agalloch, At the Gates, Pallbearer, and many more) to make it the best album of the year, in my estimation.
*(which would be a Christian radio hit in a just world, but alas, the sun shines on the talented and the talentless alike)