Wednesday, January 15, 2014

HL's 2013 Favorites

Hey folks, it was a lean year in terms of blogifying by your not-so-intrepid correspondent, but as far as good music goes, there was a great bounty. I've never left so many albums off the list that I had listened to multiple times and grown rather fond of. If you've read this far, maybe your computer is getting close to finishing the download of all the music files in this post. Thanks for taking a moment to look through my list. I hope you find some stuff in here you hadn't heard about.

25. Palms -- s/t -- (Ipecac)
This is pretty nice to listen to. A bunch of Isis guys got Chino Moreno to sing for their new band. Nice.

Once you get past the fact that this project is comprised of members of two of the most earsplitting bands of the past 20 years, you start to accept that these are excellent songs, just not as loud . We are reminded, thus, that waking up without a hangover does not automatically mean that last night was a waste of time. WYMA review here.

24. Direct Hit! -- Brainless God -- (Red Scare Industries)
This is a punk rock concept album about the impending end of the world. I'd have bet $20 that such an effort would make John Lydon roll over in his grave, but this album is loud, snotty, and cleverly sardonic -- all played at breakneck speed.

23. Kylesa -- Ultraviolet -- (Season of Mist)
The Savannah band's sixth album cranks up the psychedelia, but loses none of its edge. See Exhibit A below:

I actually reviewed this one.

22. Gorguts -- Colored Sands -- (Season of Mist)
On my ipod, Gorguts is right next to Henryk Gorecki, and it makes more than just alphabetical sense. Like the recently deceased Polish composer, Gorguts founder Luc Lemay is obsessed with composition. Like Gorecki, he works in atmospheres of grays and blacks. As sorrow is to Gorecki, aggression is to Lemay. The musicianship on this album is at times overpowering. It's like King Crimson of Death Metal. Here's the title song:

21. Nuclear Santa Claust -- Order of the New Age -- (Don Giovanni)
They have a funny name, but hell, Turd Ferguson had a funny name, and he couldn't kick out the jams like this Brooklyn punk trio. I reviewed this excellent album back in March, but it stayed in heavy rotation all year. It's old school east coast American punk music, complete with period-appropriate cold war paranoia.

20. Russian Circles -- Memorial -- (Sargent House)
This is the Chicago trio's best yet, and that's saying something. No vocals (for the most part), no indulgent solos -- they start with a simple theme and beat the musical hell out of it, all the while building to a towering climax you weren't even expecting. The track below, "1777", is brooding and beautiful, with dramatic strings adding a sense that they're recording it in a cathedral.

19. Mark Kozelek & Jimmy Lavalle -- Perils From the Sea -- (Caldo Verde)
Kozelek had a busy year, releasing at least 4 full length albums on his label, Caldo Verde. I like 'em all. But this one really struck me as a departure that works on every level. Lavalle (The Album Leaf, Tristeza), composed and recorded somber, expansive electronic tracks and emailed them to Kozelek (Sun Kil Moon, Red House Painters, Desertshore), who would write and record lyrics and send them back for more work. Consistent with the trend of his recent work, Kozelek's lyrics are autobiographical, sometimes detailed to the point of being prosaic. As prosaic as they might be, they're never boring, and Lavalle's arrangements seem to give them even more ballast than usual, if only for being different from Kozelek's recent fixation with his classical guitar. The stunning "Gustavo", about an undocumented Mexican carpenter working on Kozelek's house until he gets busted for weed and deported, might be the best song I heard this year.

18. California X -- s/t -- (Don Giovanni)
I think this release from Don Giovanni was the first review I did in '13, and I love it even more now. Frontman Lemmy Gurtowski is a fantastic guitar player with a fantastic rock and roll name. And he had the stones to name one of the best songs of the year after himself! Do yourself a favor and crank the song below as loud as you can take it. And when you scratch your head at the chorus and say, 'dang that sounds like the Foo Fighters,' know that Lemmy is well aware of that, thank you.

17. Castevet -- Obsian -- (Profound Lore)
This second album by the Brooklyn metal trio gets the much coveted "getting most play by me right this very damned minute" prize. It feels like it was recorded in a foundry. The guitar sounds on this album are otherworldly -- at times evoking the proto-industrial roil created by Geordie Walker in the early 80s-era Killing Joke, and at other (admittedly, less frequent) times offering a more approachable prog harmony. It's pretty mathy, but never at the expense of the visceral. It's just a fascinating piece of music.

16. The So-So Glos -- Blowout -- (Shea Stadium)
Alex Levine is one of the most engaging and likeable frontmen in rock and roll. This New York band trades in high energy, well-played punk songs with a retro-British sensibility that will evoke everything from the Clash to the Specials over its 40 minute run time. Listen below to the album opener, which is introduced by a childhood home recording of Alex and his brother Ryan (also in the band) musing on the demise of Kurt Cobain.

15. KEN mode -- Entrenched -- (Season of Mist)
I feel sort of sorry for the people of Winnipeg. Not because it's cold there -- we all know that. It's because the Jets just hired Paul Maurice. Trust me, I know how that story ends. On the other hand, Winnipeg is also home to one of the best hardcore bands working today. KEN mode, named after Henry Rollins's acronym (for "Kill Everyone Now"), channel pure aggression into their fifth and best album, while never forgetting their sense of humor (see, for example, their songs "Secret Vasectomy" and "Your Heartwarming Story Makes Me Sick").

14. Parquet Courts -- Light Up Gold -- (What's Your Rupture / Dull Tools)
This NYC by way of Denton, Texas band put out one of the best slacker punk albums in years (actually in 2012, but it only got its wider release in '13). The influences are not hard to list -- Modern Lovers, Feelies, early Meat Puppets, Pavement -- and yet like anything you'd expect to be played 20 years from now (and I think this record will be), it's totally original. Austin Brown's guitar work is terrific -- it would make Stephen Malkmus roll over in his grave.

13. Vhol -- s/t (Profound Lore)
I'm a huge Mike Scheidt fan -- his main band Yob's last effort was my 2011 AOY -- so I was pretty excited to see this album hit last spring even if Mike was just singing and not playing guitar. Here he's teamed up with members of Ludicra and Hammers of Misfortune, and they achieve a facemelting amalgam of dark metal and hardcore. Scheidt's voice is a force of nature. He can hit the difficult notes like a three-pack-a-day RJ Dio, and then on a dime bring it down to a guttural roar that's simply terrifying.

12. The National -- Trouble Will Find Me (4AD)
I always have a lot of metal on these year end lists because I think as a rule the genre is a refuge for the best musicians. So I've gotten to the point that I'm willing to listen to a lot more in the way of growls and screams than I once did simply to be able to experience the creativity of these people who have dedicated themselves to such interesting and difficult music. I'd describe my attraction to The National in nearly the same way (although I think Matt Berninger's voice is itself fascinating). The Dessner and Devendorf brothers are terrific musicians who painstakingly build and record their songs. Trouble Will Find Me is, to me, their best album since Alligator. The only reason it's not number one on this list is because Alligator and Boxer (and Sad Songs) exist. Whenever I contemplate looking down my nose at the music taste of my fellow man, I try to pause and remember that The National have made it big.

11. Signals Midwest -- Light on the Lake (Tiny Engines)
This Cleveland band's last album, Latitudes and Longitudes, was that one record I happened upon the year after its release that made me wish I had saved an exalted place on my earlier best-of list for the oversight of the year. The new album is, I think, even better. Their songs are earnest and hard rocking, with arrangements that are more complicated than a great deal of today's alt/punk bands. At the same time, there's tasteful restraint -- the songs never devolve into emo wailing, or instrumental overindulgence. There are times on this record where I wish the song hadn't ended when it did -- and I mean that as high praise.

10. Poor Lily -- Vuxola -- (self-released)
This is the best punk rock album of the year. This Bronx three-piece should be a household name, headlining festivals, wearing panda-skin boots, endorsing the Glenlivet Archive and upscale cruise lines, sleeping with Kardashians. If you like punk music, or ever did like punk music, you should own this album. Here's my earlier review.

9. Future of the Left -- How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident -- (Prescriptions)
It'll make Morgan Freeman roll over in his grave, but this is the finest record for Andy Falkous since Mclusky Do Dallas. The targets of his ire seem more natural here than they have in awhile. Best of all, to me at least, is that he has really backed away from the keyboard for this one -- just a fierce (and Mcluskyesque) guitar/bass/drums package.

8. Restorations -- LP2 -- (Side One Dummy)
This is the phenomenal follow-up to one of my favorite albums of 2011. This Philadelphia band exudes a small-club ethos, but they've got a sound big enough for the arenas. In this video for album opener "D", they prove it in front of a room of pasty white people.

7. Pissed Jeans -- Honeys -- (Sub Pop)
This is the best album yet from the Allentown (now Philly) noise-punks. I reviewed it last February (so you'll excuse the dead photo link) after doing an apres-garde photo-montage "preview" a few months before that, but the crushing songs about employer-provided health coverage and cafeteria food are no less topical today.

6. The Icarus Line -- Slave Vows -- (Agitated)
I thought for a good while this would be my number one, and will never be firmly convinced otherwise. The burning guitar tones achieved on this album are so arresting, so rock and roll, that for about a month I played this on constant repeat. I was in a productivity trough on this blog, but made it a point to put at least something up to document my awe.

5. Deafheaven -- Sunbather -- (Deathwish)
I think this album deserves every one of the millions of accolades it's gotten. It's the first metal album ever to get the highest scoring album of the year from Metacritic. Deafheaven was also one of the best live shows I got to see all year. Don't miss them if they play your boringass backwater of a town. Here's the spectacular first song:

4. Phosphorescent -- Muchacho -- (Dead Oceans)
I didn't pick up this glorious record until about a month ago. It starts out with a beautiful mood-piece that will make you think of Bon Iver, but eventually loosens up into something entirely different -- saloon music, maybe, or music for heartbroken optimists. It's hard to describe except that it's just about flawless.

3. Inter Arma -- Sky Burial -- (Relapse)
This Richmond band has bequeathed to us the metal album of the year. It is colossal, deliberate and explosive. Much of it feels like a massing of forces, building slowly toward an apocalyptic release. It's really a stunning sonic achievement for a band's second album, and they, the production team and Relapse deserve a great deal of credit for doing what was necessary to document this in the way they did. Here's my favorite track -- give it some time to unwind:

2. Joel R.L. Phelps & the Downer Trio -- Gala -- (Triple Crown / 12XU)
This is the highest point (so far) of a music career filled with high points. Phelps's voice has never sounded stronger or more evocative. His taste for dirty guitar noise -- and sense of timing for acoustic -- is at an apex. And I'll throw in another candidate for song of the year -- I have yet to play "The Nashville Sound" for a person who did not immediately thereafter buy the entire album. Let's hope it's not another ten years before we get another solo album from Joel. WYMA review here.

1. The Drones -- I See Seaweed -- (Drones)
It's likely to make Bob Dylan roll over in his grave, but I'm going to go ahead and say that Gareth Liddiard is the greatest songwriter working today. I heaped enough superlatives on this album when I reviewed it back in May, so I'll spare you any more speechifying and just link the song that might be their crowning artistic achievement. Liddiard has a very uneasy relationship with the outside world. His ability to distill that into metaphors, then stories, then songs is, to me, without equal in rock music right now.

Holy cow, what a fantastic music year. Thanks to the artists who make the music we write about. Thanks to the readers who take the time to check this place. I hope all of you have prosperous years so you can buy a ton of new music. Thanks also to my blogmates. who suffer my comings and goings and my not pulling my weight with great equanimity. As always, on many levels, I'll try to do better.

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