Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Year in Music 2013 - Part 2

Top 20

20. Rogue Wave - Nightingale Floors (Vagrant). Think of a cross between Band of Horses and Woods with some power-pop like Bigger Lovers thrown in and that's the brand of smart, trippy pop/rock that Zach Rogue and Rogue Wave deliver. This record continues to get better on repeated listens.

Rogue Wave - "College"

Rogue Wave - "Siren's Song"

Rogue Wave - "When Sunday Morning Comes"

19. The Fratellis - We Need Medicine (BMG). The Scottish trio returned after a hiatus with an unexpectedly good mix of their Brit pop meets Clash (or Oasis meets Green Day for you kids out there). This was one of the most surprisingly good records of the year.

The Fratellis - "Seven Nights, Seven Days"

The Fratellis - "This Old Ghost Town"

18. Deerhunter - Monomania (4AD). Bradford Cox continues making weird but catchy experimental garage rock music. Either it's getting even catchier or my tastes toward weirder music have changed. But I'm sensing more of a blues-rock foundation on this album than on previous ones. And even the "weirder" songs, seem weird in a more poppy Wilco kind of way. Either way, it's really good. Way too many highlights here to pick from, but here you go.

Deerhunter - "Pensacola"

17. Deer Tick - Negativity (Partisan). Over the course of six years and now five LPs, Deer Tick has grown from folky alt/country-sounding band into an eclectic rock band, featuring everything from pop/rock to punk to piano ballads. While I think this is a bit of a disappointment compared to 2011's Divine Providence, it's still a notable "growth" record for a band possibly in transition. 

Deer Tick - "Dream's in the Ditch"

Deer Tick - "The Rock"

16. Veronica Falls - Waiting for Something to Happen (Slumberland). Very solid follow up to the excellent 2011 S/T debut for the English quartet. It has the same Vivian Girls/Seapony vibe as their debut, but the production on this one is a little cleaner and I feel it detracts from the songs just a little. Really good album overall though.

Veronica Falls - "Buried Alive"

15. Neko Case - The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You (Anti). Neko Case has a voice that is the epitome of the "she could sing the phone book" cliche, versatile enough to sing rock, blues, folk, or country and rich enough to almost make you forget what "genre" of music she's even singing on any particular song. Her vocals and lyrical observations are more central than the actual music to me. There were higher highs on previous albums, but this is my favorite album of hers to listen to front to back. 

Neko Case - "Man"

Neko Case - "Night Still Comes"

14. Pissed Jeans - Honeys (Sub Pop). Allentown-bred and Philadelphia-based Pissed Jeans returned with another hardcore album. As someone who has gotten into the band only in the last year or so, I'd say this seems more accessible on initial listens than their previous albums. I always found it interesting that the subject matter of their songs is not about the typical punk rock "big things" like politics or global warming, but more about life's mundane annoyances. This perhaps owing to the fact that the band members have families and still have day jobs and often need to take vacation time from these jobs in order to tour extensively. They certainly sweat the small stuff to great effect for good reason. They are the rare authentic working class anti-heroes, who actually are just like the working stiffs buying their records and coming to their shows.

Pissed Jeans - "Cathouse"

Pissed Jeans - "Health Plan"

13. Golden Grrrls - S/T (Slumberland). A garage rock trio from Glasgow, very similar to label-mates Veronica Falls, but also similar to the Vivian Girls, Parquet Courts, Grass Widow, and going way back I hear a little Beat Happening too. There were probably 100 albums like this released in 2013, so what makes this album stand out for me? The three vocals and harmonies of a two female, one male trio.  And it blends well with the music to create the atmospherics lacking in many other similar-sounding bands.

Golden Grrrls - "Past Tense"

Golden Grrrls - "Take Your Time"

12. Waxahatchee - Cerulean Salt (Don Giovanni). From Brooklyn by way of Philadelphia and originally Birmingham, Alabama comes this sophomore alt/folk album by Katie Crutchfield, recording under the name Waxahatchee (the same name as a creek near her hometown). After the break up of P.S. Elliott, she recorded her 2012 Waxahatchee debut in her bedroom and this one is a similar lo-fi DIY-effort recorded in her parents' house. Think Juliana Hatfield meets early Tegan and Sara.

Waxahatchee - "Coast to Coast"

Waxahatchee - "Swan Dive"

11. Ovlov - Am (Exploding in Sound). Hailing from the vibrant Massachusetts scene, Ovlov wear their 90's lo-fi/grunge influences on their sleeves, part Pixies and part Helmet and part "louder" Sebadoh, behind a wall of sound. The album ends up being an audio assault, in a good way. Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz even performs guest vocals on four of the tracks. 

Ovlov - "Really Bees"

Ovlov - "Baby Blue"

10. Alkaline Trio - My Shame Is True (Epitaph). This is the biggest surprise of the list. After peaking with Good Mourning in 2003, each subsequent Alk3 album has seemed to decline in quality. So when I gave this some initial listens last spring I was taken aback at how good it was, in spite of the back story of it being the cliched "songs about the end of a relationship" record for Matt Skiba. Perhaps producer Bill Stevenson formerly of the Descendents had something to do with that. The best songs do sound similar to the highlights from their back catalog, but in this case I'll take that as a positive bit of nostalgia. There is something comforting after 16 years for a band to still not only be functioning, but releasing consistently good music following a similar, yet non-suffocating formula.

Alkaline Trio - "I Wanna Be a Warhol"

Alkaline Trio - "Midnight Blue"

Alkaline Trio - "Until Death Do Us Part"

9. Swearin' Surfing Strange (Wichita). Allison Crutchfield, twin sister of Katie, may not get the ink her sister gets, but her music is equally worthy of the attention. Swearin' is the project started by Crutchfield and Kyle Gilbride after their previous twee-rock band P.S. Elliott broke up. This is more of a loud post-punk band, in the spirit of Jawbreaker or the Breeders with some more poppy-sounding influences that recall Liz Phair or Belly.   

Swearin' - "Dust in the Gold Sack"

Swearin' - "Watered Down"

Swearin' - "Parts of Speech"

Swearin' - "Loretta's Flowers"

8. Roomrunner - Ideal Cities (Fan Death). The first time I heard this Baltimore-based noise rock band I thought Bleach-era Nirvana meets the Jesus Lizard. That's a pretty great place to be. With so many recent acts seeming to sound like 2nd or 3rd generation Pavement or Pixies devotees, it's nice to hear a more unique take on other great music from the last 25 years.

Roomrunner - "Bait Car"

Roomrunner - "Wojtek"

7. Wavves - Afraid of Heights (Mom + Pop Records). While it may not as good as King of the Beach or the Life Sux EP, Afraid of Heights seems more like the next logical progression for the lo-fi surf-rock created by Nathan Williams and company. This record is a little less fuzzy, recalling Nevermind-era Nirvana or Weezer at times. It definitely feels like an homage to all Williams' favorite 90's influences.

Wavves - "Demon to Lean On"

Wavves - "Afraid of Heights"

Wavves - "Paranoid"

6. Kurt Vile - Wakin on a Pretty Daze (Matador). Philadelphia's Vile continues making great laid-back folk-rock records in the tradition of Dylan and Springsteen. Wakin is most notable for the length of the songs with most checking in at 6+ minutes. This is the kind of absorbing record you put on while driving or riding a train and get to your destination and don't even realize you were traveling for an hour. 

Kurt Vile - "KV Crimes"

Kurt Vile - "Shame Chamber"

5. California X - S/T (Don Giovanni). Another band from the burgeoning Massachusetts scene, cranking out lo-fi, grungey, garage-rock. They recall Nirvana and early Dinosaur Jr., while also recalling the best parts of contemporaries like Japandroids.

California X - "Spider X"

California X - "Sucker"

California X - "Mummy"

4. Speedy Ortiz - Major Arcana (Carpark). This is my favorite of the bands from MA who emerged in the last few years. The 2012 EP Sports was going to be tough to top, but the debut LP does and then some. Speedy Ortiz seem to combine so much of the 90s alt/rock music I liked (Sleater-Kinney, Throwing Muses, Pavement, etc.), updated with a new twist and smart lyrics by Sadie Dupuis.

Speedy Ortiz - "Tiger Tank"

Speedy Ortiz - "Casper (1995)"

Speedy Ortiz - "Plough"

3. Superchunk I Hate Music (Merge). It's pretty rare for a middle-aged rock band to make one of those records about aging and confronting mortality without seeming trite. Superchunk avoids this in a big way with an album full of songs about getting old that never seem to get old for the listener, no matter how many times you hear them. It's an album full of songs about hating music by people who love music and songs about being bored with summer by people who love summer (perfectly summarized on the b-side/bonus track "Sunset Arcade"). And all those complicated feelings and contradictions are presented within a super-catchy batch of songs. Also, now I know about Jackie Mittoo and the Skatalites thanks to the album's first single - a song about the importance of music in your life and also how inconsequential and inadequate it can be when someone close to you dies.

Superchunk - "Me & You & Jackie Mittoo"

Superchunk - "FOH"

Superchunk - "Out of the Sun"

2. Connections Body Language (Lost Weekend). This is a Guided By Voices-inspired side project (or maybe full time gig now?) by Adam Elliott of Times New Viking and his brother Kevin Elliott of 84 Nash. The Tough City EP (see Part 1) released earlier this year was hard to top. When the three releases are taken together from the 2012 and 2013, it's hard to make a case these aren't the best batch of songs by any band in the last two years.

Connections - "Blurry Eyes"

1. Purling Hiss Water on Mars (Drag City). The Philly-based trio led by singer/guitarist Mike Polizze, released their best album to date. A trio playing fuzzy 90s kind of alt/rock will surely draw the inevitable Nirvana or Dinosaur Jr. comparisons or contemporaries like Ty Segall. And all that is apt, but there are other interesting things going on here as well. Water on Mars is near-perfect album and "Mercury Retrograde" is the song of the year.

Purling Hiss - "Mercury Retrograde"

Purling Hiss - "Rat Race"

Purling Hiss - "The Harrowing Wind"

Honorable Mention

Bleached - Ride Your Heart (Dead Oceans Records). Sisters Jennifer and Jessica Clavin (formerly of Mika Miko) debut with this solid pop/punk effort reminiscent of White Lung at times, but also the obvious Vivian Girls and other similar bands.

Bleached - "Searching Through the Past"

Bleached - "Dreaming Without You"

Camera Obscura - Desire Lines (4AD). I just recently discovered this six-piece Scottish twee pop/rock band. There are always references to Belle and Sebastian with this band, but they also remind me a lot of 10,000 Maniacs.

Camera Obscura - "Do It Again"

Camera Obscura - "Every Weekday"

Dismemberment Plan - Uncanney Valley (Partisan). The Dismemberment Plan started touring again about 3 years ago after a 8-9 year hiatus, much to my delight. And weirdly Uncanney Valley is almost exactly the type of album I'd expect from the band at this stage of their lives, and yet I'm a little underwhelmed by it. It's good but it just seems to be missing something. 

Dismemberment Plan - "Waiting" 

Dismemberment Plan - "Let's Just Go to the Dogs Tonight"

Face to Face - Three Chords and a Half Truth (Rise Records). There were no immediate standout tracks on this as there were on their most recent 2011 release Laugh Now....Laugh Later, but this turned out to be a really solid melodic mid-tempo pop/punk record that got better on repeated listens. It most resembles their late 90's Ignorance Is Bliss release.

Face to Face - "Across State Lines"

Free Energy Love Sign (Free Energy). I know exactly what tricks these guys are using with their Cheap Trick melodies and Thin Lizzy riffs, with some New Wave-ish beats thrown in and I still fall for this guilty pleasure almost every time.

Free Energy - "Hangin"

Free Energy - "Girls Want Rock"

Free Time - S/T (Underwater Peoples). This NYC-based multi-continental four-piece formed with Australian-native Dion Nania on guitar and vocals. Together they blend jangly indie rock with folk that recalls Pavement, Woods, and Kurt Vile.

Free Time - "Nothin But Nice"

Free Time - "Just One"

Guided By Voices - English Little League (GBV Inc.). GBV have been around for so long doing this lo-fi rock so well, you almost take them for granted.  English is the fourth album by the reunited GBV in a little more than a year. And that probably caused about half of this album to be a little less than expected. 

Guided By Voices - "Islands (She Talks In Rainbows)"

Guided By Voices - "Trashcan Full of Nails"

Kate Nash - Girl Talk (Dine Alone Music). Nash seems to have graduated from a soul-pop sound on her early releases to something more akin to a poppier sounding Raveonettes on many of these tracks.

Kate Nash - "Are You There, Sweetheart?"

Kate Nash - "3AM"

Kate Nash - "Conventional Girl"

Pearl Jam - Lightning Bolt (Monkey Wrench/Virgin). This is probably the only Pearl Jam album other than Binaural that didn't at least make it into a top 25 list for me. It's a pretty good record and I listened to it quite a bit before seeing them live. It just never quite grabbed me like every other album they've put out. There were some high points
but not nearly as many as on previous albums, even their releases from the aughts. As big of a fan as I am of this band, I think this closing line from a Pitchfork review nails it: "Pearl Jam on record have essentially been reduced to the rock ‘n’ roll version of wearing sweatpants: they've given up trying to impress anyone, so they may as well be comfortable."

Pearl Jam - "Mind Your Manners"

Pearl Jam - "Sirens"

Pearl Jam - "Let the Records Play"

Sebadoh - Defend Yourself (Joyful Noise). The first new full-length Sebadoh album in 14 years was much-anticipated, but a tad disappointing. There were still some quality songs and I wasn't expecting a new Bakesale, but it just didn't live up to expectations.

Sebadoh - "I Will"

Sebadoh - "Oxygen"

Sebadoh - "State of Mine"

Ty Segall - Sleeper (Drag City). Sleeper is Segall's 10th studio album in the last five years from one of this generation's most prolific songwriters. I hear Beatles and David Bowie on this less fuzzy more folky record and even some Brian Jonestown Massacre.

Ty Segall - "Sleeper"

Ty Segall - "She Don't Care"

Surfer Blood Pythons (Sire/Warner Bros.). So many bands whose debut albums I got into 2-3 years ago seemed to release disappointing albums this year. Surfer Blood were an exception. This is a logical more-polished follow up to Astro Coast with lots of nods to the Pixies and Weezer. 

Surfer Blood - "Demon Dance"

Surfer Blood - "Gravity"

Various Artists - Sound City: Real to Reel (Columbia/RCA). Dave Grohl and friends got together to made a diverse-sounding record in the famed Sound City studios. Grohl ended up working with everyone from Stevie Nicks, Rick Springfield, Josh Homme and others from Queens of the Stone Age, Paul McCartney, members of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Lee Ving (Fear), Rick Nielsen (Cheap Trick), the rhythm section for Rage Against the Machine (Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk), Trent Reznor, and lastly but not least the former members of Nirvana Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear. The result is a mixed bag with some definite keepers, like this recording with McCartney, Grohl, Novoselic, and Smear that sort of sounds like what would have happened if Nirvana had written "Helter Skelter."

McCartney, Grohl, Novoselic, and Smear - "Cut Me Some Slack"

1 comment:

Michael B. Knowledge said...

The only two albums I know are Pearl Jam and D-Plan and I agree somewhat with your reviews of them, but I think they should be in the top 20. Uncanney Valley is missing some of what made them great. I Think Lightning Bolt is their best album since No Code